27 August 2010

Safe, Healthy, and Natural

What is sluggish, irritated, and round all over?  Me!  I am now in week 31 and wondering where the last 7 months went.  As the big day (October 22nd) approaches, I can't help but think constantly of labor and birth.  I talk about it with friends and family, watch it on television, and learn about it in depth every Tuesday at our weekly Lamaze natural birth class.  I find perceptions and expectations of labor to be fascinating and I'm consistently surprised when I say no and mean it when people ask, "Are you scared?"  Maybe I am naive, but I take comfort in knowing that women have been birthing children for thousands of years.   My own grandmother gave birth 15 times!  My mom talks about the birth of my siblings and me as if these occurrences were as routine and easy as getting her oil changed.  I watched my nephew come into this world and it was by far the most beautiful and amazing thing I've ever seen. There was no screaming, sweating or drama.  Just the miracle of birth.  Perhaps if more people had a chance to witness the beauty and wonder of childbirth, they would feel a little less scared and quite a bit more amazing about what they were capable of. 

My Lamaze class this Tuesday was plagued with questions about how bad labor and birth will hurt.  Everyone paid their money just like me and have the right to ask whatever they want, but the truth is that nothing the nurse can tell them about how bad it will hurt (and it will hurt) is going to help them cope with the pain or make labor easier.  After kindly answering all of the questions and doing her best to quiet concerns, the nurse read a story written by a doula about a Chinese woman she had worked with who approached the whole process with admirable grace and a positive attitude.  When asked if she was nervous, the woman looked puzzled and replied, "Is there something I should be scared of?"  Fear was not on her list of emotions during labor and she found it odd that a person might be scared of giving birth.  I won't be so arrogant to say that I am just too brave to fear birth.  I won't deny that I will probably be anxious when the contractions start or my water breaks.  I know that I'll be nervous about the health of my unborn child, but I will never underestimate the power of a positive attitude.  I am convinced that everything is going to be fine.  Not perfect, but still amazing.

In closing, I wanted to post a lovely essay I recently read in a South Carolina publication called Skirt!  by a local mother of four and postpartum doula named Jen Rognerud.  I was quickly reminded of this story on Tuesday while the nurse read the above mentioned article. This essay focuses more on what happens after birth and labor, but the sentiments are real and true and should be considered throughout the entire process, from pregnancy to motherhood. 

40 Days

I hear about it all the time. It’s my job to hear about it. What I’m most often told is this: “It’s like a light suddenly flipped on.”

Women tell me of bluer skies and darker nights, of fluctuating emotions and unexpected, bone-shaking beauty. They tell me that they can smell the earth beneath the snow, taste toxins in the air and hear the phone ring before it actually does.

They talk of orgasmic pain, unbearable pain, or else they thank God for drugs. They are wild, angry, and soft. They are beautiful, beaten, and grounded. They love their midwife. They hate that one nurse. They have a little crush on the handsome doctor. They wonder if they will always regret the C-section with this much intensity. They wonder if they knew love before this. They wonder if they will ever sleep again.

They are all a little bit different. Only one thing is the same: They are a really big deal.

In many cultures, birth is still an animal act and the postpartum period an exalted affair. The new mother is revered as the most important being in existence, and the community makes sure she knows it. Her strength is commended, her tenderness protected; her worries and wounds are soothed. She is massaged with sacred oils. She is fed special soups, lovingly prepared by those who have walked the path before her. It does not matter if it is her first baby or her fifth. After each birth, she is pampered and worshipped, an adored queen.

While true parenthood begins in an instant, with new life’s first breath, the full transition from pregnancy to motherhood takes a little while. Around the world, 40 days seems to be the magic number. That’s 40 days of the mother lying in with the new baby, 40 days of bonding, breastfeeding, and embracing her heightened sense of being. The Latin cultures call it la cuarentena, but it is not an actual quarantine. It is a period of respect for the woman’s metamorphosis.

Some communities insist that the woman stay in bed, while everyone else works around her. Other traditions include quiet celebration, intricate ritual, and contemplative walks in the woods. Usually, female relatives tend to the postpartum woman - they feed her, clean her, and teach her how to nurse. While 40 days is the approximate time period for concentrated care, it is understood that the new mother may need a little extra help for the better part of a year.

In the Western world, the postpartum period is not a beautiful, celebrated time. In fact, it is often thought of as a time of chaos and despair. In the United States, we try to recognize a period of 40 days. Six weeks is often when a working woman’s maternity leave is up and it is when she goes for her final appointment with her obstetrician. That six week check up is our big ritual, and the main purpose of it seems to be to get the green light for sex and exercise (although most women don’t honestly feel like doing either until much later).

