Mom, Uninterrupted


A few weeks ago, I was standing in the bathroom, providing moral support for  Y. N was trying to throw washcloths into the toilet as Y cheered him on with that manic-demanding tone that after several hours makes me feel crazy and panicked, like hyenas are about to eat everyone. It was still the middle of a long day.  I retreated into a train of thought that eventually resulted in me saying aloud “I wonder if I could be a teacher…”

Y: You??

Me: Yeah. I mean not really. I don’t think I want to be a teacher. When I was little I did.

Y: But you aren’t anything! You’re just a mommy!

N: Yeah. Just mommy! Not teacher! [said with his impish gremlin-grin and that “you silly…!!!!” tone]

I wrestled the washcloths from N, coerced Y into washing her hands. While she did, I found myself riding the familiar micro-second roller coaster up sparking, overburdened anger at yet another post-poop hand-washing power struggle, suddenly dropping into surprising  tenderness at the delicateness of her tiny hands rubbing together in the water, fear of the sophisticated observation and defiance in her gaze, a different fear of the vulnerability and love-seeking also in her gaze, tightness against all the feelings, exhaustion at the thought that there are 3-5 more hours before Anne gets home from work.

I looked for something to think about, suddenly remembered the conversation (that had occurred one minute ago) about teachers and moms. I felt uneasy, of course, that my daughter thinks being a mom isn’t anything, or that moms can’t be other things, or that every identity I had or accomplishment I made before she was born doesn’t matter. But it’s true; right now I am just a mom.

I accepted a full-time position starting in August. And an internship. I’m excited about both.

And I’m reflecting on these strange, beautiful, utterly reality-bending and self-exploding years home with my kids. The things that happen to your brain, mind, identity, soul, when all day every day you are up against the biggest feelings that you’ve ever had and the tiny people that you love the most in the world are also having the biggest feelings that they’ve ever had and you’re riding this crazy edge of stunning lack of stimulation and complete overwhelm. It matters SO MUCH, it grows to obscene proportions, whether Y eats breakfast or fights my suggestion to go to the park, I find myself driving so many mph over the speed limit because it’s disorienting to N if he misses the “hello” song at music class. The most seemingly inconsequential things grow so big that they block out the sky, creating another planet, one with too much gravity and not enough oxygen.

My day is unbearably awful. Y has thrown herself on the floor and refused to leave the house because her dinosaur shoes are too big and her bunny boots are too small, because she hates transitions, because she struggles in ways she doesn’t tell me about, because she just wants to keep playing Middle School Girl at the Pet Store. She hit me and then in time-out tried to break open her bedroom door with her dance of the little swans jewelry box. N is freaked out by his dysregulated ladies, angry that I won’t let him have my phone and the dishwashing detergent. He is simultaneously pushing and slapping at me, clinging to me and hugging me, his tiny body and mere two years on this earth unable to manage the terrifying implication of his anger at me. I am worried about attachment, always, I am failing them, there is something very wrong with all of us, and I need to get away, I try to walk into another room, and they both collapse, screaming. So I just sink to the ground, and they both crawl into my lap and we apologize and talk about what we can do differently and read a book about baby owls in the night forest and it’s sunny outside (it’s almost always sunny outside), and I carry them both into the backyard. N makes giggly monster sounds as he happily launches himself into the netting on the trampoline. Y cooks “smooshy pa’Soup”  tonics of berries, leaves mud and flowers for her sick brontosaurus who never gets better, and in fact has recently become mute and dubbed “silent Bronta,” and maybe I should worry about some preschool precursor to Munchausen Syndrome, or the symbolism of Bronta being unable to speak,  but I don’t, I sit on a swing and drink coffee and my day is gorgeous and peaceful and flowing.

Sometimes, a lot of times, it’s just boredom. I used to subscribe to the idea that “boredom” is a defense against/indication of subtle uncomfortable emotions that are not being known or addressed. But, during bath, after 25 minutes of making and serving every possible kind of pretend artisanal bathwater tea (“do you guys have sake chestnut basil hibiscus ginger dandelion tea?” “Yeah, we do! Here you go! Drink it!!”) I’m pretty certain there isn’t always something under that feeling. It’s just boredom, alternating with the most intense, deepest love, tenderness, rage, and fear, despair, and hope, that I am capable of feeling without my body breaking open. And sometimes I think it does break open, and then parts of me fall out and evaporate into the endless desert sky, never to be seen again.

I had the privilege of sitting for eight job interviews in the past few months. I had to borrow clothes from friends because my pre-baby work clothes don’t fit quite right anymore, and also, they feel irrelevant and not good enough. There were all the “what do you most want us to learn about you?” “What are your greatest strengths and challenges?” type questions. I sat there in someone else’s clothes, weirdly nervous in a way I never used to get, my confidence eroded by five and a half years of no one telling me that I and my work are valuable. I watched my stunningly sleep-deprived, prolactin-addled brain lose its sharpness, wondering if I really am wiser, more confident, more discerning, more mature and well-regulated than I used to be, wondering if it matters since I am also definitely slower and dumber. I wrestled with my ambivalence about returning to work lest it break through and scream around the room like it did during that third committee interview, (which was probably for the best, but still). I felt surprising excitement layered with the ambivalence, re-discovering the colors and contours and tantalizing complexity of a world that I had only remembered dimly and flatly, and an equally complex but years-dulled part of myself stirring to leap up and meet it.  I didn’t know how to answer the questions. I don’t know who I am anymore. The concepts and identities I reached back for out of habit didn’t totally fit anymore, felt irrelevant.

Y responded to my announcement that I’m going to go back to work by asking me what my “therapist name” will be. I had fun considering all the therapist alter egos I could create. I am incredibly curious about the therapist, employee, colleague I will be now. Of course, these years, my brain has been gasping for breath, setting itself on fire, trying to eat me, stooping to all manner of unholy and unhelpful activity in order to stay alive. I’ve been dying to contribute, to participate in a bigger way. And I’m scared of the way my mind has changed, the things you lose when you transform, the things you lose when you don’t transform, the grief of not being with my kids all day, those little people whose cells are still, forever, in my body, whom I’ve spent every day with since they were conceived, whose rhythms, needs, desires and dislikes have become mine. What will I be like away from that?

I guess we’ll see. I have obviously learned so much these past five and half years home with my kids, what I have been studying, experimenting with, pressed up against all day every day, is how to love and be with the utter, insane messiness of being a person–my person-ness and my little people’s person-ness–all of it is so wildly, floridly on display all day long. I have that to contribute as a social worker and a colleague and a citizen and I think it will be really valuable in this world, even if my clothes don’t quite fit, and my therapist name is just Stephanie, and I sometimes wish I were making bathwater tea.





Congratulations! It’s a Boy! On Narratives, Drag, and Parenting

I remember feeling tense and removed as images of unidentifiable baby parts appeared and disappeared on the ultrasound screen. I felt like my future was being divined against the natural order of things. I wanted to extend the time of not knowing and all of its potential before shoving a map onto a primordial landscape. But I also really wanted to know what was between the baby’s legs and whether there were any “soft markers” for Downs Syndrome.

“You wanted to know the gender [sic] right?” The ultrasound tech leaned the wand, hard, at an angle in the gel, and I cringed even though it didn’t hurt.

“Yes” I said.

“Congratulations! It’s a boy!”

Me: what? [looking to Anne for clarificarion]

A: It’s a boy

Me: what do you even do with..?

A: love him!

Me: of course! But like how did I even make a penis? How does that happen?

U/S tech [raises her eyebrows, staring at the screen:  “Yup, very much a boy. This baby is exceptionally active! I wish I had one of those cameras that can rewind for babies like this, he’s just moving too fast! Well, congratulations!”

