Saturday, October 31, 2015

Leaves, leaves and more leaves!

I feel like this season of the year, as it pertains to our life here at Tangly Woods, could be named "leaf season."  We are all about leaves right now, and are known among our neighbors as the folks who will come rake their leaves if we can have them!  Having learned recently that the city is no longer allowing people to come pick up trailer loads of chopped partially composted leaves for mere pennies, we were on the lookout for any and all leaf collecting opportunities. It is clear at this point that time will be our limiting factor, not leaves!  We now have at least three neighbors who will gladly send their leaves with us back to our property.  And the most recent winner was learning that one neighbor sucks up his leaves weekly with a machine that also chops them. He normally just deposits them somewhere out of the way in the woods but is happy to instead deposit them on a pile for us to pick up weekly. Yes, please!!  So the newly finished roof for carbonaceous materials is filling up and the leaf pile down by the composting chicken coop is also accumulating nicely.

One of my wishes for Nora's birthday (she would have turned 8 yesterday) was to do something together as a family outside.  Initially a hike to the lake sounded appealing but with chillier temperatures and not having attempted such a long outing with Terah in the pack, it sounded potentially stressful, which was not our goal for yesterday!  So instead we planned to enjoy the beautiful fall weather and do some raking together.  By the time we got breakfast in everyone and chores done and I got Terah content (meaning asleep) in the front pack, I only got maybe an hour or so of raking in. But I savored that hour in the fresh air and sunshine, listening to Alida's monologue, watching Kali rake and then take a break to climb to the tippy top of a tree and to be working in the same general vicinity as Jason.  Those times feel precious and while they are not reminiscent of our time with Nora, the falling leaves are.

This particular anniversary of Nora's birth didn't include long times of reflection on the actual day of her birth but instead little bursts here and there throughout the day - reading Jason's writing about her birth, thinking of her in the early morning hours as I was up taking care of Terah, watching a smattering of videos, and talking together as a family some about our memories (or in Kali's case the lack of many very clear memories).  I'm so grateful to have some little clips of Nora at various times in her life (thank you, Aunt Anna!) and it felt like such a gift to watch them together last evening, letting Kali see how sweet she was with her very first little sister.  Here is the most treasured compilation for anyone interested:

I think the most poignant thing about yesterday was thinking about Nora while simultaneously having most of my day wrapped up in Terah's care.  I find that ever since Nora, taking care of a newborn is not quite the same for me.  My memories of the intense nature of Nora's care gets all mixed up in the normal needs and demands of caring for a newborn. It was even more so with Alida, so this time around I'm more relaxed when Terah spits up and am even getting acclimated to her loud squawks, which are getting easier and easier to calm as we get to know each other's rhythms.  I may be reading into things, but it seems to me that Terah is starting to gain some confidence in our desire to meet her needs as quickly as we can figure them out and she seems to be attempting to extend some patience to us as we work to assess what she needs.  It's so sweet when she looks at me with her big bright eyes and then after a few moments just lets out a solitary squawk as if to say, "I'm trying but you better figure this out pretty soon or I'll have to complain louder and longer."  In general caring for her feels so much more relaxed than those early weeks with Nora, which included getting to and from the hospital, the whole washing up ritual before entering the NICU, and the constant worry and anxiety that characterized each day as we attempted to care for her, while not knowing what the future would hold for her (and therefore us).  I feel forever changed by those experiences and by Nora's entrance and departure from our family, and I feel grateful for the ways I am a better, more whole person because of them.  I can even muster up a bit of nostalgia for aspects of that time, but mostly I feel thankful to not be attempting to manage the levels of anxiety and heartbreak that I felt all throughout the fall of 2007.

I'm so glad for Terah's sake that thus far she seems to be a wonderfully normal and healthy baby, who seems to be having no trouble thriving under our care and plumping up with the abundance of milk she is partaking of! One of the most appropriate outfits for Terah to wear these days is the very hungry caterpillar sleeper. We modify the "he" to be "she" and then it suits her perfectly to have an outfit that states, "but she was still hungry."  Here she is trying out daddy's finger, which she enjoyed while it lasted:

She seems, in general, to be waking up to the world around her and thankfully is doing most of that during normal waking hours (it's not that she isn't cute in the midnight to 5 a.m. range, but when my eyes are not as bright as hers it's hard to fully enjoy it).  We are getting more smiles and her sounds are changing, to the extent that Alida has exclaimed on multiple occasions, "She's learning to talk already."  She seems to soak up any number of people adoring her at any given time. The other night at dinner we were all surrounding her and giving her lots of kisses. She just looked at us as if it was perfectly normal for four people to be taking turns loving on her.  I'm so glad that she finds her world to be a place in which she is treasured. I wish that for all little people!