American postpartum support generally consists of a few casseroles, a present or two for the baby, and unsolicited advice from mothers and in-laws. The pregnant woman is fawned over and spoiled, but the postpartum woman is discarded in favor of her precious offspring. She has most likely had a clinical hospital birth, somewhat rushed and with professionals calling the shots. She is pushed from the hospital within 48 hours and once home, she finds herself isolated, overwhelmed and exhausted. I’m not speculating. This is the norm, and this is why postpartum depression is a Western phenomenon.

While Americans like to say that “it takes a village,” villages don’t exist. We have walls between us and thick social boundaries. Even in the tightest communities, casseroles are the standard in reaching out. Smart visitors might throw in a load of laundry or take older siblings for a walk to the park, but for the most part, the postpartum woman is expected to entertain her guests.

Our relationships with our own mothers are often strained. Families are fractured, separated by distance and tension. Close friends aren’t as close as they should be. New moms don’t feel comfortable expressing their emotions, which range from ecstasy to exhaustion, from sadness to rage. And somewhere along the way, we’ve written out quiet but persistent expectations for our postpartum women. They should put on their make-up. They should get out of the house, maybe just scoot over to Target for a bit. They should pull themselves together as soon as possible, because if they don’t, we’ll start to worry. And by worry, I mean talk.

Basically, we’re getting it wrong. Basically, it’s a mess.

That’s where I come in.

As a postpartum doula, I support new mothers in the month or so after birth. I cook, fold laundry, make tea, bake muffins. I give foot massages and hugs. I keep visitors in line and I keep Mama from writing thank-you notes if there are dark circles under her eyes. I offer to do it for her. It’ll be our little secret.

I am CPR-certified and overeducated on all things newborn. I know the signs of postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, birth trauma, and mastitis. I know how to achieve a good latch at the breast, I can make a bottle with one hand, and I know several tricks for soothing fussy babies.

I honor birth stories, I shoulder anger, I dissolve guilt and fear. I do not judge and I do not try to do things my way. I teach, but I don’t give advice unless asked. I am a humble servant, I am a secret keeper, I am a baby burper. I am a mother to the mother.

To put it plainly, I give American women their 40 days - their much-deserved rest, ritual, and fanfare.

I didn’t go looking for this. This is not what I wanted to be when I grew up. As weird as it sounds, I was called to it. There is a need for this service, a deep and desperate need that I simply cannot deny. And I think there’s a quiet little need for me in particular, because I get it; because I believe in what I do.

Still, I’d be more than happy to be taken out of a job. I’d love it if our communities embraced the doula’s responsibilities, making my role obsolete. I’d love it if Americans could see beyond the split-second text message in front of them and realize that mothers, quite literally, make the whole world.

So yes, I’m calling us out, America. Come on out, aunties, bosses, sisters, brothers and friends. Wake up neighbors, grandmas, and book clubbers. Mamas need more than baby showers. They need more than maternity clothes and pre- natal yoga videos. They need to be cherished. They need love and support and time. They need those 40 days.

And P.S., when it comes to the casserole, they’re really sick of lasagna.

Jen Rognerud happily and clumsily juggles a family of four, writing, and postpartum work all over the Twin Cities. Sometimes she thinks she could use a doula of her own to help handle this lucky chaos.

12 August 2010

People Who Inspire Me: Megan Klco

Last spring, I had the honor and the pleasure of studying art (and life) in Aix-en-Provence, France with a group of wonderful and amazing people who inspired me beyond words or imagination.  It was in France that I met so many wonderful American comrades whose futures are so bright, they've gotta wear shades.  Megan Klco was one of the lovely beings that I feel honored to have met and quickly became one of my favorite up and coming artists.  Megan has an amazing vision and an enviable ability to translate color, light, and atmosphere with the stroke of a brush.  Recently, Megan was kind enough to send me some of her recent work and answer some questions for me to share.  Lucky for all of us, she has a website where you can peruse much of her work and contact her about acquisitions:  http://www.meganklco.com/   Thank you, Megan, for taking the time to share with us!!

Megan Klco. Millard, Missouri. 2009.

Megan Klco.  Missouri Sunset. 2009.

Megan Klco.  Corner of Millay and Jersey.  2010.

Megan Klco.  Red House.  2010.

Megan Klco.  Sugar Creek, Spring.  2010.

What and who inspire you?

Day-to-day life inspires me. My grandmother has a (sometimes embarrassing) passion for life that's been known to make her burst into tears while hiking because the landscape is, in her words, "musical." I've inherited a fraction of that. I find my day-to-day landscape very rich and painting, to me, is the ultimate in indulgence. I want to stick my fingers straight into the butter dish of life.

Who is/are the artist(s) you most admire?

