Families belong together

 "Change the world one friend at a time"

I paused in my car to hear the end of a story on All Things Considered with a recording of young children crying at a detention center. I heard the sounds of their trauma, the terror in their cries, the heartbreak and heartrage of their parents and the wild-eyed frantic desperation their mamas felt when their babies were stolen from them. 

I paused again on my walk inside, up the beautiful new path we paid to have built to our door, in the backyard of the home we own, in a city where we feel safe, close to family, with heat and air conditioning and clean water and stability. Where my ethnicity and race and language and education afford me privileges that others are systematically denied.

I stepped inside. My husband and toddler greeted me with their handsome grins and hugs. Clark was having a tough night. He spent much of it crying and whining and tantruming, which is unusual for him. For a fleeting moment I thought, "Here I am, enduring my son's inconsolable cries just like those mothers seeking asylum." What a foolish thought that was. No, this was nothing like what those mamas at the border are facing. Clark was crying because he wanted a pop. He wasn't crying from fear or terror or trauma. He wasn't afraid for his body. He wasn't wondering where his mommy or daddy was. He wasn't crying for human touch that the guardians of the stolen border children aren't allowed to provide. He wanted dessert, that's all. When he eventually calmed down, Chris and I quietly poured ourselves a drink  and the three of us set out for an evening walk around our neighborhood. We weren't afraid that anyone would take Clark from us or that one of us would be arrested or deported. We weren't fearful for the safety of our own bodies, or imagining the bullets or handcuffs or humiliation that might come upon us. We were a young family on a walk, nothing to see here.

How do you reconcile your immense gratitude for your life with your visceral, shared pain of the world? I'm having trouble finding that edge and balance. I still fret over picking out new couches to brighten our living room. I still concern myself with my weight and my skin and my clothes. I'm worried when all Clark eats is cheese and toast and strawberries. I admonish myself for not having planned a family summer vacation sooner because all of the charming Airbnb rentals are booked. Flip that:  I have a home and a living room and money to buy couches and cheese and toast and strawberries and paid vacation time and the luxury to still worry about all of those things. 

I guess what I'm saying is, there is a lot of pain in this world and today I'm haunted by the cries of babies who have been torn apart from their mamas and daddies. I hear the pleas of brave parents who risked everything they had to save their babies, to leave their homeland in search of safety and freedom. 

There is no such thing as other people’s children. We will fight for these kids like we’d fight if they were our kids. Because they are. We will fight for these mothers like we’d fight if they were our sisters. Because they are. If my country was ravaged with violence and my children were in constant danger, I hope I’d have the courage to do whatever it took to get them to safety. I hope that when we got there, we’d be cared for instead of terrorized. And if I were ever separated from my children, I’d hope that some mothers, somewhere out there, would care enough to get them back to me.
— Glennon Doyle, founder of Together Rising

You know what to do. Find an organization you trust who is doing the work to end this crisis and give. Give more than you think you can and please, for the love of progress, don't complain about their overhead expenses or employee salaries. Listen, love & give. If you need a nudge in the right direction, Together Rising has been doing an incredible job researching and connecting with on-the-ground organizations to pass through 100% of the money they raise. You can also donate through ActBlue and have your donation split among several trustworthy orgs. Cup of Jo published a great piece dispelling myths and suggesting ways to help. Families Belong Together is organizing non-violent actions and rallies as well as encouraging support for organizations on the ground. 

It's ok if...

