Birth Story; Part 2

My mother gave birth to me on The Farm, the commune in Tennessee from which come Ina May’s teachings. My mother never lived there, but ever since she’d read Ina May’s book she’d known she didn’t want to give birth in a hospital. She bought Spiritual Midwifery from a bookstore in Hardwick, Vermont on July 13, 1978. The place and date are written in black pen on the inside of the worn paperback cover. She was on a road trip with her boyfriend, Paul. Paul is not my father though the ending of their relationship is what set in motion the events that led to my conception on October 8, 1980, on another commune, this one in Pennsylvania.

When she was in her second trimester, she and her mother drove from New York to Tennessee to check out The Farm. They drove the Blue Ridge but it was too foggy for views. In St. Louis (why were they in St. Louis?) they saw an eagle swoop down and grab a squirrel from the path right in front of them and eat it in the tree above them.

When she was eight months pregnant she again made the trip from New York, this time in a greyhound to Nashville. She packed vodka in case she needed to slow down any early contractions. In Nashville, a man tried to pick her up as she was walking to the church mission where she’d spend the night. The next day a woman in a pickup came for her and drove her to The Farm. My father arrived a few days later. He had been in Mexico getting his affairs in order which I believe included selling film equipment in order to buy us a big yellow van. However we got the van, he built a bed in the back of it so that in the coming months we’d be able to sleep in it as we traveled from The Farm up to Connecticut where my mother’s mother was waiting, and then back through Texas and into Mexico where we would live for the next few years.

I was two weeks late. The contractions began, kind of, the night before. They made love. Went to bed. By 9 the next morning the labor had truly begun. She remembers not knowing what to do when it came time to push. She couldn’t understand where/what she was supposed to push into. The midwife manually broke her waters which she wishes she hadn’t done since who knows, maybe I could have been born in the caul, an intact amniotic sac, a significant omen. Dali Lamas must be born in the caul. Near the end of her labor she went to stand and push by the window. She heard a hammering and spotted a huge red, white and black woodpecker in the trees. That is your bird, she tells me. Around 5 pm (a 9-5 labor she says) she pushed me out and my father danced in celebration.

She says the first time she looked at me she felt like she was looking at her own self.

I was born on July 13; three  years to the day after she first bought her copy of Spiritual Midwifery. When I was younger I only looked occasionally at the photos of the women in labor. The dark heads emerging from vaginas suddenly huge with effort both drew and repelled. Later, I’ve noticed that many of them look as if they are cumming; mouths open as if in the peak of an orgasm.

And then one day a boy is born.

Yes, the birth story will come. Soon maybe. Although words in relation to time have whole new sets of meanings. So I say soon not knowing what soon will be exactly. The sun is rising. The boy is asleep. Just like when he was within me, night is his time and he quiets with the beginning of the day. B. is asleep too. Typing feels like coming home after a long journey in a far away land. It is familiar; a place of total comfort, but fundamentally changed since the last time I lived here. Because I am changed. Profoundly. On a cellular level. On an atomic level. I have not been this changed since my first twenty four hours of knowing I was pregnant.

And so I begin today what will be the last chapter of The Secret Pregnancy; what they call The Fourth Trimester, the first three months of the boy’s life. The boy, in these entries, I’m going to call the Traveler. He’s in stripes at the moment. Very seaworthy.

The Week When I Try To Stop Counting What Week I’m Up To

My last step in making stock is taking that big pot full of vegetables and meat and of course, the glorious broth itself, and pouring it through a strainer into a larger pot. I’m left with stock, and the spent vegetables and bones go to the garbage.

Yesterday I accepted that no amount of nesting is going to make me ready to parent this living, breathing being, but I was determined that at the very least I would get every last thing done in order to be ready to give birth. This determination had me walking to Duane Reade at 7:30 PM to buy bendy straws and giant maxi pads, and then popping over to my food co-op for lime froze fruit bars (which they didn’t have; which nobody seems to have; this neighborhood has officially gotten too fancy) and arnica pellets. Also, an onion, bay leaves, and chicken parts for the stock I planned to make and then freeze and then, of course, be ready. For giving birth. To a human being. It was on the walk home from this last round of errands that my eight hours of constant buzzing energy finally crested and washed away, leaving me yawning at every step.

