I let go of my blog and missed it terribly so this is my attempt to close the gap between then and now and acknowledge, as a journal does, where I’ve been. Since last I posted, a lot of wonderful and challenging and baffling moments have happened, as they are prone to do.
Things that happened in February and March in no particular order: I got really sick. Chris got sick first, and better first. I tried to keep up with my journal. The dog had to go to the emergency vet twice for eating cocoa powder off the counter and then for a mysterious stomach flu and that day we stayed for many hours and made friends with a man who came in with his dog covered in porcupine quills. A terrible day for all of us brought the unexpected gift of new friendship as we sat waiting for test results for our pup and surgery for his. Scabby’s mange came back around the time we were both sick. I was in denial but Chris insisted we take him to get checked out and sure enough, the mites were back with a vengeance. He went back on medicine. He’s better now, five weeks later. I worked more than ever to save money for a maternity leave and we also had our Bradley Method childbirth class every Sunday night so months got eaten up by work and class and fitting laundry and dish washing and dog walks in around the edges. I kept waiting for a decent stretch of time to complete a blog entry, but it didn’t come or I was too exhausted when it did, so I blogged in my head. I let the best be the enemy of the good and fell victim to my own imposed pressure and perfectionism. I took photos of food but didn’t post recipes. I hope that as life just gets more intense, I can let some of this go and stay up to date as best I can. That good can be good enough. It snowed and sleeted and slushed and melted and iced and thawed and it was cold all the time. I outgrew all my coats and had to buy a maternity coat. It’s a good thing I did, because spring has been cold too. The returning light helped my brain be less in shadow and more in hope. Gifts for my baby have continued to trickle in, even from the vice president of my bank who gave us a giant teddy bear and blanket and matching hat she knit. We looked at houses for sale and land for sale, shivering over plot plans, wondering where we’d go next, mentally trying on each home and scenario, feeling like Goldilocks with none of them fitting quite right.
My sister sent a Valentine’s care package with Polaroids the kids took with the camera I gave them for Christmas.
I grew more round. I took self portraits while home sick in bed.
I looked for beauty by way of my camera, and sometimes I thought- this is the only way I see it.
We walked, because this is what we do, even when tired, even when cold, or worried, even when dreaming of the future.
In mid-March, I started my third trimester, marveling at the timeline on my pregnancy app filling in with amber highlight. I remember starting at the beginning with a collection of cells and forming organs, fearful of miscarriage and trying to remember that there is always something to be afraid of. And there are always reasons to rejoice. This little film I watched last night, reminded me of this. I want Alice to be my guardian angel, to absorb some of her faith and joy into my cells. In March, my body began its shift into new territory where it’s harder to reach something that has fallen off the bed and I need pillows along my side at night and getting up and down off the floor requires a different technique and I can only last one hour without needing to pee.
I kept a journal. Here is an excerpt- ten days in February:
Four more months of pregnancy to go . This is the first day ever since adopting Scabby that I haven’t been able to take him out because we’re both so sick. Last night I walked him around the town center and came to a place where it was so icy I had to get down on my hands and knees on the ground near the elementary school to prevent falling. Chris is on day two of this cold I’m on my first and he’s camped out downstairs on the couch because I couldn’t sleep with him coughing next to my head. I spilled kombucha all over the couch last night and poor Scabby peed on the rug yesterday since I was trying to get out the door and Chris so sick that too much time passed and he couldn’t hold it anymore. The house is dirty and dishes piling up and finally I reached out to our neighbors to help us walk Scabby. Chris has a fever, and deep painful cough, splitting headache and threw up twice on the first day. I took him to the Dr for a flu check and luckily it wasn’t, but we have our friend, also a doctor, telling us it’s terrible this year and we should have gotten flu shots. My round ligaments holding this uterus up are ringing in pain from violent coughing; I’m grateful for the hot water bottle I keep on my belly. I make sure I can feel my baby moving in there, a subtle kick there and a flip here. The other day I almost got hit twice: once in my car and once on foot- first by a woman not looking and attempting to make a left across two lanes of traffic and then by an old man looking right at me as I was crossing the street in a crosswalk. I thought he was letting me go but in fact he kept driving and I was close enough to touch his car. Pregnancy makes me vulnerable in a way I have never felt before and I feel indignant and protective like the world should watch out for me and provide a wide berth.