We stumbled out of the dark room of possibilities back into the world of solid adobes and indiscreet sunshine, the evidently hyper and well-endowed baby kicking away,  affronted by the ultrasound waves or the invasion of his privacy and primordialness. “I think it will be hard for Y to handle loudness and hyperactivity,” I say, as lines on the map fill in, tumbling over each other, freeways and road closures and mountains and craters and the dangers of uncharted territory. (Thar be foreskin.)

On Christmas Day I was 37 weeks pregnant and hadn’t felt movement for over 8 hours. I went to the hospital to get monitored. As soon as I was hooked up to the machine, the baby started doing cartwheels. The jolly-with-an-edge L&D nurse looked at me, “Just like a boy to make you come here and go through all this!” I felt irrationally guilty, like it was my fault she wasn’t home with her family on Christmas.”Boys are little punks,” she said firmly, standing over me, lights on her wreath necklace flashing red and green in a way that amazingly seemed to augment, rather than contradict her authority.

He was a mellow, satisfied, loving infant. “He’s here to bring balance and chillness to our family,” I postulated.

Then he was a toddler and got all his molars at the same time. He slapped us in the face repeatedly, scratched us, screamed and banged his head into the wall, butt scooted off in a huff, grasped our faces with both hands and forced us to look him in the eye if we were talking to someone else while he repeated his request. “I’m worried about him. He’s male, he has a temper, and he doesn’t respect bodily boundaries,” – Anne

I’ve been thinking a lot about narratives, the stories we create to define, explain, make sense of, predict what appears before us. To protect ourselves.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about drag queens.

Obviously gender is one of the first and most persistent and pervasive narratives that gets overlaid onto a tiny person, and of course it’s got the force of societies, religions, and power structures behind it. It’s easy to see when people are trying to force a particular gendered narrative, and I think it may be becoming easier to reject, or at least to question. Most people can agree that it is an absurd idea that girls should be drawn to nurturing and pink and boys need to play with warriors/sports/vehicles. It’s sometimes somewhat harder for some people to see that assuming a girl will be more verbal and a boy more active is also ridiculous, but after a minute, that’s also obvious to most. People are starting to get that creating a story of personality traits, particular skills, competencies, and interests based on whether you think someone’s genitals go in or stick out makes little sense and that society won’t collapse around us if we let go of it a bit. People also are seeing that it’s dangerous. Many of us know people who suffer so much due to not being able to embrace and perform the trappings of their assigned gender. And also, there’s our president.

Anyone who is part of a non-dominant culture knows the dangers that narratives can contain, especially when those who want to hang onto power are creating them.  I have tasted this, being queer, jewish and female. I find myself feeling uneasy with the space I take up and undeserving of fair compensation at work as a woman, I also find myself feeling somehow not as psychologically or relationally healthy because I’m queer. Sometimes I feel a deep sense of not belonging and a not always totally conscious mistrust and fear in a community because of the trauma my Jewish ancestors experienced when their fellow countrymen turned against them and tried to destroy them.  I can only imagine with absolute horror what is’t like to be Black or Brown and have to fear for your life, your children’s lives, your bodily safety because of the narrative that you are dangerous and/or don’t matter.

And of course there are all the narratives on the micro level as well. Our parents and other key people in our lives have their own stories about themselves and us, based on their own fears, experiences, traumas.  We internalize these stories and they become a huge part of our sense of self and can dictate how we are in relationships. Once I read this really smart article that I can’t find now but the author argues that much of the rage and struggle that comes with adolescence happens because the adolescent stops believing the family narrative, casts it off, and no one can handle it.

As any group who has found a way to preserve and tell their own story, and any individual who has ever been in (good) therapy can attest, rejecting an assigned narrative and creating another, richer, more spacious, more complex, more fabulous narrative is the ultimate liberation and power and healing. But positive narratives are tricky too because they limit our ability to understand and embrace the fact that we and everyone else we encounter are super complicated, dynamic, ever-changing creatures. And they eventually stop fitting us. It’s like being wrapped in miles of cotton candy and at first you’re like “this is delicious and amazing!” and then eventually you’re like “I’m going to fucking suffocate and die!”

So is the solution is to reject the idea of the narrative altogether, to resist ever telling stories about ourselves or anyone else, to see every person as a primordial landscape with no possible map? Maybe. But it’s not how our brains work. We can’t do it. We need these stories. Sometimes they protect us. Sometimes they are just really satisfying. It feels good in the not-quite-right way that locking yourself in the bathroom and eating chocolate while your preschooler is writhing on the ground screaming that she can’t walk to the table to eat her frozen blueberries because her arm hurts because she bumped it two weeks ago feels good. Like a stepping out of the crazy and into the predictable, even though you can still hear her screaming that you gave her an Olaf  bandaid instead of an Elsa bandaid and you know you’re going to have to emerge back into it sometime very soon. Maps are useful, if technically inaccurate. We can operate within a system while understanding it’s a flawed one.

Which brings me to drag queens.

This is what drag queens are absolutely fucking brilliant at. We love drag because it just calls out the absurdities of the narrative, it plays with it, it owns it, it’s such a relief. It spins it out into something amazing and ever-changing with total awareness of itself.

Our family went to RuPaul’s Drag Con this past April. The kids’ fairy god mother (donor daddy’s boyfriend) is Valentina on Season 9 of RuPaul’s drag race. (Forever #teamvalentina but since her epic elimination, I have to come out as #teamsasha as she is my long lost best friend)


Here is Nuri in princess drag
Here is Yael in “drag queen drag”

There was a kids zone at Drag Con with a bouncy house and a story time. Eureka O’Hara read the kids stories of affirmation, love, acceptance, belonging, justice. All body types, all genders, all family structures, all that matters is love. On one of the last episodes of this season of Drag Race, RuPaul acknowledges the young viewers watching, trying to find a compass and a map for themselves,  trying to illuminate a path in the dark. The four remaining queens are each shown pictures of themselves as young children and asked to tell their baby selves what they feel they need to hear. It is so powerful to see these incredibly fabulous, self-possessed superstars turning such struggle into love and acceptance and peace and wisdom and art and badassery. To consciously make their own narrative with total awareness and power.

Eureka reading princess boy


Of course, I’m thinking about all of this with regard to parenting.

This morning, for the 5 billionth time, Y refused to get dressed for school, because all two of her “school shirts” (shirts she deems subpar to home shirts, and thus she’s willing to let them be defiled with school germs) were missing. The narratives about her, about us, instantly snaked out of my head until I was a crazy medusa of panic and irritation – “you always make us late, you want to wear the same ripped pants and stained shirt every day, which people might find weird, you are vulnerable to being hurt or rejected, I am going to be judged, you’re spirited/hard/a handful. I’m a shitty mom…” all in a microsecond. Over all the hissing and noise in my head, I raised my voice at her and scarily demanded she put a specific shirt on. Then I apologized and she happily took my hand and chatted to me about loggerhead turtles and actually, drag queens and where they poop. What was actually happening was she couldn’t find a shirt she wanted and I was feeling annoyed for a moment. I could have stopped there. Or, if I had had it in me, I could have acknowledged that she super cares about her signature look and her comfort and she fiercely decides what goes on her body and that’s awesome and is going to serve her.

N and his penis, Y and her school shirts are creatures that I love desperately, that inhabit vulnerable bodies in a fucked up and unpredictable world. I’m scared, I want to be a good mom. I have had a bunch of experiences, and so have my ancestors. All these things are going to clash together and my brain is going to make narratives like it’s evolved to do. We all will, about ourselves, our kids, gender, cultures, the world. We might not be able to stop, but we can see it as drag. We can make space within it, we can refuse to be harmful with it. We can call out its absurdity and own it and play with it and we can teach them to do it too. We can be aware, watch the stories form, and then sometimes make the decision to change it up and give them better wigs and some well-positioned sequins. It is so deeply important to me that my kids realize that whatever I, or the world puts on them, and equally whatever they put on anyone else, is completely theirs to take off, tear up, re-sew into something fabulous and “gag-worthy”, or just sashay away from altogether.

As RuPaul says, simply, the way you say the truest things, “We’re born naked, and the rest is drag.”