Home, and thankfully, B. was all over dinner. I got the pot of stock going. We ate. Watched Broad City. And then he went to bed.

My brain, however, would not be still. It skipped over birth and landed on today, and how I would fit writing, swimming, seeing my mother, and heading to school for a student thing into a block of time that could reasonably hold two (maybe three) of these activities. As a visual for this brain activity which continued well into the middle of the night, I offer a child playing with a set of blocks for hours, obsessively ordering and re-ordering them. It must have been three in the morning, and I was sitting there peeing, going, “Well if I swim until 10:15, and am downtown by 12, then I can write at 1:30 and…”

This morning it began again, immediately, but I stretched and meditated and got some calm going. I went up to the kitchen, put a piece of bread in the toaster, put the strainer in the sink, and proceeded to pour 3/4 of my pot of stock straight down the drain.

There was a lot of screaming. I’m saying “motherfucker” more than I used to and this seems like an odd time to develop that habit.

I stood, kind of laughing, still muttering, “Fuck, motherfucker” while picking chicken off the bones.

Until, finally, came the sadness and the thing that I’ve been avoiding with all this whirlwinding about.

Today, three years ago, was the day my cousin died. My mother tells me that one way to say it is, “He died of suicide.” To try to find someway to show that he was a victim too, that it was a thing that took him, not simply an action he took. It was outside; he was found in the morning, and my uncle says the tree itself was beautiful as was the grass and the light and that he himself was beautiful. He always was. At some ages, startlingly so.

My cousin struggled for years. We all saw how the movements of a day did not work for him. Interacting with us required great effort; as if his skull were a prison from which his thoughts and feelings could not escape. It feels like we all failed him; that we were a clan in the most ancient sense and that we lost one of our own to the predators outside the hearth. Or that we were supposed to be his net, and we let him slip through.

In the days after he died, I felt like the air itself was pressing down onto my shoulders. All I wanted to do, my image of comfort in that week, was to be on my hands and knees under a table. I wanted the table to take the weight; I wanted to hide there. B. pointed out, “Like a child; that’s what children do.” I guess so, but I wanted to disagree, explain it again, say, No, it’s not a comfort-child thing, it’s that the air was heavy and if I was under a table then the table would help me carry it. For me, it was a literal, not a symbolic, need.

When I meet my mother today we’ll walk to the river and have a prayer and a remembrance there. Yes, that’s what that particular pocket of time was for; the thing I was shuffling around and penciling in. Really the only thing that matters. But I am writing now. And I think I’ll swim. And I’m crying as I type and I remember that there is no readiness; that these flurries of activity are what I do to distract myself from the wheeling of a universe that I cannot understand and whose forces can take me at any time; sweep me out of a day and bring me exposed and face to face with the giant infinite expanse of what it means to be alive.

Week 30

I’ve become enchanted by the pelvic tunnel. After the cervix fully dilates–and wait, let me tell you that before the birthing videos and the dated computerized animation, I had this image of dilation as if the cervix was opening while the baby was suspended above waiting patiently, as if for a portal in a future space ship hallway that will open with a mechanical exhale. But no, this is not it at all. The cervix is opening around the head of the baby as it pushes down down, the force of the baby stretching, the uterus pulsing, the uterus pushing. So yes, this portal does not gradually ease open of its own accord, the babe waiting patiently; no, it is opening because the babe is there pushing on that exit. After this stage the babe rotates in order to squeeze first through the bones of the pelvic inlet and then leaves through the outlet and this part of the process is somehow my favorite because (I think) I never thought nor even heard of, certainly did not focus on, this stage–the babe passing through a tunnel of bone and cartilage. It seems almost graceful. Swimmerly. After that (I’m pretty sure I’m getting my stages right) comes the active pushing and that is something else but right now I like the tunnel best…as if the babe is diving out of a cave with an underwater entrance. Or perhaps this; did you ever swim beneath a floating dock to pop up in a new area of the lake? Hah, like a beaver’s den.