She'll be three weeks old tomorrow and as of yesterday she made her first contributions to our humanure composting system.  She's become such a pro at going potty in the sink that it seemed worth shifting the location to the actual toilet.  The first time she grunted for awhile and didn't go until I carried her over to the sink, but the following two times were successful (I just have to work at holding her so she hits the hole with her explosions!).

The part of Terah's week that she was most unimpressed with was our attempt to give her her first bath.  Let's just say it was a very abbreviated bath and she was maybe just a tad cleaner after it than before.  It was her first time immersed in water and while it felt very comfortable to the rest of us inside, my guess is the combination of being naked, wet and a bit chilly did her in. As soon as she got wrapped up in a towel and in her daddy's arms, she calmed immediately. And after a little warm milk made its way to her belly, she seemed to have forgiven us. Maybe we'll try the next one right up by the wood stove and see if that helps matters.  I imagine what will help the most is her getting a little bigger and a little older and so until then she just might smell more like regurgitated breast milk than soap.

 Well, let's not end on the bath-time trauma.  Instead, here is just one more picture of Alida enjoying being a big sister. She continues to talk about being Kali's age and at times acts a little more like Terah's age, but Kali helped her tremendously the other day by pointing out to her that fact that in our family she will be the only one that gets to be both a little sister and a big sister.  She is reveling in that position of privilege!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Second week with Terah

Today is Terah's two week old birthday!  It is likely a mere coincidence but on both her one week and her two week birthday she has been wide awake the hour or so before her birth time of 5:15 a.m.  Hopefully that will not be a pattern that continues indefinitely, but in these first two weeks it has given me quiet moments to reflect on the time around her birth - a precious, precious time to remember!  In most ways it feels like more than two weeks ago!  For me right now all the days and nights kind of run together caring for a newborn 24/7.  Yet each day also seems to include big changes - Terah is very, very busy being good at being a baby (yesterday I think I counted about 3 poopy and 6 wet diapers between about 6-9 a.m.).  It's no wonder that hours pass and I try to figure out what on earth I've done other than nurse a baby and change diapers in a cyclical pattern - maybe that's because the answer is "not much!"

It's a tricky thing to figure out when to start on a non-baby-care project and when to not bother.  It is normalizing for me to do things that feel like me - hang out laundry, cook a meal, do some food processing task (I got 4 gallons of broccoli in the freezer yesterday!), go outside to harvest some herbs that have survived our first two frosts, write a blog post, download pictures, play games with the girls, etc...  But I find that I have a harder time getting the maximum pleasure out of any of those things since I am never sure when I'll be interrupted and have to abandon the project midway or try to continue one handed.  We've been really grateful for the little blue seat that her Aunt Anna got for Nora as Terah seems to really like it (for short periods of time at least!). Right now Terah is happily asleep in the front pack and I've got a number of started tasks: this blog post, a sink full of dirty dishes, sweet potatoes roasting for lunch, a carrot top quiche halfway made and biscuits ready to mix and bake.  What to do first?!?!

The timer rang and made my decision for me.  The quiche is now baking and I've got 15 or so minutes before the biscuits need to go in.  We'll see if I can get this written in that time and if Terah's belly alarm holds off for awhile yet. Oh, I also need to pump sometime (Terah's is likely to catch up with my supply soon, but to date our older girls are still enjoying creamy antibody-filled mugs of hot chocolate each morning). Anyway, back to the unfinished projects, it seems I either need a few more hands, more minutes in the day or to not need to have some productive time in my day to feel okay about the day and about me!

Right now feeling "normal" or anywhere close to normal is pretty important.  It felt like the first week of Terah's life I rode on some kind of high from the birth, as well as benefiting from my mom's presence and help.  The second week has been just as full of beautiful moments, as the pictures embedded here will show, but I've found that my emotions are all over the map in this second week.  I've been grateful for a few times alone at home with Terah to do some journaling.  In one of those sessions as I looked at the array of colors on the mountain in front of me, it hit me again that October is Nora's birth month too and that there is something so striking about the transformation in the world outside at this time of year that will always remind me of those weeks leading up to her birth and the uncertainty that that time held for our family.  So I imagine some of my emotions are from holding those experiences close at a time when we are also caring for a newborn in our home, albeit a very different set of circumstances this time around.

