The New Normal

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And then there’s the realization that this has all become your routine. The hours spill into days spill into weeks and suddenly, impossibly, you’ve become used to getting only 3 hours of sleep a night and somehow, impossibly, you don’t even feel that tired. Or you are that tired but you’ve lost track of what tired even feels like and it’s just the new normal and you are just sleepwakewalking through hours that could be daytime, could be nighttime, the only difference being whether the coffee is fresh.  The blinds are drawn and the lights are dim and MSNBC plays on a constant loop until evening when the dinner hour is delineated by the next episode of the current Netflix binge and a rotation of choices of meals that can either be delivered or microwaved.

Huck has been with us more than a month and we have barely left the sectional couch. God bless the sectional couch in it’s perfect ordinary beigeness. Huck has gained enough weight so that there are creases in his arms and thighs where see-through skin over bone is now plump with fat and the yellow jaundice has given way to rosy peach skin.  He has learned to latch and suckle and the chirping noises he makes while feeding have given me his pet name: Cricket.  Sometimes, though: Bug. Jamey prefers Goose. Or Little Man. Or “my buddy, my pal, my friend”. We stare at him, watch the lines on his forehead crease with questioning, or curiosity (or, most likely, gas). We watch his lips — rising into two sharp peaks that are the copy of his father’s lips, above the same chin of his fathers, under the nose of his grandfather — we watch the mouth purse and open and curl and we say “Can you believe he’s ours?” Over and over.

It is a day/night period punctuated by 2 hour shifts. Feed, burp, stare, change, nap, feed, burp, stare, change, nap. I am astounded that my body produces milk. I am astounded by the whole scientific magnificence of it all. I still cannot believe that this chirping creature was created inside my body and survived 9 months to be this beautiful. 9 months of peril. Of tests. Of the wait.  Of The flu. Bronchitis. 3 car accidents, one of which resulted in an overnight stay at the same hospital, the same floor where he’d be born only a few weeks later.  He overcame all that and my fears and doubts. I had to wade through years of pent up shame to allow for the lightness I needed to give birth to possibility.

And it is no different at 50 than I’m sure it is at 20 or 40. I read of a famous woman who just announced her pregnancy at 48 and I read the criticisms and concerns and I’d like to reach out and say to her, “Ignore them. Your body is a fierce machine.”  I thought this would be much harder, physically. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a cakewalk. It was challenging. But I don’t know if it was harder than any other younger pregnancy. AARP came to interview me for a website piece on first time mothers over 40. The woman who interviewed me over the phone and on subsequent emails was very cool, but some of the questions pushed an edge and I think I may have puffed up my wings with some bravado as a countermeasure. I think some was authentic, but I certainly wasn’t showing the vulnerable fears that are also just as true. Like when she asked me if I had any fear that my kid would think I’m out of step because I’ll be old as he grows up. Or did I have any hesitancy because I may not live to be old enough to see him grow up. My initial reaction was snarky —  “Oh, no I hadn’t thought that part through, the ‘me being 70 when he’s 20 and I may be dead before he has children’ part. But thanks for bringing that up.” Nah. I just answered the questions with honesty and strength as I could falsely muster, put on some lipstick and posed in my backyard with Huck for the photographers, hoping that I wouldn’t look too tired and paunchy.

AARP. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, and I’m flattered. I’m also grateful because it’s the best story to tell now, from stage. That in one week Vogue almost came to do a photoshoot but bailed, so instead AARP came.  This is true. It’s also very funny. You can’t write this stuff…

I started this blog piece a few weeks ago and am finishing it tonight, as I’m on the late shift, which means I stay up for the 11pm feeding and then wake up for the 6am feeding, while Jamey goes to sleep around 9 or 10pm, wakes at 3am, and then gets to sleep till about 8.  We’ve settled into this routine well, each of us getting 3-4 hours of sleep, twice a night. Tonight I am on the beige couch with Huck and he has been alive for 8 weeks, which seems crazy to me. 8 weeks is nothing. I feel like he’s been here forever now. I look at him sometimes and the tears well up and when he’s feeding off me my eyes blur over and the tears drop onto his cheeks, now even chubbier.  Just this week, I think, his vision changed, so that one morning I woke and came to the couch to join Jamey and I leaned over to put my face to Huck’s and his eyes widened and he smiled. He wasn’t just seeing lights and shapes. He saw me and knew me. Three days later, he’s watching my mouth, shaping his lips to mimic mine, his tongue inside his mouth curling around in there, trying to form sounds. I’m watching him discover language. He’s far from words, I know this, but to see the beginning of that process, to watch him discover what has always been there for me is awe-inspiring.  His arms jerk up to the ceiling and his legs kick out, so I know he still doesn’t have muscular control. But there are times I swear he’s reaching for me intentionally, his arm outstretched to my face.  And I watch his mouth move in sleep and his eyes move back and forth under his eyelashed lids and I wonder what a newborn dreams about. Lights and sounds and scents? Are his dreams little movies like mine are? And when does fear show up in a baby and how can I protect him from that, control that, change that, stop that (and I ask that knowing that I cannot).

I loved him the minute I saw him. And it was big and overwhelming. But it has sunk deeper into my body each week. There are moments, I’ll be completely honest, where I’ve felt detached, but that feeling lasts only as long as I’m out of sight of my son until my breasts start to swell and hurt and I can feel my milk let down and I know it’s time to feed him. I feel like a woman who is just paddling around in water and once every few days strays a bit beyond the buoy just long enough for someone to tug at the rope around her waist and bring her back to shore where she belongs. Even going to the grocery store alone can feel like I’ve gone too far from the beach.  I want time to stop here, on this couch, this ground zero of my family. I want my husband to not have to go back to work. I want to not have to work myself. I want to play music and do shows and tour and I also never want to tour again. I never want to leave my son. Every day there is something new to see in him and I’m afraid to miss the moment he wakes up fully to the world around him.

As much as I love, though, I fear. I’ve never known love like this. And I’ve never experienced the kind of paralytic fear that makes me imagine the worst while looking into this beautiful boy’s new smiling face. I love. I fear. It feels like it’s all the same soup right now.

I’m afraid of dropping him. Of drowning him while I bathe him. I’m afraid of the germs on the counter that I never cared about before. I’m afraid that the pot we are boiling the water to make the formula that we use to supplement the breast milk may give off some contaminate in the water into the formula into his stomach that will make him sick. I’m afraid the swaddle we swaddle him with will choke him. I’m afraid of disease and disaster and war and bullies. I’m afraid of every gurgle and click from his mouth in the middle of the night, that he’s not breathing, so I lean up out of my side of the bed and peer over into his bassinet and lay my hand on his swaddled chest to feel the rise and fall.

I’m afraid that now, after all these years of wandering in the dark, to finally find what I was always looking for, that I’ll do something to mess it up. Because I will. All parents do. Huck was born from two beautiful disasters.  We’re hoping, at the least, it will give him a great sense of humor.

But just to be on the safe side, I’ve got a piggy bank started for his therapy fund.

 

 

“Meteorite of Overwhelm”

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I’m working on a new post, but in the meantime, I think this is really cool. AARP came to my home in Tennessee to photograph me and Huck for this article that will be coming out in the next magazine. Click below to read the interview!