I don’t know how to write myself fully. I’ve been writing a memoir, and have been shaping and changing it for years, and it is almost right, but always I come up against this wall–and it feels like a literal wall. I can tell that on the other side is a more authentic voice, a voice I can access when writing other parts of myself, but which I lose when I try to write the stories of my father, of Mexico, of my skin. I still, after years of thinking and talking and reading, can’t tell this all the way. I stopped speaking those parts of myself when I was fourteen and it has been so much harder to begin to tell it again than I imagined it would be. I thought the deciding to tell it would be the hard part. But no, I’ve decided, and I still often feel like I’m tunneling through a wall of rock. Or bone.

I am afraid and as much as I don’t want to be I still am. I want to be free in my body, in my skin, in my voice. To be free in my body will be the same as being free in the telling of my body.

Across the street is a school. At night various windows light up as, I think, janitors move through the rooms cleaning. My school is not cleaned by janitors at night. The students clean at the end of every day, and we help, and on the weekends two people come in and do the deeper scrubbing. My school is not orderly. Sometimes when adults visit they are turned off by the almost-chaotic jumble of it. It can be hard to see what it is happening beneath the precarious stack of books in the library; the glitter coating the art room table. But it is a space for kids, and not an adult’s vision of what those kids want from a space. This is my third year there and the lesson that has taken me some time to learn is that to truly hold a young person’s view at the center of their education is a much more radical re-thinking than I’d previously imagined. The simple act of accepting that I do not see a room in the same as a ten year old does, and that the ten year old’s vision has it’s own worth…Many of us prefer the vision of school in which rooms are cleaned at night when children are gone, rooms organized and maintained by adults. I wonder what the kids think of that? To leave a space and return to it magically swept bare of the detritus of the day before as if it never existed.

When I get into trouble is when I get feeling that there is no me, just versions of me, and that the gaze of others, what they perceive is what determines who I am. That feeling of being constantly changeable. Wait, that is not what I’m afraid of. I feel that way, yes, changeable, but what I’m startled by, uneasy with, is that…and here is the wall once again. I think I’m afraid of the chaotic room.

As if I could control how I am perceived in the world. As if anyone can.

I have not accepted the skin I live in. What an odd statement.

Some stories done’t have resolution.

But I am going to give birth. In one form or another. I’ll moan and move and make low humming noises to open the sphincter of my throat so that the sphincter that is my cervix will open wider and probably in all that opening and moaning I’m going to poop and it will be in front of other people, in front of B., who I don’t even like to fart in front of if I can help it. And everything will be opening and I’ll be moaning and making noises and movements and I will be in a land beyond care or concern or even thought of what others or the world think of me; I will be deep down in my body, letting my body lead me, and how could there be a thing as poisonous as pretense in the midst of all that?

Week 29

B. and I escaped out of the city this weekend. We borrowed back the car we gave to his brother (after his dad gave it to us) and drove to a tiny cabin tucked among mountain foothills with the world’s best diner 4 minutes away and a little mini kitchen to cook in and somehow all of this within budget. It snowed, and was bone chilling freezing, but I made a beef stew and we tucked into that little cabin and napped when we were tired and had sex when we wanted each other and ate food when we were hungry. After two and half days of this I woke up on Monday with sun hitting pine trees and snow, a layer of ice on the window, and flames heating the space of the bed from behind the gas stove’s glass door, and I felt a bone deep contentment that made me understand what it truly means to be rested.

And then, on the way home, we got in a fight. It began when we were approaching the GW after taking a wrong turn that cost us 20 minutes in both directions. The fight began with talk to paint the kitchen, and by the time we were in Bed Stuy we were talking about where we wanted to live in two years and discovering it was not the same place.

Immediately after that discovery, we had to pick up his brother’s newly ex-girlfriend, drive her back to our neighborhood, leave her with the car, and then B. had to hurry to an appointment in the city, and we had to put the whole fight on hold.

Which was definitely a good thing.

