Thursday, June 13, 2013

Let Go and Let Jonah...Sanctimommy at a Standstill

Remember before you had kids, back when you had all the answers, back when you knew how you were going to do things once you had kids? Ah, the good old days. Mine were these ones: No TV til they're like, four years old. No labels or television characters on their clothing ever ever. Gender neutral decor and toys. I will feed them as much organic food as I can afford. Of course, no toy guns or violence. I've managed to stand firm on some of my original plans-- for instance, I do feed them. The other goals are works in progress.

I hate to admit it to anyone, most of all to my Early Childhood Education educated self, but television can be a real help. Isaac's big joy in life is Yo Gabba Gabba! The kid loves it, and keeping him occupied for 22 mins and 34 seconds out of  the day IS AWESOME! (a little YGG reference for ya. No? OK. I'll show myself out). And try though I might to show him that it's OK to play with traditionally "girl" things, like buy him a doll stroller for Raggedy Andy, he is quick to turn the stroller upside down and play with just the wheels.   The few battles I have yet to lose (mostly because they have yet to be fought) are over labels/characters on his shirts-- I don't want my child to be a billboard for The Gap or Marvel Comics. (Star Wars doesn't count, it's a cultural phenomenon. There's a difference). And then there's The Guns and The Violence. (Side note: once, just to see my reaction, Matt told me that he bought Isaac a t-shirt with a picture of Spiderman punching a girl. Of course I believed him and was about to launch into a tirade beginning with "I don't even know where to start!", but then I caught on.)

This isn't the platform to discuss gun control. I will say that I don't really have a problem with responsible gun ownership, it's just not for me or my family. We don't hunt, and I can't imagine what the hell else we'd use a gun for beyond maybe target practice, and that's just not a good enough reason for us to own one. Since we don't and wouldn't use a gun practically, the only way Isaac is going to be exposed to them is through TV and movies (which is why I don't let him watch TV! oh, wait). Since TV and movies rarely show people using guns in a responsible, practical, non-violent way (can't you see it now? "Next, on NBC: Law and Order: Just Plain Old Target Practice and Nothing Else, and later: Regular People Eating What They Kill, For a Sustainable Lifestyle"), I feel that the only way I can provide a buffer for him is by disallowing guns and gun games in the house. Ah, but then I've made a Rule. And you know what happens when you make a rule about Guns in the House? You go to the park, which is not the house.

Jonah and Isaac are park buddies (Names have been changed to protect the innocent, myself, against kids with guns). Jonah is a little older, about 4, and he is always playing guns. Every day he is shooting at something and with something, be it a stick or just his fingers, every day he has a gun. But he's a nice kid! While I cringe every time I hear a "pew pew", I am hoping that Isaac is too young to even notice what his buddy is up to, hoping that all he really wants to do is master the slide the way Jonah has, hoping he's doing anything but noticing that his park friend is shooting him. I can't very well stand up and intervene, can I? My pre-child self would have been all about it. Hell, she'd probably even know the kindest way to say "point that invisible gun at my baby one more fucking time, Jonah, I dare you". It would come out informed-sounding and gentle, like "at our house we don't play guns. He is too young to pretend at something that is the actual cause of death for 500+ children a year in the United States. I know you understand". I'd smile, my long, wavy hair glowing in the mid-day sun. They'd smile, their clean faces the stuff of legend, and they'd go off to play house or boat or maybe even houseboat. There would be sharing and laughter, when it was time to go, they'd hug goodbye and happily leave with their respective guardians...Back on Earth, upon our return from planet Yeah Right, I just freeze in my tracks. Jonah is not my child and I can't very well tell other people's children what is appropriate, and he's not hurting anyone. Plus, I think his grandma could probably kick my ass.

