Birth facility

I went to a prenatal yoga class today. The first thirty minutes of class was spent in conversation, with the teacher telling the pregnant women things that we need to be sure to do to navigate the treacherous terrain that is a hospital birth. For instance:

"Be sure to make friends with the nurses. They're the ones who'll be with you the whole time. You won't even see the doctor until right at the end."

And, "Don't come in with a birth plan, because that makes the nurses angry, and you really need them to be on your side. One nurse actually told me that they figure if you have a birth plan, you're destined for a c-section."

And, "Give your husband a list of everything you want to have happen in the hospital, because he'll have to advocate for you. If you and your husband know what you want and it's clear that you're on the same page, the doctor is more likely to go along with you."

And, "You know that doctors are trained for the worst-case scenario, and they're going to want to treat your birth as if it is the worst-case scenario, even if it's not, so see if you can get the nurses not to call the doctor in at all until you're crowning."

I found this all quite validating (if a little annoying--didn't I pay to come in and do yoga?), because here is the outstanding facility where Biffle and I plan to have our baby:

I am very happy to announce that just last week my medical records made their way to the hands of Dr. Moore, who is willing to sign off on me giving birth at home (in SC a doctor has to sign off on every home birth or the midwife will lose her license). I will have a midwife who will be there throughout the labor, not just at the end. Biffle and I are not going to have to trick her in order for her to respect our wishes--she knows what we want and she's ideologically on board with us. She's trained to treat birth as a normal, healthy process, not a crisis waiting to happen. I'll be able to walk around, I won't be strapped to any machines, I can eat or drink throughout my labor, and I'll be in a space that feels incredibly comfortable and safe to me. And the animals will all be here.

It's funny--several people have commented on how "brave" I am for planning a homebirth for my first child. It seems a little odd to me--if we all know how fucked-up a standard hospital birth can be, then why is my choice so "brave"? It really just seems like common sense.

(For those of you who are concerned about safety, let me point you to the excellent summary of homebirth safety studies on Nashville Midwife's website.)

(Oh, and one more parenthetical comment: for those of you who don't live in Charleston and are wondering what I look like at 19 weeks pregnant, here you go. I'm in my yoga clothes, which I think makes it pretty evident that something's going on.)


Rev. Jeremiah Wright

Here's what i did this morning: I read an article in the NYT times about Rev. JEremiah Wright's appearance at the National Press Club. I read it--aloud to Alison, too--and commented along the way how i figured Wright might just cost Obama the election.

Next i watched the video of Wright that accompanied the Times' article. Here is a link to the whole thing.

I challenge you to read it and, if you haven't already done so, watch the entire video, too.


Console-ing Passions Conference--thoughts from the road

This weekend Conseula and I are in Santa Barbara at the Console-ing Passions Conference, a feminist media studies conference. The conference has been really interesting so far. I don't typically do media studies, so it's been fun to hear feminist scholars from a discipline related to my own talk about their field and their work. Here are some random thoughts from the three days:

  • This is a conference fully of techno-savvy people, many of whom are on their computers, online, during the various presentations. I wonder just how many blog posts having been written during this conference.
  • On Thursday night, a speaker called for a fourth wave of feminism, one that will "return to the issue of sexism." Because obviously the third wave doesn't care about sexism at all.
  • Another speaker mentioned "Web 3.0." Conseula said, "That's where the fourth wave lives."
  • I think a lot of media studies scholars are defensive, concerned that because they're studying tv and blogs and video games that their work won't be taken seriously as academic work. As a result, many of them surround themselves with the big names of high theory. So far at this conference I've heard a lot about Deleuze, Guattari, Sedgwick, and (god help us) Zizek. It is not going to be a good day if you have to hear about all those folks.
  • On the flip side, I also got to see some porn, because some feminist media studies scholars study porn. So that helped to balance out all the high theory.



I found this bottle out front of the house today. It inspires lots of threads for me: i'd like to know the narrative that accompanies this bottle from the time it was acquired by its erstwhile owner to when it arrived in my front yard; it makes me ponder the powerful attraction of masculinity--and in particular black masculinity; i think about the idea that if I were gonna drink fortified wine i'd probably just stick with Mogan David; i'm curious about the empty bottle actually having its cap in place; i think about the drinker's bowels this morning; i wonder what other choices there were besides "Bull of the Woods;" and, finally, i find myself automatically thinking "no, i'll bet he didn't get laid."


Inky Baby

Alison and i were practicing with a onesie today. Inky seems to have forgiven us.


