Lots of babies

A couple of months back, I quickly realized that I had never talked with my daughter about pregnancy options. I taught her consent, that not all pregnancies survive, and how pregnancy happens. But I missed this crucial piece. Luckily, kids are brilliant and she brought it up herself.

“Mom, when are we going to have the next baby?” she asked as I cradled her two week old sibling.

“Not sure we’re going to have any more, big kid,” I replied.

“But I want lots of babies,” she insisted.

I just looked at her, both surprised by her request because it seemed like this baby was already old news, and because she knows that the first step in having a baby is that I decide to have a baby.

She quickly noticed my reaction and said, “but it is your decision.”

Before this baby was created, she insisted on a sibling. Trying to help her learn that it’s her body, her decision, I taught her the steps of pregnancy. First, the person who will grow the baby has to decide they want to. Next, they have to talk to their partner. When both decide yes, they try to make a pregnancy. The details of making the pregnancy we learned together through reading “It’s Not the Stork” by Robie Harris. (Tip: This book is binary when it comes to gender. We replaced the pronouns and re-worded when we read to draw the difference between body parts and gender. It’s fantastically comprehensive otherwise).

When she reminded me about pregnancy as a decision, I jumped in to reinforce this and to share more about other options.

“If Daddy and I do decide to have another baby, we’ll likely choose adoption,” I told her. “Adoption is where someone else grows the baby and different people become the parents or parent.”

“I don’t know what you’re saying,” she told me. This is my cue to share simple yet explicit details with her as she’s asking to not just know but to understand.

I explained that not all people choose to be pregnant. That for some people, it happens not on purpose, for some because others make the choice for them, and even for some they change their mind after the pregnancy starts to grow. I told her that when this happens, people can choose what happens to the pregnancy. That a person can choose to grow the fetus into a baby and become that baby’s parent, or they can choose to grow the fetus into a baby and someone else becomes the parent which is called adoption, or a person can choose to stop the pregnancy and not grow the fetus.

She was stuck on the adoption piece and wanted to know more. She asked why someone wouldn’t be the baby’s parent and I told her it could be alot of reasons like not wanting to be a parent then or ever, not having what they want or need to be a parent, having someone else choose the pregnancy when they didn’t decide, or just because someone wants something different or better for the fetus.

She grabbed on to the first option and replied, “That’s a mean thing to do.”

“What is?,” I asked.

“To not want to be the baby’s parent,” she emphasized.

I knew this was a crucial moment that I wanted to get right so I went into it slowly. “There are all sorts of reasons that people choose not to be a baby’s parent,” I responded. “Yes, some may seem mean and some may seem better to you or others. But remember when I said pregnancy is your decision?”

She nodded.

“At any point, any person can choose to decide what happens to their body and their life. This includes choosing not to be a parent. Yes, it can seem mean or sad, but it’s still a decision. And there are people who can’t grow a baby, or who can and don’t want to that can become these kids parents.” I explained.

“I don’t want to talk anymore about this,” she said.

This is my cue that this is too big for her age. This usually pops up when she’s challenged in exploring values that she’s hasn’t fully developed yet. I stopped, but felt so glad that we started to talk about this. No matter what, I want her to know that she decides for her body and life first, always.

And I feel proud how quickly she remembered that the same is true for me. Besides, she can have “lots of babies” herself one day, if she chooses.

Is pregnancy a diagnosis?

I just spent two days feeling like a medical experiment. “Raising Justice” is about parenting, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include what it’s like to parent while your kid is in the womb. We already make decisions for them before they can even survive on their own, breath in air, or open their eyes to the world. And we have to do this within a healthcare system that is a mess, and completely overwhelming.

My approach to pregnancy and birth has been to focus on as much strength as I have and to feel the beauty of it. My pregnancy is not a diagnosis, it is a part of life that has been in existence well before any medical model came into play. It’s a part of our humanity. Today I feel tired of being treated like an experiment, like I am hosting an unpredictable virus, and that it’s up to me to ensure the life of this baby by making the “right” decisions for care.

