Peace Be With You (a Birth Story)

This time last year, I began to have contractions. So this morning seems like a good time to revisit that morning and what followed. If you’re into birth stories, feel free to follow along. This is a good one, and I’ll try to do it justice.

E had a list of Things to Get Done before the baby came. One of the big items on her list was to get her homeschool portfolio review completed early so as to be able to focus on being a big sister. We had scheduled it for 11 a.m. on May 24th with our usual assessor, who lives on our street and is our friend. I called her around 10 a.m. and said, “I think I’m in labor!”

She asked what I wanted to do and we decided together that she would come anyway at 11 and we would see how far we got. By the time she arrived, though, a couple of friends were sitting with me on the couch. E finished her portfolio review by herself while I focused on early labor and began to make arrangements. JJ convinced me to call J and a couple of other friends who had agreed to help in a doula capacity.

Because my first two labors were precipitous and we had already experienced paying someone over $500 to miss the birth of our first child, we were hesitant to contract with a doula. But I have several friends who are more than qualified to help, so everyone who was comfortable with the arrangement was put on a “call all the people!” list, with the understanding that if people ended up making it in time and working we could figure out something fair after the fact.

We headed over to the hospital/birthing center for an already scheduled midwife appointment, and K met us there. Her primary function throughout most of the labor was to keep people from just “doing stuff” to me. Mostly this meant that she rephrased everything anyone said to me as a question.

“Oh, you think you’re in labor?” Patronizing smile. “Let’s put you on the monitor and see.”

“Katie! Would you like to be monitored right now?” (She has known me long enough that she gets to call me Katie and having someone advocating for me who knew me that well was kind of the best.)

After I saw the attending midwife, we decided together that if I went home I would likely not make it back over here if things went..well, the way things tend to go for me. So we stayed on that side of town, my friend B joined us, and I struggled to relax into labor.

In case you’re wondering, the children’s section of Barnes and Noble is not the place to do this.

After a quick dinner we decided together that J would take the big kids somewhere else for a bit, and I went walking with K and B. In lieu of the dark warm cave I am biologically designed to seek out in such moments, they found me a wine bar with a booth next to the fireplace. We chatted about life and school and boys and fears and I relaxed a little more. They ordered a dram of scotch and commanded that I drink the whole thing. I remember this clearly because it was one of the few things that was not presented to me as optional, and it was the thing that really allowed me to relax into labor. My water broke soon after that, although I didn’t realize it until after we got up to leave. (I still haven’t shown my face in that wine bar again, haha…).

We headed back to the midwife’s office. She checked and recommended that we find a dark quiet place for a little bit longer, so we did that. B, a doula and former homeschooler and all-around excellent person in our life, began explaining every single part of what was happening to our children. How’s that for a science lesson!?

Finally, around 9:30 p.m. we made our way to the maternity floor.

“OK! Here’s a hospital gown. Change into this.”

“Katie! Would you like to wear a hospital gown right now?”

“Oh…no, thank you.”

*Surprised nurse face* “Oh. Well, ok, come lie on the bed and we’ll get the monitor on you.”

“Katie! Would you like to be monitored right now?”

“Oh…no, thank you.”

*annoyed nurse face*

*firm friend face* “C will be the only person monitoring her please.”

“Ahem. I’m going to the bathroom. I have had a bad experience with a labor before and it is very important to me to not feel as though people are just doing stuff to my body. So I’ll be declining certain things. I’m not trying to make your job more difficult this is just hard for me. Thank you for being here, and for helping me.”

*kind nurse face*

And active labor went pretty much that way. My friends and my husband held everything else back so I was able to focus on letting my body achieve some of the hardest work it will do in my lifetime. I still had a lot of fear, having gone through a miscarriage the year before (maybe that’s why this was my slowest labor yet–fear keeps us from opening in such a variety of ways) but eventually the balance tipped and I was able to follow Carrie Fisher’s advice to “stay afraid, but do it anyway.”

