Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams

I’ve lived in Utah for nearly a decade combined, and it has always felt “unnatural” to me. First, it seems to me to be a very delicate desert landscape that is being ravaged to sustain far too many people. In my opinion, deserts should be sparsely populated, while lusher, coastal regions should house the majority of the population. Not only did living in Utah feel wrong in an ecological sense, I struggled to belong, to fit in, etc. I had a great job there and loved the beautiful mountains, but something always felt off to me, and I was certain, even as the years passed by, that this place would never truly be home to me.

That feeling of not belonging began to change only in the past few years. My future began to unfold with new love, new direction, new possibility. Of course, those feelings also coincided with spending more time in the nearby state of Idaho, but I began to feel more at ease in Utah. I got pregnant. I finally bought a house. I felt that I could finally put down roots.

Little did I know, a little over a year after this “settling,” I would finally have the opportunity to pack up and leave Utah. The time has come–soon, I will be jetting off to Oregon, back to the Northwest that I love so much, closer to family, and to a job that (from this vantage point) feels very much right for me.

When I began reading Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams, I was a homeowner in Utah. I had recently left city living for a quiet suburb next to Lake Utah. The house was big and lovely and comfortable, with sweeping views of Mount Timpanogos and Lake Utah. I took daily walks along a paved path that skirted the water of the lake. I saw birds I’d never seen before. Cattle grazed in the nearby fields. I grew my son in my belly, and I felt a deep peace and contentedness that I’d hadn’t felt in years–maybe ever. Finally, I could feel at home.

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white ibis in the field behind my house ushering in the birth of my son

Because I am now a mother, reading is slow. So when I began the book, my baby was not sleeping through the night. I read whenever I had a chance, whenever I could keep my eyes open. The short chapters were perfect for this.

It’s a beautiful book. As the author describes the birds of Utah with care and love, my love for the birds I encountered near the shoreline grew. My appreciation for Utah grew. It’s also about her mother’s life and death from cancer, which conjured emotions and experiences I knew too well. I began to savor the book and read it slowly.

Now the book has come to an end, and so has my time in Utah. The book has, perhaps, made it even more bittersweet to leave. She ends with her essay, “The Clan of the One-Breasted Women,” which I’ve read before. It’s precise, powerful, and effective. The book is a blend of Utah’s beauty and of it’s destruction, and it leaves me leaving Utah with gratitude for the time spent here, but also a certainty that this land is meant for visiting, for passing through, and that I (and maybe about a million other people) am not meant to live so permanently in this land.

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L’s birth story

39745114_10217350126411587_1642003359181307904_nOn July 8th, 2018, my partner T and I invited my grandpa (L’s Great Grandpa Hunt) out to an early dinner. Since I was 40 weeks pregnant and had felt indulgent in the final weeks of my pregnancy, I decided to keep it going with an all-you-can-eat buffet at Chuck-O-Rama—a nice new one in nearby Lehi. We sat for quite awhile eating and talking. Grandpa and T could eat very little, but I indulged, especially on the mini cinnamon rolls. The conversation was slow and pleasant. In my last weeks of pregnancy, I was incredibly pleasant, and slow, and calm, and docile like a cow.

That evening, I felt a little excitement, but it was indiscernible from other excitement I’d had in previous weeks. That weekend I had the urge to tell my mom to drive to Utah from Oregon, but I brushed it off thinking I was still days or maybe even a week or more away from delivery. My mom had the same impulse that weekend as well.

Earlier in the day, I’d walked my usual, daily walk along the lake path and listened to my childbirth affirmations—which had been my daily routine for weeks. After summer school was over, and I was mostly alone in Utah and keenly aware that this was the last time I would be alone for a very long time. T arrived the week before my due date in anticipation of L’s arrival. The days were hot. I was still happily mowing my new lawn weekly with my new electric mower.