I find myself going back to my mindfulness class these days and the things that I learned from that intense time of practice, even if I've been horrible at continuing the daily practices.  When Alida was born and I experienced some "baby blues" I was full of feelings of guilt about it - how could I feel sad when we had a perfectly normal, wonderful, healthy baby to enjoy!  Somehow my sadness got all mixed up in the feelings of wonder and gratitude that I also felt.  This time around when the feelings started coming, I was able to recognize it more quickly and start thinking of things that might help me to be present to those feelings and also to acknowledge that they will not last forever and that there is nothing wrong with feeling a little teary here and there.  After all, a rather monumental change took place in our little corner of the world...

There have been some things that have helped!  We've had a little surge of visits from friends that has boosted my spirits, as well as some of those visits contributing to a well stocked fridge and full content tummies.  I've gotten outside on a few occasions to pick tea, raspberries, chives and herbs.  Kali and I have taken the two younger gals on a few nap walks together and I got in on two shorts stints of leaf raking with Terah in the front pack.  I'm trying to get a nap in sometime during the day, but haven't been as consistent at that, due to all the other things I want to do during Terah's naps.  It also helps that I'm getting a bit more sleep at night (some nights), though it is still amazing if I get more than 2 hours at a time (I think that has only happened a handful of times to date).

I know that one thing that made the week harder was that Tuesday evening Terah had her first (and last) inconsolable fussy time. It broke all our hearts!!  We had hosted our small group and she hadn't really settled all evening.  But when they left, she took the floor and cried herself into a state of complete exhaustion. It was probably not more than 10-15 minutes of crying but it felt like hours.  I think we all felt a bit rattled by the evening and were nervous the next day about whether our happy baby was no more and if fussy times were the new normal.  She's definitely been clearer about her needs, and her distaste for those needs not being met proactively.  But she has been much more consolable in the days since,and has graced us with smiles that are beyond precious!  So maybe it was the breakfast and lunch that included a lot of broccoli that day?  That was one of the reasons I froze the rest of the broccoli we had - I'm too scared to eat it for a little while now just in case that was the cause of her sadness/discomfort.

I'll end here with a smattering of pictures from the week and a little video of one of Terah's many cases of the hiccups!  Only babies can be so cute doing such mundane things!!
The girls still love holding her - though Alida seems to be reminded of that desire whenever Kali is holding her and will say things like "I never get to hold her!"  She hasn't gotten less dramatic in her move to big sisterhood!
We miss Mom and Dad!  A recent visit was much too short but they got in some baby adoring and fed us a delicious lunch before heading back to WV.
Terah and I napping; Alida not napping but letting us nap - I'll take it!
Terah's first car trip was mostly uneventful.  She checked out great at the doctor - climbing above her birth weight to 7lb 13oz.  We probably better do a few more car trips close to home before our big Thanksgiving trek to PA!
She seems pretty fond of tummy time and can move her head side to side, making her big sisters move around to look at and talk to her.
My goodness how I love these four people!  Huggy-lovey time is one of those precious times savored!
Some of us rake leaves, some of us jump in and mess up the piles...
I wasn't fast but it sure felt good!
We are very grateful for neighbors who have lots of trees and don't want the leaves - a perfect win win!
Dad got in on the fun for a bit.
I did not take part in the flips into the leaves but Jason did!
Games are a very common occurrence right now - often with a baby in tow!
I think Terah's diaper changing station is pretty sweet - light from Martin House, diaper holder from my friend Erin, clowns from a Yemenese CJP student and of course a very cute baby!
Making eyes at each other - or working on a diaper...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

What a week!

Is it possible that it was just about exactly a week ago at this time that I started feeling contractions in some kind of time-able fashion?  How is it that one week could hold so much - it feels like the week is completely running over with cuteness, sleepiness, and oh so many precious moments.  So in light of Terah's almost one week birthday, I thought I'd note a few highlights of this week while she is completely sacked out on my lap. Oh how I long for the point at which she sleeps this solidly in the middle of the night.  But she'll figure it out and in the meantime I'll do my best to savor those little eyes looking at my intently at 3 in the morning!

Let's start with a few outdoor updates; most of those do not include Terah.  However, she has gotten out four days in a row with me, Mom, Kali and Alida for nappy walks.  All have been successful in getting naps for both Alida and Terah.  The day my midwife told me just to go as far as the mailbox and back, I very obediently followed instructions.  I figured by the next day I could venture farther! Today I did, however, discover my current limits. We walked the two miles much faster and it felt great and then I got to suffer through about a half hour of pretty intense contractions when we returned and I was trying to take a nap.  Live and learn, or in this case walk too fast and learn!