I’m wondering what it’s going to be like to fight in front of this babe; our future child who will indeed be able to both hear and see. How does one do that in a healthy way? In my world, there were not two parents, there was just my mother and me and I did not have to witness her negotiate the business of parenting with anyone else. It was her way and her word that led us. My grandmother was the other adult in my life; not there daily, but for many years I slept at her house a few times a week, and every single vacation was spent with her. But their arguments, infrequent, were different. My grandmother did not question any of my mother’s parenting decisions, rather when they moved into tense tones it was about the past, and that didn’t happen often because my grandmother carefully avoided the past’s tender spots. On those occasions when my mother insisted they get into it, I submerged myself into a book so completely that no sounds reached me. Truly. My uncle was once visiting and spoke to me directly, calling my name three or four times without me hearing until he gave up and left alone on our planned venture to the pool. I can still make this escape as an adult, though it’s harder. Back then, I often read books that were too old for me, and now, when I want to slip away, I read books that are too young. (Always the teaching excuse–I have to be up on what my students are reading.) But they’re familiar to me, soothing, a corner to tuck into when the outside world presses in too fiercely.

And so, will our child have to do this? Find escapes?

I can be cruel in arguments because I love the feeling of righteous anger; barbed words rolling from my tongue like jacks. Sometimes I’m calm until the apology comes and only then does the anger flicker on and it’s not easy for me to willingly walk away from that heat because the heat feels too good. Leaves me feeling too powerful.

(Oy, this winter–the skin on my cheek bones suddenly rough from, I guess, the wind and sun and cold of our mountain walks, and the skin on my butt cheeks rough from, I guess, the general business of living. I would like to be coated with shea butter and sat down in a sauna until softened.)

B. and I reunited later in the evening. And we talked it out over food at the diner (not as perfect as our mountain diner, but still good) because our kitchen is a disaster. And then we kept talking it out on the way home; our frustrations sparking then dimming. And then to the couch. Finally I cried in that good way that comes with telling the truth. It put out the self-righteous embers. He did that thing where he smiles. We apologized. At one point, he looked up, startled, that the babe had been hearing all of it (because it can now; can hear our voices and other sounds), had heard us being angry and sarcastic and frustrated. And what could I say other than that it was hearing us then too, being sweet and kind and forgiving.

I still can’t shake it though; how weird it will be to have another human being witnessing me being ridiculous, having a temper, making mistakes. It took me years to be willing to let B. know all these things about me, and he chose me. This babe is going to be assigned me.

Over the weekend B. was pulling into the snowy parking lot when he turned to me, and said, “Wanna get married and start a family?” And I thought, Start a family? Yes, but whoa. And then I laughed.

“What?” he asked.

And I told him. For that moment, I had totally forgotten that I was pregnant.

Week 27

Time to rant.

The ice is a pain in the ass, and yet somehow the concern is getting to me too. To be careful, to be careful, and B. is so lovely with his elbow on my arm and yet it is the weirdest fucking thing in the world to be helped across a patch of ice the way I used to help my grandmother. I understand now that waving off of help; that, leave me be, I can do it.

And people who don’t handle their patch of sidewalk suck, as do the people who should be helping said people if they can’t do it themselves.

And also world, please stop telling me “I am carrying well.” I’ve touched on this before, but it is just code for I haven’t gained “too much” weight and at some point my brain can’t keep up my feminist levee against the rising tide of body obsession and just the other day, a leak sprung, the thought, “My thighs are getting big.”

Have you heard this one? Girls steal your beauty. Apparently mine hasn’t been stolen. Yet. Also my belly is “pointy”. Sure signs. It’s a boy.

Ah, but a rant intermission here to say that I really love these women, the aunties and grandmothers, who rub my belly in the ladies room without asking and tell me not to eat salt.

I love them much more than the woman today who suggested I help her stock apples during my co-op shift and there were lots of other people around and I looked at that low shelf and the big box, and had to say, “I just can’t bend like that these days.” And do you know what she said? “Some days I don’t want to bend either.”