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Real quick, in case you're waiting for permission, I hereby declare that it's ok if:

  • Your baby/toddler doesn't sleep through the night
  • You're not as interested in dropping those last few pounds of baby weight as you thought you'd be by now
  • You breastfeed your 14-month-old 
  • ...but you wish you could wear regular, non-nursing bras again
  • You can't imagine having another baby yet
  • You haven't taken a romantic vacation away with your husband since the baby
  • You don't enforce a strict schedule at home like the internet says you should
  • You are ready for bed by 9pm
  • You are both addicted to and paralyzed by to-do lists
  • You don't daydream of staying home full-time with your baby
  • You spend too much time on Instagram
  • You're worried your blog is going to turn into a mommy blog
  • You are ready to donate 75% of your pre-baby wardrobe
  • You are grateful for a wonderful daycare but your heart still hurts a tiny bit when you drop your baby off in the morning
  • You are happy and tired and grateful but sometimes quite whiny
  • You still try to control everything, even though you can't

And, of course, it's ok if the opposite of these things are true for you. It's all ok, and you're ok and you look nice today even though that dress doesn't fit quite the way it used to but it's hugging those mom curves and there's something kind of nice about that. Grab a cider doughnut and make this week a good one :)

Clark's first year

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I'm a writer. I entered poetry and essay contests in middle school, started my first blog 15 years ago (!) and am ever loyal to my journals. So you can imagine how out of sorts I've felt this first year of motherhood having written only a handful of journal entries and even fewer posts here. Every day I've thought, oh! I need to write this down. I need to remember this. And yet... those words have remained largely unwritten. The joy, the amazement and wonder, the heart full of love and the moments of loneliness of our baby's first year have come and gone. I don't have heartfelt monthly letters to Clark or even notes about when he reached major milestones.

But I do have a wonderful hazy year of memories. I've decided to stop bemoaning the lack of documentation and to be grateful for the natural editing that time has afforded me. I may not have written down every thought or reflection, but now, on my son's first birthday, the important ones remain clear in my heart.

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The early days are a blur. You were born at 12:31pm. We waited until the midwives left to call our parents and tell them about you. That first night we stayed up late even though we were so tired. You fell asleep at the foot of our bed, so we moved our pillows and slept there with you. The next morning we woke up as a family of three. You and I stayed upstairs in bed a lot in the first few days. Your dad would bring up snacks and then at night, he'd shut off the lights and lock up the house and join us. It was so dreamy, so magical. Your first few days here were a rainy reprieve in the middle of a scorching summer. When the sun came out, we'd open up the dining room doors to the yard and let the breeze in. Your dad would play Fleetwood Mac or Cat Stevens and we'd dance around and laugh and think about how very lucky we were. On your second or third day, your dad ran out to get a coffee and you and I were alone together. I put you in your basket and brought you into the bathroom so I could shower. It felt very brave, to do something, anything, with a baby. Our first trip out of the house was to city hall to get you a birth certificate. I was so nervous. I made your dad drive us all and had to bite my lip to keep from crying. How silly! I just couldn't bare the thought of you being out in the real world, outside of our bubble. Afterwards we took you to the park for a picnic. What I remember from the early days was a fridge full of food-- fruit salad, pasta, bagels, baked french toast and everything in between. My heart swelled each time we opened it and found the nourishment we needed. I remember your dad and I laughing so much and looking at you in amazement. It was a dream world and I loved every minute of it. You were such a charming newborn. You slept well at night. We were spoiled!

During a September trip to the co-op for some fancy cheeses, you bewitched and charmed the entire store. You were a sun beam, a bundle of star dust and every person we passed smiled said hello to you. Before we left, a woman declared you would be a great novelist one day and another asked if she could pray for us before putting her hands on your little body and praying for your health and telling you how lucky you were to have me as your mama. I'll admit I was embarrassed but knew that a prayer couldn't hurt.

One rainy Saturday night in October I woke to nurse you. The three of us lay in bed and as you and your dad dozed back off to sleep, I lay awake listening to the rain and watching the tree branches blow, realizing that there was nowhere else in the world I'd rather be. I'll always remember the way that felt.

You came to work with me when you were little and I'd wear you around the office and catch up on budgets and emails and meetings with you tucked right on my chest. I promised myself not to romanticize #babiesatwork but the fog of time has left only the good memories of my worlds colliding, of feeling whole, of de-compartmentalizing and embracing my overlapping role as mother and as a leader.