FIRST TIME MOMS OVER 50 

In Utero

fullsizeoutput_142eI took this photo the night before I went into the hospital. I look back through the photos I took of my belly throughout my pregnancy and I wasn’t really that large, comparatively. But I got big quickly at the end, especially the week before I delivered. It astounds me how much skin can stretch. I look at Huck today — he’s a bit over his birth weight — and I can’t imagine him curled up into a tight ball inside me, sucking on his toes. I’m still wrapping my brain around the fact that, for 9 months, a little boy grew in there.

I spent much of my life hating my stomach. My mom called it “the pooch”. We all have it. My mom. My sister. Me. We are all small women. In fact, I’ve always felt large compared to my mother (size 3 or barely) and my sister (like size nothing). My mom and sister are birdlike, small bones, small frames. I inherited some of that but my father’s side in terms of bones – small frame, large bones. I definitely went through a chubby phase in my 20s and 30s. Chalk that up to the sugar intake, considering I got through about 25 quietly miserable years with the help of red wine (expensive Cabs to box wine on the counter for emergencies), Vodka and Bombay Sapphire Gin when I had money.  It worked until it didn’t and when it didn’t, as I’ve written before, I was lucky enough to have had a crash and burn with friends who had sobriety and kindness and to whom I listened when the invitation came to surrender. My last drink of alcohol was December 2, 2012.  I dropped 20 pounds almost immediately in the months following that decision. And started doing Bikram Yoga obsessively and got back to running and I lost the pooch. But it took a while to love my body. My dear friend Stacie Huckaba, an incredibly empathetic photographer, came to look at my closet to help me choose outfits for my “That Kind Of Girl” photo shoot and discovered that in the front of the closet, everything was 2 or more sizes too big for me.  Stuffed in the back were a bunch of right-sized rock and roll clothes. Leather shorts. Sparkly jackets. What I called my “skinny alter ego” wardrobe. The pieces I’d buy and justify by saying “When I drop 10 pounds, I’ll wear this.” She said to me, “Speace, you’ve got to stop wearing tent dresses. You have a body. Show it off.” (and if you know Stacie and her story, which you should, you’d listen. If anyone can convince someone to love their body it’s Stacie, who has done the marathon lifting for all of us in terms of self-love).

So, after years of working on a flat (or at least semi-flat) stomach, imagine my surprise when I fell madly in love with my body at about 9 months pregnant. Not only did it hold and care for my son, but I thought it was kind of sexy. I liked that I was limited by my clothing options: I’d only bought (or borrowed) a few pieces – maternity jeans, overalls, some t shirts that came down low. I couldn’t wear 99% of my shoes, as my feet had swollen and gained 1/2 size. So I bought an expensive pair of Danish wool slippers for home (totally worth the splurge) and lived outside in Sketchers flats or Uggs. I’ve never felt so sexy in my life.  And as much as I was deeply looking forward to the pregnancy being over (the backpain, the sleeplessness, the heartburn, the swollen feet), I was also sad to lose the belly.

Jamey would talk to Huck at night, through my swollen belly. He would lay his head on my skin and in a low voice intone “Huuuuuuuck…Huuuuuuuuck” and sometimes, even, Huck would respond with a soft kick.  I would talk to my son constantly day and night out loud, a running commentary on my life as it unfolded during his gestation. I told him chapters from my life story, all the juicy parts. I told him of the long and winding path of destruction, redemption and miraculous circumstance that created the opening for him to be a part of our lives.  I described the trees and the birds on walks. I told him about my grandmother Roro and how much she would have loved him and talked to her where she exists for me, in the cardinals and a long stretch of white-clouded blue sky.  I introduced him to my Uncle Will who passed years ago.  I sang to him. I made up songs as I walked for miles on the trails at Shelby Park.  I wrote a lullaby to him and sang it over and over so he would know it.  I sang him “Moon River” because it’s the only song I know with the word “huckleberry” in it. And when I’d sing or talk or cry, he’d kick. Or hiccup. Or move. It was something only I could feel. Jamey could see it: an alien moving across the inside of my belly. A hand, a foot, his butt. I knew how to make it happen: lie on my back, drink cold water, or something sweet. And wait. Like magic. And I felt connected to him, knowing what would wake him. He who I could not yet see. He who I did not yet know.

Jamey would say, “I can’t wait to meet him.” And, although I felt exactly the same way, there was a small part of me that was hesitant. I didn’t want to meet him. Yet. I wanted him to stay inside me longer. To stay safe and warm. And all mine. He, of course, was never all mine. He was Jamey’s too. And really, he’s his own. But for 9 months, he was inside me, feeding off me, needing me. And that made him mine. Not like a pet or a stuffed animal. Something I owned. More like a grace given. A forgiveness. A prayer. Remembered words and melody. Something that lived and breathed in my bloodstream that nobody else could hear or see or sense.  I was his translator.  My invisible friend.

I would wake at 6am each morning and go to the room we’d been making into his nursery with the crib and the changing table and the nursing chair and gifts from the baby showers washed, folded and stacked. I kept my meditation books there on the table with the light, next to my journal and pen.  I would wake early and put on a sweater and go sit in that chair and read a meditation of the day. Then I would pray the prayer I say first thing every morning, the prayer I say to the air, to the trees, to the breathing universe, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, to a God that I’ve created in my own imagination who may or may not look like the one my parents lent me long long ago. Sometimes I just say the words in a mechanical way, a memorized set of sounds, because it’s a routine I believe in doing even if I’m not sure I believe the doing will DO anything. I’ve learned to trust Acting my Way Into Believing rather than the opposite. Then I meditate. For 10 minutes. Or 20. Or 45.  It didn’t even matter if I spent those minutes fidgeting and fighting the silence. I did it anyway. And all this doing brought me closer to my baby, living and growing inside me. He was even more all mine in this morning ritual. He was mine and God’s and all the rivers and the trees and the bees and the air. This ritual was connecting me to “Mother”, a quality that I was sure would not come naturally to me. Not the job or the title or the identity, but the quality. Nurturing, listening, healing, loving. His body. My body. Our soul. Our breathing. All together in union with a power way greater than I could even imagine. Some unifying force that glued all beings. Like love.

I was falling in love.

So, it felt like a secret I shouldn’t say aloud that, in the few days after Huck was born, I could sense a grief somewhere in that post-partum emotional soup. I missed him being inside me, all mine. I didn’t want to share him. I wanted him back inside me for a few months. I had some things to tell him before he opened his eyes to the aching world.

But he had to come and my body was ready and bursting and when they laid that tiny body next to my head laying on the OR gurney and he curled up in a tight ball, crying, scrunching his face against the light and the cold of the world, I wanted to apologize for having him ripped from the warm ocean and I wanted to wrap him up in the warmth of my voice, his one familiar thing of this alien world. I leaned my head toward his and said softly “Hi my love, I’m your mommy.”

The thing is, there is nothing unique about anything I’ve been writing about.  What is astounding is how common all of this is but how unique it feels to be going through it. I am not the only one to have a beautiful newborn in my arms in the hours after the birth and still grieve the pregnancy.  And maybe grief is not the right word. Maybe it’s more akin to a homesickness. That muscular pull at the skin around the heart when you long for something you haven’t yet lost.  For me, I knew that this was a one time deal. At my age, I was lucky to have gotten this far, to have carried a baby at all. There is no second pregnancy for me. So I’m grieving more than just the experience of gestation. I’m grieving Time. I don’t want to write, “if only I’d done this earlier…” because I could have done this earlier, many many times, but I didn’t. I chose not to. Because it wasn’t right. Because it had to happen this way, at this age, with this man, with this boy. And that is one thing I know to be true. Even if it’s some kind of poetic thinking not grounded in any scientific fact. It’s a better story for me to tell myself.