This baby has sat breech in my uterus since early on. They have chosen to pretty much sit in my lap, facing forward experiencing the world through the light and colors coming through the stretched belly skin creating his home. The whole time, I just thought how amazing, them sitting on my lap, seeing the world through my womb, literally. This baby has always liked it this way, wanting to participate and experience…waking up to music, new foods, new sounds, and new people. But two days ago, I was told that all of a sudden this is unacceptable anymore for him to be in this position. I knew in my heart that this baby would turn at some point if they could, that so many babies turn last second and that it’s completely normal. But I grow big babies, so the fear was this one couldn’t do it because of their size.

This came up when I met a new provider who decided this couldn’t wait. There was too much risk for baby to run out of room. So she scheduled me for an ECV (external cephalic version) procedure which is where they manually turn the baby with their hands on your belly. No big deal, until randomly she mentioned, “Oh and don’t eat or drink after midnight as there is a chance for an emergency cesarean section.” My anxiety spiked immediately.

I spent all day conflicted, trying to figure out what was best and decided I’d feel out where I was at in the morning when I got there…as this was scheduled to happen the very next day. I spent the evening before doing some gymnastic-like moves, putting music between my legs, and placing ice packs on my belly to try to get baby to flip on their own. I could feel him trying, he even got pretty sideways, but he never went the whole way. “She might be right,” I thought. So the next morning we were off. Walking to the car, I heard a hawk shout out. Oddly, this immediately created a sense of calm and I said to myself, “This is all going to be okay.”

I was set up for hours, with an IV, being monitored etc. Everyone was nice, but I was in a place that reminded me of all I hate that we’ve turned pregnancy into. I was asked over and over if it was a boy or a girl, if we had chosen a name, etc. Normally, I say it’s a surprise, but my medical chart would confirm my lie. I felt too focused on the nerves in my body to ask people to stop, or to even talk about why we are not gendering this baby. Everyone had advice on a baby with male parts, that they’re more trouble, etc. I was already exhausted by this chatter, but it got really hard when several providers harped on a past pregnancy complication, shoulder dystocia. To date, my midwife had mentioned it once or twice, but without fear or intention, and simply to answer questions about any concerns. So I was quite surprised when it was mentioned by all of the providers and nurses as if it was the present diagnosis we were dealing with.

My first pregnancy for my daughter was five years ago and I was put on bed rest as a precaution to suspected preterm labor. I ended up delivering her at 41 weeks, and she was 10 pounds. Upon her exit, she got stuck, for about 1 minute. Her status wasn’t so great, but they fixed her right up and me too.

Yesterday, they harped on this shoulder issue, and many asked me if she’s developmentally ok. I was even reassured that they “always catch up.” Ironically, I gave birth to her in this same hospital with the same provider system. I couldn’t help but wonder if they actually doubted the skills of their providers to handle this not so uncommon emergency? My provider team was brilliant in their response and got her out quick with little complication, because they were a well trained team to handle it. So my confidence is a bit diminished 5 years later. The provider who saw me yesterday basically told me that I am guaranteed a repeat situation and I should consider a C-section (statistics show a chance of about 17% for repeat should dystocia). This organization prides themselves on one of the lowest C-section rates in the state and even nationally. This was so counter-intuitive to what I knew. I kindly declined the offer to make a decision right then and said we’d take it one day at a time. *Please note that I have nothing against C-sections, but I felt incredibly confused by being talked into one all of sudden. Having one does not scare me, in fact I embrace whatever brings this baby into the world. But being talked into a decision I was not ready for is scary.

Needless to say the procedure went fine. As I knew already, this organization has a brilliant team of providers who are incredibly skilled in their work. They were quickly able to rotate the baby with little to no stress on anyone or anything except my own nerves. This and I talked to him for a while in the hospital bathroom asking him to trust me, that we needed to flip to be sure we can do this together. (I still believe his lack of struggle was this trust in me – he didn’t move a muscle but completely relaxed as they turned him). Additional note: I was told later that this was one of the easiest version procedures they have every done; this connection between me and this baby is profound and I wish more providers recognized this capability.