I was also up and about more today doing some outdoor pre-frost tasks. I was getting the herb/spice garden all tucked in - harvesting all the remaining hot and paprika peppers and chopping up the plants; harvesting several bags of feathery dill to freeze (thanks to Mom being here I now know that it freezes well!) and use fresh; harvesting a bunch of parsley (though it is likely to make it through this frost); and chopping up the basil plants that failed to produce any seed and were looking pathetic.  It felt nice to be outside and walk around the gardens. I snacked on a few white raspberries and figs and also meandered to the main garden for some flat leaf parsley, oregano and garlic chives to add to our lentils for lunch.  I'll miss those harvesting routines, as much as I'm also eager to hunker down next to a fire in the wood stove (we haven't needed one since the night of Terah's birth but I think we might tomorrow).

Jason has been busy this week working to get some crops harvested before frost (grain amaranth and corn most recently) and some cover crops seeded (barley, rye, and oats to name a few).  I believe he is feeling more or less ready for frost.  What remains to be done is less urgent and not as frost sensitive.  What I think that means is even more baby adoring in Jason's future!  He has gotten little stints of holding her this week and also took some time one evening to finish up her lullaby (which is lovely!), but there have been a lot of arms pretty eager for this little gal to fill around here this week!

Having my mom around all week and my dad for part of the week has made all the difference in the world - on the quality of food we have eaten, the number of games I've been able to play with Alida and Kali, the amount of sleep I've gotten, the cleanliness of our floors, etc...  Dad has also helped Jason out with chicken chores on multiple occasions and they took the girls to soccer, freeing Jason up to finally rid our garage of many bags of trash and glass recycling that had been building up for way too long! They have also got in some good baby holding time!  I've been so very, very grateful and wondered if the little emotional dip I had the other day was in part me looking ahead to their departure Sunday and wondering how we'll gracefully go through our days without them!

I also think it will be healthy for the five of us to start to establish some routines, if that is even possible with a one week old in the house.  And I think Jason will actually be grateful to have his assistance needed some indoors as I know he enjoys every chance he gets to connect with Terah.  Normally right now there is a line up of folks eager to hold her. It is obvious she knows her big sisters and has gotten quite comfy in Kali's arms on numerous occasions. I see many book reading sessions with a little gal on Kali's chest.

A few things to note from Terah's week.  As of this morning her dried cord stump came off!  Cheers all around for that.  That has never been a milestone that comes too soon for me or Jason.  I'm always so relieved when it comes off and there's been no major irritation at the site.  It seems to be healing just fine!  And now cloth diapering will be even easier - not that it has been a problem. We once again can't imagine doing anything simpler.  It also appears that Terah may follow in Alida's footsteps in getting a good and early start on potty training (just right now it is "sink training"). On her second day of life she woke up dry after lots of nursing. I figured I might as well take her to the sink and see if she wanted to go out of her diaper.  She did. I was impressed.  She has done it at least a dozen times since and now clearly associates me holding her over the sink and asking her if she needs to go potty with doing just that. I make a little sound and she grunts, bears down and often gives the sink a good spraying.  Yes, I am washing it well in between times.

All around, I'd say that Terah is adjusting wonderfully well to life outside the womb.  She is even starting to give off some really good smiles (both in her sleep and when she is awake).  I even got a few on camera today so that no one could doubt it - my goodness, could anything be sweeter?  I hardly want to look away from her for fear that I'll miss one. But I imagine there will be lots more coming.  I think she recognizes that she has a pretty good life and that her needs will be met just as soon as we figure out what they are - which most of the time she is pretty good in letting us know.

She has not been able to keep up with the amount of milk my body is producing - which is nothing very new for me.  Alida has been very fascinated with me pumping and she is now a big fan of her morning cup of hot chocolate, made with the surplus Terah can't make use of. I have to say I got a little thrill out of Kali noting last night that she might like to try it.  So as of today, the hot chocolate has to be divided into two mugs.  I'm not at all disappointed to see all three of our gals getting a little daily shot of antibodies.  I know it seems weird to many (but that is nothing new for us). I happen to find it odd how surprised people are, but very few think it is odd that we drink milk from a cow.

