Tag Archives: Pregnancy

gone to the printers

I think this might be like arriving at base camp at the foot of Everest

I know its an awful lot like being 37 weeks pregnant.

maybe you dreamed of it

surely you worked for it

but as the time nears

you realize, increasingly

that you have absolutely no idea

what you’ve gotten yourself into

 

and the dark clouds form and disperse

as you reckon the size of the leap

you have made

peering at the place you think you’re going to land

readying the things you think you’ll need

asking for mentors, safety nets

realizing that when you need financial security more than ever you are sloughing it off

to pit yourself against the challenge

of doing this thing

and doing it well

aprons and layers falling

revealing the dream vulnerable to the raw air:

 

I,

Writer

terrified, quaking, tired and certain

there is no perfect draft, there is no truly ready time

the story is past due

 

and gone to the printers.

finally finished, and only just begun.

Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West.  November 2014

 

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birthplaces

We’ve moved into “anytime now” mode.  I regard every kick, every cramp, every shift the baby undertakes with new fascination, and I nap as if I’m making a career out of it.  Ryan’s been reading bedtime stories to my belly, and the dog never strays more than a few feet from my side.  It’s a dear time, quiet and unhurried. Hard to believe one can be pregnant for forty weeks; harder still to believe its possible to feel this good at the finish line.

A few weeks ago,  our birth class instructor asked us to do birth art.   Despite our mutual enthusiasm for art, we felt a little odd about doing art about birth after a guided visualization sitting on the floor in a tiny room crowded with 14 other people.  I had trouble focusing on an “image of birth,” and midway through the instructor’s visualization,  I realized I’d spiralled off into a reverie about our trip to India last summer, and was contentedly imagining sunrise over the Ganges, and mornings drinking black tea in our little room in the Himalayan foothills.  When the birth class instructor told us to pick up our art supplies and render our images, I was thinking about mist and blue water, and green leaves and bamboo silhouettes in the fog.

“What are we supposed to be drawing?” Ryan whispered in my ear.  I grinned at him.  “Dunno, really. Our concepts of birth?”

I figured the soft colors floating around in my head were as good a thing to draw as any, so i peeled the wrapper off a blue pastel and swirled the entire length of the crayon in concentric circles. Realized that in thinking about water and mist in India, I’d begun to picture our birth tub in my head, and the place its going to be set up in our living room when I go into labor.  Realized that in thinking about greens, and plants in mist, I might also be thinking about the maple in full leaf right outside our livingroom window, and how I would perhaps be able to see it from the birth tub.  Started playing with the green pastels.

Looked over to see Ryan sketching out a square pool of water and a tree, and realized I knew exactly what he was drawing. Realized, somewhat startled, that we were in fact, drawing the same thing.  Sort of.

Birthplaces.

I was drawing my conception of a tranquil birth space, one situated in our cosy little house with a pool of water and windows looking into the trees.  Ryan was drawing a similarly tranquil birth space, also featuring a pool of water and plenty of trees,  one also rooted in memories of our travels in India last summer.  His was a place where a birth had already occurred : a sacred and well-marked spot outside of the tiny village of Lumbini, Nepal, where a woman named Maya Devi gave birth to a son she named Siddhartha, sometime around 500 BCE.  Siddhartha would become known as the historical Buddha, and thousands upon thousands of pilgrims would venture to the site of his birth in the centuries that followed.

ruins of ancient monastaries on the site of Siddhartha's birth

The site of the birth, partially excavated, is protected from the elements by a simple roof and unadorned walls, and a wooden boardwalk allows pilgrims to circambulate the site in meditation.  We visited Lumbini in the monsoon, and the air inside the birth-site smelled of damp and dust.  We stood at the site, staring up at a carving of the birth scene, installed on the site many years later by a Buddhist emperor paying tribute.  Maya Devi labored standing up, supporting herself from a tree branch, with her attendants close by.  In the carving of the birth scene, the infant is shown just before the mother, seated on a lotus blossom.     I stared up at the carving of the laboring woman, and noticed that so many pilgrims had touched their hands to the stone in reverence, her face had been worn off, as had the face of the infant Buddha.  They were a mother and her son, not royalty or spiritual leader incarnate.  The birth that happened here was, for all intents and purposes, as ordinary as it was sacred, a quality I felt certain the Buddha would underscore were he here to converse on the matter.