After dinner with Grandpa and T—it was a Sunday night—I went to bed as usual. Relatively quickly, I felt crampy and unsettled in bed. Soon, I realized I was having real contractions. I’d had a few very mild Braxton Hicks and some aches and pains earlier that I’d timed on a childbirth app. So, I began timing these contractions a bit, but also trying to sleep. If this was labor, I wanted to rest up in the early stages. If it wasn’t labor, I still wanted to try to stay rested. The contractions intensified, and, for the next 2-3 hours, I had to breathe and focus to get through them. I let T know that I was in labor, but told him he should still try to sleep. I texted my midwife, my doula, and my mom to let them know. Though it was late, my mom began preparing to drive to Utah. My midwife, Rebecca, told me to contact her when my contractions established a pattern. My doula, Robynne, was attending another birth, but began making arrangements to have a backup take over, so she could be with me.

My water broke a little after 2am on July 9th (L’s “due date”). There was a dark greenish tinge in the amniotic fluid. (While it looked like meconium to me, my care providers weren’t so sure.) Everything intensified, and I immediately woke T for support. We had not yet installed the car seat, so I asked him to install it in case of an emergency. He also brought me towels to put between my legs when resting in bed and a small table to lean against while laboring on the toilet. My contractions were two minutes apart, and sometimes closer, and I began to vomit into the toilet because of the intensity (and I do not throw up easily!). On one hand, I felt calm. I knew what was going on and felt that I was managing the pain effectively. On the other hand, I recognized that I now I needed support, and so I texted my doula and my midwife to let them know. Things did feel a bit chaotic during that time. My contractions were erratic. They’re supposed to establish a pattern. In fact, in all of my time birth education, I’d never heard of them not establishing a pattern. They can speed up, slow down, or stay consistent, but they’re always very measurable. Mine seemed all over the place. I also continued to leak amniotic fluid and vomit. I felt the need to move back and forth between the bed and the toilet, and I also felt the need to sop up my messes with a towel, while crying, but staying calm, and also feeling very excited and ready to meet the person who would be my son.

I labored mostly alone through the early morning hours, and my doula arrived around 7 am or maybe later. It was such a relief to have her there. Her counter pressure was so comforting. My contractions began to ease up. I felt restful. But, I also started to feel some worry. I’d labored pretty intensely all night, but I could feel that my body wasn’t changing very quickly. As a doula, I had supported women, especially first time moms like myself, who had labored for days. I knew that if I was fated for such a labor, I would probably want the support of a hospital and an epidural. That had been my “Plan B” all along. If I my labor progressed steadily and I could deliver in 8-10 hours or so, I wanted to give birth at home. If it extended much beyond that, I knew I wanted more medicalized support. I expressed this concern to both my doula and to T. They both reassured me I was doing great, that I didn’t need to transfer, and that we should stay at home. So, I continued to rest and to labor, with support, and wait for my midwife to arrive.

My midwife Rebecca arrived in the late morning, and began setting up. It was around midday when she checked me, and, after over 12 hours of labor, 10 of those hours were intense after my water had ruptured, I was still only dilated two centimeters. This information did not surprise me necessarily. While my contractions felt very intense, I felt that my body was changing very gradually. After some internal worry, I finally told my doula that I was really considering transferring to the hospital. My doula and T reassured me once again, but I began to feel a certainty. Finally, I told my midwife that I was thinking about transferring to a hospital. She seemed a bit surprised. She told me my options. I could stay, and she could give me something to help get my labor going. Or, I could go to the hospital. This exchange was a bit awkward. My midwife, whom I’d had a somewhat strange relationship with up to this point, was supportive, but she also said, “You’ll pay for it now, or you’ll pay for it later,” regarding my pain in a labor at home vs. my pain and an epidural in a hospital setting. I became increasingly sure of my decision. I felt peaceful. It was an early act of mothering where I was the person in the room who knew the right answer for me, my baby, and my body.

After a bit more deliberation, I finalized my decision to go to the hospital. I had heard good things about the AF hospital—it was nearby, and I knew it was compatible with my insurance. So, I transferred there. The midwife called the hospital to let them know I would be arriving shortly. I stepped into some gray leggings and pulled on a loose dress with the help of my doula. Then, T drove me in my car. The car ride was manageable, although I had to breathe through a contraction every time he hit a bump in the road.

Throughout the morning, T had been in touch with my mom as she drove to Utah from Oregon. Shortly after we arrived at the hospital, my mom arrived at my house to drop off her dog, Jaxn, and a few perishables before coming to meet us at the hospital. She arrived at the hospital not long after we did, and I was so glad she would be there for the birth.

