Category Archives: Midwifery

By Flashlight

Have you ever tried to find something by flashlight?  Something small, easily mistakable, in a crowded, unfamiliar room?

Joni Mitchell says you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, a sentiment that applies perfectly to electric lighting in many lives.  One moment your life is normal, you aren’t even thinking about the light you’re using to see, and the next moment, you are plunged into darkness.  It takes a bit of mental adjustment before you even know why everything has suddenly disappeared– of course, the lights.  The lights must have gone out.  The power must be out.

A few weeks ago, the whole city lost power during an ice storm.  The outage lasted less than three minutes, but across the city people were momentarily taken by surprise and forced to face their privilege.  Grocery store employees were stuck on stepladders, children scrambled to find their flashlights,  families made noises of outrage at the interruption in board games and TV shows, drivers scrambled to adjust to the lack of streetlights and traffic control lights, and I froze stupidly in the middle of mixing cookie dough, my fingers sticky with butter and molasses, the floor under me awash with a detritus of playthings waiting to stub my blind and stumbling toes.

Númenor and Ithilien, hoopy froods that they are, found their flashlights quickly and were happily using them in less than 30 seconds, the crazed, ricocheting islands of light adding to the choas in my path as I tried to feel my way to the bathroom cupboard to retrieve the candles and LED taplights.  Ithilien, normally afraid of the dark, was reveling in the novelty of its presence here, in his waking hours, unintended and uninvited.  Númenor was full of questions: Are the lights broken? Would we need to replace the lightbulbs?  Does the house need new batteries?  Why did the numbers on the stove timer disappear?

Power was restored just as I approached the bathroom door, which was a relief because I didn’t have to muck anything up with my doughy hands waste any cookie dough.  I took a moment to silently thank the people in charge of managing this utility I take so much for granted, and to reflect on the merits of the fish-killing, native-heritage-site-destroying Bonneville Dam in the wake of an extremely visceral reminder of what it does for me.

Lately I’ve been struggling with finding enough perfection within the lawlessness and tumult of real life to sustain me, or at least the parts of myself that are fed by kairos moments and the illusion of control.  I’ve been stumbling in the dark, stepping on a clearly unreasonable number of plastic lizards, using a little circle of light I claim illuminates my task when all it seems to do is make the darkness thicker and fill it with menacing shadows.

My friend Beth wrote recently about being a little underwater in her own head and life, and I wrote back to tell her that I’m there, too.  Waiting for dawn, knowing (but at the same time having trouble believing) that it is coming.

I always tell people that the hardest part of pregnancy and birth is humbling your conscious mind and surrendering the illusion of control over your life and your body.  It’s a frightening thing to contemplate, that regardless of how we may treat them, our bodies are more than just a physical extension of our conscious minds.  It’s terrifying to know that sometimes the body won’t or can’t, and infuriating to find that sometimes the body trusts its own counsel over yours.

All this is an exceedingly roundabout way of saying:  I’m still here, and I’m still pregnant.  Much more pregnant than I ever thought I would be, in fact.

And I’m rummaging though what, for lack of a better term, we will have to refer to as my soul, looking for faith by flashlight, and not having much success finding it.

The flashlight casts shadows that have the illusion of movement and catch my peripheral vision, dragging me off-task.  It will show me everything in this space, but not without my searching every shelf and every drawer deliberately and thoroughly.  I can’t quickly glance over everything, as I could with overhead lighting, and focus my search on the likely vicinity.  I have to comb over the whole space, taking care to look behind and under, and stubbing my toes in the meantime.

And faith is a small, slippery, translucent thing, with no strong color or definite shape.

In short, it’s a bitch to find and to hang onto.

But I’m looking nonetheless, because I need it and nothing else will do.

With just a tiny amount of faith in my body, I will be content to wait until the time is right.

With just a tiny amount of faith in myself and my skills, I will be my own ultimate birth attendant.

With just a tiny amount of faith in this baby, I will be able to focus on what I can assess and control directly to help everything come out right.

With just a tiny amount of faith in my family, I will be able to ask for and receive help when I need it.

And I know that my faith is in here somewhere.  I believe that I will find it.

And for now, as I stumble around in the dark with my flashlight, faith that I will have faith is enough.