On Having a Second Child and Sacrificial Goats

It was Rosh Hashanah, and I was 7 months pregnant and unable to understand and accept what this new baby meant for our little triad. Which was really a dyad between Y and me, with Anne hanging out on the outskirts. The bible/Torah story that’s always read on Rosh Hashanah is the Akedah, or the Binding of Isaac. The one where God tells Isaac to sacrifice his son that he loves so much and went through all kinds of fertility issues to have, and wasn’t able to have him until he was like 694 years old and the wife that bears this child was like a thousand years old. So Abraham prepares the accoutrement for the sacrifice and asks his son to come with him up the mountain and totally carry the wood for the burning. His son thinks they’re sacrificing a goat like they always do, and Abraham doesn’t tell him otherwise. So they’re walking up this mountain, and suddenly Isaac is like, “where’s the goat, dad?” and Abraham’s like, “well, it’s you” and ties Isaac to the altar and raises the knife to slaughter him and then God is like “Ok, don’t really do it, I have a goat for you right here” and then a goat appears and they sacrifice the goat instead, and who knows what that walk back to the house was like.

Anyway, so my uterus and I are listening to this story at the service and in the self-centered and dramatic manner of the only child who is also pregnant, I’m totally identifying with this story. But not in a tests-from-God sense. Every time I feign excitement with Y about the new baby and let her feel the baby’s movements and look at clothes for the baby, etc. I feel like we’re climbing mount Moriah and I know, but she doesn’t know, that she’s the goat.

I told my therapist this because you  can be that dramatic in therapy:

“I feel like I’m Abraham and Y is Isaac”

“I don’t know what you are talking about because I was not raised with religions, but it’s about betrayal?”

It’s about betrayal. Betrayal changes a relationship forever. It shakes the foundation of everything, and cracks it open so that it becomes something else, something unsafe.

The day N was conceived we happened to be in the Bay Area for a wedding. Our donor was there, too. I remember anxiously, absent-mindedly ripping apart a positive ovulation predictor test as Anne and I huddled in the bathroom and discussed whether we were going to do this. “I don’t think Y could handle having a sibling,” she said. I agreed. But I couldn’t let it go. All night I couldn’t let it go, I felt seized by something huge. The spirit of a child who wanted to come. A little egg knowing there’s sperm nearby. Hormones. I don’t know. Anne finally agreed we would try just once and if it was meant to be it was meant to be. Out of our hands. Your crazy hormones. Don’t worry,  it won’t work, it took 18 months to conceive Yael and I wasn’t exhausted, underweight, and breastfeeding 6-8 times a day then. I thought of all my straight friends who were “not, not trying.” No one’s going to actively take on the role of ruining their child’s s life but hey, if it happens…

Two weeks later I gagged at the stinky feet smell at Yael’s gymnastics class. A crappy weeks-old trader joe’s orange was the most delicious, perfect thing I had ever tasted. The two bright blue, glowing lines on the test slammed into my eyes as I absentmindedly looked up. I had been staring at Facebook for the five minutes, still sitting on the toilet, amazingly having forgotten what I was waiting for.

I couldn’t connect with the baby throughout the pregnancy. There were scares, there were reassuring ultrasounds, there was so much movement from early on, and yet it felt so wrong to even talk to him. Y is my baby. Y is the one that I talk to and sing to and explain and teach and laugh and delight with. He wasn’t here, really. In my head he was frozen in the blastocyst stage. I called him “Blasty.” Electricity, multiplying cells. Y was here in her full complexity. She was everything. And it was all going to explode. I couldn’t make room. I breastfed her through the pregnancy.

I sent her to school at the beginning of the school year because I knew I would need that time with the baby when he arrived in January, and I wanted her to have time to adjust to school before then. She was not yet three. She was intimidated by other kids, had no interest in being cared for by other adults, had never had a baby sitter or any non-family member watch her in her life. I left her there in this wild jungle of people who were not desperately in love with her and who wouldn’t be able to read her every response and provide completely attuned reactions and connections. I left her because of this person in my uterus whom I was incapable of imagining or connecting with. After I left her,clutching her froggy, her lunch box, her oversized back pack, I sprinted back to the parking lot faster than I thought my pregnant self could run, sobbing, blind with tears, nauseous from grief and guilt.

And then Blasty arrived, the most beautiful birth I never could have imagined. He was light, he was perfect, and oh my god I loved him.

Anne went home to nap Y a couple of hours after N was born because she had never napped by herself or with grandma. The doula (who had only been present for an hour of the unpredictably quick birth, and I think felt badly to leave) and I chatted awkwardly while N slept on me. Y came to meet her brother, I made sure I wasn’t holding him, he “gave” her his “I’m sorry I was born and ruined everything” gift (A Daniel Tiger trolley that moved and played songs and had all the characters) and she brought cupcakes. We sang happy birthday. She dutifully exclaimed about his tininess. She asked to nurse. The shocked but professional L&D nurse that was the designated breastfeeding coach remarked that I might not have enough milk to feed both kids, and we’ll see what the doctor has to say. (Three days later he had far surpassed his birth weight, information which was conveyed to me as I tried in vain to keep my milk from spraying all over his chart at the doctor’s office).  N and I spent the first and only night alone in the hospital so Y could have one parent home with her.


(By the way, moms expecting number two, I really wouldn’t worry too much about perfectly arranging the delivery room meeting. Your child will very quickly figure out what having a sibling means, no matter how many PBS Kids-themed toys mysteriously accompany him out of your uterus.)

I remember the high from the first days, a reparative birth, a beautiful, albeit jaundiced baby, N lying in the early January but still New Mexican sun, Y playing with her trolley, Anne not yet back to work. “Feeling of well-being” I said out loud.

It quickly shifted. I realized immediately I couldn’t nurse Y four times a day anymore. I cut out nursing sessions, replacing them with totally insufficient games of mommy and baby animals cuddling. One day, when N was a couple weeks old, Y suddenly demanded to nurse in the evening, knowing this wasn’t an option. I denied, and held her, and she screamed, her tiny body shaking, curled up in my lap. We were both consumed, swept away in her despair. My tears fell on her little head as she shrieked and sobbed “I want my mommy!”over and over.

I found myself quickly putting the baby down if I heard her coming into the room, like I didn’t want to get caught. I felt I only had two ways to respond to her despair- feeling it for her and helplessly suffocating in it or pushing it away and becoming cold and impatient, and I wildly swung between the two.

I never asked her to help with the baby, I felt like that would be disrespectful salt-rubbing. And she was certainly not interested in helping. But I soon found that she was interested in how we interacted with him. She loves silly words and delighted at his babbling as he grew older. She resented him for sure, she wanted me back for sure, but she didn’t want me to neglect him in order to serve her. She kind of cared about him. She showed me a family picture she drew, and it included N. I expected to see him depicted maybe off to one side, away from the family, upside down, being eaten by a stegosaurus, but he was right next to her, between the circle with dots that was mommy and the circle with dots that was mama.

It stayed really fucking hard for a while. I couldn’t figure out how to attune to and groove with both of them at the same time. Those moments of awkwardly holding her while I nursed Nuri in the rocker, my guilt so huge we were all almost flattened by it.

But, from her teachers at school, and her dance teacher “She’s adjusting incredibly well. I’ve seen absolutely no signs that anything has happened. She’s still just so happy.”

Once, while I was nursing Nuri, she fell and started banshee screaming, and I felt myself move through the familiar series of startled, agitated, annoyed, guilty, concerned, and then I watched her pick up her stuffed froggy for a snuggle instead of asking me.

