"He comforteth readily and sweetly, signifying thus: 'It is sooth that sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.' …And in these words I saw a marvellous high mystery hid in God, which mystery He shall openly make known to us in Heaven: in which knowing we shall verily see the cause why He suffered sin to come. In which sight we shall endlessly joy in our Lord God." -Julian of Norwich

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Welcome to Greenville

Already the relentless moon has pulled me five months away from Madison, and I don't know if it feels like yesterday or forever. When I close my eyes, Ramona is in the backseat of the Rendezvous and we're driving down Whitney Way towards Woodman's grocery, or I'm beside Lake Mendota, cold September breeze and Norway maple's bright yellow hands and the memory of my womb, full of life. I remember the rough carpet in our apartment and the hexagonal sandbox below, catalpa blooms along Lake Mendota Drive in June, the Lakeshore bike path all the way downtown to First United Methodist Church. I remember bao at Orient House on South Park and ming sabai at Sa-Bai Thong on University Avenue. So much life, those seven years, moving from newlywed into parent.

Now, I am more, always expanding into newness. My poetry is more central to my life than ever as Ramona goes to preschool, five full days a week. From the chilly attic of our Greenville home, I'm writing about change and reading Chen Chen and Naomi Shihab Nye and Elizabeth Bishop; I'm applying to MFA programs, lining out my 20 best poems across the tan tile floor.

Summer turns golden, and then we see frost in the morning at the school bus stop. Consistently, the days are about ten degrees warmer here than in Madison. I still check the Wisconsin weather from time to time, think about snow. I'm looking forward to winter here, wondering what it will be like. I've never lived so far south before, and yet still this is the midwest? The world is so large. The world is so small.

This small town grows on you, its people close-knit in the small streets around the square, stitched up Beaumont Avenue and into these few hills that look out to a land of flat. The sidewalks here remind me of my hometown, the small Illinois village of my childhood, tree roots pulling up the corner of the concrete, flowers and weeds waving from every lawn.

The trees here are better than our Madison apartment, where the west sun glared through the living room window all summer long. Here, our backyard is full to bursting with leaves and twigs, so shady that the grass barely grows. The tulip tree stretches taller than a four-story building. I am comforted by the age of the trees, this old house, the years that this place was home before it was our home. Our Madison apartment was a place of transience; grad school housing where we were limited to no more than eight years renting. Having lived there for seven, we were the longest remaining tenants in our building. But here, this house was the world for one woman, the space where she raised her children and lived into widowhood. This attic room was one of her children's bedrooms, "E's room," according to the note on the breaker box in the basement. The house is heavy with her stories; it makes it a warm place to live.

As I walk Oak street past Dairy Queen and our neighbor's wilted garden, the burning bush still vibrant with autumn red, I find Greenville a good place to be. I hardly miss my before, my large home of lakes and liberal politics. It only takes a few months to remember how lovely a small town can be, even if it doesn't have huge public libraries and what seems to me now endless restaurant choices. What it lacks, it makes up for in friendly faces and a sort of informality, a nonchalance about keeping up the yard and having the trendiest wardrobe. I am not anonymous here, and as someone who often chooses silence yet still wants to be seen, the lack of anonymity cheers me.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Making Bracelets

I tie tiny knots one after another, hours following patterned arrows on a chart—forward knot, backward knot, one half hitch to the right and one to the left—until the colors of the embroidery floss twine and wind into patches, rows, chevron, diamonds. I spin without clock, the pattern laid before me like the strange wheel of the orb weaver in the breezeway lamp. The spider is she who creates beauty not for its sake: the beauty is incidental to the nature of the web, a hunter’s tool. And what tool do I tie in a small band of color around the wrist of my daughter, my lover, my mother? In each knot, a prayer, a thought of the other—hands at keyboards and fingers around crayons and palms on greenware clay, age spots and caresses and the wringing out of all days. In the belly of the knots, the bracelet holds the sweat of a whole summer, soap residue of every shower in which for a moment, the shoulders relax. I tie knots to bind my fingers around the wrists of everyone I love. I hunt for the caress of cotton, for 4 a.m. fast asleep, for the yes to days’ work, inexplicable. Inexhaustible. The eye catching on the color of the banded wrist—there, my small prize of pleasure.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ramona's birth story, four years late.