I wandered back outside to stand in front of the pool, built to commemorate the pond in the woods the mother had bathed in after giving birth.  The water was still, disturbed only by the occasional raindrop and the slow-moving ripples of turtles swimming beneath the surface.  A giant bodhi tree branched out over the pool, grown from a cutting of the tree in Bodh Gaya under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. A little girl and her father were tending the shrine under the tree, and offering incense to the pilgrims in exchange for donations.

We spent three days in Lumbini.  In the calm and quiet of that little village, and hours upon hours spent wandering the massive peace park dedicated to the Buddha’s birthplace, we had conversations about our visions and fears and hopes around becoming parents together.  We shared delicious food in a restaurant in which we were the only customers at nearly every meal.  We listened to the rain, and bought incense and umbrellas from the tiny shops on the street.  By the time we left, we had decided we were ready to bring a child into the world.

When I saw Ryan drawing the pool at Lumbini, our time there, and the significance of it, came flooding back to me in a wave.  The next day I had prints made of the tree and the pool, and I hung them around our house so we could be reminded of that tranquil place as we bring our son into the world.

Dove back into my India journals to re-experience the memories more vividly… excerpts below for anyone who wants a little vicarious time abroad.

Boarded a train in Varanasi to Gorakhpur, experiencing our first taste of “sleeper class.”  no AC here, and close quarters with other passengers after the busy stops.  We sit as still as we can, sweating and watching an exquisite sunset unroll across the countryside,  glowing on dozens of kids laughing and throwing their weight into makeshift swings hung from trees with bicycle tires tied together…

6 long hours later, we pull into Gorakhpur… get a room for the night, then hire a taxi to take us to the India-Nepal border in the morning.  Walk across the border in the rain, our first taste of monsoon.  its a dry year, we’ve been told… we experienced no rain up till now in the other places we have been.  It is creating great pressure across the countryside, as farmers cannot plant their rice until there is adequate water.

We get our visas in order and our passports stamped, and hire another taxi to take us the rest of the way to Lumbini, the village on the site where the historical Buddha, Siddhartha, was born.  The countryside is rich, verdant green, and the rain is pretty much constant.  Our taxi driver leans out the window every now and then to wipe the rain from the windshield with a rag, as the wipers are apparently not in working order.  Mango trees, more kids on makeshift swings, tiny brick abodes with bright laundry dripping in the rain and each home with a water buffalo tied in the yard eating from the center of an old tire.  Around 11 we arrive in Lumbini, a tiny village with only one main street, and a quiet one at that, more traffic from herds of goats and cows and water buffalo than anything with an engine.

take a tiny, dear room on a 3rd floor balcony, looking out over the rice paddies.  discover, as the hours pass, that monsoon has arrived in this part of southern Nepal in earnest.  it rains at all times of the day here, sometimes slow and steady, sometimes hard and fast… riotous birdsong all the time, and the power is out as often as it is on.  its cooler here than it was in India, which we’re grateful for, but the humidity is still very high.  If we get wet in the rain, our clothing does not dry, and we realize we’re going to have to buy umbrellas, as we’ve only got a few sets of clothes each.

In the late afternoon, we rent bicycles from our hostel and pedal down the short road and through the gates of the international peace park built around the site of Buddha’s birthplace.  Its late day and we simply want to get a feel for the place, so we pedal down the narrow dirt roads, through tall grasses and past still, quiet ponds and slow moving rivers.  There are beautiful monasteries from a dozen countries set back in the trees as we go, and giant white cranes flap slowly overhead every now and then, on the wing from the crane sanctuary at the south end of the park.  We are pedalling along a brick path lining a long pond when the monsoon begins again in earnest…

we take shelter for a while under a thatched hut and listen to the downpour, watch it soaking into the dirt road and running down the tall stalks of grass, tiny beads sliding along the fibers of the thatched roof, piling onto each other until their weight becomes too much and they carry themselves downward to splash up again from the puddles below…

calm suffuses this place, and we drink it in.  The park alone would be something indeed, but to know the story that is rooted here, the birthplace, literally, of a spiritual tradition dating back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ… a tradition rooted in contemplation, in this very landscape.  There is meaning in the damp air and the muddied earth that settles into your bones and asks for your heart to consider it.