Paul Cezanne, Robert Smithson, Alberto Giacommetti.

When did you first know you were/wanted to be an artist?

In Kindergarten, but I think it was tied with being a basketball player. The latter dream died fast.

Do you have any family members who are artists?

No, but many who are artistic in other ways.

Favorite meal ever: where, what and with whom?

Homemade pizza and beer nights with my college roommates.

Most interesting dream you've ever had?

I used to have a recurring dream where I'd gradually go blind. A bad nightmare for someone who wants to be a painter.

Favorite book and why?

Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf writes novels that are really 200-page poems. The whole book only covers the span of a day, but she's sucked as much richness from that day as possible. Nobody writes like her.

What do you do to enjoy life when you're not painting?

I sing. I bought myself a dinky little ukulele recently and taught myself to play. I'm terrible, but I love it.

Favorite place in the world. Why?

There's an old farmstead near where I live in Northern Michigan that's completely surrounded by forest on all sides. It sits up on this grassy hill in the middle and is almost always lit up with sun. I've sat and drawn that farmhouse a hundred times this summer, and I'll never get tired of it. It's a world within a world.

Fondest memory.

Most recently, picking dandelions with my four-year-old godson. I told him to make a wish and he looked at his dandelion and said, "I wish Megan could stay over every night so we could play every day." I about melted.

02 August 2010

In Search of...

The perfect nightstand.  But before we get to that, I have to say that I will never again resolve to blog everyday.  Making a promise like that did wonders for me and I haven't posted anything since!  I'm not so self-impressed that I think I could have been missed that much, but I was having an inspiration breakdown.  Although I have to admit, Claude Fauchere was a pretty excellent topic to be stuck with for a week.  How magnifique is he?  Let me clarify that I don't blame my blogging drought entirely on superstition, which brings me to another topic that I want to discuss: If my home is in disarray, then so is my brain.  I thought maybe it was just because I'm obsessive about my living space, but the more I talk to people about this, the more I think that the general public underestimates the power of a comfortable and pleasing abode.  I can think and communicate so much more effectively when I feel happy with my habitat.  So, next time you have writer's block or can't get motivated, clean your house and then give it a shot.  I guarantee it will clear your mind. 

Now, about the nightstands...  I am seriously struggling to find any that fit my size, shape and price requirements.  I think my best bet is to continue to scour all of my thrift, consignment and antique shops for a pair of nightstands that I fancy.  All of my usual suspects have failed me so far, but I have found a few that are pretty neat.  First, I should set the stage for our bedroom.  I am unsure about the wall color, but my bed linens are all white, the headboard will be tufted and white (of course).  The dresser is, you guessed it, white.  It's a little on the modern side, which I'm hoping will keep the room from feeling too shabby chic.  I have a jute rug in there now that will stay and I think I'll move my red console table under the window to use as a vanity and writing desk.  The red and white could be a stark contrast and I'll need some elements to smoothe it out.  Right now, I have round, ivory metal IKEA tables as nightstands and one feasable option is to make tablecloths.  I think this will take the femme factor over the top.  So, I have concluded that I need square nightstands - hard edges keep it from getting too girly.  I've found quite a few square nightstands that I love, but they are just too darn short.  I require something atleast 2'3".  I would like it to have atleast one drawer and be a modern form or Hollywood regency style.  And so the search continues.  In the meantime, here are some of my favorites.

The CB2 Peekaboo Clear Nesting tables are by far my favorite option out there.  There is no drawer, but for $199, I am willing to compromise.  Unfortunately, they are about 8" shorter than my required height and this is a deal breaker.  I will find a place for these in my home eventually - it just won't be as my nightstand.

The Linea Nightstand from Crate & Barrel is such a beauty.  It is practically a shoe-in for the job and is a close second after the acrylic nesting tables above.  It is modern, while still being rugged and almost industrial.  Me likey.  Unfortunately, it strikes out on two fronts.  It's about four inches shorter than I require and about double the price I want to pay right now ($349).  Shucks.
The Niche Nightstand from West Elm is another very viable option, but I fear it is too... I dunno... white.  It's pretty cute and it's on "special" right now for $199 (from $279), but do I absolutely love it and think it would be perfect? No.  Next, please.

Rarely do I dislike anything I see at Room Service Home and could be glad to outfit my entire home in furniture from this online catalogue.  The Colgate Occassional table would be beautiful anywhere, including on either side of my bed, but it fails almost every requirement.  Maybe another time, friend.

Nothing would thrill me more than two nightstands that fit my size and price requirements and looked exactly like the one above from Jayson Home and Garden.  I LOVE this store and I love this table, but it is 5" too tall and $500 more than I can afford. 
The search continues...