[Trigger warning: childbirth trauma, medical details. Disclaimer: I have no medical training. This post comes from my records, what I remember, conversations I had later with my doctor, surgeon, and anesthesiologist, and Google searches.]

Four years ago today, I was two days past Ramona's due date and three days away from "giving birth" to her. I put that in quotes because I felt, right or wrong, that I actually had no part in her birth.

I've never shared her birth story in its entirety here on the blog. It was a horrific thing, and I know I am not alone in experiencing a traumatic birth. One of the things about trauma, though, is that it's easy to feel like there's no way anyone else could understand what you went through. Really, I think the only one who can understand is Zach because he was there and went through his own personal hell watching what I was going through.

I'm glad I live in a day in age that women rarely die in childbirth. I try to be thankful for medical intervention because it's possible that Ramona and/or I would not have made it through otherwise. But I can't help feeling that I failed. I still feel it four years later, even after reminding myself thousands of times that the way Ramona was born does not invalidate my motherhood and does not make me a failure.

The way in which I feel I failed was in not giving voice at any point to my objection. Once Zach and I checked into St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, I felt my power and autonomy were completely stripped from me.

We were first put in an exam room to wait for them to ready a birthing room for us. I told them I wanted to have as natural of a birth as possible and that I wanted a room with a tub. No problem, the nurse said, all our rooms have tubs. Except they don't all have tubs. And there was only one room available for us, the one room that only had a shower. I wish at this point I would have said, "No! I'm staying here until you find me a tub." Irrational, perhaps, but I labored for eight hours in the hospital before I asked for an epidural and waited another two hours before I received one. If I had spent--been allowed to spend--those ten hours in the exam room, perhaps by then a room with a tub would have been available, and perhaps that could have held me off from the epidural at least for a while. Instead, we took the room without the tub, didn't raise any fuss even if I was very disappointed. It's the first what if in the birth story.

I was dilated to six centimeters when we arrived at the hospital on the night of the 19th. I asked to not have frequent checks, and through the night this was respected. Early in the morning of the 20th, they checked my dilation, and I had barely dilated any further. I think this is the moment I gave up. It is the biggest what if moment that I go back to over and over again. I was so tired, in so much pain. But what if I could have endured? What if I could have been patient? If I had given her more time, would Ramona have found her own way?

I asked for drugs and then for an epidural, which I received some time after 8 a.m. The doctor told me to rest, but I was still in a lot of pain and I couldn't sleep. When he checked in on me a few hours later, my labor was still not progressing. I was exhausted, worn thin with no resistance left in me, so when he said he was going to break my water (yes, it still hadn't broken), all I said was, "Okay." Again, what if?

Still there was little progress throughout most of the day on the 20th. I don't know when exactly, but some time in the afternoon, the doctor decided it was time to speed things along. He said he was going to give me oxytocin to hopefully move me from active labor into the transition stage. Again, all I could find was a placid, weak "Okay." What if?

At this point, Ramona had no choice, no time, and because of the oxytocin, increasingly no room. She became wedged in an early stage of shoulder dystocia. The doctor tried numerous times to manually turn Ramona by literally inserting his hand and rotating her head, but every time I contracted, she only got more wedged in that position. So he called the surgeon.

All throughout this, I continued to have a lot of pain. Not as much as I would have had without an epidural but much more than the virtual no pain some women experience with an epidural.

The surgeon assessed the situation and told us there was nothing we could do but a c-section. Ramona was too far up to be safely removed with forceps or vacuum (one of the things in her birth that I thank God for because I know how horrific that often is!), and she continued on using scare tactics to get us to agree: "Your baby is tired. She will be in distress soon. And if you continue to labor, you could become incontinent." I mean, really? Really? I think back to this, and I am so angry at her lack of compassion.

I so did not want a c-section. Earlier in my pregnancy, Ramona had been breech and I cried many times when I thought I might not be able to have a vaginal delivery. If you've never given birth, I think it might be hard to understand how I felt about this. And many women have c-sections and are happy about it, and I am happy for them, without reservation. That just wasn't me. I thought I was stronger than this. I had more faith in my body than this. My mother had fairly easy, by-the-books vaginal births, and that's what I'd expected for myself.

So I cried, and I talked with Zach, but what could we do? At this point, we were out of options. I had to have a c-section.

Next comes one of the most insensitive parts of the whole birthing process. While I lay devastated and helpless in the hospital bed. the aides who were prepping me for surgery were having a race to see how fast they could get me ready and down to the operating room. I really can't say anything else about this. To say I am angry, still angry, at their lack of compassion, their inability to even see me as human doesn't begin to describe it.

