Winter of the mind

I don’t suffer from depression. At least, I am 99% sure that I do not, but this pregnancy has been hard. And it’s tempting to just wait it out (it will be over in four months!), without complaining (so much) on here about how I feel. Nobody likes a whiner, after all, and it seems to take the self-indulgence of blogging that final unforgivable step further.

But just in case anyone else feels as embarrassed and frustrated as I do about days and weeks of wanting to do nothing, of feeling like part of me is holding her breath under water, just waiting, waiting for this to be over — this THIS that I was so excited for — well, I was never excited for the pregnancy except as a means to get the baby, but you know — I wanted to be pregnant, so it seems so awful to hate it so much, but I do. I hate feeling like my body is not my own, I hate worrying so constantly that something isn’t right, won’t be right with the person who is in my body but soon won’t be.

A dear friend sent an email today about my worrying-Tom-was-dead post, telling me kindly to stop worrying. I know she’s right, I know everything will be fine (or won’t be, but worrying won’t help anything), but I think that’s part of the problem with depression (or pregnancy-worry, whatever it is that I have) — you know things are better than they seem, you know life is better than it seems, that life is acutely fabulous and the sun is shining and your early spring garden is growing despite the temperamental hail, and yet you don’t feel that. You don’t feel as good as you know you should.

Feeling cloudy inside when it is sunny outside and part of you, the part that’s not underwater, is trying to coax the rest of you out to soak up that sun is exhausting.

I don’t know what to do, except go for a walk and let the kids sleep in Tom’s side of the bed when he’s gone and eat Marshmallow Mateys for dinner and damn the high fructose corn syrup. Or is it the artificial color #5? I forget. (Or the grating bites of marshmallow that melt sugar on the tongue but cringe the teeth?)

Spring is here. I’m ready for Easter now (before it was too cold and dead and snowy), I’m ready for school to be out and evenings to be long. I’m ready to have all my chicks about me as we wait for baby Scout. Susan told me yesterday that Sally can have baby Scout in her room for now, but when the baby is three she should move in to Susan and Spot’s place across the hall.

I just realized that the changing of the seasons in Bright Star was almost as spectacular and intrinsic to the plot as the music. Keats isn’t my favorite poet (I don’t read as much poetry as I should to even talk of “favorites”), but from his Ode on a Grecian Urn:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone

I am not a poet or musician or artist, but I have heard the song unsung, and when it is silent, muted or dim, nothing seems profitable. The kids may amuse, friends may entertain, Tom may say, unrehearsed, that he will miss me, which sounds an obvious thing but is a real, worth-mentioning thing when one has been in the habit of marriage for almost twelve years, and still, I want nothing more than sleep, though every time I wake reminds me I cannot simply stay in sleep.

My rhubarb plant merely existed last year. I planted her (if you have seen a rhubarb’s first nubile sprouts in spring you know she is a she) late in the summer and mourned her stagnant unexploding complacency. But this year, while the spring is yet locked in battle with unrelenting winter, she is bursting, before it is warm enough, before I expected or worried or coaxed or pleaded, she is there, all ruby red at crinkled heart and verdant leaf at stem.

It is disconcerting to have a winter of the mind as nature yawns and groans and my belly ripens and readies this fruit I crave. I remember (from The Outsiders, I think) Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

In my front yard I have daffodils and hyacinth and tulips almost unfurled I sowed last fall. I also have some green stuff I nearly yanked this week, but Chrysanthemum thought it might be ground cover hardily growing from the last owner two summers ago. I called my across-the-street neighbor with the emerald lawn over for a consult and she agreed: it’s not quite hen and chicks, but it certainly isn’t a weed. A few days later I remembered the columbine I transplanted from another neighbor’s offering in July. Columbine that would have withered and dried before the mallow and thistle beached on the sidewalk next to it hit the trash.

I forgot, and then remembered, just in time to leave it be, to anticipate the delicate pastel blooms. There’s no sign of them at all, no bud, no hint, no taller, centered stems. Just green, and a knowing that last year there were flowers. This year there probably will be too.

but . . . well, he’s married to a feminist

Yesterday I drove Tom to the airport for a short business trip. Eight hours later I hadn’t heard from him, and I couldn’t get him on the phone or email or IM. (Maybe I should’ve tried Twitter.)

Susan and Spot and I had taken a long, late afternoon nap, so we dawdled through leftovers and cleaning up the kitchen. Sally emptied the dishwasher as I listened to Susan’s reading lesson on the couch. By now it was 10 pm where Tom was and still no answer.

Of course I’m paranoid, and also pregnant, so the logical conclusion was that he was dead (or going to be when I got a hold of him), and I started thinking about what my life would be like as a pregnant widow with three small children. I’d move into my parent’s (nice) basement and go to law school or teach at the local high school. I’d never remarry, because I’d never find someone who understands me like Tom does (or that I can stand like I can stand Tom).