Reasons I'm glad we brought Angela Davis to the College of Charleston

On Monday Angela Davis came to speak at the College of Charleston, invited here by the Women's and Gender Studies Program (truth be told, by me--I wrote her a letter last February telling her how much we need her voice in Charleston). She is a highly sought-after speaker, and we were lucky to get her. The reason she's so sought-after, of course, is because she's an incredibly important public figure--both as an activist and as a scholar.

I'm not going to detail her history here. You can read about it on the University of California Santa Cruz site, where she teaches in the History of Consciousness Ph.D. program and the Feminist Studies Program. What I will say is that she has achieved a kind of iconic status, but her significance is not defined by that iconography--the "Free Angela Davis" campaigns that arose while she was in prison and the Afro that's the ubiquitous visual image of her (just type "Angela Davis" into a Google image search and you'll see what I mean). She's an important historical figure because of her involvement in the Civil Rights movement and the feminist movement. In addition, she's an influential intellectual, having written eight books, including the widely-taught Women, Race, and Class. She's been one of the activist and scholarly voices arguing consistently for a feminist analysis that's intersectional (a term I've discussed here before). Her life's work speaks to the divisions that define Charleston: she addresses race, gender, sexual orientation, and class, and she thinks (and writes and speaks) in complex yet accessible ways about the multiple levels on which oppression operates.

I invited her to the College in part because I thought she would be a speaker who would appeal to a broad cross-section of the campus and community--and I was right about that. Hundreds (perhaps 500-600) of people came to her talk, and she noted from the stage that it was a truly diverse crowd--in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender as well as other categories. I know that many faculty members and students came to hear her speak, but you sort of expect that at a university talk. What doesn't always happen is that the staff came out in large numbers, which I was so happy to see. And loads of people from the community were there, too.

What I hoped for--and I wasn't disappointed--was that she'd say things that many people would agree with, but that she might also push at the borders of certain audience members' comfort zones. She started by talking about the history of the Civil Rights movement, but she made the point repeatedly that the history we don't hear is that of the women who did much of the grunt work of Civil Rights--women who were savvy enough that they knew they needed a male leader in order to be taken seriously. She certainly lauded MLK as a great figure, but she questioned his status as the singular symbol of Civil Rights, suggesting that we needed to look to the women. I think people were open to this, but it may not have been what they were expecting. When she spoke about the serious problems with the US prison system (the fact that we have both the highest number of people in prison and the highest percentage of our population in prison of any nation in the world), people nodded their heads in agreement. And then when she said that she wanted to talk in particular about the difficulties faced by transgender prisoners, some of the head nodding turned to squinty-eyed scrutiny.

It's the job of colleges and universities to bring in speakers who will push the envelope, who will be provocative and ask us to think about things we might not have explored before, who will introduce us to new ideas. Angela Davis did that. And she did it not just to the insular CofC community but to a sizeable group of Charlestonians.

One thing that struck me after her talk was the fact that so many people wanted to talk to her--to have her sign their books, yes, but more so just to make contact with her, to tell her what she meant to their lives. "My mother always called me Angela Davis cause I made trouble!" one woman said as we walked by. "You're the reason I got a Ph.D. and started teaching college," another woman told her. Because of all these folks wanting to connect with her, it was fairly challenging even to move--here's a picture of me trying to guide her through the crowd to her book signing table. But she was incredibly gracious and generous with every person who wanted to connect with her. Look at her radiant smile in this picture--the woman hasn't eaten since her afternoon cookies with the students and has just been lecturing and answering questions for more than an hour, and yet she's ready to give time and attention to each of the probably 150 people who waited in line to talk with her. I know that the students were inspired, and I hope the community folks were, too.

One final--admittedly petty--reason I'm glad we brought her to the College is that her visit puts us in good company. She's spoken at Harvard, Brown, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Stanford, Duke, Vanderbilt--along with loads of other places. So even though local talk radio decried "state money" being used to pay for "a Communist and a criminal" speaking at the College, the fact that she came here improves the College's reputation.


Scary birth stories

Since I quoted Ina May Gaskin in a post earlier this week, her words have been resonating in my head. She's so right about the "scary birth stories" pregnant women hear. I was told two more today, by someone whose opinion I respect, who cares for me. This person was a bit wary about my decision to have a home birth and wanted me to know the frightening things that can happen in birth.

As if I hadn't thought through those possibilities. As if I haven't heard hundreds of those stories, not just when I became pregnant but for the years and years prior.