I knew that I’d be sore the next day and I was, but I didn’t expect the cloud of doom I’d feel in my heart. I have been working towards a birth experience that is mine to own. And when I say this, I mean that this is my body and I am going to love what it is capable of. This includes all ways this baby can emerge into this world. I have been embracing all options, but holding out hope that this time, I might get to experience birth without being a diagnosis, without intense socialization and expectations of childbirth. The type of delivery does not define this, the experience of care is what does.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit feeling defeated. Throughout this experience, I did not feel I was trusted as a parent. I did not feel that this system is justice, that this system exists to bring me into motherhood. Instead, I felt like this system exists to distance me from my body, to diagnose, to promote medical intervention as the “smart choice.” I even felt that I was scolded, that I must be an idiot for not considering that if I “risk” another vaginal delivery, my child could be harmed for life. It would be all my fault. I would have done this to him. I can’t even get into my feelings on this in one post alone – the assumption of blame on the birth parent, and the otherness of any person with a mental or physical ability difference.

I have been teaching my daughter about childbirth, about our bodies, their capabilities, their strength, resilience, power. Thanks goodness she wasn’t there to experience this. It was the opposite of what she believes of her own body, what she believes in mine. I just imagined her face, crushed as she realized that maybe I ever put her in jeopardy as a baby. Or that I would even make a decision selfishly instead of considering other people involved, like this baby.

I have great people in my life who I know will help me get back to a settled mindset before this baby comes. The love and power and energy from others is hard to miss. But I can’t get over why anyone would ever want to strip me of that. This system is a mess, this system is rigged, this system is injustice. This is my experience as a white cis straight woman who works in the organization I am seeking services in. I can’t even imagine the experience of others.

This is why I write, this is why I do this work, this is why I teach her. If she ever chooses to take a pregnancy to term, this darn well better be different.

To all of the people who have ever had a pregnancy, are pregnant, want a pregnancy, or know someone with a pregnancy, I am turning this frustration into love for you all. For a better system, for better care, for better trust in us as parents and caregivers. Pregnancy is life, I am life, we are life.

Maternity photo by Crabapple Photography.

Keeping our connection to humanity

These days, it is an overwhelming experience to be in public. At 30 weeks pregnant, I am hard to miss. Yet, I am so easily missed. I am never in-between. Many folks have transformed me into a vessel – simply a body carrying a baby. So I am cooed at, told how cute I am. People also have lost their sense of boundaries. Many say “You are so big!”, “Are you about to pop?”, “Are you sure there aren’t two in there?”, “You are certainly ready!”

But the most common question I get is ” How are you feeling?” I am asked this nearly ten, twenty times a day. I struggle with this question, because it’s not presented to want to hear the joys happening in my body, but it’s always asked with implied concern. This question assumes that I am feeling something other than joy. People want to know what ails me, as people often find connection by commiserating experiences. But, pregnancy is an experience I choose to embrace as a miracle, a gift to and from my body, a connection to our larger whole as people. I think it’s beautiful and most of the time I feel supernatural, miraculous, living my destiny. The best part of my day is when others see this in me. When someone simply says “You look gorgeous” or “How beautiful.” My partner once said to me, “You are exactly what you should be right now, you are perfect.”

This need to connect over negative shared experiences feels so unnatural. And I feel pressure to share my woes in order to have connection. Isn’t that how we do that these days? Listening to our discontent, unhappiness, what ails us? When you stand in line at the grocery store, the person in front of you or behind you wants to chat, but only about the person in line taking too long, or the slowness of the cashier. I admit that I too participate sometimes, because life has moments of frustration. But I want to be better, I want to be the person who when someone asks me “How are you feeling?”, I answer with “I’m experiencing pure joy and love. I feel blessed to grow this human who I know is going to be incredible, full of light and hope, and who will step into this world to make it better.”

For now I simply answer “I feel pregnant,” because it has no attached emotion. I am working to find confidence in my narrative, but also am trying to ignore the need for negative interactions. I want my child to see this. That you can avoid a negative narrative, that you can stay in your humanity no matter the feelings of others around you. This is an important skill that I fear we have let go. And for those of us that want to avoid negative, instead of engaging in the positive, we avoid people all together.