There’s a baby on my bladder so every time I cough or sneeze (violently) I also pee and I’ve taken to wearing maxi pads. Last night I was up every 2-3 hours panting for breath needing my inhaler and finally broke down and wailed a deep animal sound filled with old trauma from being so sick as a child. I felt myself losing all control and ego and footing. I wondered what kind of sounds I’ll make in labor. Different wails than these. These were hoarse and pathological and sad. Birth is not pathological. I managed to get out of bed and do a little yoga on the floor. Giving birth will be empowering and intense and natural and my baby and I will be a team. My body will be my guide. I’ve spent hours close to the dirt. I’m not afraid of it. It’s about getting low and deep and to the back of the brain. It’s about widening and opening and listening and touching the ground.
When you or someone you know is sick and you’ve just left the hospital to emerge into real life, stopping at places like the pharmacy and grocery store, it’s hard to fathom that all this normal living is still going on around you. You forget what day it is when fighting for breath becomes the most compelling activity of your life or when your brother is fighting for his life with tangles of tubes encasing his withering body, this being the case thirteen years ago now. Chuck Palahnuik wrote in Fight Club about the main character’s severe insomnia: everything was a copy of a copy of a copy. I read that years ago and it stuck with me as the perfect capturing of dissociation. Some of my best friends have survived cancer in the past three years: breast, colon, soft tissue, and I think of them tenderly in their bubbles of survival as they juggle life and death and not knowing and still retain a sense of humor. This cough rings my head like a bell, temples bursting and I cried again last night from the stress of being sick; the sound was jagged- I heard it coming out of me and felt I must be waking up the neighborhood. It felt good to make this sound from my belly, the sound of fear and despair, the sound of memories of childhood pneumonia and asthma. The visit to ER has taken most of our day. Our fun weekend away and then our fun weekend home turned into hell sickness weekend. I told Chris that this winter feels Dickensian. Punishing. Baby Otis moved all around in there during the nebulizer oxygen treatment and Chris felt him for first time. He got all teared up. I’m so moved that he’s this sensitive, profoundly caring man. During the peak of my struggling to breathe in the middle of the night on Sunday night, a calm came over me. It was enlightening actually, and has stayed with me for days. This is the silver lining of suffering I think, when we can stop trying to wield control and be open to rawness and discovery. I was grateful the kitty, Scabby and Chris all rallied around me. I became very aware of the kindness.
Back to ER at 3 am today, then OB at 10 am. First an intern came in (was he 22 years old maybe?) and then the Dr who goes by Kip. Plain clothes, and bow tie. He’s eccentric. Has birthed over a 1000 water births. Kept referring to pregnant women as “juicy”. I like him. Why the word “hardcore” he asked when after contending with the asthma we moved on to my concern for this practice and hospital being the right kind of practice to support hardcore natural birth? To be more exact I said, I meant dedicated. I meant I’d like a birth led by intuition and instinct and not imposed upon unless in the event of an emergency. Hardcore implies you may feel you need to defend against something, he said, it implies an adversary. I thought this was astute of him. We fleshed it out a bit more. We’re on the same page. I have my meds fixed, I think I’ll be ok. Still no work tomorrow. Chris vented to his dad today, telling him he was at wit’s end. I have learned this week to appreciate my breath- my usual easy full breath. To appreciate that I’m giving my dog the best life I can provide: walks, food, love. Things can always be better or worse but we do the best with what we have.
Made a judgement call to take 5 more mg prednisone around 11 am, then called Kip and told him I thought 20 mg would be necessary for a therapeutic dose. He listened to me and agreed I should do what I felt was right- It’s kind of a whack-a-mole game right now, he said. I told him I didn’t want to rely on albuterol to breathe and that if I move around at all I am breathless and struggling and can’t go back to work if this is the case. So Chris is picking more up tonight and I feel calm again. Being sick in bed has given me the opportunity to read more- I have a stack of books next to my bed about birth and trying to make a dent. Sometimes I’m too sick to read so I watched two whole seasons of House of Cards. It is sufficiently distracting. I am being forced to slow down, come to a halt and just focus on eating and breathing and resting and sleeping even when it’s difficult and I must sleep propped up on four pillows in a partially sitting up position to get enough air. Then the need to cough or the pain in my hip wakes me up from being in this position, but The OB said I could take benedryl to help me sleep and for two nights in a row I slept more than I did all week combined. It would have been more tenuous for my baby if I’d gotten this in the first trimester and I’m grateful we’re further along. Still, every day I wait to feel his movements and sit with my low lying fear that he’s affected by this. My oxygen level has been good when we’ve gone to the ER. His lungs are forming capillaries right now and surfactant and he’s practicing breathing amniotic fluid in his perfectly regulated cushion of womb. Maybe this will make him into a little hulk.