It's an odd experience, hearing these stories. I feel myself reacting from multiple parts of my identity at once: there's the caring friend part of me, that hears that this person is telling me this story from a place of compassion and concern. I knew today that this person was sharing a meaningful life experience, and I appreciate that effort at communication and connection. I want to validate that.

And there's the part of me that's a pregnant woman, thinking about my own upcoming birth experience. From that part of me, I want to say, "This is not helpful! What benefit do you think you'll get from making me afraid?"

There's the academic part of me, too--I've done quite a bit of reading about the medicalized birth industry, as this is something that's been fascinating to me for years and years. It's one component of my larger interest in reproductive justice. I know the statistics. I know that 33% of births in this country are C-sections--and it isn't statistically possible that all of these are legitimate emergencies, because these rates are radically higher than in any other country in the world. (And, really, because if 33% of births HAD to be done by C-section or else the mother or baby would die, then humans wouldn't be so vastly overpopulating the globe.) I know, too, that C-section rates are higher if the woman has better insurance. I know that the US has the worst infant and maternal mortality rate of the industrialized world, and happens to have the most thoroughly medicalized childbirth practices of any industrialized country. And that the labor and delivery practices of hospitals are designed for the convenience of the medical practitioners and to ward off malpractice lawsuits, not for the comfort or safety of women or babies.

But this information isn't what you want to rattle off to someone who's just told you a harrowing personal story. I remind myself of this information, in my own head, because it helps to counteract the fear that scary birth stories can induce, but it doesn't seem appropriate to tell someone, "You know, my research suggests that if you hadn't been in a hospital setting to begin with, your birth experience might not have been so frightening."

I guess the scary birth stories are particularly troubling when they're being told as a judgment on my decision. If someone is just sharing, that's one thing--but sometimes they're told as warnings: "Don't you go thinking that birth is some natural process--horrible, horrible things can happen!"

Of course they can. But does that really need to be our overriding approach to birth?


Irritated pregnant woman has something to say

If I hear one more time how dangerous/unpleasant/risky pregnancy and/or birth are--well, I don't know what I'll do. Get even more irritated than I already am, I suppose.

I went to a yoga class this evening--a gentle/restorative class--my first yoga class in weeks and weeks. I felt too sick during most my first trimester to attempt any yoga, but as readers of Baxter Sez know, yoga has been an important part of my life for years now, and I was eager to get back to it. There are very few prenatal yoga classes in Charleston--in fact, only two that I know of right now--and neither one is a good fit for my schedule. So I thought a gentle/restorative class would be a nice way for me to ease back into a yoga practice.

I made the mistake of mentioning that I'm pregnant to the person taking my money at the front desk. (Things I've learned from pregnancy so far: do not take the recommended tests! Do not tell anyone you're pregnant unless they absolutely need to know! No good can come of it!) Then ensued a whole, furrowed-brows conversation between the front desk person, the owner of the studio, and my teacher. I was informed, in a very kind way, by the studio owner that I'm a legal liability if I take any class but the prenatal class, that I might do something "that would be bad for a pregnant woman," and that it would be too time-consuming for the teacher to have to pay attention to me to make sure I didn't hurt myself. I understand all these concerns--I know this person didn't make them up--we are in an incredibly litigious society, and people feel the need to protect themselves and their small businesses.

But this is just one of several conversations I've had in the last few weeks that have centered on the dangers, the perils, the risks to life and limb, of my pregnancy.

Here's what Ina May Gaskin has to say about some of this. Ina May, you may know, is the mother of modern midwifery and one of my feminist heroes. She runs the midwifery center at The Farm. She says:

So many horror stories circulate about birth--especially in the United States--that it can be difficult for women to believe that labor and birth can be a beneficial experience [and I would add to this pregnancy, too]. If you have been pregnant for a while, it's probable that you've already heard some scary birth stories from friends or relatives. This is especially true if you live in the United States, where telling pregnant women gory stories has been a national pastime for at least a century.
Ina May advises pregnant women to read stories that focus on how empowering birth can be, how exciting pregnancy can be, stories that don't pathologize a perfectly natural human experience. I would add that it's important I surround myself with people who are excited that I'm pregnant, who are supportive of the choices I'm making--and, indeed, of my ability to make informed choices--and who are ready to love this baby no matter who he or she is. I am perfectly comfortable with people wanting to commiserate with me about the challenges of walking around in a pregnant body, but I'm losing my patience with being looked at like I'm a ticking time bomb.


Still no cleavage yet, but getting closer, OR things I like about pregnancy

As I promised long ago, here is a list of some of the things I like about pregnancy. I should say that it's much easier to like pregnancy now that I'm in week 15 and don't constantly feel like I'm either going to collapse or throw up.