Which brings me to the second part of my everyday experience – that most of the world ignores me. I am round, hard to miss, yet I am bumped into, pushed, doors slammed in my face, you name it.  And let me first say, that this is a typical experience of being in the world for me and for many. When I was younger, and smaller in size, my body was sexualized, ogled at, treated as a commodity. Now as an adult, I have simply blurred into the larger mass of people, completely invisible to most. But being pregnant I am hyperaware of my needs, of protecting this growing being in my body –  I am becoming more cognizant and baffled by humanity when it comes to being in public.

In my two pregnancies, I have ridden public transportation a couple of times. Once was two days ago. That morning, I rode into town with my partner who aided in shuffling me on the train and blocking a seat so I could sit down. Coming home, I was on my own. I told myself, this is an experiment in humanity. Who will choose to see me? And when I say “see me”, I simply meant who will look at another person for all of their being rather than choosing to ignore their presence.

Walking down the steps to the train, one person ran up the stairs next to me and hit me pretty hard with their bag. They didn’t stop, nor did anyone say anything. This is not the first time I have been bumped while pregnant, I saw it coming and at least blocked my belly. Standing waiting for the train, I thought, “let me relieve people of the burden of having to consider giving up their seat and instead get on first so I can just get a seat.” When the train pulled up, a woman older than me cut in front of me and pushed her way onto the train. The people she pushed through then did not move for me. I had to ask them to move twice but ended up bumping them with my belly anyhow because they failed to notice that I needed the extra space.

When I got on , there were no seats. So I stood and wondered if anyone was going to look up from their phones. I was surrounded by people of all different ages, genders, race, and no one looked up. After about thirty seconds, a young girl looked up from her phone and gave me her seat. She couldn’t have been more than 16 years old. The people to the left and right of me didn’t move so I could sit in-between. So I sat awkwardly with my belly on my lap, shoulders hunched forward. When I looked across from me, there she was – the woman who pushed in front of me to get on the train. She was in a seat. She never looked at another person and certainly not me the entire train ride. I was just so struck by this. Being surrounded by so many humans and no human interaction.

Towards the end of the ride, two young girls were talking about the tv show Empire and what had happened on the episode that week. Even though it was all spoilers, I spent the rest of the ride listening to them. They were replaying the drama, the humor, the story. They were engaging and I wished I was sitting next to them to engage too.

The irony is that these young people are often considered a burden to adults. They are seen as a nuisance when they talk out loud on the train, or goodness if they’re even laughing. They don’t show their exuberance to be irritating, but perhaps it’s just their inherent joy. And we silence it, tell them to be quiet or not to be so loud. Of all of the times I have been on a public train while pregnant, two people have offered me a seat, both young people – both noticing me and my needs before any adult. We blame them for a society consumed by technology. But what I saw this day and most days, is that these young people are holding tight to their humanity while navigating this world, and doing it much better than we adults.

When did we lose this? At what age do we give up? It’s like we’re resigned to unhappiness, choosing to not see the world, to ignore others, to dismiss humanity.

We have to stop asking our young people to do the same. We have to show our kids that our inherent humanity is key to changing this world for the better.

I recently joked about how my daughter stares at people when we go out to eat. She gets so engulfed in other people that I have to regularly remind her to eat. I try to not ask her “not to stare”. In fact, I never say that anymore. I want her to take in the world around her, to see people for all of who they are. I want her to ask questions, to smile at others if she so chooses, and to laugh if she overhears a funny joke. If I teach her to stop looking, to stop seeing, she’ll never see the world for what it is. She’ll exist in her own bubble, one of advantage, whiteness, comfort. She’ll fail to connect with other people, find laughter, love, kindness.

We recently met up at a friend’s house and she played with another child a little older than her. This child was filled with energy. I’d be lying if I didn’t have a moment of feeling concern for my fellow parent. But I quickly snapped myself out of it to see this child having the time of her life – exploring, laughing, playing, connecting, finding happiness. She exuded an abundance of joy. When we were leaving, my daughter said, “I love her, she is so funny and so crazy.” I responded with, “Yes, she was so full of happiness.” My daughter then responded “Yes, Mommy, and she made me full of happiness.”

Joy. As caregivers, we see it in our kids. We even experience it. We need to hold onto it, or rediscover it. We need to do this for ourselves. Our humanity depends on it.