Then I remembered the baby. Spot will be four in October. The thought of leaving her with a babysitter or in preschool while I work or study is hard but not world-ending.

But could I be separated from my new baby?

I thought about what I would say at Tom’s funeral. How I would tearfully relate that the last thing he asked me to do, right as we pulled up to Terminal 2, was read scriptures with the kids tonight. (He knows I have Martha-tendencies to put that off — we talked about Samuel’s wicked sons and Israel’s desire for a king, honey.)

The other day I had an interesting exchange with a friend who knows us casually. I said something about Tom that surprised her and she said “well, he’s married to a feminist.” This was a short, undeveloped conversation (on Twitter), and I’m not exactly sure what she meant in the context, but it’s stuck in my brain.

On the one hand, I’m a bit flattered/relieved/gratified that she thinks I’m a feminist, because I am a stay-at-home mom and she works full-time at a paying job. So while of course I think a stay-at-home mom can be a feminist (as I define it, someone who knows women are as valuable, capable, and individual as men are), sometimes I don’t get that vibe from working women — that choosing to be a stay-at-home mom is somehow letting down the cause.

(And of course there are also my own feelings sometimes that staying-at-home is not as fulfilling or exciting as something else I could be doing. Maybe all of these voices are in my own head.)

I told Tom about it on the way to the airport and we puzzled on it for a while and then stopped at McDonald’s just in time for a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit.

Eight hours later I pictured my life without Tom. I would not make a good single parent. I would be angry, resentful, uncontrollably unhappy. Even the thought of going back to school or working, With Grownups! For Pay! was not enough to cheer me up.

Because what about my baby? She’s going to need me, a lot, especially at first. I can’t leave her. The thought of doing what normally sounds like a really good idea, what I lie awake at night planning for in the not-too-distant future, fills me with a horrible dread. Almost as horrible as the dread of imagining a forever empty space beside me on the bed. (Even with the snoring.)

So, as a feminist (a hormonal, weepy absence-certainly-does-make-the-heart-grow-fonder feminist who is probably going crazy), what I want to say is:

Thank you, Tom, for supporting me, appreciating me, making it so I can stay-at-home, even though I sometimes rail against that very thing. Thanks for letting me work it out in my own mind so it makes sense and being there so I can happily imagine hours-days-weeks spent holding my baby (and maybe a couple other kids-and-house-things) and nothing else.

Planning an electricity fast

Four months ago we had a utility bill that was almost twice our usual. Tom was “fixing” our front door, which involved a lot of it being open, also I was cavalierly opening windows in dead of winter for fresh air. So we turned our thermostat down to 60. (With an intermediate stop at 62 because we’re not survivalists or anything). Most of our windows are south-facing, so on a good sunny day our main living area can reach 67 degrees and stay there awhile. On a bad snowy stretch like spring break last week I wanted to smash porcelain doll faces on volcanic rock, but that was due more to the gray than the chill, which is actually nice for pregnancy).

The only time I felt cold, once I was used to layering, was when I was sluggish on the couch watching TV after the kids were in bed. Between that and the evening sickness, I started going to bed earlier (our bedroom is on the second floor). Before I knew it I was canceling our cable, waking up earlier, shopping on a tight budget once a week, feeling invincible and virtuous and capable of orchestrating three separate school carpools for next year.

So then Lent rolled around, which Mormons don’t celebrate/observe, but we do a monthly food-and-water fast, though by “we” I mean several people I know fast. I have never been good at fasting — one of the best things about pregnancy and breastfeeding is the free fast-pass; but that has nothing to do with my current plans to nurse Scout until she’s seven.

Anyway, Lent. Every Lent (since I started reading Conversion Diary and Writer-Mommy anyway) I get Lent-envy, not only because  it sounds like a great time of renewal, sacrifice, and inspiration, but because you can give up something besides food and beverages. Food and I are in what you might call a committed relationship, so giving up electricity instead is pretty appealing.

It also seems like a great way to live deliberately, as my old boyfriend Thoreau would say. But since the point is  to live deliberately, to re-match our wakings and sleepings and comings and goings with the seasons and the sun, to enjoy (discover) oldfashioned pleasures rather than to just live as austerely as possible, it’s not as simple as turning off our main power. I’ve decided to make exceptions in a few cases where the disuse of electricity would create drudgery that interferes with the spirit of the experiment or would encourage us to make other bad choices like consuming more processed foods.