Ok, it's about time to get dinner on.  We have been eating so well and still enjoying so much fresh good stuff.  Supper tonight is potatoes and nettle biscuits with summer gravy (corn, squash, onions, and garlic) over top.  We'll then have the very last tomatoes with some fermented beets and homemade mayonnaise (that flopped, by the way, but is still edible).  I'm also doing a trial run on a cranberry pear rhubarb crisp - I didn't want to try to make a new recipe for our small group on Tuesday so I'm trying it out on the family first.  It smells and looks quite edible.  It was nice to do just a tad bit of cooking today to ease my way back into it. Now we'll have to see if I still remember how to do dishes!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Why on earth did we name her Terah?

Naming children.  Sometimes it would be nice if we did what some cultures do and name our children after their birth order.  Kali would have been named "First", Nora "Second" and so on.

But no.  In our culture names have to be more complicated.  Mostly we name our kids with words that mean little to us in our everyday lives other than being somebody's name.  It is the unusual family that names their babies after seasons, months, other species, etc.  Just once I would like to hear of a kid named "Feldspar", or maybe "Equinox."

As in many other areas of our lives, we tend to ride the borders between the quixotic and the maudlin, the soulful and the ordinary.  We don't want to saddle our children (who do have to grow up in this culture, after all) with names that they have to explain all the time or which pin them to a clear and present definition, but neither are we satisfied with just picking a name we like from the standard menu even though our tastes can hardly be said to be sophisticated.  And we have to like, or at least be o.k. with, all the meanings of the names we choose.  They have to work together well phonetically and conceptually.

In our case there was another wrinkle, in that we already had a theme going on.  Kali's name is associated with energy and fire, Nora's name is associated with light, but her middle name, "Lynne" has water connotations.  Alida might translate from Spanish as "winged."  To our minds, these names tie in to three of the "four elements" of ancient concept: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.  We were just missing an Earth connotation in our complete set.  Collect them all, I say!

The above parameters narrowed things down pretty quickly, as you can imagine.  Which suits us fine since we also don't have much tolerance for the naming process to drag on and on.  I think there is a risk that if you agonize too long and hard and aren't willing to go with your instincts housed in a fun and simple process that you may lock yourself into the habit of agonizing and continue to agonize after the fact about whether you made a good choice.  Bleh.  No thanks.

Anyway, congratulations to my brother E and his girlfriend K for having pegged us pretty closely after hearing about the thematic component.  As early as July, K told us they both were placing their bets on the word "Terra", as in Terra Firma, Terra Cotta, etc.  Already by then we were homing in on "Terah" (which is just an alternative spelling of "Terra") as our first choice for first name.  I gulped and demurred with some sort of non-response like, "Huh.  We'll just have to see."  The kind of thing you say to your kid when they have guessed their birthday present that was supposed to be a surprise.

In the end it is bad form to ignore the obvious choice just because it is the obvious choice.  And it's o.k. to be predictable to those closest to you.  Besides, the longer we sat with it the very much more we liked it, especially me.  I was not bowled over at first, but over time I came to love the way it felt like a sweet name, but one she could grow with and into with a wide variety of personalities.  It didn't feel cutesy or embellished, and was not at all common but quite pronounceable and composed of familiar components.  A good, solid name.

Not that we didn't look around.  I spent a fair bit of effort on poking around on the Internet trying to find any word in any language (English included) that I could associate with the Earth element.  I tried trees and wood, hill and valley, land and soil, field and forest, dust and stone...I even tried looking up the words for "turtle" and "tortoise."  No luck.  There may be the 'perfect' word out there somewhere that we missed, but frankly I am so attached now to the name we've chosen that if there is one I am not worried about having regrets.

Our biggest concern was that it would not be an endearing name for the baby stage, but we have, after 4 days of living with an adorable Terah in the house, fully dispensed with that one.

It also mattered to us that we be able to find a middle name or names that were a nice fit.  Since the first name was pretty conceptual, it seemed perilous to choose the next one.  How to select a middle name that would be meaningful while not pigeonholing or going over the top?  We started with names we just plain liked, or which sounded nice with Terah.  I don't remember the rest we looked into, but Janelle has in recent years really liked the name Cybil, though she thinks she always thought of it as being spelled with an S.  I think we had a kids' book growing up that had a horse named Cybil with a C, so I've always assumed the C thing.  There is always the risk that someone will think it is pronounced "Kigh-Bull", but you have to take some risks...what were we going to do, spell it "S-I-B-B-L-E?"