She suddenly started chatting up other parents at the park.  She started to dress herself, she worked at it until she figured out zippers and buttons. She played on her own, holding court in elaborate pretend worlds of ducks and frogs and the nutcracker and lady gaga and human hearts. All of this made me sad to watch, the compensations of a child abandoned. But it’s also possible that she was starting to thrive and I couldn’t see it though the blurry, nearsighted lens of my guilt, my clinging to this role of being her everything, even as it stretched, distorted, and snapped, impossible to sustain.  N’s arrival had pushed her out of the nest, I had pushed her out of the nest, and it was possible she was flying loop-the-loops and sky-writing, but all I could see was that she wasn’t in the nest anymore.

Now she confidently enters new situations. She sets skillful, polite boundaries with other kids (most of the time) when she feels she needs to- a skill most adults I know, myself included, don’t have. She runs into her brother’s room screaming “quiero ver a Nunu” when he wakes from a nap, she comforts him when he’s distressed (and yeah, the distress is often because she’s taken something from him or knocked him down.) He thinks she’s the most amazing slightly scary and unpredictable but completely awesome blurry whirlwind that ever was. Y’s relationship with Anne has seriously deepened. Our family is more balanced.


Last Rosh Hashanah, N was 9 months old. He slept against me in the carrier during the service, as I reflected on and marveled at this past year. The rabbi was visiting from a renewal congregation in Philadelphia. “I heard an interpretation of the Akedah that I love, and haven’t heard often,” she said,  “that the goat symbolizes the child that the parent tries to own.”  The child that I was enmeshed with, clinging to, trying to own and control was the goat. And the sacrifice I dreaded and fought against and finally succumbed to was the release of this perceived ownership and projection and control. And it was exactly what needed to happen.  It might have also been wisdom that was gripping me that sleepless night, in which I decided, (against our previous well thought out decision), to crack open my existing relationship with my daughter. A type of primal wisdom that takes you to a mountain top and asks you to kill the thing you think you love, which, unbeknownst even to you, is the thing that had kept you both bound.







Facing Fears and Redefining Perfection

I noticed pretty quickly that newborn N wasn’t making eye contact. I started to worry about autism by 6 or 7 weeks, and told his doctor at his 2 month appointment. She shined a light in his eyes, kept her facial expression neutral, and said “I think we know what’s going on, he just has nystagmus like you, but I think you should see an ophthalmologist just to get him checked out.” I felt like I had gotten a piece of news that I didn’t understand.

Our super cute blind baby

I had worried when the ultrasound tech, with her divining wands and screens, pronounced his sex at the 20 week ultrasound. Clutching the strip with the highlighted fetus-penis, stumbling back out into the sunshine, I ruminated about how males aren’t as hearty, that they’re more susceptible to genetic, environmental, and mental health issues. (Also how do we teach him about penis things?) Also all of the implications of raising a boy in our culture that teaches boys that they are both entitled and powerful leaders who are also weak and unable to regulate or empathize. But that’s a different post.

I didn’t get the first trimester genetic/chromosome test. My anxious self is not helped by vague probability figures, plus we had decided we wouldn’t terminate if the baby had Down’s Syndrome anyway. My doctor agreed that it didn’t make sense to test: “Like my husband says, ‘why hunt if you’re not gonna shoot?'” Really, she said that. And many other amazing things , like “you don’t know what’s going to happen to your daughter tomorrow. Or your wife. Or any of us,” when I asked about the probability of losing the pregnancy during some late first trimester bleeding.

But I remained strangely preoccupied with the state of N’s chromosomes even while delivering him.

Anyway, after that 2 month, appointment, I started watching more closely. It wasn’t just that he wasn’t making eye contact. He wasn’t seeing at all. Anything. His eyes would sometimes move back and forth, not able to focus on anything. “He’s really checking everything out!” remarked well-meaning strangers. I just nodded, cause what are they gonna do with “actually, he can’t see.” I shined bright lights in his eyes, no response.  I would compulsively move my hand at his face, stopping right before I hit his eyelashes, but he would never blink.

He would sometimes cry when we picked him up, and I wondered if it was because he didn’t see it coming.  I started to bend down close to him, kiss him, let him smell me, tell him it was mommy and I was going to pick him up.

We had to wait a week to see the ophthalmologist. I remained frozen in the deep uncertainty, terror. A weird, scraggily, icicle-filled tundra-forest where it felt unsafe to breathe, lest everything come crashing and slashing down. What would his life be like? Would he ever be independent? Children with special needs are so much more likely be abused, how could we protect him? How will his caregivers and teachers treat him? What will it be like for his sister that we will relocate and make all of our family decisions based on his eyes?

And the unbearable guilt: It’s my shakey-eyed, neurologically challenged genes’ fault. The abstract irresponsibility of reproducing when you know you have questionable genes potentially becoming real life suffering for this precious being.

And the tenderness, the deepest love and tenderness for this tiny, vulernable creature who is all light, and who inhabits a world of darkness, but never knew any differently. Who glows at the sound of our voices.Who is perfect.

The ophthalmologist held red shiny mardi gras beads above N’s head, that he didn’t see. She shined a light in his eyes.

Me: Is he… I mean, is he blind?

Dr. It’s a good sign that his pupils are reactive to light…but I don’t know yet.  There’s no way to test him. We just have to wait and see. We’ll send a home visitor from the school for the…visually impaired…she can observe him in his home environment and work with you guys.I’m hoping it’s delayed visual maturation.

My wife felt relieved, but continued her coping process of researching the best schools for the blind and planning our family’s next adventures in those cities. All of it was impinging on my selective denial. I wanted the doctor to tell me he wasn’t blind. I reviewed the visit in my head a billion times, breastfeeding at 2am, trying to divine answers in the pauses, the dr’s facial expression, her questions.

Maybe you’re wondering what it’s like to have nystagmus. The world really does shake as your eyes shake. But you can turn to your head to the side and get it to stop. But then you’re always looking at people sideways. You’re always ready to break eye contact in a conversation when you feel you lose control of the muscles- the kids in grade school let you know in no uncertain terms how creepy it is to see your eyes shake. Your vision can’t be corrected past a certain point. I can’t drive at night, which didn’t matter in NYC and is awful here in Santa Fe. Because of the jerky-shaky movement of the eyes and the fact that you’re on edge, and randomly breaking eye contact, people assume you’re super anxious. They tell you how anxious you are and you become that anxious person. Maybe you would have been anyway, I don’t know. Strings of small typed numbers or letters are extremely hard to read because they are dancing everywhere. The password on a wifi router, account numbers on bills are a special kind of torture. I trip and fall when running or hiking downhill on dirt a lot. Sometimes when I look at my daughter’s super perceptive, sophisticated, seeing-everything, defiant gaze, I wonder if that’s what my gaze would have looked like.

But no one ever thought I was blind as a baby.

I didn’t want to talk to any friends or family about it. What could they possibly say? I felt desperately lonely, and unwilling to reach out.

I needed professionals to tell me it was going to be ok. Or it wasn’t .

I took him to the magical, renowned infant Osteopath in town. A very quiet, intuitive, super confident Brittish fellow who was somewhat allergic to my anxious presentation. He had been working with N on his gut issues.

I explained, “I had noticed he hadn’t been making eye contact and worried that maybe he was autistic but then –

He interrupted: This baby is not autistic! Look how engaged he is! He is so engaged. Really, do not worry about that!

Me: Right, well, then I realized that he wasn’t seeing anything. So…I mean…but he’s not blind, right?

He stares at me with the excruciatingly long eye contact that is so common in Santa Fe and so unbearably uncomfortable for someone with nystagmus. Finally, he says, “You don’t want that kind of worry getting into the breastmilk.”I’m silent, waiting. It’s already in the breastmilk, sir. And if not that, something else.

He looks at me intensely again and says “There’s nothing untoward about your baby,” and dismisses us.

I call the school for the blind in Albuquerque until they agree to send their Santa Fe person to our house that evening. She shook toys over his face in red, yellow, and shiny hues. She brought special toys to stimulate his vision: potato chip bags turned inside out and taped shut, cd mobiles, red things, black and white things.

I felt protective of him, agitated. I wanted her to back off and give him space. I wanted to curse at her and throw her out of my house. And I needed her to finally resolve this. My body was taut, and I wasn’t really breathing.

