Because I’m from a small town in Iowa and I was never super popular in school, I have done many a foolish thing in my life to appear cooler than I am. Certain items of clothing, jokes told in bad taste, middle school disloyalty – they all lay upon the bonepile of attempts at cool.
Walking under the el tracks this morning as a train blasted overhead, I covered my ears. It took me years before I was willing to do this. It’s Chicago, man. It’s the el, man. Don’t be a wimp. Only old folks and little kids plug their ears when the train blasts by. The el is Chicago’s chi: energy traveling through the body. You’re either one with it or you’re not.
I believed this, in so many words, and would endure physical pain when walking in an alleyway if the el came through. (The buildings on either side of an alley trap sound; a train crashing past is loud as a jet landing.)
I’m not sure when it happened, but I finally got over myself and now I put my paws over my ears when I hear a train coming in those situations. The freedom I feel to do this is heady. Isn’t that funny? Isn’t it strange? What we put ourselves through to be acceptable. I used to grit my teeth and bear it when an ambulance passed at close range, too. I had never seen anyone in New York City plug their ears when an ambulance or fire truck would roar past; it must be really uncool to do so. So I didn’t, and would grimace and hurt when that would happen.
You know what’s cool? Since I’ve begun covering my ears for a train or an ambulance, I’ve seen more people doing it. I’ll detect a fire truck down State St., for example, and as it comes closer and goes by, I’ll have my ears protected. I’ll look around and often see a couple other people follow suit. Maybe I just never noticed them before, but I don’t think so. I think sometimes one person has to say, “I’m not cool and I don’t care” and then other people say, “Okay, me too.”
This is the third part of the blog triptych about the birth of Julia. If you’ve just joined us, it started here (lions) and then went here (goo.) And now, like the tiny superstar herself, we’re here.
When she came out for real-for real, I couldn’t believe my eyes. She had a face. A face! Not a squinchy sorta-face, but a face-face with a nose and lips. She had a bluish cast and was balled up tight, but there wasn’t a sac around her or so much blood I couldn’t discern anything; I could discern everything, and it shocked me. (I can see every person who grew up on a dairy farm shaking their heads in wonder, doubting, even, that I took high school biology.) That she was so ready to go, so on her way to learning to read and write was revelatory.
Once she was totally free and could be given to Heather for those first, all-important, long moments with Mom, Julia was whisked to the salamander. I tiptoed over after Sam had had time over there and I took a look. Oh, my, I thought. That’s a really new person.
When I put the back of my index finger against her head for the smallest, gentlest stroke, I marveled at how soft she was: soft hair, soft skin, soft head. (I didn’t poke at her to find out that last part, by the way; I just happen to know that babies’ heads are soft when they first come out. They have to be to get out of, you know.) Julia weighed in at seven pounds, eight ounces. She has all her fingers and toes. She didn’t cry a lot but I can confirm she has a good set of pipes. The baby has lots of hair, too; it looked dark at first but as it dried we could see that she has gorgeous, natural highlights…in red. Total heartbreaker.
After Heather was all stitched up and she and Sam were enjoying that internal endorphin cocktail that nature orders up in such situations, I took my leave. If I was concerned about being in the way before or during the birth, I was on high alert afterward; I seemed to remember something about bonding pheromones and attachment-forming neuron pathways being forged in the first moments of life and I wasn’t going to get in the way of any of those, that’s for sure. I hugged and kissed Sam and Heather and gave Baby Julia another touch on the head and slipped out.
When I went out the doors of the hospital, I was thrust, Julia-like, into the bright, bright world outside. I walked south on Michigan Avenue toward home. What I haven’t mentioned is that I was terrifically hungover that morning. All my pain went away when the call came from Sam and over the hours I had been with them I hadn’t felt a thing. But now, with the sun out and the summer crowds crowding the sidewalk, I remembered how badly I needed water and sleep. Julia is now four days old and she needs milk and sleep. We have a lot in common, baby.
Atención: If you’re squeamish, this post will be tough. Also, I intend to uncharacteristically employ a curse word today as it’s the appropriate word to use in the context.
There were three words that kept going through my mind on Saturday morning during the birth of Julia: “It’s just bodies.” I found myself entirely unshaken by the display of skin and a variety of fluids that came and went during Heather’s delivery. In order to explore why that was, I have to take you back a few years.
