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April 11, 2014: Guide My Feet

April 11, 2014

In what feels like a very long time ago, I wrote a post about running with a little side-kick in Seattle. It was August, 2013, and I felt a slow sense of wonder that I might someday tell this tiny thing-who would then be an actual person-that she was with me in the wind as I looked down on the cargo ships inching across the Sound and the sailboats bobbing in Shilshole Bay. I would tell her that we attended a conference at Harvard, that we bundled up and trudged through the heavy, glittering snow with the dog on countless dark mornings in Evanston, that we listened to my husband play so many sweet songs to us on his guitar, and so many loud songs when his band backed Derrick Herriott one rainy night in autumn. We bought groceries and celebrated Christmas and birthdays and Norooz and had long conversations with beloved friends visiting from Berlin, Milwaukee, Chengdu, Seattle, New York.

I don’t know that I believed she would actually be a person, that I would get to tell her these things. There is a lot of suspense and anxiety in pregnancy, and I tended to find peace in more straightforward and absorbing activities, like working on a dissertation. Eating dark chocolate. Making lists. As the pregnancy progressed, so did one particular activity, namely “Appointments with the Midwife.” What most people did not know is that we double-dated midwife practices up until 37 weeks. That’s a long time. We saw a group of midwives affiliated with a nearby hospital, and we also saw a homebirth midwife. Homebirths are not nearly as common or respected (let alone comfortably accepted) in Illinois as they are in other places, and I’m just too tired to explain the incredible care and research that went into our decision to pursue one. Suffice it to say, I remain forever grateful that as first-time parents we had a guaranteed hour every week with our homebirth midwife to be checked out and discuss nutrition, emotional well-being, exercise, infant care, birthing techniques, on and on. Though very well-respected (and with good reason), we often had to wait an hour to be seen by the other practice, and the appointments were careful but fast, sometimes breezy. I imagine it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I hadn’t felt so clueless or adrift.

Still, we continued seeing both groups, due diligence for a person with placenta previa. (If the placenta didn’t move the requisite 2 cm to be considered low-risk enough for a homebirth, we would have the baby in the hospital.) We took a hospital tour. I packed a hospital bag. I ordered a homebirth kit. It was tiring.

At the 37 week ultrasound, we received the professional-and even supportive, for which I feel deeply thankful-go-ahead from the hospital practice to do a homebirth. And at 40 weeks and five days, labor began. While countless gifts of care and light accompanied those 40 weeks and five days, the best came that morning: my very loving, very careful husband agreed to drive us and the dog to the beach, in the dark, at 5 am. It was cold and windy and cloudy and the dog sped off and Bijan had to chase him and I don’t think we saw any stars, but we walked slowly from one end to the other and back, talking and laughing quietly. I’ll never forget it. I have a photo of his silhouette and the dog’s, black and still against the lightening morning sky. It’s impossible to describe how I treasure the image.

And of the dreamy, incredibly painful stretch of time that was labor, our walk together was the one slow thing. I’m confused and even a little ashamed to admit this, but every class session on childbirth positions, every meditation on breathing, every reflection on pain, and how the pain of childbirth is more profound and revealing and even exultant than other types of bodily pain, completely disappeared. I lost it all. I lost myself, my sense of time, my focus. The contractions were very intense very quickly. I know I was in the bathtub for a while, and later, when the midwife suggested I walk around the house, or perhaps just walk down the stairs, I actually felt insulted. Do you see me? I wanted to ask. And then the emotion vanished, lost as lightening struck again and again and again, my thoughts inward and then gone. I was in labor nearly twenty hours, and I pushed for somewhere between three and five. That’s a very long time. I don’t think a hospital would’ve allowed that much pushing; most likely I would have had to have a c-section. They also, in the constant flip-flop of evaluating modern medicine, wouldn’t have allowed me to eat or drink, the very thing that sustained me as I pushed. (This flip-flop, incidentally, will make a person crazy.) But with the steady encouragement of Bijan and the three midwives, and their steady insistence on runner’s energy chews and coconut water, I pushed that long. And when the baby came, she came in a rush. It was wild and intuitive and messy and my hands shook as they handed her to me and Bijan’s voice broke and for a minute or forever we lay on our bed and held the person I only imagined. I was no longer”the love that knew not its beloved,” from a favorite Judith Wright poem. Now, we finally knew her.

Her name is Zona and she has a lot of hair and long hands and feet. She cried while we held her. We cried, too. I’m crying right now.

And then everything that could’ve gone wrong, did. I don’t want to write too much about it here because I think it’s important to be sheltered for a while, to be quiet and fend off the fear and grief that we might encounter when we’re strong enough to talk things through. I wasn’t able to deliver the placenta fast enough and I hemorrhaged. The midwives called the ambulance and I was put on a stretcher and carried down the stairs by a group of EMTs with deep voices who shouted questions at me to keep me awake and I wasn’t able to answer them even though I tried so hard. I was taken to the hospital, and I had blood transfusions and other procedures and I drifted in and out all night–and none of this is as scary to me as is the thought of how scary it must have been for my husband. That, I can’t confront.

There’s a spiritual Marian Wright Edelman includes in her book Guide My Feet (1995) of the same name: “Guide my feet while I run this race/ Guide my feet while I run this race/ Guide my feet while I run this race, for I don’t want to run this race in vain…” The verses continue: “Search my heart while I run this race…” “Stand by me while I run this race…” “Hold my hand while I run this race…”

I’ve heard labor compared to a marathon, and while I’m loathe to make any big claims in print, I firmly believe this is the worst comparison on earth. Until there is a marathon that begins at a time and on a day that no registrant is told about in advance (and thus is unable to plan for-no special meals, no tapering, etc.), and that marathon is probably be 26.2 miles, but there’s a chance it could actually be an ultra, and the course is billed as rolling but, wait, it turns out it’s actually an obstacle race that’s all uphill… You get the idea. My thoughts are fairly muddy about labor, but everything that comes after it, the race of parenthood and marriage and healing and laughter and a simple walk around the block, that I need guidance for, that might be like a marathon.

I was in the emergency room on Monday, and I found out yesterday that I need to be in the OR for more procedures on Wednesday. And just like that, I began to feel the hot lava of doubt seep up and through me, with no way to find the source or stop it. I’m not so willful as to resist or deny the “new normal” of parenthood-nor would I want to-but facing so many breaches in my health and stamina, I started to wonder yesterday if I was encountering a new, irrevocable “normal” me. I wondered if the self I took such pride in and the many memories I cherished were a sham, if the girl who was so happy running up a long, hilly trail was inevitably lost. Could I do that again? Would I still want to? Had I been careless or lying to myself all along? I felt a little lost. Actually, I felt very lost, and scared. I sat on a picnic table beside the lake with my husband and daughter and cried big tears.

“Stand by me while I run this race…” “Hold my hand while I run this race…” A month ago, I never could have imagined how literal these words would feel to me now. It is a slow race, a lying-down kind of race, and I will take all the hand-holding I can get.

I wonder if I will tell Zona about this someday, the way I tell her about her dad’s music or the cargo ships in the Puget Sound. Or maybe I won’t, and we’ll just go for a walk in the woods together, up a long, hilly trail.



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One Comment
  1. Anna Caran permalink

    I’m so sorry you had such a hard time. Hopefully, it is all behind you. They say that the memories of these things diminish in time and you will only remember the wonderful experience of Zona coming into the world. God bless you, Bijan and Zona. When everything is settled, I would love to meet your beautiful Zona.
    ❤ Anna

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