In other words, this isn’t a gimmick. I want to fast from enough electricity (especially the electronic variety) that we re-set our default expectations of what life is like, but I’m not going to say “no electricity period” in hopes of getting a book deal or something. (That’s my jab at no-impact man who somehow blogged through his entire year of living without using electricity or purchasing anything.)

For example, I’m not planning to unplug my refrigerator/freezer, because, really — I don’t want to spend all my time figuring out how to live without it. I’m sure I could; I’m sure we could learn a lot from that sort of experiment, but I want to free myself from things rather than burden myself with new tasks (at this point). Here’s another quandary: do I not use my oven ever which means I have to start buying bread again, or do I figure that homemade bread is more “natural” than using no electricity? (Too bad I don’t have a gas oven, right?). We could live for forty days with no bread, no yeast bread, just pitas and tortillas on the grill, or I could fashion an outdoor fire-based oven (I think). I might make an exception for my crockpot since it is such an efficient use of energy, but we’ll try to eat raw or grilled food as much as possible.

The stove is also a hard one, because I make pancakes and breakfast burritos so often (for dinner, too). Obviously whole wheat pancakes are better for you and cheaper than cold cereal, so these are legitimately competing goals. (I’ll probably make and freeze a bunch of granola beforehand.) Another thing I don’t want to do is acquire a bunch of gadgets (like emergency preparedness or camping-type work-arounds), because a) we have no money, and b) if I just get lanterns for every room, we won’t be going to bed with the sun. And batteries are out because they’re just stored electricity.

What we will give up completely for sure: lights, blender, vacuum, dishwasher, clothes dryer (though not the washing machine; maybe next year), TV/dvd player, computer, hair dryer, toaster, air-conditioner, fans, humidifier, microwave, waffle iron, mixer, iPod, popcorn popper, rice cooker (or maybe that gets the crockpot exception?).

I have asked Tom to think about how he can cut back on his computer use; he does a lot of freelance work, so obviously he’ll make exceptions, but I am confident he will agree to keep the computer off until the kids are in bed so that our family time is protected. (Right, honey?)

Since I am making food (and laundry) -based exceptions, I think the hardest thing will be the internet, obviously. For a couple months I’ve been thinking a good rule would be I could go online once a week during the fast, just to check my email and write a short update post, but the more I think about it, the more it seems that that’s the most important part of this, to be unplugged virtually. (So if you need to contact me between June 1 and July 10, you should probably ask me now for my cell number. Speaking of which, the cellphone charger would be an exception for emergencies, since we don’t have a landline — though if I think about it, I can get Tom to charge them both in the car during his commute.)

This whole thing is possible because Utah summers are gloriously sunny, from 5 am till 9:30 pm. I have so many plans, the first being to wallow outside barefoot all day long. That’s also the second and third plan, too, actually, although I may put on shoes if there is any shoveling needed in the garden. This is also why I will probably survive without internet for forty days, because who wants to be in front of a screen when there is sunshine, and grass, and . . . air . . . out there?

The other big change will be the air conditioning/fan/cool mist humidifier, especially because of this internal heater I’m growing. But I plan (well, plan to get Tom) to move our master bedroom to the unfinished basement), which is always cooler than the second story,  no matter how cold you set the thermostat. On the main level we get a nice north-south cross-breeze, and hey, I will remind myself daily that it’s nothing like my summer pregnancies in Florida.

I’m curious how this will affect my kids. The only TV show they have asked about since I canceled our cable (we don’t get any channels out here without cable, so they have watched maybe one movie a week, that’s it, for two months now) is Little Einsteins, and they are not the ones with the problem staying up late watching Justified on (not that I’m recommending Justified; it may be awesome, but it’s also weird and violent in a strange, justified, sort of way).

But I do want this to have a spiritual component, in more than a transcendental appreciate-the-earth-and-life sort of way (though we will read some Emily Dickinson and Emerson just for fun). I’m not exactly sure what that will be, beyond the negative (taking-away) part of eliminating all media influence. Maybe I should explore my Adoration-envy for inspiration on that. Maybe I can meditate on what Jesus meant by abundance when He said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Either way I’ll have to visit the library more often. No more late-night reading on Project Gutenberg, which really is almost enough to make me wonder if my parents and sister are right in thinking I’ve finally gone crazy.

Belly Shots

I don’t believe that writing and motherhood should be incompatible, in fact usually I am adamant that writing makes me a better mother, because it is how I examine motherhood (my life, at this point), and because in the examining I see both the ineffable divinity in every day and the humor (or at least reason) in even the most aggravating moments.

But the past several weeks I can hardly pull back far enough from the here and now, from the one-pound Scout jabbing me unexpectedly, from the Spot girl who says she isn’t my baby anymore “your baby’s in your tummy” in her cute munchkin voice. Now that I know kids grow out of that voice, that they learn, eventually, to say their g’s and k’s, I want to pause her so she stays with me and urgently explains every detail of her day at college the way she does her discovery that pulling on the skin around her unbent knee doesn’t hurt, today.