There was the Friday night when your dad was at work so I settled in to watch a movie. You curled up on me to sleep. I watched your chest rise and your fingers twitch and barely noticed the movie playing in the background.

Christmas morning you screamed and howled the entire two hour + drive to dinner. We pulled over at a rest area and with two of the three of us in tears, I thought, oh! I can't do this anymore. This is too hard. Babies are too hard. I want my life back.

The first time we dropped you off at daycare, after months of bringing you to work or to Nana's, was tough. Your dad and I went to get breakfast empanadas afterwards so we could delay the work day a little bit longer. I quickly saw, though, that you found a whole extra group of people to love and be loved by, and that's a very good thing, isn't it? You are thriving at "school" and I love how much you love people, especially other kids.

I remember when you stopped sleeping so well at night and started sleeping like, well, a baby. Some mornings you wake up so early that your dad and I have to take turns bringing you downstairs to play while the other sleeps a little longer. When it's my turn I sometimes cover myself up with a blanket on the floor and let you crawl all over, stopping by to hug and cuddle before finding a new toy to amuse yourself until the sun comes up.

Clark, I remember the hours spent nursing you and rocking you to sleep, the time spent frantically looking up a symptom or question on my phone. I remember how even on the hardest nights, as soon as you were asleep I dreamed about cuddling you. In the hazy first year I remember the moments when I finally felt like a mother:  when I shhhhd and rocked you in the lobby of a diner; when I went to pay at the grocery store and a pacifier fell out of my purse; when I surprised myself by loving my postpartum body and all it has done for us; when my heart grew a thousand times stronger and softer all at once.

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For years we dreamed of you and made plans for you and then finally watched you grow from the size of a poppyseed in my belly to a watermelon and into a baby boy. One year ago, we met you and our universe shifted. Happy birthday, my love. You have my heart, always.

On feeling deeply

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I feel more deeply now that Clark is here. Many of you possess this superpower without having kids. You are next-level feelers and empathizers. I salute you, and assure you that I don't think this ability belongs only to parents. Yes, I've dedicated much of my professional and personal time to social justice but I have to be straight with you, it wasn't because of a particularly deep human connection but rather a vague framework of and belief in justice and fairness and equality. But Clark came along, and now when the newspapers show photos of babies who died from sarin gas or from drowning trying to flee their country or starving from government-created famine, I see Clark's face. I see his little chubby hands grabbing up for me and I hear my whispers that I'll always keep him safe, always. I think about what it must be like to know with absolute certainty that I won't be able to keep that promise. I think about not being able to feed him or protect him from violence. I see his innocent eyes twinkle and picture them looking at me as bombs drop or the boogymen come. Many of you have always been able to see this, to feel this, but it's a new experience for me. Whether I want to or not, I feel everything so deeply and painfully these days.

Which is why I call bullshit on the border wall and the refugee ban and the lack of empathy and compassion being broadcast from the highest levels of government in our country. You can't take military action in Syria and pretend it's to save Syrian babies, and then deny them and their families refuge. You can't cut off foreign aid because you believe that American babies are worthier than non-American babies. You can't slash social services and health care because you believe poor babies deserve less than middle-class or rich babies. You can't make the choice for a woman about whether or not she even has a baby.

Today, I stand with #womenforsyria. I mourn for the mothers who can't protect their babes in Syria and also in Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia and South Sudan and here in the United States. I mourn for the mothers in my own country who think that these other babies deserve their starvation, trauma and fear, who don't yet feel the tug of sisterhood imploring them to act with compassion. I mourn for the damage that nationalism continues to inflict on our world and our neighbors.

I've always lost sleep over "world news".  But now my mind plays a reel of Clark's face in every desperate situation, and then it's the burning anger when I think how if he were a different race, religion, from a different country or born to another family... the world might turn a blind eye to his suffering. That is as unacceptable for my baby as it is for babies and women and men all over the world.