Realizing the monsoon isn’t letting up, we venture out from under the roof into the torrent and climb onto our bikes… i pocket my glasses, useless in this sort of rain, and the landscape’s edges blur into softness, green on brick on greysky. we pedal through the mud and the puddles, laughing and grinning like fools… soaked through, and no reason to care, the rain is warm and we’ve got no where to be.

my kind of honeymoon, i holler to Ryan, wiping the sheets of water from my forehead and eyes

he grins back

we splash along the road near the entrance,

locals smile at us and shout namaste as we pass.

In the village, I try to bargain with a woman shopkeeper for a set of black umbrellas.  She doesn’t speak much english, and calls her husband out to help translate.  Since my negotiations appear to be failing, I decide to attempt the “walkaway,” and tell them I don’t think I should spend so much, and am going to ask my husband.  Her husband begins to laugh. “She never asks me what I think.  This is her business.”  I grin back, impressed by her chutzpah, and pay full price for the umbrellas.

That night, we take cool bucket showers in our tiled bathroom and then spend the evening reading on our beds before the open windows, watching the endless raindrops soaking into the rice paddies.

The next morning, we walk down muddy paths, rain thudding onto our umbrellas and cascading down around our feet.  White cranes flap overhead, wide-faced water buffalo feed in the tall grass.

As we attempt to visit monasteries, we are turned back by closed gates and flooded paths, but make our way anyway, by walking. Walking, walking.  Two thousand years of pilgrims here, prayers, contemplation in this place.  Even though I hesitate a bit to call myself a pilgrim, I begin to feel it in my body, my subconscious.  Mind softens, quiets.  Feet sting, where blisters are opening under wet sandal straps.  We keep walking.  The rain keeps falling.  Cranes flap overhead.  At the monasteries, we shed our shoes and walk barefoot over smooth marble and stone paths, made slick by sheets of flowing rainwater.  It feels divine on aching feet.  Monks sitting under monastery eves laugh and watch the monsoon.  Others chant softly in the temples.  We find our own sanctuary from the rain, and unwrap the newspaper from a pile of samosas I’d bought earlier from a street vendor, lost in the sound of the unceasing rain.

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Edges

Meeting the ocean at La Push with my Mama, 1981

i was born between the mountains and the sea

i grew to adulthood with both in sight, always

i am accustomed to living twixt coast and jagged peaked landmass

and while both may appear impassable, fixed, solid, impenetrable

i have learned that both are fluid, changeable, dynamic.

there are no solid edges

i am living these days with my bare feet in the changing tide

standing on the edge of the mountains and the saltwater

a mother already, and still just-Sarah, and a mother-not-yet

*    *    *

it has occurred to me that labor is its own landscape

like a river delta between the cascades and the salish sea

necessary for transitioning, sure

but unlike that river delta

populated with tall grasses and perched herons

labor ain’t no space for meditating, for Contemplating All that’s Changing

it is a place of work, of losing oneself and finding oneself again

so that while everything happens slowly, and for a reason, dictated by thousands of years of biology,

the arrival of that new person is still a sudden thing

one day i will be pregnant

the next day he will be here,

laying on the bed between us

and i know we will look at him

then look into each other’s eyes and drown a little

still on land and utterly at sea

*    *    *    *

Ryan and I found each other because of the ocean

I was missing the saltwater, living bound in by two mountain ranges

he was a stranger, who offered to visit the water for me, and toss a rock in

a few months later, 5 years ago this weekend,

we climbed to thirteen thousand feet in the Colorado Rockies

and the wind stood still

and the earth fell away beneath us

we sat on the ridgeline, on the razor edge of the San Juan mountains

on the edge of who we had been before

and we became Us

We spent a year after that with nine-hundred miles between us

living on the raw edge of love across distance

living off the words that we cobbled together to express the landscape we found ourselves in

We committed ourselves to living with this Edge in sight, always

Elderly couple hiking at La Push in the fog. Ryan and I want to be them when we grow up.