The intake process was fairly fast. T gave them my name, birth date, and insurance card, and we were whisked away to a birthing suite with a bathtub, which I knew I wouldn’t use because at that point I was there for the epidural. I got settled into the room. I was feeling some relief because we had arrived safely, and I could focus my attention back on to my labor. The midwife provided information about my transfer to the nurse on duty and then bid me adieu.

I contemplated whether or not I should get the epidural right away because contractions had slowed again. However, with (very little) encouragement, I went ahead and ordered the epidural. After about over 14 hours of active labor, and 12 hours after my water broke, I got the epidural. It was probably another hour before the process was complete, and the pain relief kicked in. While I was still sitting up from having the epidural placed, and the anesthesiologist was cleaning up my back, I felt a strange suction feeling travel up my spine from the site of the needle to a piercing pain in the back of my neck. It then immediately moved on to my head, where it stayed in the form of the worst headache I’ve ever felt in my life. That pain was still far less than the pain of contractions, which was already decreasing thanks to the epidural. I told the anesthesiologist, and everyone in the room, about the headache, and the anesthesiologist got a little defensive and immediately said that it wasn’t because of the epidural. I found this comical. Of course it was because of the epidural! I said I wasn’t mad at him, and the pain relief was helping with the contractions. At the staff’s instruction, I leaned back in the bed, and, after a time, the headache began to fade and was much more manageable within an hour. I had a dull headache on and off throughout the rest of my labor. The epidural meant I also needed IV fluids and a catheter. That was all set up.

When I was admitted to the hospital, they found that I was still dilated to a two. After a few hours with the epidural in full force, the on call doctor, Dr. H came in to talk about my options. He wanted to start Pitocin, and I agreed. Since I had an epidural, I was less afraid of the intensity of Pitocin contractions. Since my labor was going so slowly, I knew I would be at a risk of an c-section if I labored too long. (Most hospitals won’t let women labor for over 24 hours after the water breaks.) So, we started Pitocin and continued on and off with it until I delivered. When it intensified my contractions, I needed more pain relief from my epidural. Whenever I’d push the button, the pain relief was effective, but it would also cause an uncomfortable numbness that sometimes lasted several hours. When L didn’t handle the Pitocin well, they turned it off, trying again a few hours later. We continued like this through the evening, and all of the following night. I hadn’t eaten since Sunday afternoon. I hadn’t slept since Saturday night. And yet, I was alert. I wasn’t hungry, and I sipped the water that my doula offered like a champ throughout my entire labor.

Some nurses were fine. Some used unnecessary fear mongering. In the early morning, around 4 am, they stopped checking me. I think this is because if I was complete, they didn’t want to bother a doctor at that hour, and they didn’t want to be in delivery during shift change if at all possible. In the early morning hours, L showed some signs of distress, and I would need to shift positions to help him. Eventually, before I started pushing him out, the nurse gave me oxygen to help with L’s signs of distress. I liked having the oxygen and used it throughout the pushing stage delivery.

My backup doula, Ashlie, arrived and took over at around 6 am. After shift change at 7am, I was finally checked an hour later, and they found that I was complete. I think, based on the pressure and way I was feeling, that I had been complete and ready to push since maybe 5 am or so. After it was determined that I was complete, I was allowed to start pushing. Before giving birth, I knew that sometimes women had to wait for a doctor to arrive before they pushed. I thought I might be able to start pushing when I felt ready. However, as it turned out, I absolutely needed coaching to push out my baby.

The nurse instructed me to put my chin to my chest, hold my breath, and push. This is called “purple pushing,” and it felt very counter intuitive to me. I tried to push in other ways, pushing down through my throat and through my core (opposed to curling), and this felt more powerful to me. My mom thought it looked wrong though, and the nurse thought it was strange, so I tried it their way for awhile. But, that continued to feel strange to me, and I felt weak pushing in that way, so I shifted back to the way that felt strong and intuitive to me and continued to push that way until I pushed my baby out.