We go to our Bradley Method natural childbirth class on Sunday nights and everyone else looks happy and healthy but we’re haggard and tapped and I’m still coughing but I have finally been to a pulmonologist who wants me to stay on a daily steroidal inhaler called pulmicort for the remainder of my pregnancy. I don’t normally take any medication and I keep thinking, well the best paid plans… We have these bodies and we have these minds and we try to control both of them in addition to trying to control the outside world and other people. Sometimes a big invisible shoe holds us under its sole tight to the earth, stopping us from scuttling around like busy ants building our days.
Today would have been my Grandmother’s 96th birthday. I think about her all the time and try to channel strength from her. I talked with my friend Jolyn today on the phone for the first time in almost twenty years. She is the first person I met at Cornell. She was supposed to be my roommate and the summer before college, in the days before email I sent her a postcard introducing myself. As it happened, she ended up choosing a different dorm, but we met in person soon after arriving on campus as freshmen and I was drawn to her grace and beauty: she was tall and rowed crew and was from Baltimore and wore suede closed-toe birkestocks and smelled like vanilla and coconut and talked on the phone in her dorm room with a long headset attached to her head. She was meticulous. She was studying city planning and women’s studies and we ate lunch together at the vast salad bar her all-women dorm featured in their dining hall. She’d come to my room and regularly clean out my cluttered closet, borrowing a shirt or two, helping me feel ordered again. One time, sheet draped around her shoulders in the middle of my dorm room, I cut her hair. I went too short, not accounting for the curl. She began to study contemporary dance and grew sculpted and strong and happy. I grew more and more anxious and afraid and stuck in my childhood abuse with no real support system, struggling to get through school and turning to substances to help me cope. We drifted apart but every so often we’d meet on central campus for brunch, her wide awake and chipper, me barely alive in the wake of my nocturnal schedule, foggily dipping chilled shrimp into cocktail sauce. Last year I searched and found her on Facebook and a few months later saw the birth announcement: her gorgeous baby boy Milo born June 20th. We talked on the phone today, her voice familiar and mellifluous. Parenthood is perpetual contradiction she said. We were talking about breastfeeding. It’s so beautiful and so draining and consuming and the little creature has no regard for your body or being gentle, they just want their food. This contradiction begins now, I told her, in pregnancy. I love feeling my boy moving in there and I love that I am doing this and also I feel slightly invaded as my lungs and guts are getting compressed and I feel vulnerable on the ice and cold air. I’m keenly aware that I’m breathing for two.
Yesterday I took Scabby to a dog park where we discovered it to be a tundra of icy footpaths thawed and refrozen into shining glaze and in every other place there deep snow atop a layer of slush from the previous two warm days we had, like a cold quicksand. We tried navigating in there, gave up, and walked on icy sidewalks instead. Twice joggers ran up behind me looking to pass, but there was no where for me to step other than the tiny patches of pavement I occupied in between ice and I stood my ground as they bared down on me, the lady with a boy growing inside, the lady who is trying to breathe and not to fall. From behind, they can’t know this.
Snowdrops emerged. They were there all along, under the snow.
A few days ago, my friend sent me this poem:
Birds and Bees
by Faith Shearin
When my daughter starts asking I realize
I don’t know which, if any, birds
have penises. I can’t picture how swans
do it. I’m even confused about bees:
that fat queen and her neurotic workers,
her children grown in cells. I’m worried
by turtles and snakes: their parts hidden
in places I have never seen. How do they
undress? Long ago, awash in college
boyfriends, I knew a little about sex.
I understood the dances and calls,
the pretty plumage. Now, I am as ignorant
as a child. We have gone to the library
to find books though I know sex
is too wild for words. The desire to be
kissed is the desire to live forever
in the mouth of pleasure. My God
I can never tell my daughter the truth.
It is a secret the way spring is a secret,
buried in February’s fields. It is a secret
the way babies are a secret: hidden
by skin or egg, their bodies made of darkness.
“This is the silver lining of suffering…when we can stop trying to wield control and be open to …discovery…” you are gifted Erin.
I feel so sorry I could not be there for you during those hard times. during illness and challenge, coughing and spilling things. I would have wanted to hold your hand or take you to the doctor or give comfort. I am glad you like the poem. We all help where we can.
Sending love, B Your photographs are amazing.
Thank you for your kind words and sentiments and for your encouragement!!