*    *    *    *

it is late on a Friday night, and he is due in eight days

i am watching his tiny back arching and curling under my belly button,

gasping quietly as his tiny knees and feet jab outward, forming tents out of my skin,

i am reading an interview with Terry Tempest Williams on the line between beauty and fear,

a concept she once compared to standing on the edge of the land, where Portugal met the sea,

fighting the urge to fall from the cliffs, “not out of despair… out of this sheer desire to merge.”

“I realized what Rilke was talking about: beauty as the beginning of terror.

It’s that realization that we are so small, and yet we are so large in our capacity to relate to the beauty of things.

So, again, that paradox. My life meant so little at that moment.

It was just much more important to be part of the sea.”


*    *    *    *

With Ma at La Push, 29 years after she took me there for the first time. 8 months pregnant with Callum.

I spent the day with my mother today,

she came to the midwife, and heard his heartbeat

we ate lunch, and saw an exhibit of Japanese woodblock prints

we noticed the way the lines of the mountains rested against the lines of the skies against the lines of the oceans

at home she helped me get the last of my planting done

so that i could rest easy and take comfort in our homespace in these final days before the babe arrives

we drank tea, and she showed me the journal she kept in the weeks before and after I was born

29 years ago tonight she went into labor to bring me into the world.

tonight she read two books to her grandson, who was awake and restless under my skin

and we said goodbye, knowing that there is a good chance that when we see each other next,

she will be meeting her grandson

and we will all be standing together in the changing tide

on the edge of all that has been

and all that has become

*    *    *    *

So on this, the 29th anniversary of the night my mother went into labor to bring me into the world

on this, the 29th anniversary of my father’s  journey into fatherhood

Happy Father's Day, Poppa-san...

on this weekend, the fifth anniversary of my commitment to Ryan

and the first anniversary of our public commitment, in the eyes of our loved ones

on this, the verge of Ryan’s first father’s day…

on this, the edge between all that has been

and all that begins when this little boy is born

i am sitting here in tears

writing these jumbled words

for each of you

Thank you,

for teaching me Love.

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Postcard to a pregnant friend

(written for Nora)

if i knew where my box of cards was, this would be a postcard, meant to be found in your mailbox after a walk through the sun-speckled greenleafed ruts of your lovely driveway. but, alas, i’ve got no inclination to go digging through the boxes looking for my postcards.

sunny friday in seattle…
i set my trays of vegetable garden starts out on the porch and spent a few hours sitting out in the sun with my shirt hitched up over my belly, reading a magazine Ryan bought me for mother’s day (World Pulse, lovely!) and eating my granola, sipping my 1 small cup coffee indulgence and stocking up on my vitamin D …

trying to get through a read/editorial survey of a book manuscript I’m doing pro bono for a friend.  My freelance career is a parade of unpaid projects lately, but i guess i can hope that somehow, they will all manifest in paid work this fall, with a little more gumption from me and the help and goodwill of the friends to whom i’ve lent my unpaid skills.

the dog is sleeping the day away, unwilling to meet the sunshine, and every now and then i hear her throw her body off the bed or couch and snap her jaws at the big black fly buzzing around the house. she always misses, but its hilarious and endearing and unusual to see her move with such fierce determination, eyes bright and ears cocked… then lapse softly back into dog sleep.

find that in a hundred moments each day, as my movements slow and my motivation for various projects wanes and my attention turns inward, to the movements in that that tiny universe of my stretching belly, that I am thinking about you.