We started out using the hospital’s birthing bar. The nurse had never used it before, so my doula showed her how. My pushes with the bar were not very productive, but I also wasn’t very supported by the nurse, so we removed it and moved into a traditional lithotomy position, with someone holding each leg, and a nurse sitting between my legs, monitoring the situation, and telling me to push each time I had a contraction.

It did not feel like I’d pushed very long before the nurse said that L’s head was showing and that he said hair! (He had very little hair.) In a few more pushes, T and my mom were able to see L’s head starting to come out as well, but only during a push. Finally, as I neared delivery, the nurse had me stop pushing so that she could get the doctor. So, once again, I had to wait to push. And again I was surprised that I was unable to really push productively without external support.

The doctor arrived, Dr. A, the table was broken down, and the neonatal team arrived. I commenced pushing until my baby’s head was out, and not going back in between contractions. I reached down and felt him with my hand. My mom was able to see him. I became more aware of T’s presence in the room as he saw his son for the first time, and there was a noticeable shift as he instantly transformed into a dad.

Finally, I knew the time had come for my baby to leave my body. I pushed, and before I could catch my breath, was told to push again. I felt pulling and pressure, and, at 10:59 am on Tuesday, July 10th, the doctor pulled out my baby with the turning motion that babies make as they are delivered. The feeling of having my baby leave my body is one I hope I’ll never forget. I could feel his power and his energy and his spirit transfer out into the world. It felt inevitable, essential, and profound. That 9 lbs 7 oz comfort in my belly slipped to the outside world, coughing and sputtering, and them crying softly. I reached for him with outstretched arms and held him to my chest, skin to skin, with tears streaming down my face. Our spirits reunited on the outside.

L gave me so much power and strength throughout my pregnancy. He blessed me with some of that power that I still feel today. It’s the strength I had to lift my heavy baby when I was postpartum and no longer had any abs or a pelvic floor to speak of. It’s the strength I had to endure the ongoing pain and slow recovery from childbirth. It’s the strength I have to lovingly rise again and again and again at 3am to feed my baby. It’s the strength I have every day to show up and be a mother.

Beneath the Apple Leaves by Harmony Verna

Despite my fears that after having a baby it would be years before I could read again, I was actually able to read a book before the semester started! Beneath the Apples Leaves was my first foray into “genre fiction” in I don’t know how long. Years and years. It was a gift. It was there. And so, during one of the baby’s long naps, I picked it up and started reading.

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image from Amazon

The characters fulfilled the strictest and most obvious gender expectations. The plot lines and their resolutions could be spotted from a mile away. I found myself skimming through the first quarter of the book, getting through the basic (and, again, predictable) background information as quickly as possible.

After that, though, I was surprised at myself when I started to slow down, the details engaging me a bit more. In fact, toward the end, I’d even refer to this book as an enjoyable “page turner”!

So, despite it’s obvious shortcomings as a piece of Literature, it was worth reading for me for the following reasons:

-It took me back to my high school days when I read so many Victoria Holt books, an experience which, I swear, has allowed me to understand, predict, and analyze plot lines like no other. While reading this book, I had a tinge of nostalgia for the time when I was reading Holt’s novels and being immersed in place, a house, a setting.

-Similarly, Beneath the Apple Leaves creates a setting–a quaint, if dilapidated, Pennsylvania farm. Even when the characters fell short, I enjoyed “being” at the farm.

-It’s entertaining. While much of the plot is predictable, there are many twists and turns that kept me reading. It’s similar to watching a romantic comedy in that way. I don’t watch them often, but sometimes they’re entertaining.

-I like to keep my finger on the pulse. I’m not sure why, or if this is necessary, but sometimes it’s seems important to read what the majority of the public is consuming.

I’m not sure what I’ll read next, or when, but this book gave me confidence that some regular easy reading could be possible for me again soon, and that’s just the kind of hope I need right now.

 

2018 reading list

I’ve kept an ongoing reading log here, but I thought I would make a cumulative post to round them all up. I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked because buying a house and moving, and gestating, and teaching, and writing, and prepping for baby, and having a baby, and recovering, and caring for my baby all took up a lot of time and energy.