But then, it’s 4:25am as I write this and I’ve got a perfect baby on my lap, holding him tight, his skin to mine, as he feeds off me and his sleep-filled eyes flutter open and he looks up past my breast to my face, searching for meaning in the shapes and lights that constitute me to him right now, visually. He can hear my voice. He knows my voice. He knows my scent. And in the dark of the early morning light, he is still just all mine.

Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These..

huck-57.jpgIt is 5:30am on one of the last days of March. The sky is still dark and the rain falls lightly in the early yawning of this morning here in Hendersonville on the outskirts of Nashville.  I sit in the room we created for our son well before he was born.  A changing table made from an old dresser with wipes and diapers and creams within reach.  A new nursing chair (the splurge), my writing and reading station in these late night sessions. A crib he won’t sleep in for a while. An old tall shelf with books and stuffed animals along the wall.  His name painted on reclaimed fence wood his uncle and grandmother made.  A framed prayer that hung in my mother’s childhood room and a framed needlepoint that my mother made when I was born.  The Prayer of St. Francis hanging on the wall behind where I rock him to sleep.   In the months before he was born, I spent hours in this room meditating as the sun rose, hoping to connect with him in utero, singing, making up lullabies, hoping to reach through the hum so that when he arrived he’d know me by my voice.

But this morning, I don’t meditate. I pump. Which is what I do every 2 hours. Which is what I’ve been doing now for the past week.  Meditation has gone the way of a 7 hour sleep, a daily shower, any clothes that are not fleecy soft and baggy, cooking, shoes with a heel, a 2 hour movie, making out with my husband, driving, thong underwear, my collection of long chunky necklaces, care about the music business, etc.  You get the picture. I am a milk producer. I am 2 feedbags hooked to a medieval torture chamber called an electric double breast pump made by Medela that our insurance covered (thank goodness: these things are expensive), pumping out about 2 ounces of milk every 2 hours.

I knew I’d be pumping. I didn’t know I’d be pumping this much. Here’s the thing I’ve learned after being a mother for 12 days: it may be natural, but it isn’t easy and that’s normal.

Can we all talk about boobs without giggling like 3rd graders?

You hear a lot of the blissed out stories of birth and breastfeeding. The lovely, peaceful moments breastfeeding your newborn — mother’s milk. How incredible. How wonderful. How free. But nobody talks about how hard breastfeeding is unless you’re backed up against the wall yelling “uncle” and then the collective amnesia breaks.  The new mother, broken, in a puddle of tears in the dark, begging another mother, surrendering “I give up. I can’t do this.” And the truth seeps out. This. Shit. Is. Hard.

Clearly, no one is trying to be misleading here. But it’s like the magazines kind of miss the mark in the retelling.  Kind of like that time my mother explained sex to me and my sister with some vague runaround language — “beautiful…natural…God’s way…” — till I was completely baffled about the science of what really happens and I misconstrued intercourse to be an optional act which, at 8 years old, I deemed gross, and I made a firm decision — at 8 years old — that I would just skip the “man puts his private part in the woman’s private parts” thing because I still thought, after The Talk, that babies came from a Stork or God or eating broccoli, until one day, in 7th grade, I was with my new friends in my new town and we are all on a pink canopy bed reading Judy Blume’s “Forever” outloud and giggling at the dirty parts and when Teresa, who already was wearing a bra and probably had let Nicky Caringi touch her boobs, read the word “cum,” and the room grows still and reverent, and I ask what that is, revealing, to the cool girls, that I’m clueless about the chemistry and that I had been misled about the whole sex act and babies and all, thus becoming the butt of a year-long shaming campaign, betrayed by my mother who was probably caught off-guard all those years ago when my younger sister broached the subject after school one day by asking: “Mom? Did Dad have to pee inside your pee place to make babies?”

Similarly, I thought breastfeeding would be beautiful, natural, wondering. And easy. I was not prepared for the darkness that I’d quickly spiral down when things went south in the boob department.

It was easy at first, I thought. I was lulled into complacency. After my surgery, after they’d cleaned and swaddled Huck and laid him on my chest while sewing up my abdomen, they wheeled me into a recovery room for a few hours. I was bleary with overwhelming emotions of awe and joy and gratitude and disbelief. I was dizzy with the narcotic that had been given to me in the spinal. I was freezing cold, teeth-chattering and slightly afraid still of my own health. Jamey sat beside me. I barely remember this part, but a nurse put Huck to my breast immediately and, like a nature documentary, the baby crawled toward the nipple and put his gummy mouth over top and began sucking. Just like that. Without any instruction manual. He knew where to go. It was that easy.  It felt like a tingle. A bit uncomfortable, a tugging, a gnawing. It didn’t hurt, but it was strange. More like an evolutionary pleasure – a warming of my entire chest and abdomen. I felt Useful. I felt like a Mother Goddess, like Kali, powerful and fully attuned to this new sense of purpose.   Nobody showed me, at that point, what to do or how to do it. Huck found his way to food and latched on.  I covered his head with my hand, Jamey held my own in his, and we watched. Incredulous.

During the 3 day hospital stay, we had many nurses, rotating around the clock.  Mostly, Huck stayed with us in the room.  My doctor came in every day. Our pediatrician came in every morning. We were well taken care of and I felt very lucky to have good health insurance that afforded us this opportunity for round-the-clock care. Jamey stayed in the room with me on the couch. Our friends and our families came to visit, bringing food, bringing balloons and flowers, sitting on the bed and crying tears of joy with me.  We felt surrounded by a village of love.

Our hospital really encouraged breastfeeding and provided Lactation Consultants. Each nurse that took care of me had information on breast feeding and I soaked it up and asked a billion questions. But after a day, I noticed each nurse’s information was slightly different than the last, sometimes in direct contradiction.  Of course, I was on pain meds, foggy and emotional, and it was a lot of information to take in when I was still reeling dizzy from the newfound awe of just having birthed an actual human being that looked a lot like my husband and who needed me to survive.  I don’t remember being told when to breastfeed, but it felt like I was on a schedule, especially at night.  Every 2 hours.  It hurt and I’d ask each nurse for advice, soaking information in like an eager student. I wanted to get this right.  A night nurse named Courtney, who I’d joked looked 12, was extremely knowledgeable and a great teacher. Courtney was incredibly helpful, showing me different holds, talking to me about what a good “latch” was.  Another nurse wasn’t. She barreled into the room, elbowing her way through my friends Kira and Stacie, with a squeaky high-pitched overly cheery (I mistrust overly cheery people) “Royal We” way of communicating to me:  “How are WE doing with breastfeeding today? How is OUR latch?” I kept my New Yorker in check (as Kira calls my bitchy side) and said, “I think I’ve got it. Courtney just helped me out” and demonstrated, utilizing the exact hold that I was just taught.  This Miss Smiley Pants literally lunged at my breast saying, “well, WE aren’t really doing this right, are WE?” as if she was going to reposition my son on my flesh and I flinched and stopped her from touching me without permission.  I can’t be sure I didn’t threaten her.  I don’t know if I said “back the f away from my breast, girlie” or just thought it. Who knows. I was on painkillers and after 2 days of conflicting and confusing information, I was exhausted, I was frustrated, and I was angry.  About an hour after Miss Congeniality left the room, the second Lactation Consultant came into the room with a more believable friendliness and asked how I was doing with breastfeeding and if I had any questions.  I literally fell apart crying into her arms. I told her through incomplete babbling sentences “I’m…I don’t…I mean I think it’s right…but she said this…and then she did this…and then I felt…and then…I don’t know…and…” before I lost it again, snot dripping down my face, she watched me breastfeed Huck and said, “You’re fine! He’s feeding! You’re doing amazing!” She high-fived, me and left the room. I felt confident.