1. Grumpiness. This has been one of the pleasantest surprises about pregnancy. I am in touch with my grumpy side. It's not that I feel that pregnancy hormones have unleashed some irrational irritability--instead, it seems that the anger and irritability that have always been there are just a bit closer to the surface. I am less willing to put up with bullshit. I am my own authentic, grouchy self. This manifests itself in various ways:

  • This past weekend, when my parents were in town, we were standing on the sidewalk eating gelato. A guy walked up, introduced himself, and began a shpiel that was clearly going to lead to him trying to sell us something. Almost immediately I cut him off, in a friendly but firm tone, and said, "Mike, we're not going to buy anything from you tonight. Thanks." And he stopped and walked off.
  • Biffle actually figured out I was pregnant even before I knew, back in early January, when we were having a fight. He had a tone that I'd heard before and didn't appreciate, and I said, "I have had it with your condescension!" (Perhaps there was some swearing in there, too.) He was so shocked he actually stopped arguing and said, "I think you're pregnant!" And he was right, the fucker.
Interestingly, Biffle has found this new side of me quite wonderful. He keeps saying how much he likes me grumpy--"You have opinions! You're funny!" Apparently all the years I've spent being reasonable, charming, and easy to get along with were wasted.

2. Priorities. Pregnancy has forced me to streamline a bit (a bit, I'm saying--I haven' t become some whole different person who's not multitasking). Since I haven't necessarily had the energy level to do everything and then some, I've had to pick and choose, and this has been kind of cool. Things that were stressing me out in the fall I've just let drop by the wayside. The things I really need to do (finish the book) have come into clearer focus. I like this.

I also have some clarity about other priorities, like the fact that I want to have a home birth. My recent encounters with the medicalized birth system have done nothing but solidify my certainty that I want to stay as far away from those folks as possible, unless the shit hits the fan and I really need them. Rest assured that I'll blog more about this soon.

3. My changing body. It's sort of fascinating that all these shifts are happening. I have to wear new pants or, as I'm doing today, wear my old pants with a rubber band holding the button to the buttonhole. Biffle points out that actually not that much has changed so far, and I guess he's right--but I'm noticing the differences, and they're like a constant fun reminder that something's going on. To relate back to my grumpiness point, one of my students suggested that I come home and say to Biffle, "You have to fix me dinner! I'm exhausted! I grew a lung today!"


Last night i got in around 11:30 p.m. I had been at a friend's house helping set up a computer- based recording studio kind of thing. I didn't want to stay out that late because i hadn't got squat for sleep the night before, but i had anyway and was mad at myself. Alison had already gone to bed so i stood in the kitchen alone wondering if i should bother to eat the dinner i skipped. I was tired, and for some reason really sore, too and kinda irritable and...you know...just wasn't all that happy. As i heated up a somewhat bland plate of leftover stroganoff i recalled an evening long ago in Massachusetts....................

School had been wearin' me out. I was sore from doing physical labor, i was tired from not enough sleep, i was depressed for being away from home for so long, my somewhat dungeon-like basement apartment was cold and that chill had reached its way into my very bones. Thankfully, i had already gone to the grocery store and stocked up on some good stuff for dinner. I wouldn't have to go back out into the cold New England night and buy something. I stared into the fridge hoping it would inform me what i wanted for dinner when i saw the jar of Santa Barbara Olive Company Habenero-Stuffed Olives i'd bought a few days before. I hadn't opened them yet, but as i was just too worn out to consider what i actually wanted to eat, i pulled the jar out, twisted it open with a *POP* and flummoxed down on the couch in a cold, tired, sore, disenfranchised blob.

Not really thinking about the fact that the jar was full of
Habanero-stuffed olives, i used my little tiny olive-eatin' fork to spear me one and bit off half of it right away. Within two seconds, two things happened: 1) my mouth was on fire, and 2) the room suddenly brightened, the soreness in my back and knees and head flitted away into the quickly diminishing dimness, i didn't feel so alone, i was no longer cold and school felt very manageable. Capsaicin had come to the rescue. Although capsaicin has topical uses of its own, in this case its intense heat caused my pituitary gland to produce a whole truckload of endorphins. Suddenly, all was right with the world............

So, last night after the Strog had about 30 seconds in the microwave, i got out the jar of just straight up habaneros i always keep around these days, chopped one up and mixed it (and a little bit of salt) into my late dinner. Works everytime.

This post brought to you by the letter "H."