Down Syndrome

Get ready: i'm fixinta try and write about everything at once...

As we all know, Alison and i are expecting this baby, right? So as not to keep you worried--what with that title and all--i'll just go ahead and say, No, it appears that little Biffle Piepmeier does not have Down Syndrome. Or, to put it another way, we found out today there is only 1 chance in 148 chances that little Biffle P. does have Down Syndrome. According to the medical industry this is a relatively high risk and we should therefore be relatively scared.

Here's the first of many things i'd like to spit out in this post: Why, oh Why did we ever bother to take that first blood test? Alison didn't want to, and i have a spectacular history of failing them. Why did we do it then? Well, i think we did it because we sat there in that damn doctor's office and thought there was a chance that test would give us some clarity. It didn't. We kind of knew, but did not give enough credence to our recognition, that almost no amount of clarity would be good enough.

Here's something else i'd like to squeeze in here: (As the professionals point out) Alison, at 35 years of age and before "risk adjustment," has a 1 in 263 risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome. The amniocentesis, that offers us 99.7% accuracy of determining B. P.'s chance of having Down Syndrome actually comes with a 1 in 100 chance of inducing miscarriage.

And here's some more: No, i do not have statistics or hard science at my finger tips, but i'm thinking there are literally hundreds of things that can go wrong to a pregnancy and brand new people. Autism, cancer, blindness, deafness, terminal hairlessness, juvenile onset diabetes, car accidents, and on and on...why then this huge concern over Down Syndrome? Well, what i'm figuring is they developed a pretty good test for it. You see, no one's said Boo! yet to us about cerebral palsy, but since no good test has been developed for that yet, there's no real profit in it, so i guess they just don't worry about it so much.

Still more: Alison and i went ahead and took that test because i think we both recognize the part within us that wants us one them smart babies: you know, a baby that speaks french and is disdainful of their kindergarten teacher for being pedantic. We have been so automatically set on that notion i reckon we just thought we wouldn't want a baby that was "compromised" in any way. Although we haven't been cavalier about abortion, i think Baxter Sez readers know we're not adverse to terminating a pregnancy because it wasn't the right time, because we weren't ready yet to create that big space for someone else in our lives. But now....now, what if we've come to a place where we have made that space and suddenly things weren't looking right? Would we get rid of this one, too? Hell, here we are wanting a smart baby and this one goes and fails a test before it's even born!

Now, here's where i'm really getting to it: I love two Alisons. One of these Alisons loves power and control. No amount of security for that Alison would be enough. The other one is the diametrically opposed Alison that is extremely courageous, willing to take chances and trust the outcome even though it isn't in her hands. Now, minus the courageousness and the thoughtful part about "trusting the outcome", i was the one largely responsible for the collision of faith and recklessness in Alison's life for years. She handled the power and control part, i did stupid shit and sometimes got away with it. This balance has served us well sometimes, but sometimes--and particularly in the case of this baby--it could have been a real detriment.

I've learned some weird stuff in my life: I've learned that when i really really have to, i can sit quietly and wait for long periods of time. I've learned that disappointment ain't no thang but a chicken wang. Something else that experience has taught me is that all-things-babies is an invitation to chaos. Now, i'm alright with that, but i was worried about Alison. At the drop of any hat, Power and Control Alison could have stepped in and ...well, for all the good it's served her, i just don't think it would have worked this time around. I'd been wary of P and C Alison since negotiations concerning propagation commenced. It was one of my biggest misgivings actually. And then, when we did get pregnant and no big research projects about how to have the world's best pregnancy emerged, i began to think that Mama Alison was going to be one and the same as courageous-and-faith-based-Alison. ...and then Down Syndrome came along.