“Is he blind?” My desperation pained her, of course. She looked helpless. “I don’t think so? It’s probably delayed visual maturation. But we have to wait and see.”

There wasn’t a First Time He Looked at Me moment. It wasn’t clear at first. There was a lot of, “did you see that? Did his gaze maybe fix on mine/yours for a second? Is he looking at that inside-out potato chip bag?” The hopefulness in it made me scared, untrusting, doubtful. I felt unwilling to leave the icicles and breath-holding, that my lack of vigilance would cause everything to collapse around us.

I read things I shouldn’t have about Delayed Visual Maturation. That it’s usually associated with other syndromes, developmental delays, learning disabilities. It’s an issue of the brain, not the eyes. Babies whose vision”turned on” by 15 weeks fared the best. I had the clock going in my head. Around 15 weeks I was pretty sure he was seeing me. And it very slowly started to progress from there, like his eyes had just been born and had to figure out how they worked.

When he was 6 months old we took him to the head of pediatric ophthalmology at a well-renowned eye hospital in Philadelphia.

“He’s totally fine. He just has congenital nystagmus like you. And there’s surgery for it now, so when we see how it ends up affecting his vision, we can make that decision. But he’s seeing like any baby, he’s seeing what he needs to in order to develop. He does not need any special interventions. He would not be admitted to a school for the blind and visually impaired.”

He said that he sees delayed visual maturation with nystagmus all the time.

Relief, disbelief, confusion.

He still can’t see super well, but we think it gets better every week. He’s 12 months and not crawling or pulling to stand (but he’s close). In his first days he had elevated bilirubin, last month he had to be hospitalized for oxygen when he got a virus. He’s anemic.  Relatively minor issues, but it’s hard not to worry.  And he’s also the most amazing, special little guy. He has an astounding depth of love and presence that is incredible to behold. He can communicate absolutely anything.  He hates when you read him books. He loves thermostats and music. Sometimes when I’m trying to teach him something he gets this beatific look on his face that’s like, “I don’t know what you’re wanting me to do right now, but how awesome that we’re spending this time together doing stuff! How awesome is EVERYTHING?!!”

I think this now and I thought this when I thought he was blind: He’s perfect. He’s exactly who he should be, he’s exactly who our family needed. And uncertainty is terrifying,  but he is a wonderful gift to the world, and he and his boddhisatva love, slow-burn brilliance, and amazing chillness are going to be absolutely fine, whatever that looks like. I’m sure of it.

“You Accidentally Let a Scary Jaguar Into Our House”: Processing and Parenting Post Election

Y taking care of her Hillary Clinton baby

Yesterday evening: Hillary Clinton in the form of my 4 year old daughter is “helping me do dishes” which means playing some elaborate game that involves water fountains and journeys through colanders and pouring soapy cups of water all over the floor.  I am breading fish. Hillary Clinton is wearing leopard print socks, leopard print pants, a leopard print shirt, a pink and white striped winking owl hat and a “crown” made of a chunk of steel wool stretched to fit around her head. We’re listening to NPR. Hillary Clinton keeps pouring water into a cracked cup. There is a white nationalist being interviewed. So that we can understand their views. according to the disclaimer, now that they are part of our government. A man’s freakishly genial and even-tempered voice comes out of my iPhone saying the US should be a country of white Europeans again and that swastikas and white robes are a totally appropriate way to express one’s identity. My daughter hears me gasp, sees the set of my jaw, the body language she knows so well- how I look when I’m terrified/angry/helpless. How I look when I yell at her.

Y: Is this Donald Trump?

Me: No, but it’s another mean friend of his

Y: Does he want some people not to live in this country?

Me: Yeah he does. It’s pretty mean.

Y: Does he want us to not live in this country?

Me: Yes. But we can live here. Most people don’t think like he does. Most people love that we’re here. He’s just a mean guy.

I haven’t told her about anti-semitism or homophobia yet. My conversations about oppression in our country have been vague celebrations of difference and exhortations to always be kind and inclusive and defend people who need help. Like those conversations look when you’re on the oppressor end of things. The place from which you’re shocked that Trump won. I never had to think about how to explain that many people might not like her.

Yesterday morning: Checking Facebook, more posts announcing and denouncing pictures of swastikas. My intestines feel bruised  Checking again. More white nationalist, climate change denying, homophobic cabinet members. I am a raw nerve. I have the thought “I am a raw nerve.” Y comes screaming into the room “my leotard hurts, I can’t wear it, I won’t wear it!” Sobbing, throwing herself on the floor. “I can’t walk. I’m sick. I can’t wear my leotard” I feel assaulted by her feelings. I know she needs love and understanding. I have no room for anything. What did I do wrong with her? I’m failing her. She needs love. I have ill prepared her for the world .Who can be prepared for this world? She shrieks louder. I yell back, “I don’t care if you don’t go to dance class! You have to STOP!” Her tiny, wiry body on the ground, she lifts her head, screams, “I WILL NEVER STOP!!”

Yesterday Night: Y stands by the front door. “pretend I’m a leopard and you weren’t paying attention and you accidentally let me into the house, and now there’s a scary leopard in the house.” I do as I’m told. She delightfully roars past me into the hallway. She roars at her baby brother. He looks interested. She bites him hard on the arm. He screams in pain, bewilderment, shock.

Saturday afternoon: Singing with my baby bouncing on my lap. Y and A are playing the drums. The music teacher starts singing This Land is Your Land. All of the tears want to come, but I only let a few out.

Nov 8, 10pm, St Paul: Nytimes is predicting a 93% likelihood that Trump will win and Republicans will have control of the House and Senate. I rush to go to sleep in a last-ditch solipsistic toddler bid – If I’m not there to perceive it, maybe it can’t happen.

Nov 9, morning:  I check my phone. A text from A. “He did it. He won. We’re going to be ok. I love you.” I cry, a discharge of things. Fear. I take the kids upstairs. A has left to visit her dying grandma in a rural part of the state. My brother-in-law, who is an evangelical Christian missionary gives me a hug. I cry and tell him I’m scared. Y observes this then skips into the living room to raid her grandma’s art supplies. “We love you and support you and we’ll get through this,” he says. I don’t exactly know his politics, but I have assumptions. I don’t ask for clarification. I accept the love. Baby N, who had buried his head in my chest catches my eye and grins wildly. “Ba-doom” he tells me. He lunges for the high chair. Oatmeal. Breakfast.

My brother-in-law helps me with the kids all day. We go eat at a Somali-owned deli. I order a dish called chicken fantastic and it was. I highly recommend chicken fantastic for whenever the world is collapsing. And baklava. All of it. I kept staring at people, trying to connect with fear, grief, faith, hope, despair, strength. But that’s not how Minnesotans are. “I’m doing great!” said every employee we saw, who then played energetically and with much endurance with my spirited 4 year old in the eerily empty children’s museum.

My other brother-in-law, a progressive atheist, tells us about a protest that night. A and I are both desperate to be around like-minded people, to grieve, fear, hope, rage, rise up in community. I feel a strange clarity. We’re being called to be the best that we are. How we meet this is how America will be. We will take care of each other, we will call out oppression every time we see it, we will be radically generous, hospitable, open, loving. We will take care of our feelings and act from the wisest place.

There were a lot of young people at the protest. I found myself resisting the urge to shush the people around me screaming important things about whose lives mattered because it was scaring the baby. We marched around the University in Minneapolis, and then, though it wasn’t the plan, people jumped over the fence and onto the entrance ramp to the highway to block traffic. We took N home. I remember being a revolution-eyed 20 year old, but I was needing to be around the moms. My clarity turns to numbness. I still feel, for days, that it is desperately important that we not submit to scaring the shit out of each other and calling each other dumb for wearing safety pins or reacting however we react. Stay wise. One day at a time. I throw that out there regularly into the Facebook clusterfuck, but, oddly, it doesn’t change the nature of social media.