When it was time to push, Irene began to let me know that she wanted to be born. The sensation I remember most strongly was not contractions or dilation. It was that each time I pushed, she pushed with me. She put her feet on my rib cage and pushed with all her tiny might. I began to dare to hope that this baby might really be born and that I might really get to keep her.

When she arrived I couldn’t believe it! I just kept saying, “Oh my God, you’re here! You’re really here!”

And here you still are, my dear. A walking, talking reminder that peace looks all different ways and can find us in the strangest of circumstances. Happy Birthday, Irene. ❤

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Untangling (Sometimes)

Sometimes when my children are playing, they come across a necklace (they have a lot of costume jewelry that’s been handed down to them so their imagination toys include a lot of glittery plasticky jewelry). When it’s all tangled up, they bring it to me and say, “Mama, will you help me?” or occasionally and more accurately, “Mama, will you fix this for me?” Then they drop their tangled necklaces in my hand and I usually untangle them. I mostly don’t mind doing this. I’m good at it. And it’s very satisfying when something is a wearable enjoyable item instead of a mass of tangled knots. But sometimes? I was busy doing something else and/or I just didn’t want to stop and untangle a necklace right then. I’ve learned to be choosy about when and how I engage with my children’s tangled necklaces.

~~~~~

Emotionally, we all have tangled things. Live in the world with any sort of intentionality, and at some point you will almost certainly find yourself carefully picking your way through tricky situations that do not come apart easily. The holidays are a time when this can happen, I’m told. It can be a beautiful time and a tricky time and a heartbreaking time and all of those things can be happening for each of us in different ways. When we do the work of untangling our necklaces, we allow the heartbreaking moments to have space without letting them ruin the beautiful moments. We can feel more than one thing.

When we don’t do the work of untangling our own things, we run the risk of putting that work on other people. Sometimes when people see you Dealing With Something, they hand you their Something and expect it back neatly “dealt with.” Sometimes people don’t even realize they’ve dropped a tangled necklace at your feet. Sometimes they ball it up and throw it at you without even understanding that’s what they’ve done. Sometimes they ask permission or help to work on a tangled necklace of their own (I try to do this last one because it feels the most fair, but I definitely don’t do it perfectly all the time).  I’ve learned I’m learning to be choosy about how and when I engage with other people’s Somethings. I want to help when I can just like I want to receive help when I need it, because we all need help untangling our necklaces. Sometimes.

 

 

Recipe: Gingerbread Cookies

First things first! For any incidental musings scroll to the end. 🙂

Ingredients:

~1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, or a scant 2 cups of whole spelt flour

~1/4 cup sweetener ( I used half maple syrup and half sugar-if you use 100% liquid sweetener you should adjust the other liquids down just a bit)

~1/2 tsp baking soda

~1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

~1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

~1/4 tsp allspice

~freshly grated nutmeg to your preference (or 1/2 tsp nutmeg)

~a pinch or two of salt

~1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

~2 tbsp molasses

~1 tsp vanilla

~2 tbsp almond or other plant milk

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place flour, any dry sweetener, baking soda, spices and salt in a bowl and whisk or sift until well combined.

Mix applesauce, molasses, vanilla, plant milk, and any liquid sweetener in a bowl/mason jar/measuring pitcher with a fork until well combined.

Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until cookie dough forms! It should be dry enough to roll out easily on a floured surface but not so dry as to be hard to work. Add more flour or more applesauce as needed to adjust the texture of the dough.

Roll out fairly thin (1/4-half inch, depending on how soft and thick you like your cookies). Place on silicone baking mat, parchment paper, or an ungreased baking sheet if you have a good cookie spatula that can scrape the cookies without ruining them.

Bake 8-12 minutes depending on your preferences and cookie size*.

*The baking time is hard to predict because it depends on the size of cookies you are making. The bigger cookies in my picture below (3 1/2 inch) baked for 12 minutes or so, and the smaller ones (2 inch) baked for 8-10 minutes I think. They are done when they are slightly softer to the touch than you want to eat. If you like a softer cookie, roll them out thicker and bake them a little less. If you like a thinner, more graham cracker-like gingerbread cookie, roll them thinner and/or bake a little longer. You can also use a little less baking soda because the chemical reaction between baking soda (base) and applesauce (acid) is what causes the cookies to puff up slightly during baking.

 