On Sunday as we walked to church I asked her if she’d gone to the bathroom that morning. She said, exasperated, “I peed on Saturday, Mom.” I said that’s great, but that she probably really should pee everyday, and did she pee that morning? And she said, “I didn’t pee in the tub, Mom. My bum made bubbles in the tub, but I didn’t pee.”

Prenatal Palliative Care

Easter weekend was great. I thought Conference had a whole lotta talks about parenting and motherhood, and let me tell you, it is easy to feel that you are doing your duty as a mother when you are pregnant. That duty is burning up my esophagus as we speak, so “motherhood” = check.

Before the first session on Saturday (and leaking a little over the first speaker, because we were a bit fired up), my dad and I talked labor stuff. My dad said that doctors have always had reasons for the things they do, even if those reasons are not the best, and even if those reasons turn out to be unsupported, they do things because they think there’s some benefit to the baby and the mom. Which I’m willing to grant, though the more I learn, about both the history of childbirth and contemporary medical practice, the more I think that at least a non-malicious misogyny has pervaded much of the perspective of male-dominated (even today) obstetrics. (“You poor dears shouldn’t have to do something as hard as childbirth. You’re too delicate and dignified for all that pain and possible poop!”)

I have been talking to my sister-in-law about natural and home birth (she is planning a homebirth; I think I would if I lived 30 minutes closer to the hospital). She read about lotus birth the other day, and I had just read about some of the benefits of delayed cord cutting (that blood volume and iron levels are better in babies six months after birth if their cords were not immediately cut).

My dad said that when he was learning obstetrics thirty years ago (he delivered around 1000 babies as a family practice doctor), there was much debate over things like whether to do an episiotomy or not and whether to cut the cord immediately or to milk it towards the baby. I pointed out that both of those cord options were things that doctors do: neither of them is similar in perspective to a third option: allowing the cord to pulsate as it will. Both imply that there is something to be done, that a doctor, and his unique learning, are needed in order to fix something that is wrong.

The midwifery model of prenatal care and passive management in labor is a different perspective entirely, that childbirth is something that is going to happen, and that it will most likely happen without negative incidence, and that there is little need to be doing things to the process, that in fact the process will be hindered and harmed by a lot of doing.

Incidentally, (one of) the reason(s) for cutting the cord immediately was a fear of polycythemia, a condition of high blood volume, which occurs in .4-12% of infants, and in which delayed cord cutting has been thought by some to contribute, though trials show this is not the case.

(I still don’t know what I want to do about cord cutting. I’ll probably read some more, talk to my midwife, ask about the hospital policy — about this and other things like silver nitrate or erythromycin in the eyes (seeing as I do not have gonorrhea OR chlamydia) — and make a decision from there. I’ll probably end up somewhere in the middle, with cord cutting (no milking) in 1-3 minutes or so after birth, though from a natural/homebirth/historical perspective this is still really early, so maybe I will wait until after the placenta is born, especially since I experienced troublesome placental delivery with Susan.)

Today I read an article about palliative care and a young doctor who had to face her own death from cancer as she counseled others about their options for end-of-life care. It’s a sad story about how hard it is to face and accept one’s own death even when death is something one understands and respects, intellectually. But the part about palliative care struck me:

Over the last decade, palliative care has become standard practice in hospitals across the country. Born out of a backlash against the highly medicalized death that had become prevalent in American hospitals, it stresses the relief of pain; thinking realistically about goals; and recognizing that, after a certain point, aggressive treatment may prevent patients from enjoying what life they had left . . .

I’m not sure what all the parallels here are, or where the comparison would break down, but it’s intriguing that our end-of-life is recognized as needing a de-medicalization, just as most of our beginnings-of-life do. Palliative care emphasizes presenting a patient with all of the options, finding out their priorities, and then helping them die in the way that is least distressing (most appealing?) to them. It is not a way to prolong life at all costs with ever-more aggressive medical treatments, but a way of coming to terms with an inevitable process, though this seems more poignant (tragic) when the death is coming to someone who has not yet “lived a long, full life.”

Even the meaning of the word palliate would seem to apply to a midwifery model: to relieve or lessen without curing; mitigate; alleviate, since pregnancy and childbirth are usually the desired state/outcome, not things that need curing. And this highlights one significant parallel — how difficult it must be for doctors, who become doctors in order to actively help people (often at the sacrifice of their own time, sleep, earning power — I’m thinking especially of the non-sexy specialties like family practice), to admit/accept/embrace that at certain times, in certain instances, the best thing they can do is the least.