Photo above of my beautiful, smiley, delicious baby boy who is already eight months old. Parenthood is a time warp, and I feel like time is slipping away from me like never before. Every day I feel more urgency to not only write, but to share, to search for common ground, to tell truth, to dismantle shame and to let light shine in. So, less editing, more publishing. Maybe.

Clark's birth story

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I've been wanting to share Clark's birth story for months but wrestled with which details to share here and which ones to keep to ourselves or, at least, keep off of the internet. Finally at six months postpartum, here is the birth story of our sweet little boy Clark Wilder.

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I was in the shower when our midwife Kelly got to our house. After hours of laboring, shivering and struggling to keep any food or drink down, Chris suggested that a warm shower might feel nice. I had been drifting in and out of sleep since midnight, laboring through contractions that often came just a few minutes apart. Once I got into the shower, I finally felt like a powerful, confident birthing mama. The hot water was soothing, distracting and also helped relieved my nausea. I stayed in there for 45 wonderful minutes, gathering strength and courage as labor progressed. I was surprised by the intensity of the contractions and how short the break was between each of them but it still hadn't sunk in that I would give birth to our son soon.

The day before, we had gone to my third and final biophysical profile exam and received word that everything was still good with Baby. Chris went off to work and I bought myself two scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream for lunch. In the afternoon when I told Kelly that I thought I felt slight cramps, she said that was great progress and that she was sure I'd have my baby soon! Chris suggested I start a little labor project, so off to the kitchen I went to bake a batch of cookies and dance around to Florence and the Machine. I gave Clark a pep talk, telling him that it was okay if he was scared because I was too but that we both needed to be brave. I told him that we would get through this part together and that I would keep him safe. I told him that we had waited so long for this day. I told him that his dad and I couldn't wait to see his beautiful face. I told him that I was ready.

Chris and I made dinner and watched Hillary accept the Democratic nomination for president. At around 9:30 I called Kelly and let her know that the contractions were still easy but coming about 15 minutes apart. She said to have a glass of wine and try to get some rest! We stayed up too late watching Hillary's speech, thinking we still had many hours (days even?) before our son would finally arrive.

Flash forward to the middle of the night. I'm wrapped up in a blanket, fighting off chills and watching the clock, telling myself to just make it until 3am, 4am, just get through the night until the sun came up. The sun did come up, I stepped into that warm shower and Clark's birth day was upon us.

After I got out of the shower Kelly checked me, gave me anti-nausea medicine and placed an IV to help me rehydrate. I remember Kelly saying at a prenatal appointment that the two most common reasons for transferring to the hospital are maternal exhaustion and dehydration. After a restless night and hours of vomiting, the IV was a good idea indeed.

I labored mostly in bed. When I had imagined homebirth, I assumed that I would pass the time peacefully walking around our house, eating the labor snacks we bought and quitely breathing through contractions. Ok. So now is the time when I would like to humbly state that birth is intense. And beautiful and powerful and life-altering, but intense. Birth brought me to my knees, swept me into a hazy, timeless world and connected me to our animal nature in a way I hadn't imagined.

I was vaguely aware of Kelly and her two birth assistants quietly shuffling around our bedroom, taking supplies out of our birth kit and making sure everything was ready for Baby's arrival. Chris held my hand, rubbed my back and told me how strong I was and how proud he was of me. The few times he had to step away, Kelly or Kristen or Amanda would swoop in and hold my hand and hold space for me and my baby. The atmosphere was calm and loving.