I did most of this reading in the first months of 2018. I love reading and hibernating in the winter months. Sadly, I can’t imagine that I’ll get a chance to read much in the coming year(s). My baby requires a lot of care. He’s still up every 1-2 hours in the night, and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon. So, all extra time and energy I have goes to frantically caring for my own basic needs and working as much as possible. I hope I can find a way though because reading is vital to my emotional health and creative wellbeing.

So there they are, in the order they were read:

-Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

-Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

-Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

-Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez

-If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende

-Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

-The First Forty Days by Heng Ou

-A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

-Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf

-The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwitha by Diane Glancy

-And I Shall Have Some Peace Here by Margaret Roach

2018: year in review

This year, 2018, was the best year of my life. I’m usually not one for absolutes, but 2018 was the year I finally got to meet my son, which has been the best and most transformative experience of my life. This time last year, I was newly pregnant, just starting to tell people, and blissfully snoozing my days away. I got to spend quite a bit of time in Idaho in the first part of the year reading, hibernating, and gestating. I also got to see the snow sculptures for the first time this year. T and I made a trip to Casper, WY. My pregnancy cravings were really kicking in at that point, and I spent long mornings eating at the hotel’s very decent continental breakfast and watching the news while T was working. I also got a delicious banana milkshake at Dairy Queen (I would eat much more junk like this in the third trimester).

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Instagram 2018 “Best Nine”

I spent the last months in my SLC apartment. For the last time, I watch the daffodil bulbs emerge from the ground (always so early!). I ran my daily laps around the park that I came to know and love so well. (I was able to easily run until I was 23-24 weeks pregnant.) In February, I announced my pregnancy to the world, and the world joined my celebration. I got the 20 week anatomy scan and saw my baby for the first time. I flew to Kansas City, Missouri for a work conference. I was still barely showing then.

After months (years really) of searching, I finally found a house and bought it. Call it nesting, call it what you will, but I knew for sure that this house was right for me and haven’t regretted the purchase for one second. I like being in the house. I love the community. It’s right by Utah Lake. It feels completely idyllic to me and was my necessary “next step.”

Mom came to visit for a week and brought my nephew to Utah for the first time. It was a hectic trip (since I was in the middle of buying and updating a house), but I loved it. Thinking back nostalgically, the trip might’ve included the last time Graysen will ever jumped into my arms. He ran to me, and I lifted him up easily over my bump and into a hug, and my mom wondered out loud if I should be doing so much lifting.

Sadly, my grandma passed away unexpectedly in the spring, and I drove home for her funeral. Now nine months later, her death seems unreal to me. I still feel like I should go over for a visit and show her my new baby.

Following my trip to Oregon, I frantically updated and moved into my new house. T was a saint during this time, doing all of the painting and heavy lifting for me. I officially moved during the first week of my third trimester. Physically, I don’t recommend it. I was nesting and highly motivated in every other way though.

I returned to Oregon for Mother’s Day weekend and the baby shower of my dreams—pink and yellow, lots of flowers, friends, family, and all of the foods and sweet candies that I love. This was also the weekend that I got my maternity photos, and all of my family finally officially met T.

Once I returned to Utah, I put my nose to the ground to teach summer school (which was physically challenging, but a welcome distraction), continued unpacking, prepping the nursery, and lugging by increasingly heavy body around in the warm Utah summer.

I made my last trip to Idaho in early June and then spent most of the following month alone. I ate. I ate tremendous amounts of anything I wanted. I savored my last weeks, days, and hours of alone time—keenly aware that it might be years before I have such solitude again.

I began to relax and become increasingly ready on every level to give birth to my child, who now catapulted around my stomach in waves—comfortably, though. I was incredibly comfortable and deeply relaxed throughout my entire pregnancy.

Once summer school was over, I took long walks daily along the paved path by my house. People stopped and said things like “Any day now.” I felt supported in every way. I watched the birds, the plants, the animals. I walked slowly. It was the one thing I accomplished each day with devotion. Some days I would get too hot. I had mild Braxton Hicks contractions from 14 weeks forward. Some days I would feel strong. I no longer felt I could run. Nothing fit me anymore besides one or two giant shirts over a pair of cheap leggings. It’s possible that I have never been happier, and I certainly have never felt more blissful.