Where were we?  Oh...middle names.  So we looked up Cybil, and it turns out that it means "soothsayer," or "prophet."  Sometimes these words imply some kind of special vision or prophetic gift but "sooth" is also simply an old synonym of "truth", and the notion of the prophetic can imply simply bearing witness to the truth.  So if Terah Cybil means "Earth Prophet" that could be some spooky person who has access to insider information regarding the earth (and has the duty to reveal it to someone), or it could be someone who is a bearer of truth with regard to the earth.  The first of those sounds like too much pressure to us.  The second we like really pretty well.  Especially we like it because of one particular fact that we expect to be true of her:  if things keep going like they are, the mineral portion of this kid will be mostly extracted from the soil of this place we call home.  She will, in her body and through no special effort of her own, be a bearer of truth with regard to the possibilities for a life made on, and of, this land.

Two snags left.  First, Janelle didn't like the plodding sound of three two-syllable names stitched into a string.  Terah Cybil Myers didn't cut it for her.  Second, we had not yet tied her name in with family naming history, which is another thing we like to do.  Another name that has always appealed to Janelle is Elizabeth.  Far more common, of course, than the was easy to find examples of the name being used in our families: Janelle's aunt and my cousin, specifically.  Also a longtime family friend of the Myers family (who happens to be the person who married us) is so named.  So, justifications in hand, we settled on Terah Cybil Elizabeth Myers.  I don't love the repeated syllable sound at the end of Cybil and the beginning of Elizabeth, and it's plenty long, but you can't have everything and, hey, it works!  We have come to love it beyond reason, because it is associated now with precious her, who we also love beyond reason.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

We wanted this so much. She is so sweet. She is so happy.

Well, we asked for it, and we got it!  It was so strange how towards the end of pregnancy both Janelle and I had such a strong feeling that this whole thing was not real.  That we were just "playing house," and soon we would get jolted back out of our little fantasy and get back to normal life.  We could not convince ourselves that we were going to meet our new girl any day.  It is especially odd since neither of us remember feeling these things so strongly with any of our other girls.

Maybe this was true, counterintuitively, because of how much thought we put into this decision.  There is something a little surreal, perhaps, in having so much agency in planning out our and our children's lives.  In most of history, in most of the world, people could not and/or did not approach life this way.  Mostly, life happens to people and their well-being is determined by a combination of the circumstances they are dealt and their ability to craft goodness within them.  We have had the rare privilege and drive to craft our circumstances in extraordinary ways, including educational choices, financial/debt parameters, how to spend our time, where on the planet we wished to settle, the layout and comfort of our home, food choices for pleasure and excellent nutrition, and family structure including childbearing timing. This is a little weird, actually, and even implies a burden of responsibility that can feel fairly weighty, as it did at the time we were deciding to conceive this cutey.  There is not really a cultural pattern to attach this planning/execution process to, which, I theorize, is why the creation and fulfillment of our carefully crafted plans has an unmoored, or unreal quality to it.

In any case, we entered last week knowing that this was very likely going to be the week of our fourth baby's birth, and there was no way either of us could understand that to be true.  We cleared our schedule, we got things together, we did the all material ways we were ready.  We even made a few rituals for ourselves: some female friends of Janelle's gathered around her a few weeks back to bless her and declare their support and solidarity; we made an evening ritual of music...singing the silly name songs we have come up with for Kali and Alida, the lullabies I wrote for them, and Kate Wolf's "Give Yourself to Love", which had been running through my head for a few weeks as birth was on my mind, and which, when I sang it for Janelle, she dearly wanted to hear every night until the birth came to pass; I even tried to write a new lullaby for the new little one, trying out a few tunes and recording them on my phone, though none totally hit home or stuck in my mind very well.

These rituals helped, truly, and my way of thinking about it was that it didn't really matter if it "felt real" was just funny that it didn't.  I felt confident that the reading and thinking and talking and ritualizing we had done in preparation was going to pay off when the time came.  I thought there was no way it was going to feel real ahead of time, but when it came around there was going to be no denying the reality of it, and we would then be back in the situation more common to human experience: making the best of what comes.  In a way, it seemed like it would be a relief to turn the decision-making back over to nature and turn our attention towards gathering around the person in the throes of the action and participating in her process, offering aid, wisdom, and support as best we could.