Musings:

Some of my very favorite memories from childhood are of making gingerbread cookies with my mother. Our family would gather around the table and decorate cookies together, eating and enjoying each other. I feel determined that my children will have this experience as well, even if we can’t share butter, sugar, eggs, and white flour. We had such a good time making these together!

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Broccoli Not-Cheese Soup

And no, I’m not talking about Velveeta.

First things first! For any delightful* musings scroll to the end. 🙂

Ingredients:

1 smallish onion, roughly chopped

garlic, a clove or two

1-2 quarts vegetable stock

1 cup dried white beans (I used great northern) (if cooking on the stove top consider using pre-cooked or canned beans unless you have a long time.)

2 medium potatoes

1/2 pound cauliflouwer chopped (I used cauliflower “rice” from Costco because I had a lot of it)

1-2 roasted peppers (about a scant 1/4 cup)

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1 pound broccoli

seasonings of your choice (I used a salt-free seasoning blend, pepper, a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, smoked paprika, and a little salt to taste at the end)

 

Method:

Combine onion garlic, and seasonings with a bit of water or stock and “saute” for a couple of minutes until they begin to soften. Add beans, potatoes, cauliflouwer, roasted peppers and vegetable stock. Add water or more stock until there is enough liquid for the beans to cook in (this is extra important if using dry beans). Cook until everything is very soft. Add nutritional yeast. Use an immersion blender to blend until creamy. I also removed 3-4 cups of the beans, potatoes and cauliflower and put them in my high-powered blender for a couple of minutes to activate the starches and make a more vaguely cheese-like experience (side bar: heads up that this is not going to taste like cheese. I hate it when vegan recipes tell you things will taste “just like cheese.” It turns out potatoes and cauliflower don’t taste like cheese, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious. OK? OK. Sorry for interrupting.).

Steam or boil broccoli until fork tender. Roughly chop (into whatever size pieces you want to eat in your soup). Stir all together. Adjust seasonings and serve. We have hot sauce on the side because not everyone in my house likes spicy food.

 

Delightful* Musings:

I like the idea of Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup. I just don’t want to make it with cheese. This soup is cozy and warming, especially with a good crusty sourdough (that sounds especially nice today because it’s the first day snow stayed on the ground where I live).

I recently took this to a party with people who eat cheese and meat and some of them thought it was good. So, there’s that. In my house there are three levels of success with cooking.

  1. Good!
  2. Vegan good!
  3. Oh. (This is also sometimes called “Thank you for your hard work making this.”)

If I’m sharing a recipe here it’s usually because I made something, liked it, and then got confirmation by asking my friends, “is this delicious, or did I forget what sour cream tastes like?” (Some of my friends are really good sports, people.)

Anyway, I hope if you live someplace cold that you have a cozy day, and that if you live someplace warm the bugs don’t bite you (I see you, Florida friends, and all I have to say about your smug beach pictures with your “haha Ohio” captions is that we have tiny little cockroaches and they can’t fly!).

*Delightful is in the eye of the beholder and not everyone wants to read my tired “mother of an infant” ramblings so that’s why I’ve put them at the end. If you read them anyway, then thanks! That’s delightful.

 

Privilege as Currency

Ijeoma Oluo writes ‘Every time you go through something, and it’s easy for you, look around and say, “Who is it not easy for? And what can I do to dismantle that system?”‘

While I would not classify the last couple of years as “easy,” Jason and I have identified that it’s in large part a function of our privilege that he’s still alive. Privilege doesn’t necessarily mean everything is easy, or everything is handed to you…my friend Robert Caldwell of Answer Poverty gives this definition of privilege which I think is super useful:

Privilege is your access to the resources and opportunities necessary for achieving success in our socio-economic system AND…insulation from the impacts of systemic injustices that work against success in our socio-economic system because of your social location.