And finally, the real deal: Tonight we sat and ate burgers at a place downtown. They were pretty good, but i'm not gonna tell you where we were because it's where tourists go and i think it's shameful to go where the tourists are. Anyway, we sat and ate...and cried. We talked fervently about what this ridiculously small chance for having a baby with Down Syndrome meant to us. We talked about the culture wars in America and how it was just like a couple of lefty smarty-pants like ourselves to get so pragmatic and scared about something so out of our control. And we decided that we didn't want to be that way. We didn't want to be filled with anxious expectations like some drooling sports-happy dad at his 7 year old's t-ball game. We decided what we should have decided all along, what several of our wiser friends had already decided before us: that whether little B. Piep passes every test is just not that important. Love is important. Being open to learning what someone else has to teach you is important. Letting go of expectations for a particular outcome in exchange for the wisdom gained by simple acceptance is important.

I'm hoping we're through with those tests now.


Baby questions

The question people most often ask when they find out I'm pregnant is, "Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?" My clever answer--which I'd prepared to use at Guy and Tina's if anyone had asked me--was, "We don't know, but we hope it's a banjo player."

The second most often-asked question is, "What are you going to do about the last name?" As readers of Baxter Sez know, I'm uneasy with the practice of always giving the kids the husband's last name. And yet we're all very well aware of how cumbersome the last name Biffle-Piepmeier would be for a child. My mom had to make up a song for me to learn to spell just Piepmeier when I was a kid, and adding the Biffle on top of that seems like too much. So we're thinking about alternating names. That, of course, will require that we have more than one child, which we're not sure that we're going to do. But it's the option we're leaning toward at this point.

Biffle told his parents this weekend that the baby might not have the last name "Biffle." Biffle's parents are fairly fundamentalist, conservative Southerners who aren't the kind of people who question assumptions. Most of our life choices baffle them--their typical response is to roll their eyes and say, "Well, whatever." But this conversation was different. They stopped talking completely. For a long time.

Finally Biffle's dad said, "Well, may I ask why?" Biffle said something to the effect of, why would it be fair for the baby to be named Biffle when he and I have different last names? That was followed by more silence. The conversation never fully recovered. Clearly it hadn't ever occurred to his parents that this was even an option in the world--of course their son's child would have their last name. They probably never thought our feminism (which I suspect they think of as my feminism) would go this far, or take such an ugly turn.

I'm glad Biffle told them this now, so they'll have time to get used to the idea. Sometimes it's tough challenging patriarchal traditions.



We had an all-out bluegrass weekend this weekend. Biffle entered the banjo competition at RenoFest (a festival in honor of banjo legend Don Reno--not Reno, Nevada). He, Hazel Ketchum, and I drove to Hartsville, SC, a surprisingly adorable town, so that Biffle could compete, Hazel could accompany him, and both of them could jam with the rest of the pickers out in the parking lot of Hartsville's Center Theater.

Sadly, Biffle didn't win--or even make the finals--of RenoFest. I think it must have something to do with the style the judges were looking for, because I listened to all the competitors and thought that Biffle was one of the best. The folks who won had fairly traditional arrangements, though, and Biffle jazzed his up a bit.

It was a fun weekend anyway, and we rounded out our Saturday evening with a trip to Guy and Tina's Bluegrass Pickin' Parlor, which Biffle has blogged about here before, and where Biffle is always a hit.


Monkeys and pregnancy

Well, now that we've had our celebratory baby announcement, I have to tell you: this first trimester has not been fun. I'm sure that people told me that the first trimester would be tough, but I didn't grasp the full extent of what that meant. So for those of you who might be thinking about getting pregnant at some point in the future, here's what it means: three months of complete exhaustion. Feeling like your body has become a science experiment gone awry, with preferences and repulsions that are entirely new to you. Not in a fun way. Nausea that can only be stemmed by shoving the least odious food into your mouth (almost 100% of the time for me, since January, this food has been beige). This food is not delicious or enjoyable--it just dulls the nausea.

And I didn't even have it all that bad! I only threw up three times. I managed to teach all my classes and make all my appointments. I never had to leave school to take a nap, although there were days I was sorely tempted.