When I had my colon and a few other choice organs removed in in 2008, I was given an ileostomy, which means a piece of my small intestine was pulled out through a hole in my abdomen and that’s how I pooped. They tucked it back in after about a year, but then I crashed and burned again and had a second ostomy. All in, I was an ostomate for about three years.**
An ileostomy looks like a red cherry tomato a couple inches to the right or left of your belly button, depending on where they pulled out that piece of entrail. It’s got the texture of a canned red pepper: slick, shiny, and bright red. Now, because it’s your large intestine that sucks the liquid from your food and drink, if you don’t have one, your stool is loose. Always. It’s loose when you have an ileostomy and it will remain that way for the rest of your life. (You’re welcome.) This means your little cherry tomato ileostomy spits shit and liquid into a bag. You have no control over your cherry tomato; there is no sphincter, only the mouth of the thing, so you are incontinent. The really wild part is because of the peristaltic waves, when your cherry tomato is active, it undulates ever so slightly and surges forward when it — well, it looks like it’s vomiting. But wait, some of you are wondering, how could did I see it do that if it was doing that into a bag? When I took a shower, of course, or when I was changing my bag and it decided to go for it. Or when I had an accident. Which happened many times.
Still with me? You’re doing great.
On Saturday morning, witnessing my friend on the bed, every humour she had arriving in full color and her most intimate body parts on display, I became aware of my nonplussed-ness. It was mostly that way because it was childbirth and modesty is on no one’s mind in that situation, most of all Mama’s. But I realized it was also my past experiences with muck, blood, and surgery that made it only interesting, not gross or immodest in the slightest. (The really great thing is that there was no pus involved in the list of Heather’s goo and that’s great. I know from pus — and that is possibly the strangest group of words I’ve ever put together.)
My eyes did get a little wider when I saw them attach to the table the conical plastic bag to catch the placenta and the rest of the afterbirth. As they were stitching up Heather and weighing Julia in the bun warmer, as Sam was wearing one of the most beautiful faces I’ve ever seen, I tiptoed over to the bucket with the placenta in it. I didn’t look too close, though; I have my limits.
It’s just bodies. We all have a body. We fart and pee. We eat and grow hair. We have hard calcium coming out of our fingers and toes, weird, hard pegs of tooth in a moving jaw. We have a brain stem and genitals. We have a heart. The sum total of these parts — some of us have more parts than others, some less, all in different stages of ability and function and size — make us human.
It’s just bodies. Just mortal, just cosmic, just incredible. Tomorrow: Julia herself.
**The same warning above most definitely applies to this post and this one that give you the full, bleak story of all that if you’re interested. I recommend setting aside your snack.)
Yesterday, around one o’clock in the afternoon, after a standard-issue (more on that in a moment) labor and delivery, dear, healthy Julia Diane was born to Heather and Sam and to all of us, really; as members of the human race, we can all be happy today that Julia is here.
When Heather asked me to be her second-in-command on the big day, I squeaked. I had no idea what it really meant, though. I had no idea that she was giving me such a gift. In fact, I feel a little embarrassed I didn’t freak out and burst into tears and fawn and do a backflip when she asked me; if I knew then what I know now, I would’ve.
I could fill a book with my impressions from yesterday, there’s so much. This post will be in at least three parts; I like to be sensitive to your time and I also need a shower.
I want to begin by telling you that when I was summoned to the hospital, I brought a book, a snack, and an almost neurotic sense of propriety. I was there to do Heather wanted/needed, but I figured I’d leave the room when things were gettin’ real-real. I had zero intention of being awkwardly there as two people welcome their child into the world; if there ever was a moment not about me, that would be it. Heather did want me there, though, to be present for both of them for the duration — and I think I hit the right note. I sat at the side, helped with ice chips, helped with some washcloths, did some light back patting and arm squeezing. None of the doctors ever glared at me and I’m 100% sure the glasses of water I got Sam and Heather after the whole thing was over were the best glasses of water they have ever had in their life. All I’m saying is that I could possibly do this professionally.
Heather is a strong, brave, beautiful woman. But I had never seen her look like a lion until yesterday. It happened when the baby’s head crowned and pushing had to get really, really intense. With her carnal, ancient task before her, my friend was so powerful and gorgeous, she looked like the strongest animal in the kingdom, doing the bravest thing that can be — must be — done. She was ferocious, focused, and utterly natural. It helped that her loose ponytail was all messed up and her hair was all over the place; Heather’s got awesome red curly hair and it’s generally mane-like, anyway.
But then, just after she’d been a lion, my friend would sink back into the bed in between those major contractions and whimper. She wasn’t crying; these were plaintive sounds of pain and exhaustion. All the strength she had for each round of pushing seemed to entirely vanish when she stopped; then, impossibly, she would find new strength and go again. I thought of the Rudyard Kipling poem, “The Female of the Species Is More Deadly Than The Male.” The poem examines why women will always be more lethal than men because we are the ones who give birth. Look at this:
But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same; And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail, The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.
She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast May not deal in doubt or pity—must not swerve for fact or jest. These be purely male diversions—not in these her honour dwells— She the Other Law we live by, is that Law and nothing else.