Now, I have had dark days in my life. I have dark nights of the soul where watching the clock pass the early morning hours was maddening, where the crying feels like falling into your own grave, where the hours from midnight to sunrise are a hell in a jail in a spiral maze without beginning or end.  I have never experienced anything like the hell that is the first two nights alone in our house with our newborn. He screamed. I fed him. He sucked. He screamed. We changed him. I fed him. He screamed. I took him away from our bedroom (he is sleeping in a bassinet by the side of our bed) to the baby room to nurse him away from Jamey. He screamed. Jamey got up and tried to walk him through the house. We fought. I sweated through my clothes. We didn’t know what we were doing wrong. We were told at the hospital if we were breastfeeding to NEVER EVER give him a pacifier and to NEVER EVER feed him from a bottle as those would make a lazy latch. So we didn’t. We endured the longest two nights of our lives. At one point, I was sitting up in bed, Huck on my lap screaming, and I was just bent over him sobbing until I was wheezing. Jamey was worried about me. I felt like a huge failure. I didn’t know what was wrong. I was in pain everywhere. My belly hurt. My incision hurt and every time I’d move from side to side or sit up or sit down or roll over in bed, I’d feel a wet hot burning sting across my incision in my abdomen. And now, my nipples hurt. Not just hurt. They were on fire. On day 3, I inspected them to find a dark reddish purple line horizontally across the tip, cracking, bleeding and I could barely touch my breasts.  Every time Huck put his mouth on my breast with his “perfect latch” (as I was told), it felt like he was biting me and I’d clamp a hand over my mouth so as not to scream outloud.

Our hospital offered group breastfeeding classes, but I needed someone to help one-on-one.  I was losing it. No sleep and feelings of complete dissociation and failure.  I was worried that Jamey thought I was exaggerating (he didn’t) and I didn’t want to bother anyone, thinking “I’ve got this” or worse, “I should have this” (always a dangerous sentence for me to even think).  I called someone at La Leche League, who talked me off the ledge, then called a Lactation Consultant to make a home visit.  She came the next day, took one look at my breasts and said, “Oh honey, of course you’re in pain. You have severe trauma going on there. Whoever told you that was a fine latch was high. It’s a shallow latch and of course he’s tearing you up.”  I cried with relief this time: someone heard me and was going to help me. Turns out, my son had a tongue tie which was making for a shallow latch which was tearing up my nipple, creating an infection that needed treatment.  The solution was to get the tongue tie cut and to pump exclusively for about a week to give my breasts time to heal and then to retrain Huck’s latch with the help of the coach.  Thank god I posted a few little hints about my troubles on Facebook, and opened the onslaught of “Me Too” posts and advice that led to me calling someone for help, as I would have stayed in the dark, trying to feed a little boy who was only screaming because he was starving and not getting enough milk. During those few excruciating days, we were taking Huck into our pediatrician to get weighed as he had  lost 11% of his birth weight. Each day, he gained nothing and the doctor’s tone took on a warning, “he has GOT to gain weight” which I heard as “You suck as a mother. What are you doing with those inadequate empty sacks attached to your chest. You should never have tried to do this at your age, you selfish selfish woman.” Jamey, worried as well, would very gently ask me, “I mean, how long did you feed him on each side?” (a reasonable question) and I heard “You suck as a mother. Anyone else could get this job done.”

Ok. I know this is all completely irrational thinking and I was even able to argue with my subconscious (she doesn’t mean it; he doesn’t know what his tone sounds like; you are doing your best). The Mean Girl voice shaming me met my Lioness voice who said, “Hey, back the f off…we’re trying here” but the critical voice would get louder and she sounded a whole lot like my scared 8 year old self who hid in the closet, sucking her thumb and cried a lot. Looking back only a few days later, it strikes me how fast down the shame spiral I went after having the best and most joyous day of my life giving birth to a healthy son. I know now I’m not alone in this rapid descent. After I received comfort, reassurance and real information from our coach, I reached out to all the mothers I know and the stories started pouring in. The “me too’s” started unfolding in front of me and I realized how many women had the exact same problem. Inadequate information given to them when they were barely conscious after a long, hard labor or in the hours after surgery. False warnings about pacifiers and formula (our consultant said, “supplement with formula if you can’t pump enough, he needs to gain weight until you can get him back on the breast and if you can’t, there’s nothing wrong with formula feeding”).  Even men I knew shared stories of the dark days right after their wives gave birth, quietly offering their side in a semi-public forum. It helped.

I honestly thought I was losing it for a few days and those days felt like forever. The nurses were doing their best, I’m sure, and to be honest, I think Miss Congeniality may have been trying to give me the best advice of all of them, probably reaching to show me my latch was shallow, but I just wasn’t in a place to hear her and at that point, I was frustrated and just wanted to get on with it and get home.

The truth is: breastfeeding is hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And many women try and then give up. Which is perfectly fine.  Most of us are just winging it, reading as many books as we can, asking everyone for advice, getting the apps, buying the gear, etc. But even armed with a PhD of information, nothing prepared me for the hormonal seesaw of the week post-birth, just as nothing prepared me for the whiplash of feels when I saw my son for the first time, whole and healthy, emerging from my own body.  It took a village to get me to week 2, where I’m not crying every few minutes, where I feel confident again, where I’m able to say “I don’t know” without trapping myself behind old patterns.

And so tomorrow I will begin again. And if it doesn’t work, my nieces and my nephews are formula babies and they turned out fine. There is no right answer. We are all just finding our way in the dark. But when the moon is low, we need flashlights. With decent batteries. And a few people who have walked that forest path before us to help us avoid the gnarly roots that could trip us up, and show us which direction to choose when the trail splits in two.

(Photo: Stacie Huckaba)

 

Learning To Fly

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Well I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up, the world got still
I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Last Thursday, March 15th, I sat strapped to 2 monitors in a lazy boy recliner having my contractions and my unborn son’s heart rate monitored, talking to the nurse who was reading the machines.  She knew that the same night, at about 11:45pm, I’d be checking into the hospital to have my labor induced. I like this nurse a lot and we’ve talked about many things over the course of the last few months, where I’d be in that chair once a week.  She always remembered the name we’d chosen, both for our boy but also the one we’d chosen in the event of a girl, and had said she’d started reading the girl’s namesake stories. I liked her and trusted her. She asked if I was afraid of the induction. My husband was with me on Thursday, off work for the first day of his 3 month Paternity Leave, and he sat nearby on a stool, holding my hand, fascinated by the EKG reports spitting out of the little machine and the steady whoosh whoosh sound of his son’s pulse that sometimes made a louder, almost violent sound (I had to explain to him that those were my contractions coming through audibly on the heart rate monitor, not a disruption in our son’s heart cycle).