Well today Jonah brought two squirt guns (empty) and a toy crossbow (cause like, why not?). I felt that we were dodging the make-believe bullet, however, because Jonah was already playing with two other kids, and anyway Isaac was too busy doing the slide for real with his dad to even notice the big kids. Wrong! We weren't home ten minutes and Isaac picked up a curtain rod I had taken down and started shooting it! I died a little. I bargained. I told myself that he is just mimicking the noise the boys were making, not the shooting. He would have no point of reference for guns, he's never really seen them anywhere else...So now what? I can't reason with him on this subject. I can't reason with him at all! He's two! Do I actively discourage him from ever playing like that again? Won't that turn into the whole "it's more alluring now because it's forbidden" thing? Do I let it go and hope it won't come up again til he's old enough to listen? When's that? Like, twenty? I am truly at a standstill. I wish I could go back in time, back when I was a legit sanctimommy, back before I had kids and I knew how to raise them.

Someone told me once that boys will always play guns. Or swords. Or Light Sabers.  There will always be some kind of weapon in their play. Sigh. I didn't think it would happen with my kid. I didn't think I would let it happen with my kid. But it has. I suppose I know plenty of really well adjusted people who played guns in their youth. Right?  A few years of "pew pew" on the playground don't necessarily equate to an adulthood of slaughter and mayhem. I am just afraid of normalizing guns and violence, afraid that he will see guns as an everyday thing, and most of all, like Michael Scott doing improv, or Jonah when he isn't ready to leave the park, I'm afraid he'll see them as a means to end any conversation he doesn't want to be having-- both metaphorically, or god forbid, literally. He's got to learn compromise and kindness. I'd like him to have more practice in peace before he learns alternatives that involve force. I'd like to be able to tell him it's time to leave the park without him saying "No! I just shot you".

It is hard when you realize that the parent you want to be is not always the parent you are. You might have a certain vision in your mind about how things are going to go, but reality is always a little different. You may have trouble growing that glowing mane of beautiful hair, you child's face hasn't been legitimately clean in actual months, and every so often you'll let him eat peanut butter and jelly for dinner in front of the television, just to get your damn blog written. I guess the key is choosing your battles and saving your energy for when he wants to wear a shirt with a picture of Spiderman punching a girl.

The Miracle of Birth, Take Two

I feel compelled to write a quick note on the experience of having baby number two, as it was like the delivery of Isaac on Opposite Day. I never thought having a baby could be so pleasant. After a few weeks of hell, I was glad to have a positive experience! About 31 weeks into pregnancy #2, I was diagnosed with hydronephrosis of the kidney, maybe stones maybe not. While I knew what was going on, the entire staff of the hospital seemed to be on planet Don't Care as I writhed and rocked and shook in pain. I wound up in the ER for 7 hours, two of them across the hall from a dead guy, before I was admitted to the maternity floor. The admitting doctor (not my midwife) told the nursing staff that I could take Tylenol for the pain.  I won't repeat what I said to the poor nurse, but suffice it to say, I did apologize to her after being hooked up to an IV drip of something more powerful. Tylenol? Was he serious?! What, were they out of herbs? Like I didn't try Tylenol before coming to the hospital, instead of say, Walgreens, and then waiting around next to a corpse for some relief?! It was the same old routine after that, stent placements, stent exchanges...three in total with Viv, just like her brother.

Unlike Isaac, however, Vivian made her appearnce in quite the opposite way (ok, well not completely opposite, she didn't like, spring fully formed from my skull or anything. That would have been something). I started having contractions at around 10 on Monday night. At about 2 am we went to the hospital, called my mom, sister and my doula to meet us there. I did ask for an epidural after a bit, worrying that I'd want one and it would be too late. I had no other pain relief besides the comforting support of Matt and Darcie.  After the epidural, however, the contractions stopped.  My midwife broke my water, gave me a hit of Pitocin, (which had me extremely worried that I was going to go down the tangled road of increasing intervenion and wind up sliced and diced) and told everyone to get some sleep. This was around 5 am.  45 minutes later the nurse checked me and told me it was time to have a baby.  A few pushes and Vivian was born.  I kept thinking "ugh, I still have to have a baby!" but I didn't! That part was over, and I finally got to make that face I'd seen on other women as their baby arrived-- to experience that feeling, to reach down and grab my newborn and smile. Joy.