Heather did her duty to the generations, if you will, and in witnessing it, I understood Kipling’s poem far better — and I’ve known the whole thing by heart for a long time. As I saw a woman endure childbirth, as I watched “She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast” groan and whimper and gasp, I was deeply moved. I’m just not around this stuff very much. The last time I saw a brand new creature was when one of our cats had kittens. I was six.
Well, the announcement of a Canadian adventure was released and what do you know? The effervescent and shamefully gifted members of Montreal’s Loose Threads Quilt Guild contacted me about coming by to give a lecture when I’m in town. It’s like a pop-up shop for quilters — with a lecture!
And so, my Kute Kanadian Kwilting friends, if you’re in the area, you’re invited. The event will be the evening of March 2nd in the scenic village of St. Luc. The exact time and venue are being worked out, but the girls are on it. There will be an admission fee; again, check with the gals at the guild or watch my Facebook page for more details.
I know I have not given you a ton of information, but this is all I know for now. Mark the date if you’d like to hang out, and sit tight for details. I have an email address for the events coordinator who contacted me and I thought about posting that here, but I haven’t asked for permission and seeing as we don’t have an actual contract yet, I’d better not do that. I might find myself swiftly uninvited to give a lecture in Montreal. Again: if you want to join, just mark the calendar and I will update with info as soon as I can.
March 2nd is Claus’s birthday. He said, “It appears I spend my birthday among quilters.”
I told him he doesn’t know how good he’s got it. When a guild hosts a special evening, cake is de rigeur. Like, there will probably be cakeat the event already. Birthday cake is covered, I told Claus. Everyone in America knows that if you go somewhere on your birthday and there is cake there, that counts as birthday cake.
“Cake,” I said to Claus, with a slow nod of my head. “You’ll see.”
My mom is in town for the lighting of the first (or “beta”) test of The Wabash Lights. We had plans to meet at the new Maggie Daley Park Ice Skating Ribbon. Mom and I love to skate; we both love it enough and are good enough to have our own skates. Stand in line for rentals? Not these girls. We just lace up and go.
Mom lost her phone, though (first time in her life), so she had to deal with that this afternoon. The last time we communicated was earlier in the day via email; as of then, the plan stood. So I went to the Ribbon at the appointed time, but no Mom. I couldn’t call her. She couldn’t call me. So I skated by myself until she showed up. For an hour, with no headphones, no pal to chat with, I skated round and round that magnificent ribbon. It’s less of a “view” you get than a “movie” you get on that thing. You get a moving picture and you’re the thing moving and the air is crisp as can be. The city of Chicago is the sky below the sky and the endless blue of Lake Michigan rounds out the whole world. They did a really, really good job with this thing.
I love this city so much. The Ribbon is one more reason to be a jerk about how much better this city is than any other city now or ever. But what I really want to talk about is that baby.
There is good in the world. Because nothing could be cuter or more wonderful than this baby. Strapped tight into its little snuggly, winging around on its dad’s back as he deftly — and carefully, I assure you — maneuvered the Ribbon, this baby is everything. I have other pictures. I tried so hard to not be weird, but I had to take pictures of this baby. This is the best one I got, I think. I’m on Instagram, so follow me for more of the Perfect Ribbon Baby images that I cannot stop looking at. You will not be disappointed.
I’m in Door County and will stay for about a week. There are many fun things to see and do up here. The last time I was at our family’s lake house there was a wedding taking place. There are no weddings going on right now because a) no one is engaged and b) hypothermia is real.
Washington Island is cold this time of year. Right now it’s five degrees outside. The Island has a year-round population of 660, which means 660 people don’t think a winter this cold and snowy is that big of a deal, though I think the number is misleading: there have to be some folks who take off for Daytona Beach for, say, the months of January and February. They’d still count as year-round, probably.
But cold and the ice make beautiful air and beautiful pictures, and that I’m here at all proves I like that air and those pictures a lot. When a bright sun shines off a subzero Lake Michigan and you’re on the puffy couch, with tea, counting swans, you don’t mind that you have to wear two coats later and pull on actual long underwear if you want to go on a walk.
Today, I fell through the ice on the lake and that was not great. When I say I “fell through the ice,” I mean that I fell through the ice. And when I say I fell through the ice, I meant that I took one step, then another step, then fell through the ice. I was not submerged. But I went down and I felt water. I was walking on the table rocks at the shore and, like an idiot, pranced over to look at a plant completely encased in ice that looked like glass and did not picture in my mind what the ground is like when it is not covered in ice, itself: big rocks with lots of spaces between them. In the summer, water is flowing around these rocks. Ergo, in winter, ice around the rocks. Ice that will surely be varying levels of thickness.
I’m okay. No blood, just sputtering. And don’t worry, I wasn’t alone. Claus was with me. When he heard the crash-splash, he ran to make sure I was okay but he didn’t come too far out on the ice. He could see I was going to make it. And I did; I made it back into the house and then I made minestrone and everything was fine.