“Afraid? No. Well, maybe a bit fearful. But that’s not really the right word,” I explained to her.  “It’s more like that feeling I used to get as a little girl standing in line at a haunted house at a small town county fair. Anticipation of fear, surprise and supreme joy. Like you’re gonna be freaked out and you’re excited about it.”

Her eyes grew wide, this RN with 3 kids. “Yes!” She said. “I totally get it! Like you just know there’s a chain saw guy at the end of the maze and it’s gonna scare the shit out of you but you can’t wait for the chain saw guy.”

All three of us laughed out loud until tears streamed down our faces. My husband, a great arbiter of What Is Truly Funny, as he may be one of the wittiest people I have ever met (smart funny, not pun funny or joke funny, but Mark Twain funny, which is a hard funny to pull off), laughed a huge release of a laugh and said, “Now THAT’S funny” and I knew I had my ‘in’ to this entry.

Chain saw guy.  You know he’s there you’re just not sure around which corner he lurks and that’s the most terrifying and the most fun part.

Nobody could tell me how long labor would be. How painful labor might be. I just knew it was going to be a bitch of a chain saw guy.

It’s now 3 days later. It’s 1:00am on Monday March 19th and I’m at the hospital, awake and waiting for Courtney the night nurse to bring me my pain meds.  I was awoken about 30 minutes ago by Emily the med tech to check my vitals and, knowing that Courtney is coming in a few minutes, why even bother trying to sleep.  Everyone has said, ‘sleep!!!’ while I’m in the hospital. But you can’t.  At all. They wake you up all the time. We even have chosen to keep our son in the nursery at night so that we could sleep, knowing what was ahead of us at home in terms of sleep/no sleep. But sleep is a dream I once had in between feedings and medicine and vital signs and IV checks and catheters and pain every time I try to roll from one side to another in this bed.

Instead, I’ll stay up and write in the dark on my iPad.  There hasn’t been a quiet, solo, reflective moment until now, in the dark of an early Monday morning, my husband snoring on the pull-out couch in the hospital room next to me, the lights of Nashville behind the slats of the blinds in this room we are sharing for 3 days following the birth of my son via an unexpected C-section.

***

I was scheduled for induction because Dr. Storck decided that, once I hit term, the risks of carrying to 40 weeks at my age and with an IVF baby were greater than just prodding him out a week early.  Jamey and I arrived at St. Thomas Midtown Hospital on Thursday night for a Friday 1:00am induction and, as we parked the truck and walked in carrying bags prepared for a 2 day stay, we high fived each other and said, “Let’s go get that baby.”

The induction was not to be.  When we arrived, my cervix was only dilated by 1 cm and didn’t move any further over the course of the next 12 hours, not with the 2 doses of pills that were taken to efface me with 4 hour waits in between doses; not with the Pitocin meant to push things into high gear, 0-60 in 20 minutes in a Mazzarati, when before, I was driving 40 in a 55 mph zone in a Honda Civic.  I’d been in back labor for a few days and was in a lot of pain. I’d had an IV drip going since I got there as I needed penicillin to fight a Strep Virus they’d found inside me (side note: when nurses say “this may sting/burn/pinch a little” they mean: “this is going to hurt like a mother -f so hang on because I’m lying through my teeth to you about the pain level this will be”).   My mother and mother- in-law had arrived at about 8am. My father and father in law followed them at 10am. Jamey had slept a bit between 2am and 8am in the hospital room on the couch, but I couldn’t sleep (who could sleep?). I was poked and prodded by more than a few night-shift nurses all through the night and a monitor next to me beeped and blipped and whirred and shooshed my contractions and my son’s heartbeat in technicolor. My Ob-GYN arrived at 9:30am and put her finger up inside my vagina to check my cervix. She asked permission first, which I thought was funny, as every nurse had done the same all night long, so I joked “Well, why not. I mean, at this point, who hasn’t had their hands cervix-deep inside me today?” (Side note: I wouldn’t advise that joke in front of your parents or in-laws).

It was becoming clear that this induction was more than a bit troubling and may take way longer than what I’d envisioned being at most an 18 hour labor.  The contractions were getting worse, but not quickly, my cervix wasn’t dilating, so when Dr. Storck dangled the carrot of a C-section in front of me, saying that there would be a high chance of me being in labor for 36 hours without dilating enough for a baby to move through my body ending with a potential emergency C (which meant full anesthesia, not being awake, and a vertical cut), not to mention the stress on my baby and my own body, it was an easy decision to make.  We weren’t tied to a natural birth.  I had no ‘birth plan’. Nothing past a playlist of music Jamey had made for the event. I wasn’t attached to vaginal vs. C section, natural vs. epidural, formula vs. breastmilk.  I was prepared to do whatever my doctor suggested and I was prepared to just strap in and try to enjoy or at least be completely present and lean into every moment. We just wanted the baby.

The nurse came into describe to me the surgery and the risks (I think I just heard “infection” and “death” and then checked out). I signed the papers. And at 3pm, I was led to the OR on a gurney.  Jamey said he’d never seen me so Zen. A shifting had begun. I’d been extremely calm over the last few days.  A meditative state of acceptance had taken over my usually neurotic tempo.  Even the bright florescent cold white of the OR was a meditation for me.  The room was too bright, too much steel.. Green and bright. And cold. I wasn’t even that freaked out by a spinal that didn’t quite take as they jabbed me a few times, sharp electric pains up my spine, a nurse barking “relax!” (kind of funny; kind of not). I was in a zone of “all of this for my son” and had no time for fear.  I just stayed focused on the one mental focusing spot like I did when I ran marathons years ago, through excruciating pain, exhaustion, doubt and fear.  My mantra then was “Finish the race. Fix your life. Finish the race.  Fix your life.”  This time there were no words to my mantra. More a breathing, a calling in of my Higher Power Trilogy: my Grandmother’s voice, Patti Smith’s calm bearing and the great protective wings of a falcon.  Lying with a curtain separating my shoulders and head from the lower half of my body, I visualized the incision but didn’t feel a thing, not even much pressure.  Jamey sat next to me, stroking my head, holding my hand. My teeth chattered and tears ran down my cheek. My blood pressure dropped and I was falling backward in a fog. The room was spinning slightly and my tongue was thick and my vision doubled and for a minute I thought that I may not survive this, I might die in childbirth and I said a prayer to my old NYC friend Michal Friedman, a woman about my age who died a few years back giving birth to twins, who’s death was tragic and jarring and impossible to believe, even now. I felt her presence in the army of women angels in the room and said what I call “the fear prayer” over and over, moving my lips.  “God, please take this fear and let me BE who you need me to BE”.  I visualized my son. I looked to Jamey. I remembered to keep alert and tell every symptom to the Nurse Practitioner who was the anesthesiologist’s assistant and she adjusted the fluids in my IV to bring my blood pressure up and kept repeating “you’re going to be fine” to me until I believed it. I heard the voice of Dr. Storck say “oh, he’s so cute, he’s really adorable” and to my husband, “get your playlist ready, he’s about to come out” and Jamey, who had made a very well-timed playlist on his phone, played our wedding song, Willie Nelson’s version of “The Rainbow Connection” and I began to weep and realized I should try to keep still as there were knives near my coochie, and then, I heard Dr. Storck say, “Here he comes” and the song changed to Tom Petty’s “Learning To Fly” the song we’d decided we wanted our boy, Huckleberry James Wood, to hear first as he breathed air.  I could barely breath air myself. It had become reality; not a theory. A human boy was being pulled from my body through a very small incision and I was being transformed into a mother.