Kelly said that whenever I felt pressure I could start pushing. So I did, and oh my pushing is hard work. It was the hardest part of labor for me and took every bit of strength I had. Chris and the team were so good about encouraging me and quietly cheering me on. I needed that reinforcement and support. In between contractions I drifted off into a semi-sleep and the room went quiet. At one point I asked Kelly how much longer I had to push and she said, "Oh, not much longer," which I immediately recognized as her gentle way of saying I might still have, in fact, a lot longer to go. The second time I asked her, though, she looked into my eyes and said, "Minutes, Christine. Just a few minutes." I knew I could do anything for a few more minutes, especially if it meant our baby would be here. Chris held my hand, kissed my face and told me how proud he was of me.

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After about 45 minutes of pushing, I birthed our baby boy into the world. Kelly caught him and said, "It's time for you to meet your mama!" before putting him right on my belly.

The moment he was born, the fog of labor completely lifted. I cuddled him as Kelly rubbed his arms and legs and wiped him off. I don't remember if he took a breath right away, but soon enough he did and let out a little cry too. He stayed on me for the next hour while they checked his vitals and cleaned him up. Chris cut the umbilical cord and I birthed the placenta. I lost more blood than Kelly was comfortable with so she gave me a medication to help slow the bleeding. Then the ladies went downstairs to do paperwork. We were alone with our baby! Our son was here! Kristen, one of the birth assistants, came upstairs a few times to check on us and help us to start breastfeeding. She also so sweetly brought us up a cheese plate with crackers, pesto and blueberries– we finally got to eat those labor snacks! We were blissed out.

After an hour or so I showered and then the ladies gave Clark his newborn exam and we all sat around trying to guess his weight. (I guessed correctly at 7 lbs 5 oz!) He was beautifully alert and stared right up at Kelly as she checked him out. The next few hours are a lovely blur of staring at our new baby. Our midwife and assistants cleaned up, started laundry and tucked us into bed before leaving around 5pm. We called our parents to share the good news and started texting friends.

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And just like that, there were three of us. We stayed in bed for hours and watched our little one begin to figure out the world. Chris made a quick dinner and brought it upstairs for us. We stayed up until we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer and then we all dozed off for a much-needed night of sleep. I stayed upstairs most of the next day, tucked away in our cocoon. Our midwives came back to check in on us several times over the next few weeks, yet another wonderful part of the homebirth model. They came upstairs and sat on the bed, or we'd gather in the living room to talk, wherever we happened to be at the time. They weighed and measured and monitored Clark, helped us both with breastfeeding and checked on how I was doing too.

Looking back on Clark's birth, I'm filled with joy and gratitude. It's true that your mind quickly dulls memories of the pain of childbirth, because not even a day later I thought, "Well that wasn't so bad." Giving birth was intense and all-encompassing but I knew I could do it. I was surrounded by people who believed in my strength and believed in the natural birth process. I trusted them to safely guide me and my baby through this experience. I leaned heavily on Chris for the calm, steady support that he constantly provides me, and he was amazing.

You should give birth wherever you feel most safe and comfortable, but may I suggest that you consider homebirth and the midwifery model of care? You can see a midwife throughout pregnancy and safely, calmly navigate potential concerns around a few high blood pressure readings, cervical scar tissue, anemia or going wayyyy past your due date. You can have a homebirth and still get an IV or anti-nausea drugs or medicine to stop excessive bleeding. You can have a pregnancy where your provider's default mode is to trust you, the mama, and the beautiful baby your body is creating. You can avoid interventions when they aren't necessary and trust that if your provider does suggest an intervention, then it must actually be needed. Homebirth is safe, supportive and oh-so-wonderful.

I never thought I'd be the type of person to give birth at home, on purpose. I used to think of birth as a strictly medical procedure. Now I know better. I know that it can be loving and spiritual and beautiful. Whoever you choose as your provider and wherever you choose to give birth, I wish these things for you. I hope our experience allows you to consider, even if only for a moment, the alternatives out there. No matter how you give birth, though, whether in a tub on your living room floor or by caesarean, you are connected to all of the women around the world and all of the women who have come before you that have given birth. That's powerful.

Whatever you do, I'll be cheering for you and sending all of the love and strength your way.