As my due date approached, I felt confident that I would go a week, or even two, past and told everyone to wait. But, much to my surprise, I ended up going into labor the day before my due date and giving birth the day after my due date. (The full details of that story to come.)

After an unexpected week in the hospital (for both me and baby), I spent a few weeks in Utah, with a lot of postpartum help from my mom. Then, I transitioned to Idaho.
In the fall, I returned to teaching and meetings (much of which could be done online and via video chat, thankfully, because I had (am having) a particularly slow and painful recovery and even short trips to campus left me sore, exhausted, and weirdly shaky and shaken.

Those first months were filled with daily urgent challenges, sleep deprivation, pride, love, and experiencing my new self as a mother. It’s a transition I’m still making, and the daily urgent challenges continue, although the pediatrician thinks things will even out soon. (I hope so!) That time included doctor appointments, prescriptions, pain, healing, learning how to eat a new diet—one that didn’t include the top eight allergens, or corn, oats, beans, cruciferous vegetables, and nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes), and what else? The list seems to go on. I’ve mostly subsisted on chicken, rice, and mild vegetables, like carrots. The bright side? I’ve lost all the baby weight! Everyone gets to complain about pregnancy and caring for a newborn, but if your baby does not have the colic, reflux, and severe eczema trifecta, and you complain, then I will want to punch you in your throat.

T worked and traveled quite a bit in the last months of the year, and I solo parented.

Mom’s birthday was another highlight. In November, she joined us in Utah for her 60th and my grandpa’s 80th combined birthday party. Being with her and having her support in caring for my baby is such a relief.

We spent Thanksgiving with family friends in Idaho. We made an impromptu trip to Oregon for Christmas, and that brings us up to date.

In 2018, there have been challenges so severe that I honestly think many people would not be able to handle them. But, it’s also been the very best year full of experiences that were deeply wanted and loved. In 2018 everything changed forever, and I was ready.

looking for signs

I’m pregnant, and before I was pregnant, I imagined that I would document the experience thoroughly in writing, since it’s my mode of processing, communicating, and creating. But, I haven’t wanted to write much about the experience, and I’m not exactly sure why. I think it’s because I have no words. I’m impressed with women who can write about pregnancy and the journey to motherhood. However, most of what’s written is more matter of fact or medical or humorous. To me, the experience isn’t entirely any of those things–it certainly isn’t medical and it isn’t funny. It’s a completely physical and spiritual thing. It’s so entirely unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced that, like I said, I have no words. I can say that I love being pregnant. I’m one of the lucky ones who actually feels better pregnant–warmer, stronger, more connected. There’s also a delightful and ongoing sense of celebration between me, my family, friends, and even with smiling strangers out in the world. More than that, though, I am awestruck. Constantly. Every day.

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a crop of my bump from my maternity photo shoot

Now that I am nearing the end of my pregnancy, I finally (after a busy move, and travel, and prepping a house and nursery, and work) find myself with long days of solitude. These are perhaps the last days I’ll have to myself for a very long time, and certainly they are the final days as my old self–the self before I am a mother and before I am always and forevermore caring for a child on the outside. I am savoring this time. I’m enjoying long quiet days, where I can indulge my whims moment to moment. And in these moments, I find myself looking for signs. First, what day will the baby arrive? Do I inherently know? I find myself looking at the dates on the calendar, each neutral and blank. One of these days will be the day that I experience childbirth for the first time. One of these days will be my son’s birthday. One of these days will be recognized now for the rest of my life.

I try to walk for a few miles on a beautiful trail that skirts the lake each morning before it gets too hot. Each day, I become more familiar with the route. I watch as new wildflowers bud out and bloom. I see new animals: birds, cows, horses, and deer. I notice plants that I think are sunflowers. After a few more days, I confirm that they are sunflowers. Then, I hope I will be able to see them bloom. I wonder if they will bloom before the baby is born. They begin to bloom. I step out of the shower and rub lotion over my belly. I put on a pair of underwear that I like. Will I be wearing these underwear when I go into labor? Will they be ruined?