I couldn’t see through the tears. I couldn’t breathe through the awe. They gave Huck to Jamey first as I was shaking and unsteady. Jamey was crying through the surgical mask, saying “this is our son. This is our son,” as if he was trying on a new language. He laid Huck, swaddled and clean, next to my head and I turned to him, trying to breathe his skin and spoke softly to this absolutely new life, “Hi little guy. Hi Huck. I’m your mama. I’m your mama.” And my entire world went upside down.

Huckleberry James Wood has arrived. Now, nothing is the same. The stars and planets and suns have changed places, reversed direction.  The speed of time and light and sound is unrecognizable.  Of course, everything is exactly the same. The sun will come up today as it went down last night. 25 other mothers gave birth the same day in the same hospital in the same OR and they are probably up right now wondering what meteor hit them too.

This shifting wasn’t sudden, right after his birth, right after a human being emerged from a slice in my abdomen behind a blue curtain.

The shifting didn’t happen when they raised him above the curtain, umbilical cord still attached, surprisingly less smeared with muck than I’d thought he’d be, a human being with long legs and arms, eyes squeezed shut, and Dr. Storck saying “There’s your son!”

It didn’t happen when Jamey brought him to lay next to my head and I could barely see him for the deluge of tears smearing my vision as I said, “Hi Huck. I’m your Mommy.”

It happened that night sometime after our parents left the room, leaving Jamey and I alone with Huck as we both stared at him laying on my lap, suckling from my breast, with tears streaming down our faces. Something happened, like a miracle.

My heart, broken and healed like a wound, was re-broken but not as a wound, more like a letting out of the old air. A seal was cracked and old skin fell away. The heart crawled like a worm out of the old and into the new, shaking off the shell.  The heart escaped the bars of my rib cage, seeped through my skin and put itself back together on the outside of my chest red and raw, without armor, re-attached to my body outside — a living, breathing, vulnerable thing, completely without protection.  My heart is now the wrapping of skin around my son, quite literally feeding off the milk my own body is creating minute by minute.  I can’t breathe without everything I know turning upside down into the most exquisitely painful joy.

I’m not sure I really understood all the cliches until now. To be honest, I’m not a cliche person and I judge them and mock them with an arrogance I now regret. They are all true and they are coming at me like shooting stars. I’m not sure I have ever loved like this. Before Huck.

When I was 3 months pregnant, I went to a writer’s retreat. The leader of the retreat, a writer and a coach of writing, Suzanne Kingsbury, a beautiful angel, said to me that the child growing inside me was coming like a ‘beautiful wrecking ball to crash through all of my carefully laid plans’.

At 5:08pm on Friday March 16th, that wrecking ball came in at 7 pounds 12 oz and rearranged my cellular system and made me a mother and I knew I would never be the same.  Last night, while holding him, swaddled tightly and cooing after feeding off my breast, rocking him in the crook of my arm and talking to him, my tears falling on his soft, smooth, unblemished cheek, I told him of the story of the day in July Jamey and I drove to Chattanooga to put a 5-day blastocyte into my body with faith and science as thunder and lightening raged a storm outside and we held our breath. I told Huck of meeting his father at a church-basement kind of meeting, a tall handsome man with a wide inviting smile and blue eyes I couldn’t take my eyes off, who kissed me for the first time at about noon on my front porch on a non-particular Monday, stealing my breath away.  I told him of the day his father proposed to me on his bended knee on a sandy beach of the Tennessee River with a storm coming in fast behind the double rainbow that we watched grow and straddle the water after I’d said yes while trying to catch my breath from the surprise of it all. I told him of our two weddings in two backyards surrounded by friends and family, rivers and music, singing and laughing and exhaling the most glorious of breaths of relief for finding our soulmates just in the nick of time.  And I told him of the day Jamey posed a question to me that led me to rethink my old answers and challenge my future and what I thought my life would look like and I said yes as quickly as I had when his knee was wet with riversand so that, when the opportunity appeared for the chance to let a baby into our lives, I walked the crooked path through grief and fear and selfish determinism and ambition to exhale the most vulnerable “yes” I’d ever breathed in my life.

My heart lives outside my skin, outside my ribs, on my sleeve and measures about 21 inches right now and is about 36 hours old.  My heart has a name: Huckleberry.

Learning to fly, indeed.

 

37 Weeks and a False Alarm

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It’s 4:30am and I can’t sleep and it’s now 37 weeks and the app says he’s as big as Romaine Lettuce, which to me doesn’t seem that hefty for a boy who’s arm and leg and foot I can watch trail across my taut stomach whenever I lay down on my back or drink something sweet. I watch it like an alien show, the center starts to poke up and then move toward one side or the other, and I fully expect to see the outline of a face like one of those alien movies, a human trapped in a membrane trying to pierce the skin. But I know his head is not at my upper belly. He’s in full on downdog now, ready to go, upside down, pushing against my cervix.

I did the thing tonight I swore I wouldn’t do. I was one of those women who went to the hospital and was kept for a few hours and then told to go home. False labor. You’ve never seen a woman pack a bag so quickly. I get emails everyday from Lucie’s List and Parents and The Bump, articles about “Things To Do At Week __” and of course, months ago, was reminded to “pack the hospital bag”. Which I didn’t do. Funny thing is, my parents, who live a 2-day drive away, have had their bags packed for weeks, I’m sure, just waiting on the call to start driving.

My due date was March 21 from our fertility doctor. Then my OB-GYN changed it to March 23, which made me a bit sad, as March 21 is the Vernal Equinox and I thought that was a good omen.  Yesterday, March 1, I went in for the usual fetal heart monitor appointment, was asked “did you feel those?” by the sweet RN who was looking at the heart print-out, who told me I was having contractions. “The tightening thing? Well, yes, but I get that all the time.” She smiled and took the read-out to the doc.  After cleaning the goop off my belly from where they put the monitor on, which slides and is cold and I try to just enjoy the ride, the large leather lounge chair I lay in for 20 minutes while the heart shushes and beeps and I sip a Sprite, the only time I’d ever drink a Sprite.  Then, I’m in my doc’s office and she’s telling me that we’re changing the birth plan and she’s going to induce labor by the 16th if I haven’t given birth yet and I’m not quite sure why we’ve moved it up but she talks about my age and IVF and the higher risk of still birth and I sit upright on the table, covered in paper cloth, since she’s just dug her finger way up inside me to check my cervix (“Nope. Still closed.”) and say “Is there any reason to not go in and get him now?” and she smiles her reassuring Ob-Gyn “I got this” smile and says, “We’d like him to go to 39 weeks, but he’d be ok if he came out now. You’re term.” And I mentally scan my calendar, 2 weeks, not 3, now? Am I ready? Not at all. Of course. Maybe….

So I go home and nesting kicks into high gear. I call my parents and tell them the change in plans which will change their plans which makes my mom repack her bag and I can almost hear the squeal of joy in her mid-70’s voice. And then I vacuum. And clean out closets. And open the boxes that have the car seats. And bring up the bassinet we got at a shower weeks ago. And make lists. Lots of lists. And I meditate in the nursing chair.

March 16th. At least it’s not March 15, which would make me want to nickname him Brutus. My friends start a pool. So many March birthdays, they all want to claim him.