Social Location is your place or position in society (and history) as defined by your gender, race, social class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, and geographic location.

For my family dealing with heart disease that looks like (among other things):
~Having the time to call doctors over and over until someone listened
~Having good health insurance so they could fight with the hospital about cost of treatment, and so he could receive treatment in the first place
~Having money to pay for medical costs
~Having time to figure out this whole food plant based thing (which is NOT easy at first, no matter what some blogger told you)
~Having money to buy good quality food
~not living in a food desert so we had access to nutritious foods
~other factors I didn’t even think of right now because they were not obstacles for us, and anyhow you get the point

I’ve been advised recently to think of privilege as a currency to spend. The question I keep hearing is “What do I do?”
Critical thinking is needed.
Shortly after the election a friend of mine came over. We sat at the dining room table and ate tacos (remember when everyone was sad there wouldn’t be a taco truck on every street corner?) and he asked me, “What do I do? I want to do racial justice work but I don’t know how to begin.”
“You should find a homeschooling co-op that is run by a black woman, and do the best you can to support her leadership.”
“Crap! I better find some kids to homeschool then!”
The thing is (as the snarky example above shows), I don’t know exactly how every person should engage with the work of dismantling white supremacy. When you have stage 4 metastatic cancer you don’t usually do one thing. You do all the things. You see an oncologist and a radiologist and a primary care doctor and you eat special food and you take care of your mental health however you can. Racial justice work in America is like that. We have to specialize, with the bigger picture in mind.

Critical thinking is needed.

There are common threads for sure, and if someone’s social location is similar to yours you may be able to glean from them. If someone’s social location is different from yours that can and should also inform your work. There are a lot of people writing about this. Try to find and read the work of people whose social location is different from yours (this is especially and incredibly important if you are a dominant paradigm person). Part of the way I’ve chosen to spend my privilege is to help make a way for others to tell their stories and be believed. That won’t fix everything, but it’s a necessary step.

The more privilege we have, the more opportunity we have to spend it to effect a change. Or not.

Critical thinking is needed.

This IS the America we’ve built.

The work of dismantling white supremacy has been severely hindered by the fact that structural racism has gone unnoticed by most of white America for at least couple of centuries now, but it’s hard to ignore at this point.

But will we find a way to ignore it anyway? White people’s complacency is incredibly hard to disrupt. Today that complacency feels like a vast body of water that’s been disturbed by a rock dropping into it. Well, many rocks. Except by “rocks” I mean “dead people.” People murdered by a system that props dominant paradigm people up at every turn and keeps us just comfortable enough that we don’t challenge it.

I watched us after the election. There was such a swell of liberal aggressive energy. As I watched liberals express continued shock and dismay, I feared the moment when my fellow white people would start to realize they were probably not personally in danger if they chose not to be. I dreaded, for the sake of people I love, the moment when most white people would grow weary of the weight of caring about them and their safety. This work is a cross country run. Liberal aggressive energy, unless it’s carefully channeled, causes people to sprint off in all directions looking for anything that will make us feel less terrified of the realities of our society. Anything to assuage the guilt we feel as bearers of whiteness.

Liberal aggressive energy causes people to say things like, “Not my president” or “This isn’t the America we’ve built.”

Except that it really, really is. This *is* the country we’ve built together. Until we truly reckon with that I’m concerned white supremacists will continue to have the upper hand. Further, to think or say otherwise risks undermining our credibility with people who have borne a weight of violent oppression for centuries.

People are gathering today. My own city, whose citizens often think of it as a “liberal utopia” (that claimed identity sometimes makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit when I think about it too much because of certain discriminations people I care about have faced here) had a gathering Saturday night to show unity and solidarity.  I’m glad people are doing that, even as a part of me is frustrated that it took Facebook until now to finally popularize an “I stand against racism” frame for people’s profile pictures.