All the days: A never-ending organic frito, chocolate cake, cheese and graham cracker cycle. Here’s a call to action: Let’s take all the weight we’ve gained, all stand on one corner of the earth and push really hard at the same time. We can probably knock the planet slightly out of this space time continuum/dimension. I think that’s how it works. We could make Beyonce president, just to see.

All the days: Grasping for words from wise spiritual leaders. Some way to understand this, some way forward. I like this Buddhist writing on fear and the election. I like the metaphors to sitting shiva that many rabbis are expressing, that we be in and with the darkness for a period of time (usually 7 days, but we can extend it due to extenuating circumstances) and then we rise up and become the light. I like the story from someone’s therapist, a child of Holocaust survivors (posted in Pantsuit Nation)

“He told me a story then, about a group of Jewish Americans who went to visit Israel in the sixties. There they met a well-known Rabbi who in spite of being debilitated by Parkinson’s, was a great beacon of light to those around him. He addressed the group and demanded, “what was the lesson of the Holocaust?” Mostly silence ensued, followed by some awkward murmuring of “never forget” and “always fight.” More silence.
“No!” the Rabbi said, slamming his fist down on the table. “When the Jews were in Auschwitz, the Nazis gave them one blanket per three people.”
“Why did they do this? So that they would fight among themselves. So that their humanity would be stripped away.”
“The lesson of the Holocaust, was simple,” my therapist said, now crying.
“Share the blanket.”

In some weird grandiose reaction I’ve wished I were a rabbi or some sort of leader right now. Or at least still a therapist. Then I would have to find some wisdom, stability, clarity, love. I would have to be in it, live from it, wisely take care of my terror, be called, rise up.

And then I realize I am that. To Y, screaming in my face, asking for help and love, and N, oblivious, radiating love, wanting some oatmeal. I am their rabbi, therapist, teacher, super flawed and erratic Old-Testament- style God. And my terror-spasms, my resistance to my fear, my clenched-ness and despair are affecting my kids. The fear and rage that led us here is in my house. Y would still be in the hyperactive rattlesnake phase of testing and invidivuation whether or not Trump was president, but I am too preoccupied to be meeting it the way I need to be. I need to allow my feelings and I need to allow their feelings, all of them. I need to show them how to love through terror. Maybe this is how we live on the brink of darkness, in darkness.  Notice, savor the love, hope, spaciousness, perspective you feel every time you look at a child’s super precious and amazing face. Use it to be with and contain the fear. Remember what this is all for, and abandoning them to our despair isn’t an option. That’s all I’ve got right now.

A Tale of Two Births

Number one: Trial by Ordeal (or The Initiation)


My muccus plug came out on shabbat, probably during the prayer for wine. I was 38+6 weeks. I had read somewhere not very reputable that the first child arrives on average 8 days past its due date (41 +1) so I figured I would just be muccus plug-less for a few weeks. I continued ritually welcoming the holy day of rest without much expectation. I had bronchitis that was maybe pneumonia. I hadn’t slept in over a week (ha! I thought that was bad!). I kept doing neti pot because I was pregnant and couldn’t do anything else. It kept not working. I kept bending down lower trying to coax the salt water through my sinuses in a way that would be cleansing and not drowny and useless. I kind of hung upside down over the sink.So when my lower back started to hurt, that’s what I attributed it to – irresponsibly over-aggressive neti pot posture.

I went to sleep. I woke up. I was having contractions. Except they were in my back. And they didn’t hurt very much. A and I excitedly got out a notebook and timed them. They were 3 minutes apart! I was even better than 5-1-1! And it didn’t even hurt that much. I smugly thought about all the bicycle commuting I did throughout my pregnancy against the advice of my coworkers. Also I hiked like every day. That’s why my labor is so easy, I’m just so fit. Or maybe I’m just tougher than everyone else. I had never thought of myself as particularly pain tolerant, quite the opposite, but when it comes to this most primal of all experiences, my body just knows what to do. I called my mom and told her I was having contractions three minutes apart. I had some while on the phone but they didn’t hurt much, I could still talk. I called my doctor. She was skeptical. When she heard I was bleeding, she said to go to the hospital to get checked. We giddily grabbed our hospital bag, which contained two neti pots, some organic cheeto/pretzel snack mix, a ginger drink, and clothes for me and the baby to wear home-and headed over. The triage nurse checked me. 2.5 centimeters. We and our neti pots were sent home.

On the way home we stopped at Albertsons for some matzo ball soup ingredients. My contractions and I waited in the car. I ate matzo ball soup, then eventually it was dinner time. We went to some Italian place and I ate pasta like I was not going to be allowed to eat for two more days. We came home. The contractions got more painful. They stayed in my back. I never felt anything in my uterus. We decided to watch a funny movie for distraction like you’re supposed to but we didn’t really know anything about funny movies so we just picked Bridesmaids which is weird and heteronormative and not so funny. By 11pm I was in real pain. I realized my cycling and hiking weren’t shit. I was sure this was active labor. 3cm according to the triage nurse, but they admitted me I think out of pity and because there was a lot of blood. “This looks like an OP labor” she remarked. She was weirdly gruff for a New Mexican lady. “What’s an OP labor?” “Sunny-side up. The baby is facing the wrong way. Her back is facing your back. That’s why your labor is in your back. These labors are really painful and really slow.”

Our friend who was studying massage therapy was with us as a support. I needed her to push as hard as possible on my back for every contraction. I thought each one was going to take my life. I had two minutes to neti pot and then I would feel one ramping up again and I would scream PUSH and she would position herself and lean as hard as she could.

There was a nurse on duty that used to be a doula. Or still was a doula but right now was a nurse. She super kindly volunteered to help me flip the baby. There were all kinds of props, scarves and birthing balls. So many positions. I only wanted to be lying in the bed on my right side. Words kept coming out of her mouth at me and making me have to comprehend them and then move and it all hurt so badly it was almost unbearable. I finally said I felt the baby flip to make it stop. I did not understand doulas. I hated them.

I had kind of avoided any mention or image of birth on the internet so I wouldn’t have any expectations but I did somehow internalize that at some point one needs to be in a tub. I was holding on to this idea through each contraction like a piece of a rope in some kind of scuba diving disaster rescue situation. I felt like each contraction was going to break me. I asked to get in the tub. The nurse gently suggested that I wait until things were a little further along. I demanded to get in the tub. (I also felt like at some point I was supposed to be demanding things). It really felt like it was about survival. I just had to get in that tub, and we would survive.

I got in the tub. It was unfathomable to me, but the contractions actually hurt just as much in the tub as out. I got out of the tub and left the useless scuba diving rope behind. I don’t know how but I stayed alive the rest of the night.

Around 11am the nurse checked me again. “I’d say 4cm?” she said in a way that was clear that she was being generous. I used the absolute last vestiges of my energy to break down into hopeless, desperate sobs. I felt the beginning of the next contraction pull me under. The doctor was called.

She suggested two interventions, break my water and give an epidural. I agreed to the water breaking. She stuck a wooden hook into the water bag and all the amniotic fluid gushed out and immediately things became even more intense. I descended into a world of shadows and archetypes. The nice nurse was like a guide across the river styx. I stopped seeing. At one point I was on the birthing ball in the shower. The ball was over the drain. The room flooded. Water dripped into radiology below. There were many people, men, in my room, wondering about the deluge, and I took absolutely no notice of  any of it.I stopped worrying about whether I would die. The only thing I was capable of knowing was the forming, cresting, and ebbing of each contraction.

An hour later i was checked again. 5cm. “I think an epidural would help you” said my very very natural-y, non-interventionist doctor. A: “I really think you should get an epidural” Me,”No.” I don’t understand words. I’m remembering from some distant, unrecognizable past that I wasn’t going to get an epidural. That sounds right. A: “I really think it’s a good idea” Me – “Ok”  Just stop. The nurse anesthetist came. When she forced herself into my consciousness I could only vaguely perceive her as an evil witch with terrible potions. They prepped me to shove an extremely large needle down my spine. I did not give a fuck. The only thing I cared about was that I wouldn’t be able to have my friend push on my back during the contraction when they were preparing my back.