I teach a Skype session and sit at my desk in front of this laptop video-chatting with a songwriter, helping him put together lyrics and music on his latest song, and my stomach tightens and I can hardly breathe. I move around in the chair. I drink water. The session ends and I walk around the house and the tightening gets worse and I’m having a hard time breathing. And I drink more water and lay down. But nothing changes. I realize the boy inside me hasn’t moved (or I don’t think he has) for a while now and the tightening has been happening for a while, too. I go to my desk where I have taped to the wall the Labor Precautions List my doc gave me and try to make sense of whether or not what I’m feeling is a contraction or just a tightening (or if that’s a contraction).  I open the refrigerator to find leftover General Tso’s Chicken from 2 nights before. I heat it up. I’m hungry. That’s the headache I’m feeling. I’m not hungry at all, though, because there’s no room in there. In fact, I’m kind of nauseous and another tightening and I’m bending over. I eat the chicken which isn’t that good, because Chinese food in Nashville just doesn’t add up to someone who moved here after having lived in NYC for 20 years.  I walk around and start talking to myself then to Patti Smith (my personal Higher Power/God Stand In) then to the baby. I say, “I don’t want to be one of those women who goes in at every kick and pain. Let me know if this is real. Give me some sign,” and I feel a very strong absolutely-this-is-a-contraction and I double over. I call my Mom. She’s a nurse. She’s had 4 kids. Although 50 years ago. But she’s the voice of wisdom and reason and doesn’t overreact to things. She says, ‘Call your sister.’ I call my sister who doesn’t answer. Another contraction. Too close. My husband is out having burgers with a friend and he notoriously doesn’t keep his ringer on. I call. I text. I call the friend. I text the friend. I walk. I drink water. I finally call the after-hours number my doc gave me. Leave a message with the answering service. Wait.

20 minutes later the on-call doc and I are talking and I’m trying to navigate the Pain Scale, which I’ve always been terrible at as I have a very high threshold for pain [side note: which is not a good thing, I now understand, because my friend Beth Neilson Chapman’s husband who is a shrink, overheard me say that at a dinner hang when I was drinking wine and making light of some drama I was currently embroiled in and he says dryly to me: “that is not a good thing” and it was one of the many wake up calls to maybe my way of barreling through my life with an ‘I’ve got this’ attitude was not working so well].  I didn’t know if this was a 3 or an 8 or a real thing or I was maybe exaggerating. But she asked why my own doc changed the due date and I told her: “I’m 50 and it’s an IVF pregnancy” and this on-call doc changed tone and said, “Get yourself to the hospital. We need to monitor you.” I said, “Can I drive myself?” (see parenthetical side-note above). She said, “Absolutely not.”

Luckily, my dear friends D&T picked up the phone, left the cool bar, sped toward me to get me. I packed that hospital bag in 2 minutes flat. We got to the hospital in Nashville, where Jamey was waiting on me (we’d reached him), checked me in, got me into a room where a kind nurse slabbed more goo on my belly and those monitors, put her hand up inside me, as my own doc had done earlier, saying “I’m so sorry, this will be cold and unpleasant” and I was trying to find the words to a good joke, like “my vagina is fair game at this point” but knew I wasn’t bringing the funny and my husband, who is the king of bringing the funny, was way past the point of funny and looked more like a deer in headlights trying to act like he was totally chill. My friends were amazing, just hovering, waiting, not going anywhere.

So. In the end, it was false labor. I’ve dilated a bit. I was closed yesterday morning and by the time I got to the hospital things had started to change and “soften” as the RN said. And so now, I just stand guard. Wait for more signs. Time contractions. They let me go home after about 2 hours and as I walked past the check-in point, I said to the nurse, “I’ve just become one of those women who you send home” and she said, “Better safe than sorry, honey. You did the right thing.”

2 weeks. The over under in our house gives it about a week. At best. I have a show on Wednesday in town. Kind of hoping I can do that and then maybe the next day he comes, but I know this is out of my hands.

But 2 weeks at the latest? I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced anything like this. It’s like Christmas where my sister and I would try to sleep but we’d stay up as late as we could listening for sounds of hoofs and bells, shivering with anticipation. It’s got elements of that kind of anticipating joy. But there’s also a smidge of terror-doubt-fear-worry, me wanting Time to stand still. I just got used to this pregnancy thing. I love it. I’ve lost any body shame I’ve been carrying around my entire life which was always centered in my soft belly, afraid to ever show that part of my body. Now I love my body. And I want that feeling to stay long after the bump deflates. But I also love him inside me, poking around, prodding. He’s mine in there. And the minute he comes out, well, I can screw things up. I know everyone feels that way. But I’ve got a gold medal in pre-apologizing. 2 weeks. Maybe less. I can’t sleep. I tried. But I want to write in my journal and read all the books on my desk and stress-shop on Amazon and rock in the nursing chair with the stuffed bear my father gave me for the boy.

No. This is way better than Christmas. Christmas comes with little sleep and the wrapping paper comes off in a flurry and the toys are played with and then discarded and the family comes in and eats and laughs and tells stories and leaves and then the night ends softly with everyone complaining about how stuffed full they are, leaving the toys in little piles made for each child, the stockings have been turned upside down, the lights off and the holidays are over until the next year and life goes on as it was before, with hardly a change but a few more Things accumulated.

This is more than a thing about to be accumulated. This is a human who will appear and will radically alter the molecules of my heart. This is the biggest change I have ever gone through and it’s not sunk in yet. I know, because everyone tells me, my life will radically change. And some lovely artistic women also encourage me: yes, it will change but at the same time, you’ll be you still and you’ll make things and sing things, you’re adding not subtracting. But in a few weeks or a few days, this will all be different.

This entire thing is more of a miracle than I can even wrap my brain around.  I can’t sleep tonight because I cannot believe this is actually happening to me and I want to not miss a single minute of it, even before it happens.

And I know that next time I’m up at 4:30am, it won’t be because I can’t sleep and need to write a blog…

Angels

So, I got into a car accident. For those that are Facebook friends, you’ll know this. It happened last Tuesday at about 3pm. Busy main road in East Nashville, I was minding my own business, driving really safely, because my biggest fear has been exactly this: getting into a car wreck at 8 months pregnant. And then out of my peripheral vision I saw something silver coming at me and started chanting “No no no no no no no” and then a boom and then my car spun a few times. I actually did hear a voice in my head, my own really, but a calm version of me saying to myself, as things slowed down: “put your hands on the steering wheel, relax and then ask for an ambulance immediately.”  The car stopped in the center of Gallatin Road. Not one damned car slowed down or stopped, they just moved around me and I remember thinking, “someone’s gonna hit me again.”  But they didn’t and I put my window down, undid my seatbelt and hung my head to breathe. A woman at the corner yelled “are you ok?” and I yelled back “I think so, but I’m 8 months pregnant so call an ambulance.”   I looked to my right, to my empty passenger seat, which had a sandwich and my purse on it but all that was spilled out all over the floor, bits of sandwich everywhere, my cell phone nowhere to be seen, my wallet, keys, journal, pens — strewn. I saw pink. The windows were covered in a pink goo that looked like silly putty or cotton candy and I realized that the air bags must have gone off.  I thought: “pink…interesting”.  I couldn’t see anything. I started to hyperventilate and hiccough/cry. The woman from the corner braved the fast-paced disinterested traffic and came over and said, “Honey, you ok? I’m a nurse.” She was older than me, a mother-like girth to her, comforting. I said, “I think I’m having a panic attack.” She said, “You’ll be fine. Just slow your breathing down.” A man came over. He was clearly the one who hit me as he approached me saying “I didn’t see you, I really didn’t see you, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.” I asked his name. Said “it’s ok. It happens.” He talked to the nurse. Another woman came over and was on the phone with 911. I closed my eyes and put my head back on the headrest.