WIP Wednesday

my project bag sitting in the library with my knitting peeking out of the topstart date: 25 May 2015
time elapsed: 4 months, 1 week, 5 days
completeness: 90%

Stitch by stitch, and row by row, the yarn becomes a blanket.  That’s the way of things: imperceptibly tiny increments of change, overwhelming progress with time.

what it looks like when I take the blanket i'm knitting out of my work bag-- a big floppy mess of knitting

That’s how rivers carve canyons.

That’s how the wind shapes the dunes.

That’s how snow makes the world white and pure.

That’s how coral makes reefs.

That’s how rain quenches the earth.

That’s how babies grow.

That’s how bodies heal.

That’s how lives are lived.

It’s the sudden shifts, the thunderclaps, that make headlines.  Births, deaths, accidents, injuries, fires, earthquakes, eruptions– those things are easy to see, shocking in their suddenness, and widely discussed.

But what matters isn’t the 3.4 seconds of shaking or the height of the ash plume.

What matters, even in a cataclysm, is the incremental work.

How many mineral atoms must be set into their lattice to mend the broken bone?  How many cell divisions will it take to grow new skin over the scratch?  How many rivets are needed to hold the building together?  How many drops of water fill the basin?  How many snowflakes make an avalanche?  How many fetal hiccups will train the muscles to take that first breath?


This blanket, when it is finished, will contain some 50,000 stitches.  Including going back to fix mistakes and miscellaneous shaping, the total work going into it probably will amount to closer to 60,000 stitches.

Day by day, the baby who will someday use this blanket prepares for hits birth.  Stitch by stitch, I work the blanket to meet hit.


I can see the end of this period of waiting looming ahead in the distance.  I don’t know exactly when it will come, but I know that the moment of transition will be marked more in the course of history than all the slow, incremental work that built up to it.

But I will always remember, in my heart and in my hands, the process leading up to the change, and the slow, steady work that went into making the magical moment.

Materials notes for this project are available here.  The edging (darker brown) is Cascade Ecological Wool in Ebony.



“Mommy, is you going to snuggle us’s new baby?”

Ithilien is always insistent about having real and prompt answers to his questions, so of course I say yes.  But he has more to say:

“Babies need thems mommies to snuggle them and give them milk or they die.”

Oversimplified, but true enough for mammals.  I tell Ithilien about the wonders of lactation– breast milk is full of antibodies, and even stem cells, and babies get everything they need from it.  We talk about how fragile babies are when they are still growing inside of somebody else, how the directions for building them that they carry inside their cells can be wrong or broken or missing steps, how teeny-tiny and tenuous that new life really is.

And every time Ithilien wants to talk about it, I have to face the hard realities that expectant parents try to ignore: that miscarriage is common, that stillbirth happens, that prematurity is surmountable but damaging, that sometimes there’s no good reason for a child to die or a pregnancy to end but it happens anyway.

I try to take a moment to really feel the powerlessness and the fear during these conversations, no matter how strongly I want to deny it and how harshly I want to reject the possibility that the child I carry now could come to harm.

Because I know that it’s possible.  I have walked that road before, and as distant as its horrors may seem when I’m ankle-deep in splashed-out bathwater and contemplating walls that have been fingerpainted with tomato sauce, I will never be able to forget.

So, as I knit and sew and write and organize in preparation for this new baby, I do so with the understanding that hit might never wear these tiny clothes or be wrapped in this beautiful blanket.  I watch the clean, pure wood emerging under Robert’s knife, and I envision the crib he’s building, and then I picture packing the crib away, still unused, and being too worn out by my grief to even summon tears.

Sometimes I have to put an overwhelming amount of effort into remembering that the most likely thing that will happen is that I will give birth to a living and healthy tiny human this winter.  I reassure myself daily that pregnancy loss after this point is extremely rare, that stillbirth and perinatal death and neonatal death are all unlikely, that infant death is not commonplace in my society.  I try to believe, to truly expect.

It’s not easy to have hope when you have known utter despair.

But I am trying.  Some days it feels like I’m tricking myself into thinking we’ll have a new baby, artlessly attempting to hide the inevitability of my bereavement.  Some days it feels like part of me does expect a new baby, and the rest of me holds that naive part in simultaneous awe and contempt.  And some days, some precious days, some few precious days, I really feel myself to be an expectant mother.

Those are the good days.  Days when the baby is kicking and rolling and generally making hits presence felt, and I’m just sick enough to believe that I’m pregnant without being miserable, and Númenor and Ithilien say sweet things about their plans for being big siblings and ask to put their heads on my belly to talk to the baby.