So what was different this time? This time around, I educated myself. I read Ina May and imagined what it would be like to give birth on her farm. I followed birth blogs, especially Birth Without Fear, which is really just about sharing, supporting and empowering women in all of their birthing experiences. I brought my husband in on my thoughts by sitting down and watching The Business of Being Born. At this point, we both knew that a home birth was not in our future (kidneys!), but it helped us both to see one natural, un-medicated, peaceful experience after another. But the biggest changes I made for myself were with who I chose to care for me. I switched from my OBGYN to a midwife. The women at my new practice were awesome. Every single visit I was met with upbeat women who really seem to enjoy their work.  They liked me, they respected me, the empathized with me, they had my back. When I lost it and broke down in tears, in such pain between stent surgeries, my midwife, Erin had a plan.  The thing that had worried me the most, the thought of being induced, was cleared up in moments. She was matter-of-fact but gentle, she told me what to say to the urologist, she assured me that induction was not going to happen unless I was sure I really wanted it. At my former practice, I felt like my kidney problems were wholly separate in my OB's mind, like they had no real understanding of the depth of my fear and inexperience. At Birth n Beyond, I felt like I was part of a team.

Another huge part of my team was my doula, Darcie. Talk about someone who has a calling! She's a hugger. Anyone who knows me well will notice that I am not a huge hand-shaker or hugger. She's the kind of person, however, who I did not hesitate to hug upon first meeting. She is warm and kind, she listened to all of my fears and concerns and gave equal weight to every last one of them, big or small. Having her to bounce ideas, worries and fears off of kept me sane. I felt so much more confident even just having her in the room as I labored. Something about her presence reminded me that every contraction would eventually end, that I would be able to get through it, and that each one brought be that much closer to being done. Anyone considering hiring a doula should absolutely do it. I cannot say enough kind things about my experience, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Contrary to Isaac's entrance into the world, Vivian's was so much more peaceful, so much more joyful, and made me feel so much stronger. I have always been amazed at my body's ability to give birth, or even grow a baby, but I was so frustrated with what I perceived to be failures. I failed to push Isaac out, I failed to nurse him right away, I failed to heal well after his birth and I failed to ask for help when I needed it most. I feel like Viv's birth was a do-over. Not only was I able to experience something much closer to my ideal situation, but I was able to reflect on the past two years and start forgiving myself. I didn't fail Isaac. I was in over my head, I was not fully prepared. His birth left me exhausted and overwhelmed, and that is OK. I am not a villain. I was just a person doing something for the first time. Hear arrival helped me bring down some of the walls I'd built.

A lot has changed for me. I can't seem to keep my mind off the backward way we bring babies into the world in this country. Viewing birth through a medical lens is so unnecessary. Unless there truly are problems that require a doctor's intervention, why are we so set on having surgeons deliver our babies and care for us prenataly? Midwives are the shit and should be our first thought when we're pregnant. We are taught that labor is the worst thing ever to happen and that it should be feared and medicated "away". We are led to believe that screaming in terror and agony are par for the course, that laying down on our backs is how babies come out easiest and that doctors and nurses know best when it comes to our own bodies.  I'm here to tell you that giving birth without a drug cocktail was significantly less painful and frightening that it was with drugs. I was so present this time, so much more in control. Fear is unnecessary if you trust your body and your care team, and when your care team trusts you and your body, the work of baby-having gets done. I mean, it's not easy and it sure does hurt, you know I don't lie about that nonsense. But the pain makes sense. After both of my experiences I would never poo-poo an epidural, if that's what a woman wants. If I were to have another baby, however, I would like to try to go all the way without any intervention.  That's not going to happen though...I'm tapping out.  Hydronephrosis of the kidney has scared me off the whole pregnancy thing altogether and I am getting out of the baby making game.  I won't miss it either! While it is transformative and amazing, on the best days, it is rough going and requires a lot of a person. Being done is bitter-sweet, but I can now concentrate on these two kids-- I have my hands quite full with them!