Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Illusion of Control

I’m perfecting the art of waiting. It’s a fine balance between making plans and making no commitments; keeping busy and letting myself do nothing; getting things done and putting no pressure on myself.

Yesterday I crossed several must-do’s off my list. I got some more of my iron supplement, cleaned the bathrooms and bought food for dinner. It ended up being a busy day even though I hadn’t planned to do much. Last night I let myself collapse on the couch then go to bed early. I was tired from staying up to watch a terribly disappointing Vikings game the night before.

But once I got into bed, I was kept restlessly tossing and turning by tumultuous thoughts and minor physical ailments. It shouldn’t surprise me that my body aches and creaks with every movement now that I’m carrying a full grown baby on the front of my body.

I can feel my baby’s head right on the base of my core, pressing on my tailbone and cervix, like she might just tumble out when I bend down to pick up Twila’s toys. It’s amazing how long the laboring process can take when the baby really only has to travel a few inches. Why is the process of exiting the womb so difficult and laborious? And my even bigger why is why does it hurt so much more for some women then for others?

Two of my close girl friends had natural child births within a week of each other this past month. The first was surprised by how able she was to focus through the contractions, relax away the pain; the second was surprised too. She was surprised by how utterly intense the process was. She was nauseated the whole time and had very painful contractions. Why the difference? Why can some women relax through it while others are tumbled by the intensity?

I have to admit that I am in the ‘surprised at the extreme intensity’ camp. I was totally thrown by how much pain I was in with Twila’s labor. It was actually more painful, more difficult and longer than my birthdaughter’s birth seven years before. That really threw me off. I was filled with fear by the surprise intensity.

And now that I am close to labor again, that fear is revisiting me. What if it is that difficult and painful again? It has taken me a few weeks to identify what it was I was feeling when my body began on several nights to have contractions and my mind just shut down the process. It’s fear that I’m feeling.

Maybe fear is the most pervasive feeling that infiltrates most women approaching labor. It’s scary for me because I have to let go of the controls. I’m not good at that. It’s the same reason I don’t like flying. Even though I probably take my life into m hands on a much more treacherous level each time I get behind the wheel, at least it’s my hands my life is in. Leaving my life in the hands of some unseen pilot has always been in the top scariest challenges of my life.

But birthing, laboring a child into existence: that is the ultimate relinquishment of control. Every laboring woman must let go at some point and let the baby work its way out, let her body do what it was made to do, slowly or quickly, painfully or effortlessly, the vast majority of bodies deliver the same result: a baby. But we don’t know how it will feel or how long it will take. Our job is to find a way to let our bodies work. It’s scary to be swept up on the process. Maybe that is why we as a society like to medicalize the process; it makes us feel like we have more control over what is happening.

Maybe like in driving a car instead of taking a flight, the illusion of control is more comforting than embracing the reality of what we cannot control.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Caring for a Child

Shouldn’t all children be safe and warm and well-fed? Shouldn’t all people? In the cruel wind of Minnesota winters, I think about the things that are privileges in society, like driving, voting, holding a government office. But is warmth and safety a privilege?

My due date is today. I was seven days after my due date when Nicole was born, five days after when Twila was born. Any due date is estimation anyway. Intuitively I know I’m in the last few days since my nesting instinct has given way to the old familiar instinct to do nothing but sleep and eat. I wake up refreshed and rested, have a good breakfast and feel like retreating to the bed or couch again by eight thirty.

As far as I’m concerned any day is as good as any other to have a baby. Others don’t feel the same way. It seems people have been asking for over two weeks when the baby will be born. As if I have some kind of Times Square type countdown clock hidden on my belly.

I am ready, but not overly so. The house is stocked with food, we have clothes and blankets for the baby, a warm house to protect against the icy wind and blowing snow. What else could we need? I feel the most appreciative for what I have in the winter months in Minnesota. It is when I think the most about people who are homeless, jobless, struggling to find food and adequate clothing.

In winter in Minnesota, I feel humbled by the essential items that I posses but take for granted. Most days I don’t consider myself blessed when I bundle into my long coat and thick winter boots. These days blessed is the last thing I feel when I bend over my giant belly to cram my boots on.

But on cold and windy winter nights, when I lay in my warm bed, protected by four sound walls and listen to the wind whistle across the lake, I think of how incredibly lucky I am to be relaxing in the comfort of my soft, warm blankets, getting ready to sleep, knowing my daughter is warm and safe and sleeping in the comfort of unquestioned security.