Each day, there are more signs and questions. If I am to examine my intuition closely, I would say that I still have time, that birth is not exactly imminent. I still have a “to do” list that I’m working through slowly, but steadily. For now, I am satisfied to remain pregnant. I feel big and hot, but good and vital and very alive and still very comforted to have my son growing safely inside me.

And I Shall Have Some Peace Here by Margaret Roach

Ok, I really need to start reading baby and childbirth-related book now. But, before I do, I read And I Shall Have Some Peace Here by Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden. I’ve been a long-time listener of her gardening podcast. The podcast is weird, quirky, nerdy, and good and probably the best gardening podcasts out there. It’s a celebration of plants and gardening, and “how to.” (It’s supposed to have some woo woo, but there’s none of that, really.)

And I Shall Have Some Peace Here is the same way: weird, quirky, nerdy, and good. She’s got this style of writing that’s stream of consciousness, double consciousness. There are always several threads going through each paragraph, sometimes each line. Sometimes it’s funny and intentional. Sometimes it seems that it’s just the way her brain works, and she can’t help herself.

Over the years, I’ve been inspired by Roach to do more gardening, even in my limited and sometimes uncertain space, to propagate hostas, to fertilize my houseplants, and much more. It’s nice to find another person, and even community, who care as much as I do about plants.

However, this book is not as much about gardening as it is about taking big risks and changing one’s life–following one’s calling, even if it means (and it so often does) leaving a life of security for the life you were meant to live.

I liked that about the book. I like that, once Roach leaves the corporate world, she is sedentary and uncertain for a long time before she is able to take meaningful action. The big change might lead immediately to bliss and certainty, but it doesn’t always, and Roach’s story is evidence of that. Oftentimes, big change leads to sitting, and reading, and drinking too much, and eating too much, and staring out the window, and being very alone, but strangely, not really lonely. Your diet falls apart. Your yoga practice falls by the wayside. Until finally you realize you’re doing it. You’re doing the thing. You’re getting healthier, living better, and it all was really worth it. I found her story to be inspiring.

The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwitha by Diane Glancy

I first heard about Kateri Tekakwitha while reading about her sainthood in Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living Gods. I waded through a few books that reference her in  Erdrich’s latest, but Diane Glancy’s The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwithawas the only one that held my attention.

This is a weird book, and, honestly, even after I’ve finished, I’m not sure if Glancy is being incredibly critical, cynical, or accurate in her depiction of Kateri. It’s a weird fever dream of a book and captivating and poetic on the sentence-level.

Here’s the thing: Kateri almost dies of smallpox. She survives, but is nearly blinded. After that, her life is a series of traumas–constant starvation, constant war, constant torture, murder, and freezing. Her life is a living hell, and then she dies at the young age of 24.

During her short, extremely traumatic life, she converts to Catholicism, following the lead of a few female family members. Christianity is met with skepticism by many members of her tribe, but it is also somewhat tolerated.

As she learns more about the religion, she becomes more zealous. She self flagellates and physically tortures herself in various other ways. She has strange dreams day and night, waking and in sleep. The author, Glancy, paints such a horrific picture of Kateri’s life that the reader can’t help but wonder if Kateri is having a genuine religious experience, or if she is quite predictably experiencing a kind of PTSD-induced psychosis. The latter seems quite reasonable. But, the author doesn’t dismiss Kateri’s experience of God and spirituality either. Religion and Kateri’s mystic experience is at the forefront of the text to the same extent as the torture and trauma.

Like in life, I suppose, the reader is left to wonder what’s real, and what’s spiritual, and what’s an apparition, and which ones are worth believing in.

Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf

For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to bring myself to read much about pregnancy since I got pregnant, which is a surprise because in the past I’ve enjoyed reading and pregnancy and reading about pregnancy. It might have to do with the fact that I’ve been working on an article that *to a degree* has to do with rhetoric and pregnancy. So, most of my reading in the past few months has been toward that end.

I read Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood by Naomi Wolf, and I loved it! It’s a hefty tome, and I pretty much just sat down one day and read it. I read it for the article, yes, but I’m including it here because it became joy reading as well.