If this was the end of the story, I think I could have healed better. If I had gone into the c-section, had a normal, lucid surgery, and been presented with Ramona when she was born, I think I could have gotten over all the what ifs, I could have forgiven myself and the medical profession for the way Ramona's birth happened. But all of what happened before the c-section is nothing compared to what the surgery was.

If you've been given an epidural and are then taken down for a c-section, the practice is that they ramp up the dosage of analgesic and do surgery without a spinal block. They warn you that you'll feel some tugging. The epidural had been dulling my pain to a point, but I was still having quite a lot of pain during contractions (frequent from the oxytocin). When they upped the dosage, I no longer felt the contractions. Before the surgeon begins to cut, they will test to see if the analgesic is working well by pinching you, once low on your belly and once higher. In the best case scenario, you won't feel either of these pinches. I felt the higher one.

If a woman feels only the higher of the two pinches, the surgery begins, under the assumption that by the time they are cutting at the higher position (about ten minutes in), the analgesic will have kicked in up there, too. This is only an assumption, though. Not a guarantee. For me, the analgesic did not cover the higher portion of my belly, not right away and not ten minutes later when they were cutting. I won't go into the details here. You can imagine enough on your own. I will say that after 24 hours of labor, my membranes were very thin, and when one of them tore, the surgery had to continue whether I was in any small semblance of comfort or in complete agony. If they didn't continue, I would lose too much blood.

They did dose me up with enough other drugs so that at some point, my memory of what continues is washed away, forgotten in what feels like a hallucinogenic fog. Zach says that they very briefly presented Ramona to us before intubating and suctioning her airways (I had meconium-stained amniotic fluid--another reason for the c-section). I don't remember it. I don't remember the moment my daughter was born. The moment that's supposed to be so amazing, that's supposed to erase the memory of all the pain, and barring that, at least make it all worth it? I didn't have that moment. I didn't have any moment. I can't even remember what time she was born. I always have to look it up in our records or ask Zach. It was some time between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on the 20th.

The moment I did have was an hour or so later when I woke up and saw Ramona clean, dressed, alien, somehow mine though there was no way for me to know this other than that I was told this was the child I gave birth to. I held her and said, probably more to myself than to her, "It's okay, it's all over now. We're going to be okay."

And we are okay. Ultimately, we are okay. I just still wish it all could have gone differently, and I want all the mothers out there who've gone through any similar or different form of trauma during childbirth to know: you are not alone, and even if no one else can truly understand, I hope we all as mothers can stand together, because this mothering thing is not easy. It's not easy on day one or day one thousand or day ten thousand (okay, I'm guessing on the last one, but my mom could attest to this, I'm sure). I woke quickly to this truth, maybe others wake to it more slowly. I only know my own experience.

I keep reminding myself that in the end, the most important things came out okay--that Ramona and I recovered and are healthy, that we are together, and that no matter what happened on September 20, 2012, every September 20 since can be a happy one because it's another year that God has blessed me to spend with my energetic, smart, empathetic little girl.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I took my husband's name when I got married, and I'm okay with that.

When I got married six years ago, I hadn't gone through my feminist awakening yet. Sure, I considered myself a feminist...but I didn't fully realize the extent to which the patriarchy controlled my decisions. I wasn't fully aware of feminist issues in my day-to-day life. I took my husband's name happily, from a place of conservatism and lukewarm feminism, rather than from a place of careful consideration as to how taking his name would affect the women around me and the women of future generations.

But here's the thing. Since getting married, I've thought about my last name a lot. I've talked to Zach about it a lot, and we even discussed changing our name--perhaps creating a last name that was a combination of his last name and my maiden name, or perhaps having a hyphenated last name. He was totally on board with considering these options. He was willing to go through the red tape it would take to change our name if it felt important to me. Ultimately though, I feel okay with the decision I had made, although I also feel it was not and is not a feminist choice.

Let me explain.

Taking my husband's name is not feminist. I just don't think it is. It is an acceptance of patriarchal rule in a very blatant way: my identity is "erased" and is replaced with his identity. It symbolizes my subservience to him.