And while I’m on the subject of the co-op: I’m just home from the last half hour of the shift spent loading fruit onto those low shelves and there I am standing there and honestly, just send me home. I am not even remotely ambiguously pregnant these days; just send me home. There was a Latin man working with me, and he kept waving me away, “Go sit. Go rest. There’s nothing you have to do here.” Reminded me how a friend traveled to Columbia at five months pregnant and said that every woman should have the experience of going to a Latin country pregnant. My mother said the same thing of being a new mother in Mexico. That she felt like a queen. I always planned/hoped to make it to Puerto Rico once I got pregnant, and today has been a day in which I might murder for the feeling of sun and sand on this belly of mine. Today also a day when I understand why I don’t have a proper credit. B. tells me all the time that I’m actually super financially responsible, and I think I am, but I don’t trust myself with credit because of the fact that I can always find a reason to buy a plane ticket. (Just as I always used to find a reason to go out to dinner; drink the best drink.) Then again, if I did let myself have one, I’m 99.9% sure I’d be flying to San Juan this very Friday.

Ice storm coming tonight.

Okay, now I’m having trouble holding back the visions of heat and water and swimming and fruit and Spanish and sun and diving into the ocean in a tiny bikini and oh man, now I’m imagining skinny dipping in a calm ocean, and how good it would feel to just feel my skin. Only my skin in the air and the water and none of this armor of long underwear and wool and scarves.

Two nights now of better rest because I followed a pillow diagram and am sleeping with six pillows. I’m not kidding. Six. My head hovers a full foot or so above B.. When he kisses me before sleeping he has to fully lift himself up to reach me because once I’ve achieved the position of maximum comfort I’m too nervous to move for fear of jinxing it.

And the reward for all this is a baby. I watched babies today. None of them seemed cute, and most of them annoying.

It’s just that there’s not enough time left. This baby is going to be here too soon and then I’m going to have a baby and then I’m going to be a mother and I have plans for many of the weekends coming and they’re hurrying me towards my due date, rushing me along, and it’s too fast right now. I’m not ready and it doesn’t matter because the babe will come anyway.


I love the bumps and wiggles and shimmies. I really do. Me and it in this private dance.

I’m having an experience without reference point or comparison.

It’s just hard some days, the not knowing my way.

Week 26

I can’t sleep.

I saw the snow begin. The tree branches are laced with it now. A cab drove by. Nights like this could be lovely at the bar actually. I’d have done last call by now. On week nights we closed the bar at 2. Slow nights, off nights, everything would be clean by now so that when I locked the door and hung the curtain over the big square of plate glass window in the front, it would only take me about twenty more minutes to do a final clean and count the bank and tip out everyone and be out the door. Thursdays could go either way though; it could be a forgiving and charming night in which case I’d be chatting now, elbows on the bar, not rushing, melodic rap playing. The bar was long and narrow and we always kept it very dark and candle lit, everyone looked good in that light, and it fronted a narrow cobble stone street that was an image of New York as the city likes to see itself. On a night like this, the street would be wonderful, silent, a leaning couple walking home, a high heeled woman picking her way like a heron, snow dusting us all.

My alarm is going to go off in three hours and five minutes.

There is an actual human being inside of me.

Week 25

I’ve been telling people I’m “about” five months pregnant, but yesterday I got my weekly update and looked at this number, 25, and realized I’ve been doing wishful counting and holy shit I am six months pregnant which means I only have about three months left and I know how fast three months can go.

I did not panic.

My first thought: I need to make some lists. I designed the list in my head. It’s divided into four quadrants, and one corner is things I need, another things I really want, and then a third things I think would be fun to have and I couldn’t think of a category for the fourth. Diapers go on there for sure, and a thing to use to carry the baby around, but also, a rug. I keep on thinking that we need a rug. I’ve never bought a rug in my whole life. The only time I spotted one that I really liked, the guy nodded and said, “Ah yes, that is our best one. The wool was hand spun by women in the mountains of Afghanistan.” And then quoted me a price so far into the thousands that I just laughed.

I haven’t made the list yet.

And also, I thought we had the names all figured out, but now I’m doubting the boy’s name we picked out, and I can’t think of a single boy’s name I like. We chose the names in the midst of my last bout of unpreparedness.

And here is where I pause to remind myself of my own birth on a wooded commune in Tennessee. My mother labored from 9 to 5, and in the afternoon, moments before she pushed me out, she saw a large woodpecker with red, white and black feathers in the trees outside the window. The midwife caught me, and my father danced in celebration. We stayed for a month or so in that room in The Long House, as it was called, and then moved into a yellow van with a bed in the back. We first drove north, to visit my mother’s mother, and then south, to my father’s country. We spent a few months in that van before settling into our own place in Mexico.  And in Mexico too, there was no one house, no changing table, no one special rug.