“Hi, baby.”  That’s how Númenor starts all of these conversations, which can, depending on his mood, be quite long and wide-ranging.

“I love dyu, baby.”  That’s all Ithilien ever seems moved to say.

And that’s perfect.

Because, thankfully, babies don’t expect you to have all your shit figured out and your baggage neatly unpacked through years of psychoanalysis and personal growth.  They aren’t born demanding quarterly statements for your investment account or even the car keys, although I understand that does come up eventually.  They don’t care about whether you finished all the projects on your nesting list or why you’re moved to tears to see their tiny squinting faces.

They don’t need anything but love.

And snuggling.

And milk.

And those are things I am totally comfortable holding in expectation.

Feminist Hero of the Week

Stacy Ehrisman-Mickle is an attorney in Georgia who filed a motion to change a court date because the original court appearance was scheduled to occur during her maternity leave.

The judge hearing the case refused to change the date, even though courts routinely postpone hearings to accommodate litigators’ vacation plans.

Stacy did not have any childcare available for her four-week-old baby the day she was required to appear in court to represent her clients.  She was given only a few days notice, despite having filed the motion to change the date nearly a month in advance.

She came in, to do her job, to help her clients with their immigration case, wearing the baby in what looks like a front SSC compatible with hands-free breastfeeding.  When the baby wasn’t totally silent over the course of the hearing (because BABIES), the judge interrupted the proceedings to publicly scold Stacy, both for her unprofessionalism in bringing her child to work AND FOR ENDANGERING THE HEALTH OF HER CHILD by exposing the baby to potential contagion.

Yep.  You read that right.

This guy refused to accommodate Stacy’s maternity leave and then, when she came in and honored her commitments to her clients while she was supposed to be home with her newborn, he publicly called her a bad lawyer AND a bad mother.

Stacy has filed a complaint.  The judge has declined to comment.

Stacy kicks ass.  And I hope she knows it.

Nobody should have to do what she did– and nobody is obligated to; she could have just as validly resigned from the case– but it was an act of courage.  Furthermore, it was an act of dedication both to her job and to her child.  Stacy demonstrated professionalism and good mothering at the same time.

Keep on rocking, Stacy.





I’ve been re-watching Ally McBeal lately.  I could give some bullshit reason for why– something about posing interesting questions about the role of feminism post-1995 or providing a positive and evolving model for the distinction of “eccentricity” from “mental illness”– but the simple truth is that it makes me laugh.

I like absurdity.  I like character-driven comedy.  I like quips and one-liners.  I like relationship angst.

But this little exchange blindsided me with its brilliance:


I say to people “Informed consent is your right– insist on it!” and they reply “But I trust my doctor.  My doctor wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t necessary for my health or the health of my baby.”

Cue laugh track.

If allopathic doctors were the trustworthy and stalwart agents of shining humanitarianism society paints them to be, they would insist that patients do their own research, they would encourage patients to seek second (and third!) opinions, and they would champion informed consent.

Trust is no substitute for consent.  Naïveté certainly isn’t.

Cunt Reclaimed

I’m reclaiming the word “cunt“.

Yes, like in the Vagina Monologues.

Because it’s better than “vagina”.

We can discard out of hand the word pudenda, which literally means “things to be ashamed of”.  “Sex” is too vague, now that it’s the most common term for sexual intercourse and also for the biological concept of reproduction by more than one organism.  “Genitals” is borderline, but between the fact that I don’t identify with having more than one and the implied reproductive imperative, it’s not the best choice.

Vagina, in addition to being an awkward-sounding word that technically only applies to the vaginal canal and not to any other part of the body (like the vulva or the perineum), is a misogynist term.  It’s not a “sheath”; my parts are mine, and my so-called vagina is a thing unto itself, already complete without having to make reference to or use of anything else.  No part of my body is an accessory to the penetrative phallus.

Cunt, a dark and secretive word, a word with authority and power, is a word so old nobody knows what it means or where it came from.  It signifies the whole thing, potentially even the whole region, and has a rich undertone of mystery.  The Patriarchy is so afraid of the term that it’s been considered obscene ever since James Stuart succeeded Golden Bess.  Is it a coincidence that “cunt” was euphemized away into “the monosyllable” right around the same time that the last matriarchal societies in western Europe came under control of the patriarchal imperial powers?  Maybe.  But, maybe not.


Say it.