I now have a new level of experiential conviction about the Florynce Kennedy statement, "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." This pregnancy is much-wanted, but even so, this has been a pretty miserable experience. I can't imagine making someone who didn't want to stay pregnant, stay pregnant--the first trimester alone is like three months of cruel and unusual punishment.

A few weeks ago, in the shower, I made up a song--in the spirit of the songs my brothers used to write--about being pregnant. Here are two of the verses:

The first trimester sucks a hairy monkey penis.
If I were a male monkey, I would love the first trimester.
I promise that in the next few days, I'll write about some of the things I like about pregnancy, but I had to get out at least some of the complaints I've been holding back since January.



Thoughts on standing by your man

This whole Eliot Spitzer case is a nightmare. For those of you not in the know, Spitzer is the crime-fighting governor of NY who's apparently spent around $80,000 on prostitutes in the last few years. There's been a lot of interesting talk on the feminist blogosphere--articles in Feministing here and here. But I don't want to engage in the issue of Spitzer's asshattery here. Instead, I find that I'm thinking a lot about the "stand by your man" thing that Spitzer's wife Silda has been facing.

Here's an article that Eliza sent me from the Columbia Journalism Review. The end of it is what I find particularly interesting, where Megan Garber considers the victim blaming rhetoric that's accumulating in the media, the tone of, "What is wrong with Silda Spitzer?"

I find this tone very disturbing. I really do get the politics of why it's so appalling that we expect high-ranking spouses to "stand by" and thus validate their partners after their partners have engaged in behavior that is reprehensible, misogynistic, and/or heinous in other ways. And I get that Silda Spitzer has a public role as the wife of a prominent politician. But the thing that bothers me is that we want to blame the spouses for it in ways that seem very personally judgmental.

I think I partly come at this as someone who's in a relationship that isn't always easy. While Biffle may not have spent $80,000 on prostitutes, addiction and depression have given us our share of difficulties. Those of us who have been in challenging relationships like this know it's really hard to say, "I wouldn't have stood for that." Because, in fact, I've stayed for a lot of stuff, and I have no idea what my breaking point would be. Intimate relationships are mysterious, and while I see all the political messages that Silda's "standing by" conveys, I also am troubled by how judgmental people want to be of her. It feels like victim blaming. In my head I'm saying to these people, "Okay, you haven't been through any really, really bad shit in your marriage yet. Count yourself lucky, but don't judge."

In my Gender and Violence class this week we were talking about domestic violence, in particular about the most common question people ask about violent relationships: "Why doesn't she leave?" We talked about the fact that this is an incredibly reductive question, that--as legal scholar Martha Mahoney says--this question imagines away all the very hard work of creating an intimate relationship. That question assumes that anyone would throw away that hard work, those intimate connections, those feelings of love--that, in fact, any rational person would know better than to stay. (As a side note unrelated to the Spitzer case, the question also assumes that there are adequate institutional supports for women who do leave, which is patently and offensively not true--the death of a woman in Charleston this weekend whose estranged husband violated his restraining order and came into her house and shot the woman and her father is only the most recent example of the profound failure of institutional supports for women who leave.)

Anyway, I just find it to be unhelpful to blame women who make hard choices in very difficult life situations. I also find it to be a bit dishonest, because all of us who are in long-term intimate relationships know, in our heart of hearts, that things are much messier and more complicated in those relationships than our self-congratulatory glib judgments of others would suggest.

As one friend said yesterday, "I have learned that unforgiveable is not something you can judge for someone else."


In class tonight

Tonight my Gender and Violence class was starting. Students were filing in, the book group that was going to present was getting ready at the front of the room, and I was unloading my backpack, looking for my class notebook. The door to the hall was open, and I heard people arguing out there. It was one of my students and a guy. "He's yelling at her in front of a room of 35 women," one of my students said. I started paying more attention.