I don’t really want to do anything. I don’t want to research or scan or peek or prod or shop. I feel like I am a complete ecosystem right now, and I don’t want to mess with it.

Maybe if I at least get the carrier, or sling, or whatever; the thing to carry the babe in, then we’ll be mobile and ready and able to go anywhere we want.

And also a rug. I can’t shake it. I really want a rug.

Week 23

In the last twelve hours, I have become significantly more pregnant. It began while we were watching TV last night–we have a whole new world of options because a friend gave us her Hulu log in–and it’s funny because I’ve barely watched any of the shows that I hear talked about and now they’re all at my fingertips. I haven’t meant not to watch. Often it’s been a matter of limited resources. Of money for one, not wanting to pay, but mostly of time. These last two years, I’ve been so tired when I get home from work I’ve had about three hours of wakefulness and of the potential evening activities–eating dinner, talking to B., having sex with B., watching TV, showering–something had to go.

But also true is that nothing holds my attention. Again, I don’t want this to be true, but these shows, especially all these critically acclaimed giants, seem like the same plot with different costumes. And that plot always manages to center on a flawed, but charismatic, white man engaging with his inner uber-traditional masculine (and capitalist) self against a back drop of sacrificing, or naked, or murdered female bodies. The only series I’ve watched to completion in the last five years was Battlestar Galactica. Do you know that David Byrne and St. Vincent song? The first verse goes like this:

I used to think that I should watch TV
I used to think that it was good for me
Wanted to know what folks were thinking
To understand the land I live in
And I would lose myself, and it would set me free

That’s me, only present tense. I still think I should be watching TV. I do think it will set me free. I do want to know what folks are thinking. So I keep trying.

Anyway, last night, by the end of the first episode of the first season of Scandal (is anyone else annoyed that the kryptonite for this badass woman’s spidey sense is a man who is sleeping with at least two other women?) my belly had become half a planet. All day I’d been like a kangaroo, hopping around with my babe tucked neatly inside of me, and then suddenly, they’re kissing on the edge of the oval office and I’m an overturned turtle.

This morning it was worse. My leggings were too tight, and my long underwear had a tag designed to annoy the shit out of me, and my tunic shirt made me look the hippie mom character in a sitcom whose quirky politics are represented by her brightly, patterned leggings. Which mine are.

I handled all this by changing into a different pair of leggings; the ones I would wear every day if I thought no one would notice. As it is, I do wear them for days in a row if I know the only who’s going to see me on each of those days is B.. And even to him, I said, “You know I’m wearing tights under these so they don’t get totally dirty.” Not that that’s even all the way true. He, of course, just shrugged. “Whatever baby.”

The problem being that I look so very pregnant in everything I put on.

Last night it stopped making sense that I was pregnant. In my brain, I was just me, the same familiar me, same types of thoughts, same personality, but I couldn’t connect to the body below. My back was tingling and the skin of my belly taut, and when I tried to sit up from my sunken couch, I needed to push first and then roll, and it was awkward and weird and foreign. My body very much not my own

Movies I will not be watching: Rosemary’s Baby, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien.

I would like to say that my body and brain have been reunited with my outfit change into my favorite leggings, but so far, I’m still itchy and fidgety and discontent. And irritable. Also, restless. Probably one of those days where it’s a good thing that I work with a gaggle of energetic teens because in a very short while I won’t have the time or mental space to pay attention to myself.

I would like there to a right shirt to fix it, a right breakfast, maybe if I go get a muffin, maybe if I wear hoops. I don’t know.

And as a final complaint, the fruit and vegetable sizing system has completely broken down. This week the babe is said to be a mango, but last week it was supposed to be a spaghetti squash, and spaghetti squash are bigger than mangoes. And also, two weeks ago, it was a banana. Because of the length. Not the girth. No comment.

For now, it’s time for me to get this body of mine in motion; to bundle it up, take it work, and see if over the course of the day we can make up.