And then they stopped. I slept for an hour. I woke up. I was shaking violently. I couldn’t drink enough water. I had to drink all of the water. I vomited. I drank 10 gallons more water. The vitals machine sounded an alarm. The evil witch came back and injected something into my IV. “What’s that? ” “Epinephrine. Your blood pressure is too low” More violent shaking. I said I felt pressure. The nurse checked me – 10cm and ready to push. The nurse put her hand on my uterus and watched the machine, informed me of when I was having a contraction, and told me to push. I pushed like I was trying to split myself in half. Nothing happened. I had been in labor for so long that my contractions were petering out, not strong enough to help the baby out. I was given pitocin. Eventually the Dr remarked that she could see the baby’s head and could put a bow in her hair. At one point the nurse took my temp, looked alarmed, showed it to the Dr. The dr remained impassive and just said “It’s ok. She’s drinking plenty of water” I even tried to drink water while pushing. Eventually, after three hours, I asked if maybe this called for the vacuum. The Dr agreed that that was a good idea. I didn’t look at it but I imagined a dust buster with my baby’s head in it. She got it in position and told me to push as hard as I could. I summoned all of my remaining strength and everyone else’s and the epinephrine’s and PUSHED. Y was here.  She was perfect. Strong and beautiful and mysterious and so familiar. I had never seen such a creature. It was like the universe cracked open and god fell out. I loved her.

And I was in such shock.

Y’s temp was 102.5 and the doctor, amazing as she was, told the nurses that she should stay with me rather than being brought to pediatrics because she knew she had a fever only from cooking in my crazy feverish body, not because she had an infection. Her temp dropped quickly. She stayed with us the whole time, got a perfect APGAR score and latched well. I was given antibiotics for pneumonia and a nebulizer.

Number two: He Basically Just Crawled Out in My Sleep


We hired a doula for this birth, even though I was doubtful of their usefulness. We only had two questions for the potential doulas: Are you homophobic? Are you ok with epidurals? Because we’re gay and I’m getting an epidural. Much sooner this time.

I weathered another end of pregnancy bronchitis adventure this time with a different doctor who strongly encouraged me to take drugs and sleep – better for baby if I sleep than if I stay sick and cough myself into early labor because I didn’t want to expose him to pharmaceuticals.She tried to give me Ambien. I took the cough syrup with codeine. I slept 5 hours one night and  finally got better after five weeks of refusing drugs and staying sick.

I started to have some back pain and so I went to acupuncture at 38+6 days. The Acupuncturist asked if I wanted her to get labor going. I declined.It was dark when I walked home, but it was snowing and bright so I didn’t trip over anything for once. Around 10pm I started to feel twinges. In my fucking back again. By 11pm they were regular and not so painful. Nothing to see here, I know what this looks like, let’s all go to bed. Our doula told us that in early labor I should sleep as much as I possibly could which was damn good advice. She had also shown me different positions to hang out in to encourage the baby to be facing the right way. I kind of dozed in those positions. My three year old who never sleeps jumped on my back and asked me to be a horse. The contractions got a little bit stronger around 5am (and they were also in my uterus!) but still nothing to write home about. I didn’t write home,  I did write to the doula just to warn her that in the next few days I might have a baby. I hesitantly woke A and had her push on my back for some of them, but most I could just breathe through. My daughter petted my face as I breathed. Then she went to dance class with Grandma, who was visiting to take care of her when I went into labor.


Around 9am I realized I was hungry. I ate fried eggs and a peanut butter banana chocolate smoothie. All of it. The contractions were 5 or 6 minutes apart but I still didn’t make much of them. I asked A if she thought we should write the doula. “I just don’t think you’re there yet, compared to last time.” I agreed. The doula suggested getting checked at my Dr’s office since then I’d skip triage at the hospital if I were admittable. I thought we should wait, but then I became curious.

I got dressed and we left. Anne threw the hospital bag in the car cause why not?. This one also contained organic cheetos-so good for pushing babies out. When I was standing, the contractions were coming much faster but still not so painful. I had to manage a contraction outside before I could make it to the receptionist. She asked how quickly they were coming. I looked at my watch. Actually, about every minute. I learned against the wall to deal with another one.

I told the doctor to lie to me if I were any less than 3cm because it would be too discouraging. She agreed. She checked me for ten years. I waited to hear “3cm” But instead: “There is no cervix there. You are like 9.5cm. And the baby’s head is RIGHT THERE. Why are you not at the hospital??? Ok.. I just got an emergency kit so I can deliver you here. Do you have to push?” I did not have to push. We all rushed to the hospital.

The 0.3 miles between the clinic and the hospital is primarily composed of speed bumps. A flew over them like there was not a baby evidently about to fall out of my vagina. We waked into our room and somehow the dr. had already teleported herself there. I got hooked up to the monitors and cracked some jokes between contractions. I was convinced that the Dr had somehow missed my cervix and that I was actually like 3cm. No blood, no mucus plug, I’m having a coherent conversation, I pointed out to the nurse. She kind of agreed. But I didn’t want to be checked again.

Then I  was in transition. I descended down to the pain place. It was incredible, magnificent pain. The hot shower maybe helped  and then it didn’t. An hour went by.I still didn’t feel the need to push. I was stuck. I panicked. I can’t stay in this place. I want an epidural.

The doula calmly said that sometimes when people feel stuck there’s something they’re afraid of. She asked if that was maybe happening. She expected me to worry about tearing or pushing,but I burst into tears and said “we never did the genetic testing and I’m scared that he has a chromosomal abnormality.”The doula calmly encouraged me to maybe just worry about getting him here.

But voicing my Down’s Syndrome concerns didn’t lead to eviction. She recommended that I pee. I stayed on the toilet for several awful contractions and then finally felt like I maybe needed to push. I asked the Dr to break my water, which still was intact. Then I was really ready to push.

The feeling of pushing not numbed, I will never forget it. It is crazy. It was like 7 pounds of jello in my vagina. Bone-in jello. I pushed for three contractions. Each time I was told to rest between contractions, gear up as the contraction gears up, and then give it my all when the contraction peaks. I could feel the jello go out and back in. I didn’t think we were getting anywhere. At the fourth contraction the Dr said, “The head and shoulders are out, let’s get the rest.” She yelled at me to push. Some crazy strength came over me and I did as I was told. With enormous force. I think a noise even came from me from somewhere. Then I lay back down to get ready for the next contraction.”Look down, your baby’s here!”

And so he was. I couldn’t believe it. He was already shining, light, so happy to have landed here. He was totally embodied. He was love. I loved him. I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to love someone as much as I loved my daughter but here he was and I did.

Delivering the placenta HURT.

Several nurses called me rock star. I wanted to let it get to my head but I knew better.

Here’s what I learned:

The way your birth goes is all about chance, mostly the position of the baby. You can’t control it. You can’t prepare for it. You can’t be doing things right or not right. And especially this: If your birth did not go the way you anticipated, it has nothing to do with you having unresolved something or other that stopped you from truly accessing your whatever. I had much more unresolved something or other with N’s pregnancy but my whatever was evidently engaged. How it goes is how it was going to go, how it was supposed to go and you just brought a new life into the world, and people profiting from preaching ecstatic births or results from hypo whatever or spiritual techniques etc should really take a look at what they’re doing because in my opinion it is fucked up to try to make people think they can control this and are supposed to have a particular experience and failed if they didn’t.And the obvious corollary, if you were lucky enough to have a relatively easy birth, it was just luck and other people who weren’t so lucky are in no way less good at it than you are.