At that point, the boy pushed my student into the classroom, yelling, and pushed her against the wall.

I was on my feet and between them before I knew it. "WHAT are you doing?"

"She was [something--I don't know what he said]."

I raised my voice: "WHAT are you DOING?"

"She was [whatever he said]."

I was completely in his physical space now, looking right in his eyes, swelled up as big as I could make myself. "WHAT is your NAME?"


"Anthony WHAT?" He backed up. I stepped forward, completely blocking him from my student.

"Anthony Markovitch."


At this point he looked a little frightened. "Acting?" he said. "It's a theater piece, for their presentation."

And it was. The book group immediately apologized profusely for not telling me in advance what they were planning to do. My participation didn't throw things off because the class as a whole had the chance to talk about how we felt, what we saw, and what we did or didn't do when we saw a classmate in trouble.

I found the experience oddly validating. I've always wondered what I'd do in a situation like that--whether I'd freeze or take action. It turns out that I have no problem taking action. I was a bad-ass!


A couple of things....

Well, my job at Fox Music has come to an end. It was not amicable, but i'm gonna try and avoid the bully platform here. I've spoken quite a bit about this job on here, talked of how i enjoyed it, talked of how nice Charles is. I reckon i gotta supply an explanation. As Alison pointed out this morning, the new spate of lengthy posts was gonna clue you in something was up, anyway.

I'll keep it as simple and honest as can be (one point against me, one point for me)

1) i am a pain in the butt to work with.

2) i have a love of quality work. It hurts me to settle for less.

My one bit of revenge on Charles is a humorous one. He's a lovable nut, but a nut nonetheless. For instance, let me show you a picture of a Hammond b-3 organ with it's Leslie speaker:

This set up is similar to what Ray Manzerek of the doors and Jimmy Smith play, by the way. Anyway, you'll notice this roughly 800 lb. set up consists of a bench, footpedals, a Leslie cabinet (the thing that produces that distinctive now fast/now slow yeoow/yeoow sound, an entire organ with two keyboards, and--not even visible in the photo--a triple hinged lid that closes up to protect the organ.

Charles' estimate for bringing to the shop, disassembling, taping off, repairing scratches and dents, spraying, drying, rubbing out and then returning to the floor: 2 hours.

Alright. Enough of that.

Back on honestly taking my own inventory:

I'll be forty years old this year and i'm thinking this event has finally started cluing me in to some previously unrecognized things, namely: i may not be destined to have a real job.

I started thinking about Jimmie Rodgers. You know Jimmie Rodgers: the singing brakeman, wrote T for Texas. Anyway, Jimmie worked on and off for years as a railroad man. Tuberculosis, of course, kept him from some work, but even before that--back when he was a little kid--he was running away from home and starting tent shows and stuff. Jimmie wasn't the type for a real job either, but he was the type to play some music: here's what i've heard about Jimmy Rodgers during the last few weeks of his life:

I think he died around 1935. By that time he'd been suffering with TB for ten years or so. During his final recording sessions in New York, Jimmie would have rib-cracking coughing fits that would last a half hour at a time. TB was not a pleasant way to go. He could maybe get through one take of a song. Afterwards he might have a long coughing fit or he might have to lie down on a cot in the studio until he had enough energy to get back up and start anew. Only four days before he died--and he knew he was going down, man--he finally gave up and took to his sick bed for the last time. Up until then, though, he was recording songs. He knew he wasn't going to live to receive a penny from this work or even see people enjoying what he'd done, but he did it anyway.

I can understand this drive. It makes perfect sense to me. (asphyxiating on lacquer fumes, not so much). I mentioned these feelings--both about Jimmie and about how i felt about being a poor musician as opposed to being a well-paid lacquer junkie--to a couple of poverty-stricken musician friends of mine. All they did was look incredulously at each other and say "you only now figuring that out?"