On these late nights as I let my mind wander to names for my new daughter and thoughts about when she might choose to be born, I imagine, with a heavy weight settling on my chest, what it must feel like to be unable to provide a warm, safe place for my child to sleep, to be unable to provide food for my child. Could anything be more terrible that being unable to provide for your child’s basic needs?

Anyone who cares about a child knows that for their innocent comfort, you would do anything. Only in the moments where my mind is clear of all other distractions can I truly feel the pain of what it must feel like to not only be uncomfortable in the cold, hungry or tired with no place to eat or sleep, but to have to watch your child in this discomfort.

It’s a pain that shouldn’t be endured by anyone, anywhere.

And maybe it’s my hormones or simply the fact that I am on the verge of bringing another human in to an imperfect world, and the worries and dangers are too many to count so I become overwhelmed with the pain that is all around, but I feel particularly emotional about the challenges of caring for a child.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

C'est La Vie

A countdown to Christmas; a countdown to birth. I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary, riding on a donkey just days from delivery—can’t have been fun. But at least Mary didn’t have to deal with everyone in her life asking, “So are you going to deliver on Christmas?”

The check-out woman at Festival Foods said last week, “You could just have the doctor take you now and be home in time to enjoy the holiday!” My mind wandered as I thought of how to respond and suddenly all I could think about was being in a soap opera scene, giant and pregnant whispering, “Taking me now, doctor; take me now!” What strange traditions become cultural norms in our society.

When did it become such a taboo to have a baby on Christmas? Certainly it poses a challenge for birthday planning in the child’s life ahead and for years to come but I think we’d just do something creative like have a family birthday dinner the weekend before or the day after and then have the big friend party on the half birthdays. Would that be so bad? No one minds a party in June.

My brother’s girlfriend just celebrated her golden birthday on Monday. My aunt’s birthday was yesterday, a fact which, even though I was emailing with her all day, was completely forgotten; thus disproving my theory that people can have normal birthdays near the biggest holiday in America.

I guess I don’t feel stressed about when the baby will come because I don’t choose to have any control over it. I don’t like the idea of inducing before I’m due and thereby inviting the cycle of complication that enters the birthing process when intervention is started. So what can I do? Nothing. I can sit and wait and gently prepare my home for the holidays and for my upcoming home birth whenever it will be. I release it all: the unpredictable holiday chaos, the snow storm that threatens to cloister us all inside for two days (will the relatives be stuck at their homes or mine?) and the guess date of when my baby will come. What will be will be.

Or, as my husband and I kept saying last night to our endless amusement as laundry dropped in small trails behind us from our overstuffed arms as we made our way from the basement, too tired to stoop and pick anything up: c'est la vie.

Happy Holidays to you! May you too release control of that which you cannot affect and enjoy the peace that was meant to mark this deep midwinter celebration.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Certain Peace

What to say on the week of Christmas, as snow covers the tundra of our back yard? A deep freeze holds the Midwest in a stagnation of time and animation. As if everything is paused. And with that stillness comes a certain peace. Like nothing might move forward, like Christmas might not come this week and maybe this baby won’t be born until the ground thaws and life picks up again. I can almost hear the perfect quiet that makes us all hold still. Even though life will be bustling when the sun comes up; many will finish Christmas shopping, buy groceries for upcoming family meals, finish decorating, watch Christmas movies and drink eggnog flavored lattes, if I just stay inside, looking out over the thickly frozen lake where only the occasional ice skater slides by to remind me I am not in total isolated seclusion, I can trick myself into believing that there is no chaos in the world; that “the holidays” are an illusion. We really are just in the peace of deep winter.

I wonder on these quiet, frozen, dark days if we were actually meant to hibernate. Did we evolve too fast like we did with the whole walking upright thing causing almost the whole human race to suffer chronic back pain at some point in their lives? Were we also meant to chub-up and sleep through these cold, dark days? Is that why we Midwesterners often get a little blue as the days get so short that the sun is never directly above our heads? Is that why we often chub-up in winter time anyway? Perhaps this is how the Christmas cookie tradition got started: we just knew we needed extra fat so we invented the Santa story. “Oh and by the way he loves sugar cookies.”