I’ll admit that, throughout the entire reading, I had her confused with Naomi Klein, who’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which I read in 2008, at the beginning of my doctoral program, deeply informed my thinking about political economy. I thought Wolf’s work was more accessible, but I read it voraciously, thinking it would provide the deep intellectual analysis that Klein’s work is known for. I’ll admit that Wolf’s work was far more accessible, less hard hitting, but a nice blend of journalistic blend of smart analysis and storytelling. Wolf’s book is stark and honest, but not so dark that it doesn’t also include the bright side (which I need at this point in my pregnancy).

Wolf’s book is about mourning the previous identity as women change irreversibly to become mothers. The deep estrogenic surge in my body now is physically changing me. I’m aware that I’ll never look the same again. Those hormones are also making more compassionate toward people, toward their stories. I’m aware that this is a biological imperative that will help me have compassion and provide good care for my new infant, even when it is hard. And Wolf says it will be hard. She outright states what I already knew, and what few people can bring themselves to say aloud: that my body will be different, that the hormones will take me to the lowest low, that my love for the baby will be more like an addict’s obsession that any kind of consensual love, that I’ll have less power in my relationship with my partner, that I’ll be less respected as a professional, and that I will spend many sleep deprived months deeply mourning these loses. That sounds about right. And yet, I chose this still. And I’ve enjoyed a beautiful, healthy adult woman’s body for several decades. I’ve earned the highest degree available. I’ve had a professional career that is fulfilling and well-respected. And while I hope I am still able to have a fulfilling professional life, and I hope my body is fit and healthy, I am so ready for something else. For me, the timing feels absolutely perfect. I’ve checked a lot of boxes on my life’s “to do” list. This one’s next.

Here were some lines from the book that I liked:

  • “The medical establishment too often produces a birth experience that is unnecessarily physically and psychologically harmful to the women involved” (6).
  • “[W]omen carrying babies must be nurtured and supported intensively” (114).
  • “I heard comparable ordinary traumas among many women I talked to–what I have come to call “ordinary bad births” (145).
  • A typical sentiment from a woman who recently gave birth: “Nothing happened according to what we had wanted or planned. And we had absolutely no say; the institution just took over” (147).
  • “A number of women who had given birth described a moment at which they felt the medical institution simply took over; oblivious to the mother’s wishes, experience, or concerns” (149).
  • “Midwives working on their own terms do not try to guide births along a path determined by unnecessary medical interventions. Rather, midwives wait, encourage, and prepare the way, successfully keeping medical intervention to a minimum” (151).
  • “I have never yet seen a physician show the respect of informing a woman of waht is required–‘I need to do this procedure’; instead they just cut, often without even telling the woman–sometimes when the baby is just about born; sometimes the husband is shouting for the doctor to stop. Many women find this cut the most traumatic part of the birth. Yet episiotomy is seen in the same light as taking a temperature–it’s that routine,” remarked midwife Elissa March” (193).
  • From Wolf’s doctor during her second pregnancy: “You had to be sectioned last time. You probably have an unusually narrow birth canal. Maybe your body just is not made to have babies.” And, “[M]y doctor wanted to be right about my being in need of his surgical help more than he wanted to heal” (278).

 

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

Peter Mayle passed away this year, and so I grabbed one of his books, A Year in Provence, from the library:


I read about one chapter at night before bed when I could (mostly in Idaho) and finally finished it. Last year, as you know, I read a lot of British gardening books last year, plus I’ve been watching The Great British Baking Show: Season 1 and now The Great Interior Design Challenge. What can I say? I’m at the stage of life where the dulcet tones of British sensibility calm me.

The book is divided by months of the year. It’s humorous and gives an accurate account of the culture in south France (as far as I could tell based on my time studying abroad there one summer). Mayle’s descriptions of rich food and wine is divine. You’ll find yourself wanting to crack open that bottle of wine, sprinkle your air popped popcorn with a tiny application of parmesan and possibly a more generous application of truffle oil. It was just the kind of reassuring novel I sought as I gestated through the middle of my pregnancy.

Though I found myself wishing for a deeper description of the property and the home they renovated (what tiles, flooring, wall color, etc. was chosen and why? What plants dotted the pool? The gardens?), I found Mayle to be doing God’s work in chilling out the anxious masses with his descriptions of good food and good wine.