thinking about you in your dear simple house in the clearing to the south, watching the light move across your living room and listening to dear songs and napping on the couch, rolling out dough and watching your little one rippling under your belly, waiting for that Time when the next Big Thing Begins…

a hundred times a day, I tell you, dear girl, my mind is with you,
and in a way i never knew was possible

a way born of sharing this physical-emotional-whatever else journey, watching our bodies change and playing intimate witness to the emergent personhood of these small, as-of-yet un-met humans who’ve lived out their days floating in our cores, sharing this matter-of-fact and also completely mind-stretching experience of waiting for our lives to change beyond measure, and marking the places in ourselves and our relationships we know we must preserve….
i cried last night trying to get to sleep because Ryan’s out of town and we won’t sleep next to each other for a week and lately i can only settle into bed if i’m leaning against him with his hand on the belly… and suddenly I was mourning that our hours together, sleeping uninterupted, only Us in the world, are numbered… but numbered in a sweet way, a sweet way neither of us minds, a way we welcome. maybe it was just hormones needing to vent in tears,  maybe the saltwater balance in my body’s ocean just needed adjusting. who knows.
not sure if i was really sad or just moving with the tide of all this,

i thought of you again
took such immense comfort in knowing you, your calm and your smile and your grace and your similar awe and willingness to meet all this as it comes, without some Master Plan for hygenic scrapbook parenting… to laugh at it and cry with it and share it on those precious days when we find each other’s company and pass the hours in such dear, unhindered conversation, with snacks and trips in and out of doors…
how grateful i am,
how unspeakably grateful,
to know you
and love you
and be doing this together!

i guess this would have been a very crammed postcard.

can’t wait to meet your little one. so soon.

(p.s. thanks for letting me share this. xo.)

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I am picking my battles and looking out for basic goodness.

spend the morning watching rain beading on freshsprung march buds
daffodils are blossoming yellow and damp alongside covert crocuses
they seem more nuanced, as flowers,
when the sky is dim, and grey
more capable of the lesser human emotions

i am picking my battles and looking out for basic goodness

there are asbestos-containing-materials in our new house
and its not shocking, i guess
but i am furious anyway.
Not that a house built in 1930 would have
asbestos ceilings
and asbestos glue under ugly flooring
but furious that anyone was ever fooled into thinking this was a good idea
that the newest laboratory innovation was really going to make life better
and now we’re left to clean it up

midway through the morning it occurs to me:
there’s nothing shocking here.
maybe in getting pissed about the mistakes of previous generations i am missing the point
Everybody wants it cheap, and easy.
Everyone wants to have their cake
and eat it too
my generation is just as willing to overlook the risks
Goodbye Asbestos, hello vinyl siding and polychlorinated biphenyls.
goodbye styrofoam,
hello nalgene bottles with bisphenol-A
goodbye oil hello nuclear power
goodbye coca-cola with cocaine
hello diet coke with aspartame

i am picking my battles and looking out for basic goodness.

there is a wind gust and a raven swoops upward suddenly over the ravine
then turns its head into the invisible force
and strikes out northwest
i am looking forward to years of wandering my own yard
clipping branches from familiar trees
for ikebana
at all seasons

somedays i chide myself for writing much about Ordinary Life
when there are So Many Big Issues playing out in the World
big issues that i care about,
big issues where my voice is relevant to the discussion
and i have something to say
But then I have moments
in which i remember:

This is All there is.

This ordinary moment each of us is living:
right Now,
is all there is.
All those Big Issues are Here, Now.
in our breakfast cereal,
in the set of choices we have before us
Ecology, “Politics,” Gender Issues, Violence, Pollution, Economics, “History”
coffee, dogshit, bills paid, weather, food in the fridge, the water coming out of the tap, the inventory of the kitchen trash, the history my body carries as it walks around the house, the dust in the vents, the microchips in my cell phone, the corporate giants who own my organic feel good toothpaste.