Most of Minnesota winter seems too cold and dark to properly function in. There aren’t enough sweaters in the world to make twenty below seem acceptable. And even though today is the shortest day of the year and the sun will slowly, so slowly, start to grace us with his shining face in increasingly long intervals, we in the northern states are still in for the coldest and snowiest of an inflated winter.

But I don’t mind. Not now. Ask me again in two months when there is no end to winter in sight, but for now, the notion of hibernating in cold and quiet with a new baby sounds like just what I should be doing here in the tundra of Minnesota.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Butternut Squash Ravioli

This is an old favorite of mine that I will be revisiting tonight for my husbands birthday. I thought you all might enjoy it too!


1. 9 tablespoons butter

2. 3 tablespoons minced shallots

3. 1 cup roasted butternut squash puree

4. Salt

5. Freshly ground white pepper

6. 3 tablespoons heavy cream

7. 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus 2 ounces

8. Pinch nutmeg

9. 1 pack of wonton wrappers

10. 12 fresh sage leaves


1. In a large saute pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter

2. Add the shallots and saute for 1 minute

3. Add the squash puree and cook until the mixture is slightly dry, about 2 to 3 minutes

4. Season with salt and pepper

5. Stir in the cream and continue to cook for 2 minutes

6. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons cheese and nutmeg, to taste

7. Season with salt and pepper

8. Cool completely

9. Place 2 teaspoons of the filling in the center of each wonton wrapper

10. Bring 1 corner of the square to the other, forming a triangle and seal the wonton completely

11. Add the wontons to a pot of boiling salted water

12. Cook until al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes or until the wontons float and are pale in color

13. Remove the pasta from the water and drain well

14. Season the ravioli with salt and pepper

15. In a large saute pan, melt the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter

16. Add the sage to the butter and continue to cook until the butter starts to brown

17. Remove from the heat

18. Place some of the ravioli in the center of each serving plate.

19. Spoon the butter sauce over the pasta.

20. Sprinkle the 2 ounces of cheese over each plate


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Making the Holidays Meaningful

As a mother, one of my greatest challenges has always been to try and instill the values of tradition, the true meaning of holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween...oh wait, never mind. Unfortunately we live in a society that breeds greed, and young children are easy to spoil.

Why, my husband and I asked pre-children, are there so many spoiled ten year olds out there? Well the answer, we’re beginning to discover is that we start children very young on a steady diet of entitlement and high expectations.

When a child is young, they expect nothing except your love and attention. When they are given a gift (and even the smallest piece of colorful tissue paper constitutes a gift at this age) they are overcome with joy and delight. This reaction is such a delight for us, that we keep wanting to give them gifts. They are easy to please and we enjoy pleasing them.

Then they get older and become more aware of what is out there to want, the cute little stuffed toy (still only $5.99—a small price to pay to see that big smile) or the baby doll that’s twenty bucks. But soon it is bigger and more expensive toys, then CDs, DVDs, ipods, iphones and the like. Before we know it we are asking ourselves when did our children get so spoiled. The difficult but obvious answer is of course, we taught them to be spoiled.

Perhaps the saddest time of year to see this behavior is Christmas. We want the holiday to be meaningful, to be about family, love, charity, goodwill, new beginnings but our children only want presents. And we feel like the Grinch himself if we don’t make Christmas “magical” read: the Christmas tree is barely visible through piles of gifts.

So what can we do? It’s a vicious cycle really, perpetuated by Target and Macy’s and the mass media and we’re victims of our culture as much as our children are. Maybe the answer isn’t banning gifts from our houses but instead making small changes in tradition and routine.

What we’re doing this year is focusing on one area of social justice to teach Twila about—the world water crisis. We’re also trying something new this year with my side of the family. Instead of buying and giving traditional gifts, we are donating money in the names of our family members to an organization of our choice. Then, the holiday time together is spent telling about our particular charity.

This year my husband and I were really moved by the documentary Blue Gold about the privatization of water and how water will be the next dwindling resource like oil is today. In fact many big companies and rich families (like the Bushes) are already beginning to buy up fresh water sources. It’s a crisis that needs our attention soon. I recommend you see Blue Gold, maybe it will influence your family’s Christmas too.

Also check out Water for the People, given a four star rating for its stewardship of donor resources, and see how you can get involved.

Happy Holidays!