I was unharmed. Nothing seemed hurt or broken or bleeding. No glass had been shattered. But I stayed in the car until the EMT’s arrived and when they did, and helped me out of the car, my knees buckled and they put me on a gurney and put me in the ambulance to take my vitals. While this was happening, a police officer took my statement, which was pretty much “I have no idea what happened. I just remember silver and then spinning.” And at that point, sharp pains jabbed me in my crotch, in my belly and I howled out.  The EMT’s stabbed an IV into my left arm, put the lights and sirens on, asked me where I was delivering, and sped me toward that hospital. Somehow, they’d gotten my purse out of the car, handed me my phone and I texted my husband: “Urgent. car wreck. car totaled. they’re taking me to st. thomas”.  I forgot to write: no blood. I think I’m ok but I’m not sure because they’ve just jabbed a needle in my arm and now are careening down the road at top speed with a siren so I’m not sure what’s going on. Poor guy.

I’ll just skip to the end: I’m fine and the baby is fine. I didn’t know this until 36 hours later, when my Ob/Gyn (her name is Dr. Storck. I kid you not) sees me in her office the day after they’ve released me from a 24 hour stay at the Natal Unit where, in a few weeks, I’ll be giving birth; where I didn’t sleep all night because they had to take vitals and, where they were concerned about the contractions I was feeling and they were seeing and had an ultrasound ordered and I was in pain from the needle in one arm from the IV and the other from the blood they kept taking to run tests, and from my hip and my back, and from the swollen belly contracting, and from the “Lightening Crotch” stabs happening from time to time and freaking me out and, lastly, from the uncomfortable bed.  I’m fine. Baby is fine. But the 36 hours I waited to hear that was the scariest 36 hours I’ve had in a long, long time.

You see. This is not my first pregnancy and, although that’s a very very old story and one I don’t need to tell and I’ve worked hard on the grieving and the letting go of that story before I could create this story, in the back of my mind, sometimes, when I’m at my weakest, I have to do some seriously ninja-like spiritual warfare against the part of me that still clings to the old God who is not kind and is judgmental and shames and wags his big finger at me with lightening bolts of karma. So to have a car wreck at 8 months, you can imagine what kind of Medieval Torture Chamber my mind lived in for those 36 hours.

Prayer. Meditation. And people who love me who surround me in my worst times and remind me that I’m good.  My friends showed up. Even when one of them was getting a pretty huge award that night, like East Nashvillian Of The Year kind of award, a huge deal, and another went to the ceremony and if I were them, I woulda high-tailed it to the nearest bar and celebrated with some cocktails (or, mock-tails in my case).  But they came too. All dressed up and award in their hands. One came from her shift as a nurse at another hospital. Another came from work and brought homemade chocolate. Another texted in from a music conference. Then more texts, loads of them, actually from friends from family.  My husband, who had gone to the wrong hospital originally and then somehow made it to me without his own high speed car wreck, had brought me a cupcake and held my face in his hands and we cried.

Angels. All of them. From the nurse — who I have mis-remembered her name as Precious, because it could have been Princess or Peony or Penelope, but in my mind, she’s Precious — who held my hand and told me to breathe. To the hospital nurse who threaded her fingers through my hair, brushing it out, matted from the ride over and coo’d at me to calm me down. To my girlfriends who showed up, made me laugh, told me raunchy stories. To my mother and my mother-in-law who called crying and so relieved. To my husband, a miracle in his own right, that we found each other, that we landed together, because if you knew either of us about 5 or 6 years ago, us being married with me pregnant was not what we were working towards. In the least.

To my personal Higher Power, who masquerades, depending upon the day, as my dog Flo, or Patti Smith, or my old mentor Julie Portman, who passed away, she’s in the river, covered in blue, dancing.  To my Grandmother Roro, who smelled of talcum powder and Jean Nate, whose hands would softly rub my forehead. She may have been the voice I heard as the car spun around. She would have called me by the nickname she gave me and said, “It’s gonna be all right, Princess.”

So. Angels. All around. I’m ok. He’s ok. I’m almost 9 months pregnant. Since you know my age, you must have suspected, too, that this was no ordinary pregnancy. We needed a boost from science to help us with this one. And it took a few tries. And that was very tough (see earlier paragraph about Medieval Torture Chamber of Karmic Retribution). And on the day he was conceived (or placed, or turkey basted or however we’re gonna call it), there was a huge thunder and lightening storm as J and I drove to our Fertility Clinic for the ‘transfer’.  We got there and the electricity went out. The back up generator kicked into gear. There was a problem with the embryo they were going to use, so we had to wait while they prepared another. I kept my meditation up, the Serenity Prayer over and over again like a tape loop in my head.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….

And as they put me on the gurney and my feet were slid into the cold stirrups and the incredibly simple miracle of God and Science met, the power went out one more time and I laughed and said, “If this kid makes it, we’re gonna have to call it Daenerys Storm Born, girl or boy” (a Game of Thrones geeky reference).  He came into being in a storm. And he made it. He got shook around in a storm last week. And he’s doing great and moving and kicking and keeping me up at night. He’s got his own angels, I think.

The nurses kept saying “You’ve got a wild one on your hands in there.”

I can’t wait.

What I found while unpacking boxes this weekend…(note to my sister, this is before you came into the world)

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Resist

IMG_0048This was a few weeks ago, right before my last show before taking a long hiatus from touring. I was in a hotel room in Houston getting ready for my show and watching FB and Twitter posts about the Women’s Marches happening (again) all over the country.  Not able to join, I made my own personal parade in the bathroom mirror there in the Marriot. This was a few weeks ago. I could still see my feet, my belly button was still mostly an innie. It is not anymore.

Also: I was still in my 40’s in this photo.

I’m not anymore. 50 is the new 25. More on that in another post.

Here’s the thing: the march was weeks ago. But the notion of ‘resist’ is an every day thing for me. I’m not very politically active, although I am very politically aware. But ‘resist’ has taken on a lot more meaning than just being angry at injustice, incompetence, ignorance – which is rampant these days. Every day I wake up in this body with a belly that is growing faster and harder, and I’m learning to meditate and breathe through constant pain as my ribs, my muscles, my breath is all being challenged by this little boy inside me who punches and kicks and gurgles and hiccups at the inside of my uterus.  I am not resisting that. I am resisting the non-resistance. I am resisting having to say ‘oh yeah, this is easy.’ I’m being honest without complaining. Or at least that’s the practice.

So yeah. Resist. Resist stereotypes. Resist what people say you can and cannot do because of age. Resist agism. Resist people who think a woman in her 50’s should look or act or dress a certain way. Resist hating wrinkles. Resist people who fear feminism. Resist black and white thinking. Resist expectations. Resist what a thing should be and embrace what the thing is.

So here I am a few weeks ago, showing off a belly that when, without baby inside, I’d have thought wasn’t perfect and would NEVER have shown you that photo. But the truth is, it was perfect. And it is now. And it will be no matter the leftover pounds or the stretch marks or the scar, should I need one.

Resist. Then bring it on.

7 months

On the verge of 8 months. My husband stole this photo a week or so ago. I love it.

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