Which is more or less how it was, I suppose, though that treatment hardly does justice to the sweet, challenging, powerful, sacred process I felt so honored to participate in.  When on Saturday evening the occasional contractions turned into rhythmic ones, and Janelle started writing down the intervals, we put our well-crafted plan into action: sent out a few pre-written emails, called the midwives and other sundry attendants, brought a trash can with a fresh bag down from the garage, located the extra towels and plastic film dropcloth, then settled in to wait by making an apple/cranberry birthday cake for the little one.

As the next two hours unfolded, Janelle kept tracking the contractions, but wasn't really seeming to need much in the way of help or support.  People began arriving from near and far, and with each new arrival we sure hoped it wasn't a false alarm!  I think the midwives wondered sometimes, too, because Janelle was still beating everyone around the table at Boggle despite the laboring.  But a few of the squeezes were starting to be distracting after some time, so before she started losing we quit.  Anyway it was probably time, Ann (an attending friend who happens to be a midwife but wasn't, in this case, our midwife) thought, to move to the bedroom and try a little side-lying labor...she said she was getting a "side-lying feeling" about this and had the impression that that would help things progress to the next stage.  I always admire people who are so competent and experienced that they can begin to follow hunches and intuition in ways that compliment the hard evidence they use routinely.  Maybe as much as anything it was just helpful to the process to move to a different space and place our focus in a more concentrated way on Janelle (we turned from an assembly of supporters to a team of masseuses with two birth presiders waiting in the wings); perhaps sending this signal to the uterus was all that was needed, or perhaps Ann's thought that this would help with proper alignment of all the implicated parts was the ticket.  In any case this seems to have been the turning point to when labor started in earnest.

After a number of contractions had come and it was clear that things were accelerating dependably, Janelle stirred and declared her desire for a walk down and up the lane with just me for company.  Everyone thought that was fine, and that if ever it was going to happen, that was the time...soon such a walk would not be comfortable or advisable.  So out we went into the night.  The stars were so crisp and brilliant (there was no moon) and the air had just the right amount of chill to balance the lingering summer heat that the earth is still radiating.  This walk that we've done so many times was at once familiar and subtly transformed by the power of the process at work within and around Janelle's one tiny body in the vast starry universe visible through the resting sky.

It is often hard to tell what helps labor along or hinders its progress in a given instance, but clearly the walk didn't hurt anything.  There were more contractions on the way back up the lane then on the way down, and my job as a draping post that accommodates the instinctual movements of the laboring mother was cemented by the time we came back in.  Janelle thought she didn't want to go straight back to the bedroom yet, so we asked Kali to start a fire in the living room woodstove, and she soon had things pretty cozy in there.  A handful of contractions later, things were moving right along and my job as draping post/dance partner was feeling more serious.  Nobody seemed to want to leave the warm and spacious front room, though the midwives were starting to signal that they were "hearing the cervix change" through Janelle's voice and it was soon time to move to the place where birth was to take place, wherever that might be.  I don't know who mentioned that it would be fine to open up the futon and try some side-lying laboring, but we all seemed to like the idea (for one thing Janelle knew she'd soon be unable to tolerate clothing during contractions and the warmth of the fire might be welcome between).  Those of us taking care of particulars scurried around opening and readying the futon with plastic sheeting and an old queen sheet Mom Myers had found for the occasion.  Somewhere in there I ran to the bathroom or some such and came back to find Ann "dancing" with Janelle through a contraction.  I joked that I would tap her on the shoulder just as soon as it was finished.

Soon Janelle was on her side on the futon and needing to give herself pretty fully to the intensity to be able to tolerate it when a surge came on.  I crawled onto the mattress behind her and held her hands or stroked her hair or cradled her head and kissed and whispered to her as the surges came and went.  I was a little worried when Alida woke and came down that it would be too distracting for Janelle and that I would have to turn my attention to managing Alida's four-year-old impulses or anxieties, but she seemed to appropriately read the calmness and seriousness on the faces of the attendants, and was able to take in the unfolding of her sister's birth from the warmth and comfort of her Grandmother's lap.  She may not consciously remember this as an adult, but I wonder how it will affect her unconscious assumptions about womanhood, birth...what it means to be born into this world and join the community of humans.  There are lots of things in life we will probably wish we could give her or show her and not be able to, but I think I'll always be grateful for her being there for those moments.