i wander around the yard in a hoodie snapping pictures of spring flowers against the grey sky
the dog refuses to join me,
because of the rain
and stays inside on the couch
with pillows

i make soy hot chocolate on the stove top
put on an ani album from ten years ago
and start packing photo albums and journals
into discarded archival boxes

midway through the afternoon, i hitch my shirt up over my belly
and stare at it, waiting for him to move
I haven’t really been certain yet
if the flutterings are actually him
and not my blood pumping, or my stomach working,
or my ligaments stretching
suddenly,
the skin pops up alongside my bellybutton
and returns to level so quickly i’m not sure i really saw it
so i wait
and there he is again
and again
i watch, entranced, for forty-five minutes
as his limbs surface under my skin like the fins of whales

i am picking my battles
and looking out for basic goodness

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like passengers on Cousteau’s submarine

we peered through the tiny window
like passengers on Cousteau’s deep sea submarine
eyes scanning the unknown for familiar, yet exotic shapes

then you swam out of the darkness
and into the small frame of vision
like some ancient deep sea creature
who has lived its whole existence beyond the reach of the sunlight

we peered at you in awe
you were no obedient specimen,
and did not hold still long to be gawked at
before disappearing again into the nebulous dark

I was aware of my breathing, and Ryan’s.
we waited,

and you reappeared, yawning in the saltwater

we glimpsed your perfectly formed hands
feet
face
beating four-chambered heart

We came all this way
to see you

not fathoms deep in the ocean, true
but fathoms deep in concept.

For years, we contemplated this journey.

Would we be tourists? Taking the voyage purely to satisfy our own curiosity?
Or would this trip make the world a better place, somehow?

Did we really understand what it meant to call you into being?
Did we have the right?
Were we ready to know you?
was there such a thing as the “right time”?
funny how concepts become conceptions.

here you were
floating in front of us
floating underneath my very skin

it meant something so simple
You Exist

it meant something so complex
You Exist

concept no more
but Boy.

And who are we to call you ours?

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afloat in the half-quiet half-dark

Monday morning, the return of Ordinary. Ryan’s first day back at school. I may not get my own winter break, but I did get him, for two weeks worth of moments we don’t usually share. We woke up together on weekdays, and he waited up for me after my closing shifts. I know he is ready to get back to his kids, and I need to get back to my writing, my puzzling over how to make it my Work, as daunting as that is. But this morning, I am right there with all the schoolkids, bitter over the end of the break. I want another morning of blankets on the couch, movies and conversation and shared food.

I put on some mellow gal-with-guitar folk music from Andrea, and load the dishwasher. It clunks and hums its way through the cycles. Water beads on the bare branches in the yard, and the dog stands outside in the rain and whines for reasons I cannot discern. Put water in a saucepan and measure out a cup of grits, set them to boiling. Crawl under the blanket we last occupied together and read Sherman Alexie while the grits thicken in the pot. Projects are waiting for me after breakfast and before my dinner shift, but in the meantime all I want to do is lose myself in story.

I eat grits with soybutter and succanat and soymilk and think about reading out loud, but the baby’s inner ears are still forming and I don’t think it can make out words. It makes sense that it can feel my emotions though, maybe even taste and smell them. This morning, Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven seems like the perfect thing to read to a person who is four inches long and floating in a sea of amniotic fluid, with only the light that manages to filter through my skin and organ walls. I suspect emotion has all sorts of dimensions for this person that I’ve forgotten how to experience. Is sadness a vibration in there? Does storytelling feel like passage over solid ground, or does it come in waves? I think survival and joy might taste like salt. Or does everything taste the same when you’re getting your oxygen and nutrients through the cord? Can you even discern the difference between tasting and being when your entire existence has played out in the same context? What did we think about in those months afloat in the half-quiet half-dark? I try to remember, but if I can, I don’t know how.

I’ve been half-watching for the rain to let up so I can walk to the bank with the dog but Its steady coming down every time I think to look and so I don’t, yet. I look at folklore journals online and try to screw up my courage to submit a piece. Stare at my “freelance editing” website and try to screw up my courage to do something with it. I’m too good at thinking of reasons not too. I wonder what this feels like to the four-inch-long-person. Adrenaline, then quiet, then the bitter taste of doubt? I’d rather these qualities of mine didn’t invade that world, but they most certainly could once it is born. Its good to remember that they might even now.

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