But keeping my maiden name didn't seem any better to me. Because where did my maiden name come from? My father. Where did my mother's maiden name come from? Her father. It's the same generation upon generation into my history: my matriarchal lines are muddled, rendered nearly untraceable by the patrilineal last name. There is no maiden name that is not traced back through the male line. Some women feel that keeping their last name is a feminist choice, or at least a more feminist choice than changing to their husband's name. I would take their point, but there are other reasons I didn't want to keep my maiden name.

For one thing, I like the symbol of the two becoming one. I'm not only a feminist; I'm also a Christian, and I believe in the idea that a Christian marriage joins two people in sacred ways. They are bonded before their families and before God. So for me, whatever our last name was to be, I wanted us to share it.

Then why not a hyphenated name? Well, this choice felt to me like simply kicking the can down the road. What about our daughter? When she got married, would she hyphenate her name again? Would she drop my maiden name? Or keep mine and drop Zach's? The choice for her would be even more convoluted if she came into the situation with an already hyphenated name, forcing her to make the decisions that I bucked.

I did consider combining our names more seriously. However, it seemed to me this choice carried with it some of the same baggage as the other choices--for instance, it wouldn't erase the fact that my maiden name is still a product of a male lineage. Also, what choice would our daughter make if she got married? Would she combine her name with her partner's name? If everyone suddenly decided to meld their names together into a new name each generation, any kind of lineage/family history would be very difficult to trace. I'm not really that into family history, but this does seem problematic to me. If there were a standardized method for combining names which would allow family history to continue to be traced, then perhaps this would be a viable option. But as it is, it just felt a little too wacky to me.

So, what to do?

If I had made a different decision at the time of our marriage, I would not feel compelled to now take Zach's name. However, after weighing all my options after the fact, I also don't feel compelled to change my name back, or to hyphenated or combine our names. Each choice has its own issues, and I am left between a rock and a hard place and another rock. I don't think there is a really good feminist option on this issue. Did I choose the least feminist option of all? Probably. But given the number of reservations I have about all the other choices, I'm not willing at this point to change my name.

As a feminist, I think we sometimes are forced to make choices that are not feminist--or if not forced per se, than at least put in a position where making the feminist choice becomes so burdensome, we just can't pull the weight any more. Check out this comic by Ronnie Ritchie around wearing makeup. I think it speaks about this problem very well.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

If I were a grade school student given the assignment of explaining "What Feminism Means to Me," this is what I would write.

I am talking with a friend when I find myself saying to her, "Yes, I'm a feminist."

And she responds, "Okay, I've always wanted to ask: what does it actually mean to be a feminist?"

...And in that moment, the idea of feminism just feels so big, so all-encompassing, that I hardly know what to say. I flounder around in some examples about how it plays out in my marriage--my husband is a feminist, too--and how it informs my motherhood, but I leave feeling dissatisfied, feeling I didn't breathe into my explanation the fire that I wanted to.

So I turn here, to the page, to try to figure out how I actually should have answered her question, with the hope that next time I will be better prepared with my feminist elevator speech.

Part of the problem for me is how do you define something that reveals itself so differently in different people, each of whom has their own politics and religion and personal struggles? The best I can do is say what it means from my own little niche in this world. The best I can do is try to answer the rather simplistic question What does feminism mean to you? And I would say:

Feminism means giving all women the freedom to be who they are, without the worry that they aren't what the patriarchy or other feminists want them to be. It's my choosing to be supportive rather than judgmental.

Feminism means giving women power over their own bodies, rather than viewing women through the lens of the male gaze--and it's taking control of my own body and looking how I want to look, regardless of how I'm "supposed" to look.

Feminism means the occasional loving prod at someone who is clueless about the misogynist comment they just made.

Feminism means writing poetry that celebrates women and challenges patriarchy.

Feminism means being unapologetic that I spend much of my time as a stay-at-home mom, and being clear that this is my own choice.

Feminism means reminding my fellow Christians that God is not male, and maybe making them a little uncomfortable by praying to our heavenly Mother and suggesting that "the Breasted One" is a legitimate translation of the name for God El Shaddai--because I believe in a God who is just as much feminine as masculine, and who celebrates the feminine as holy.

Feminism means the support of women who are oppressed or abused or overlooked: women of color, trans women, queer women, and many others.

Feminism means remembering that comparing oneself to others is never a good idea and that being beautiful is not a competition.

Feminism means choosing self-love over self-hate.

Your turn. What does feminism mean to you?