Contrary to what I might have initially feared, hospitals don’t send anesthesiologists to suddenly pounce on you and shove a needle in your spine the second you walk in the door. In fact having the option of an epidural was super helpful for me and saved me from a c-section. I have all respect for all types and places of birth, seriously, but I don’t think the hospital is a terrible option.


People who give birth without medication are not amazing heroes of strength and power and endurance any more than anyone who gives birth in any scenario. It’s all completely unfathomably amazing. But people who have back labor kind of are the toughest.

Basically, just not judging, ourselves and others. There’s no control over any of it and the sooner we get ok with that first and hugely important lesson of parenting, the better this continual ripping apart of ourselves (in order to make room for life and growth and amazingness) that is parenting will go for us.












No Goddesses In Here? This Mom’s Doubts About Maternal Instinct

I don’t much care for dogs. I’m sure they’re lovely, really, it’s just my particular nervous system doesn’t work with sudden, loud noises and jumping and teeth. The people of New Mexico, though, they have a special relationship with dogs. It’s happened maybe like 500 times that I’d be walking through a crowded space with my baby, and I’d hear “Oh my god, how precious! Oh she’s gorgeous, look at her,” etc and I would look up, bursting with pride, but always they were talking about a nearby dog, nudging my bewildered, disappointed self and beautiful, un-adored baby out of the way to get to it. Because of the statewide mandate to worship dogs, it really, genuinely, would not occur to most dog owners here that you could have any response other than delight and admiration when they, say, let their huge, leash-less creature hurl its body at your extremely pregnant uterus and shove you off a narrow hiking path onto a steep embankment, for example. I’ve always been uncomfortable with dogs, but after having lived here for five years, I now feel nothing less than abject terror when I see one approaching. Anyway, one spring afternoon, I’m strolling along with my tiny  5 or 6 month old bundle of vulnerability and joy. She’s just woken up. I am desperately singing about chamisa and ants to keep her from realizing she’s awake and in her car seat which she does not consent to.The sky is bright blue like always and the vicious spring winds are calm for the moment. I have another jolt of disbelief about how lucky I am that I’m a mom and I get to hang out with and love this creature every day. Suddenly, I see someone approaching with a growling, leaping, beast of a dog. I instantly go deep into my New Mexico Dog Approaching panic, and I act without thinking. You could say instinctively. And so what did that look like for this doting, fiercely protective, and very well-bonded new mom? I totally put that stroller right between me and the dog. Had to kind of drag it and turn it to do it since the front wheel was locked. Then I kind of tried to half drop into a fetal position behind it. I did realize a second later, and immediately reversed our positions relative to the dog. Luckily this one was on a leash and no one got hurt. But still.

And also, early in Y’s infancy, this thing kept happening to me–

Me [to medical provider, therapist, friend, early intervention specialist, anyone]: I  don’t understand why my baby won’t sleep at all ever. What does she need?


Me: Is it a problem that my baby seems to enjoy looking at the same blank point on the wall for disturbingly long amounts of time? 


Me: How come she always chokes on breastmilk at this one bedtime feeding? Can you die from that?


Helper Person: Well, I mean, what does your instinct say? 

Me: ????

So each time I would go diving, looking for this maternal instinct to consult. What an amazing idea. I don’t know, I guess I was kind of envisioning some kind of tree goddess made of placentas that resided in my uterus and would whisper in ancient tongues about whether it was the emergency diapers we got at Whole Foods or the butt paste with tea tree oil that was causing the rash. But I never found her. I had my own ideas and feelings about things, of course, but I could always trace them to logic or my belief systems or family of origin things. Never to the placenta lady. I actually began to feel deficient, as a mother and as a lady because I did not have or could not uncover this innate wisdom.

Interestingly, despite the kangaroo-like quality, ring slings do not trigger the release of your dormant maternal instinct

There are a million reasons why the idea of maternal instinct is so appealing, especially now. Back in the 70’s when the idea was being debunked by baby boomer feminist anthropologists, it merely meant a drive to have kids and to raise them despite it not being in the mother’s best interest, biologically or socially. But now it seems to have morphed into a totally different concept that basically states that a mother can know, on a bodily, spiritual, and intellectual level, everything she needs to know to understand, respond to, and make the very best parenting decisions regarding her child. And on the surface, that sounds wonderful. The idea that there is a deep wisdom and pure voice of truth within us that has been obscured by oppression and trauma or ego or distractions (or whatever) is a super powerful one. And now we are in a cultural moment of deep mistrust of the medical system, and a strong push to re-empower women who have historically been–and currently still are –traumatized and abused by the medical system and the legislative system specifically around birth and reproductive issues. And this focus on innate body wisdom makes sense and can be really empowering in that context. Also, we’ve been living so far-removed from nature and so terrified and guilty about our destruction of it, that we end up with all kinds of nostalgic fantasies about its benevolence and perfection. And, it’s nice to feel that you have some kind of guiding compass amidst the overwhelming onslaught of opinions and information that is coming at us constantly via the Internet and social media.

But I do think we need to back up a little on this maternal instinct idea because it could have some dangerous consequences. First of all, there is that issue that having this expectation of yourself and then not being able to actually live up to it (because it may not be real) can be pretty distressing to an already stressed and insecure new mom. This can start from the birth. So many midwives talk about our inherent ability to push our our babies or endure labor without medication, intervention, etc. It’s totally understandable why they would want to communicate this, but then what happens if intervention is needed? You feel like a failure as a mother before you even start mothering. Which is awful. Absolutely, the making and birthing of babies is huge and incredible and miraculous. But there are so many factors that go into how a birth is going to go, and most of them don’t center around whether or not a mother has correctly tapped into her innate birthing wisdom. When that was all we had, many, many moms and babies were dying. And just like many of us need help with birth because the tree placenta uterus lady can’t just do it for us, we also need help figuring out what to do with a new baby. It’s too much pressure otherwise, and a set up to fail.

Mostly, though, I really feel uncomfortable with the way that this belief in maternal instinct can lead us to parent without thinking about and questioning what we’re doing. Someone in a local moms group asked for the other moms’ opinions on the safety of vaccines, and several of the responses she got were to the effect of “trust your instinct, your heart knows best.”  Which I’m sure says more about where I live than anything else, but… it’s definitely no one’s instinct to jab a needle full of virus into a newborn. I would hope that whatever decision she came to, she arrived there based on sound research, and not her feelings  But the larger issue is, we generally just feel like a certain way of parenting is right because it’s what we’ve been exposed to (or a reaction against what we’ve been exposed to). And if you just keep it going without questioning, you will also continue whatever unhealthy or painful patterns you have internalized from your own childhood. And everyone has them. I’m not arguing that we should be paralyzed with doubt and indecision with every parenting choice we make (thought that is definitely my personal MO) but I think the idea that we all have this super wise and super correct instinct within us that flawlessly shows us the way can really lead to unconsciously playing and replaying whatever unhealthy patterns we may not realize we have going on. If we back up on the idea of instinct and take it out of the picture when making day to day decisions, then we are more free to look critically at how we are behaving, what our beliefs are and where they actually come from, and whether we think what we are doing is the best possible way to proceed.

I know that for me a whole culture’s nature goddess fantasy is way too much for me to be carrying around in my vagina. And nature is harsh, and it looks like, at least in my case, I was programed to instinctively sacrifice my beloved first-born to the first snarling beast that came a-hunting, save myself, and presumably just make another kid– which seems like it’s maybe how nature really works. Also, I know that I want to be the best parent that I can be, and I can consciously build that from a place of healthy uncertainty. I do think there is a thing that is deep and inherent and true in all of us and  that is that we desperately love our kids and we want what is best for them. (Until we feel too threatened by dogs.) I think that love is the orienting point from which we can approach this huge task from a totally stripped-down, thoughtful place. (It was recently Yom Kippur). And then we are so much more free, both from pressure and from the past, to really do this how we want to do this. With the knowledge that of course we will mess up and they will have to consciously parent to not repeat whatever we did to them. But that is how we evolve.