As I sat awake in the wee hours, my laptop perched on a breastfeeding pillow and my newborn asleep next to me, I hated the timing. I felt small and powerless. I feared for my children and the world they are inheriting. That sense of hopelessness echoed the feelings of a friend who recently posted on social media to say, “We’re losing. We’re going to keep losing. I’m glad my kids don’t plan to have kids. I’m glad I’m old and will only have to watch the unraveling of America for the first 30 years of it or so.”*

It reminded me of this quote from the Lord of the Rings:

‘”I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”‘

The terrible truth that too many white people of good conscience have yet to face is that this is precisely the America we’ve built. What are we going to do about it?

Let us not act out of guilt. Let us not act out of fear. Let us act out of solidarity and allow care for other human beings to give us the courage to do so. Love is not always softspoken and calm. Sometimes love is tenacious and forthright. The kind of love that can “trump hate” sure as hell is going to require some grit.

A question I’ve heard over and over is, “what can we do?” While there are some common first steps for people who want to work to dismantle white supremacy (here’s a great primer from Ijeoma Oluo, if you haven’t seen it yet, and here’s another perspective that may help you), we all have to engage the work differently. It’s OK to specialize even as we necessarily push ourselves out of our comfort zones. The work includes marching in the streets and calling our senators and stopping to overtly watch when black people are surrounded by the police. It includes raising kids who are prepared to participate meaningfully in this work and it includes talking to other adults in our spheres of influence. It includes using our critical thinking skills to find ways we can stop participating in systems of oppression. It includes many, many more things than this short list.

We can’t do everything. But if each of us does one thing at a time, a growing pile of things will get done and then change may become visible.

*reposted with permission

Peace as Seasonal and Feelings as Nouns

In ancient Greek mythology, Irene is the goddess of peace. Significantly, she is one of the Hours, who govern the seasons. This felt especially meaningful to me because I am learning that in whatever season we find ourselves this moment, peace returns eventually. Sometimes that thought is very comforting. Sometimes it feels terribly unfair, like going to a funeral on a cheerfully sunny day. But I’m learning that peace looks different with each iteration, so I experience it differently each time around.

I talked with E yesterday about some overwhelming feelings she was having and we were talking about the idea that feelings are nouns you can turn into verbs. The really great thing is when we can choose intentionally which feelings we want to turn into verbs, though some of us need years of therapy or medication to begin to figure that out. One hard thing I’ve found about feelings-as-nouns is when there are too many nouns for me to deal with. At six weeks postpartum, the nouns have definitely piled up (it is so smart that the postpartum visit with the midwife is generally scheduled at this point). It begins to feel as though I’m walking through a minefield and if I’m not perfect something will blow up. What if I can never form coherent sentences again and have to stop writing? What if I can’t make a “plant perfect” (no, really, people call it that) meal tonight and my kids get heart disease? What if J helps me too much and is too tired to take care of himself? What if my friends need something and I’m too tired to help? What if S doesn’t just have seasonal allergies? What if?

Because I have other friends with busy brains, small children, and the sense to turn off their phones when they sleep, I felt comfortable calling my friend M at 2 a.m. (don’t worry if I have your phone number as well…in these moments I only call people who have promised it won’t wake them if they are sleeping because I’m anxious, not a barbarian). She asked me if I could walk out of the minefield. As I breastfed Irene, it occurred to me that in my arms I held a tangible reminder that peace exists in the world whether we can see it or not in a given moment, and that we can work to bring it about. The idea that there is safe footing outside the minefield helped me to figure out where to put my feet.

So if you’re reading this, and bombarded with nouns (my high school English teacher would probably ask with exactly what else one could be bombarded besides a noun of some sort), I wish you 2 a.m. phone call kind of friends. I wish you safe passage. But most of all, I wish you peace.

“Life is a cookie.”