PS - I also like this article: What Is Feminism?



Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Excess and Ashes

When is the last time you bought something for yourself? Today? Yesterday? Last week? For me, it is usually no longer ago than "last week," and that is hard for me to admit. It is, I think, an admission of my selfishness. I buy not because I lack anything but because of some perceived deficiency or because there is some further convenience I crave or because of some less definable hankering that urges me to amass more things for myself. 

And it makes me angry that I do this. Not only is it selfish, but I also believe it is degrading, both for me and for those I exploit in order to buy often and cheaply (think underpaid factory workers, poor environmental standards that lead to health hazards and climate change, perpetuation of unequal wealth distribution, etc.).

I recently read an article in The Anglican Theological Review because the title seemed to speak so directly to me: "The Struggle for Human Dignity in a Consumer-Oriented Culture" by Beverly Eileen Mitchell. Mitchell writes:
In the United States, a leading player in the global economy, too many of us have overspent, going into debt to buy according not to our basic needs, but to manufactured wants. What is insidious is the growing link that has developed between our sense of identity, value and worth and the products we purchase. We no longer buy products simply for themselves, but because we fall for the illusion that they will enhance us or make us into who we would like to be and fear we are not.
In what way did I imagine a new tablet cover would "enhance me"? Did I buy a fancy tea kettle that heats the water to specific temperatures for various kinds of tea because I needed it? Certainly not. I could argue that I bought these things for the added convenience they provide in my life; in fact, that is how I justify the purchases to myself. But I think, if I don't want to deceive myself, I must also admit that I bought them so that I would look a certain way to others, so that I could bolster up my image of myself as a smart consumer or a tea aficionado or some such foolishness.

I want to be a real person. I don't want to buy because I'm told to, and I don't want to cut myself into some prefab shape so that I can be acceptable to society.

In fact, isn't a prefab person often something of a turnoff? Isn't someone who is uber-fashionable/always "put together"/always ready to show off their newest electronic marvel, isn't that person somewhat unapproachable? Do the clothes I put on in the morning make me look good? I think so. But is it possible that some of the choices I make when I am getting ready for the day--when I am putting together an image of how I want to present myself to the world--actually make me seem aloof or arrogant? Could it be that the way I present myself turns some people off from talking to me, smiling at me, sitting next to me on the bus?

What I really want is to be down-to-earth and open. I'm not very good at this. And much of it is my own fault. I put on armor all the time. It's an armor made of things: my clothes, my electronic gadgets, my choice of highly marketed snack or beverage, even my damn tea kettle and tablet cover. I want to say there's nothing wrong with looking good and feeling confident, but shouldn't this be innate within us, as individuals created by a loving God, not a confidence and beauty we must manufacture with all the stuff we buy?

So for Lent this year, I'm choosing to abstain from the culture of superfluous spending. For forty days at least, I'm going to step back and stop. I'm not going to buy anything for myself.

I'm a fan of the band Giants & Pilgrims. They've got a new single out for Lent this year, and they've posted it online along with a short reflection by pastor Jeff Cook. It really spoke to me, and I hope you'll take a moment to listen as well, to start off your Lenten season with a deeper contemplation of what it means to be a soul in a body, what it means to subtract the excess, and what it means to celebrate with ashes, which are a symbol of destruction--something we may need to do to our insatiable desire to buy. The reflection is first, followed by the song:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Snow Spell

Winter has finally settled deep over Madison, and as I bundle in wool and down, I return again to a sense of wonder.

On a snowy night, my feet wander over ice-and-salt sidewalks, and tiny crystals float from clouds to rest upon my knit hat and mittens, and the silence is deep, all the way to my heart and gut. I am small again. I believe in Magic again, the Magic that was the root of Truth in my childhood.

My daughter believes that if she stamps her foot just right upon the parking lot, ice will flow out from her, just like it does from Elsa. She believes in dragons and in spring sprites who grow small yellow flowers and towering pines. And tonight, so do I, and perhaps if I jump with the right spring in my step, I will float up into the falling snow.

Perhaps the delineation between what I can and cannot do is less clear than I thought it was last summer, when I stood under a blazing sun as I watered the garden and the mosquitoes snacked on my bare legs.

Perhaps this luminescent blue landscape is whispering some spell into my rosy mind.

If I stand still, I can hear Winter ringing her tiny glass bells as snow alights upon my shoulders and grows thick as good cream around my feet.