We had talked with Leslie about the possibility of me catching the baby, and she had run through a mock delivery with me just in case she didn't get there in time. I felt like I would have done an o.k. job and would have enjoyed it, but I was also clear that I would only do that if it seemed like I was not needed at the other end of the mother.  When the time came, I knew I didn't want to move.  I could feel Janelle's strong grip on my hands and arms every time she bore down, and the way she threw her head back against my chest when the surges passed.  In between we rested together, nearly dozing off before Janelle would stir and reach for me again.  It's not that she couldn't have done it without me.  Of course she could have.  Someone else could have stood in for a few minutes or she could have reached into her deep reserves of personal strength and accomplished it on her own.  But I didn't want that.  This was my last chance to feel the power of birth blazing up through my lover's arms to her fingers and digging itself into my palms.  This was the only chance I had to communicate to her by my presence and responsiveness that she was wonderful in this and was doing it so well!  It might have been fun and quite meaningful to me to be so close to the emergence of my daughter, but I don't think it meant anything to Terah either way, whereas Janelle and I can always savor our closeness in those moments.

When Terah's skin first felt air, she was ready for it, it would seem.  Her heart rate had stayed up beautifully the whole time, and her vigor was a sight to behold.  The midwives say she tried to give her first cry before her body was totally out, and I believe that.  Certainly a few seconds later when she was passed up to Janelle for her first taste of love and comfort she was already squalling and the pink glow that showed on her face and head shot down to her toes almost immediately.  It was only a moment before she calmed and began to take in her new world: full of color, touch, and sound; voices that she had heard in her muffled envelope of flesh were now revealed in their full crispness.  Her first view of her mother's could almost see her memorizing.  I don't often give voice to my tears, but this was a safe space and I allowed myself to be overcome by my emotions.


I think it was soon after the midwives arrived (and just before the Boggle tournament) that there was a moment when I was standing at the dining room table while everyone else was headed to the back of the house to check on supplies or something of that sort, and a tune bubbled up from somewhere inside me; I began to whistle it and knew it was the beginnings of the lullaby tune.  I would have to say that that is probably the moment when the "reality" of the event settled onto me and I became fully engaged with the process.  I took a few steps to the piano to get a visual of the sequence of notes to aid in memory, then abandoned the tune to its fate (if it's really the one, I chose to believe, it will not let itself die) and joined in the conversations and preparations.

Since that time I have been messing around with variations on that same tune, and I think that, as of yesterday's garden-work-and-whistling session, I have now settled on something like a final version.  It goes like this....oh, wait....never mind.  I'll have to whistle it for you when you stop by.  No words yet.  Something about love and the elements, maybe!

A note about home birth before I get back to my fall cover crop seeding:  In the sleep-deprived day after Terah's birth, I could have cried thinking that I wish everyone who has a baby would have this kind of care as an option for them.  Not only does the reading we did convince me that it is actually safer than hospital birth (when undertaken by competent practitioners) for a variety of counterintuitive but in the end perfectly supportable reasons, but it just fits better with the kind of event it is in our lives.  Birth is, first and foremost, a family event in the most basic sense.  No, of course it would not be worth taking major safety risks to support an ideal family experience versus a compromised one if the psychological damage of the compromise is not convincingly drastic.  I believe humans are resilient enough to mostly bounce back from the less-than-ideal hospital birth environment.  But home birth is not a question of major safety risks.  When done well, it actually supports better medical outcomes, and supports better family process to boot!

Throughout this beautiful time, there was never a feeling of stress, or pressure, or tension.  No one was anxious or alarmed, despite the obvious intensity of the experience for all of us, especially Janelle and Terah.  Kali and Alida, my sister Emily, and Janelle's mother Sarah all got to be in on the event...the stories we will have to tell in our family will be about more than just how long they had to wait in the waiting room and how soon we could come home.  I have also been astounded to see how Terah makes not the slightest acknowledgement of raucous child noise going on in the room in which she is sleeping.  Is that just basic personality?  Could be, but I theorize that she went straight from hearing those same noises in muffled form to hearing them clearly, and the transition was nearly seamless for her.  Had we been at the hospital, she would have had a day and a half or more away from the activity of home.  Given how quickly babies memorize and calibrate to their environment right after birth, it seems to me that getting them used to the hospital setting and then immediately uprooting them and requiring them to re-calibrate after they've already passed their calibration "sweet spot" of the first few hours is a recipe for fussy babies.  I'm not saying Terah doesn't fuss, but her fussing is organized, and she is comforted dependably by us and our sounds and touches.  She is like a seed that is allowed to grow in the soil in which it germinated.

Which gets us into a whole other topic: her name.  Alas, it is a topic we shall have to deal with another time, since, speaking of seeds, the Daikon radish seeds are waiting in the garage for me to place them in the spent potato patch for their own germination.