march 2015 books.

The Time Machine
H.G. Wells
In the past month or so, I've had trouble focusing. When I picked up the next book, I wanted something short and simple. This was it.

This was my first Wells book. He is credited with popularizing the concept of a time machine, where a traveller can control the when of his travels, rather than just randomly hopping about forward and backward. As common as this notion now is, it seems weird that it's only 120 years old.

In the story, a scientist known only as the Time Traveller builds a time machine and goes to the year 802,701. He finds himself in a temperate climate, where there are huge, impressive statues and buildings which are sinking into decay. He encounters small human-like beings who are simple and childlike. They spend their days eating fruit and playing, having no ambition and little curiosity. He speculates that man has evolved into these creatures after having conquered the dangers of nature. With survival being a matter of just sitting around and eating fruit, there is no need for intellect.

Later, he encounters another species, who are nocturnal and live underground. He first speculates that humanity evolved by class, and so the ruling elite were the happy and stupid fruit-eaters above, while the lower classes did the work below. Regardless of how the situation came about, he soon discovers that the current relationship is like the rancher to the cattle. The underground beings eat the helpless vegetarians above.

He finally hops back on his time machine and continues forward into the future to watch the earth die. The sun starts to burn out and signs of life decrease. He returns to England where none of his friends believe his story.

I think that we like to assume that man will only continue to become smarter and more advanced. The Time Traveller makes this assumption, not bothering to bring any supplies with him at all, as he assumes that whatever they have in the future will be way better. Wells seems to think that we may very well become so accomplished that our comfortable lives eliminate the need for education or culture. I don't necessarily ascribe to this vision, as it seems like our solutions to current problems create different problems. Fear not! We will probably not degenerate into helpless fruit-eaters. We may just drive ourselves to extinction instead.

The Heart of the Matter
Graham Greene
My second Graham Greene book, which I probably bought because I liked the first one. That was a good move on my part, because this was also really good. The thing I like about Greene is that he's incredibly perceptive. He's moving along, describing the action and the character's thoughts, and then BAM! Something really poignant and true about human nature.

The story itself is about an English policeman working in West Africa during World War II. He's a straight-laced, upstanding guy, devout Catholic, but he gets himself embroiled in an affair and some diamond smuggling. How? One little step at a time, which is just the way it goes, innit? The book goes on to describe his increasingly terrible crimes and his building guilt and shame. He ascribes all his failures to pity - everything he does is out of responsibility to others, whereas he would like to just be left alone. I did not buy that. Sorry, dude, you cheated on your wife because you wanted to, not because you felt sorry for the poor young thing you cheated with.

This is also a very Catholic book - a lot of the language is religious, and the man's fall is seen as a sort of battle with God. Since he sees his sins as motivated by concern for fellow humans, he views it as a conflict between loving God vs loving His creatures. Again, this seems to be sort of a convenient glaze to put on his actual motivations and a way of avoiding doing the hard thing and 'fessing up. The Catholicism is sort of snobbish, in that he (and his devout wife) seem to feel that the only people who can feel guilt or understand the concept of good and evil at all are Catholics. The rest of us are just sort of pagan beasts. I don't know enough Catholics to know if this is a common attitude.

What struck me about this book is how alone everyone in it is. People have intimate relationships without really knowing each other at all. People do things, thinking they will be understood, but of course others interpret situations based on their own contexts. People hide other things, assuming they know how others will react, when in fact, everyone already knows about what was being hidden. I find this aloneness profoundly sad, but probably true. We can never know each other. Maybe if we did, nothing would ever get done because we'd be frozen by indecision or just plain bummed out all the time.

A note: The copy of the book that I had was heavily marked up by a previous reader. Seriously, half the lines on every page were underlined, with stars and double underlines to mark the really important stuff. Every once in a while, I would find the word "Pinkie" written in the margins, which I found mystifying. Turns out, that is a character in another Greene novel, Brighton Rock. Maybe I'll pick that up sometime.


I have not read a book since March. I had gobs of time to read while sitting on my fanny with a baby on my lap, but nothing I picked up held my attention. I think now I'm just out of the habit. Here's hoping that I get back to it.


pink and pinker pink.

A question that everyone asks when you are pregnant is whether it's a boy or a girl. The smart-aleck answer is "yes." We decided not to find out. Most people were really supportive of this idea, particularly older folks who had kids before finding out the sex was an option. A few people said they couldn't do it that way, and one cashier looked at me like I was nuts. Only one person asked why.

"So we don't get a bunch of pink crap if it's a girl," I answered without thinking. It was like one of those word association tests where the truth comes out. Previously, I had thought of this as just a bonus to not knowing, but honestly, it was my main reason. Instead of an avalanche of pink, people gave us a lot of neutral stuff. It was heavy on the yellows and green, most of it pastel. It seems like things fall in three categories - girl (pink, purple, frilly and delicate), neutral (yellow, green, or gray, generally animal themed and cutesie), and boy (everything else). So if you want bold colors with fun themes, look in the boy section. Maybe grumble about outdated gender norms while you're there, just for me.

A friend of mine took her step-daughter shopping for my baby shower and picked out some onesies that were gray and green and featured triceratops and apatosauruses (apatosauri?). Her step-daughter protested that those were for boys. Excuse me? This is why we need feminism - because eight-year-old girls think that liking dinosaurs is only for boys. Dinosaurs are for everybody.

Most of our clothes came from a friend of a friend, who passed along two giant bags of clothes used by her sons, so "boy" clothes. They had bold, bright colors and fun themes like sports or dump trucks or monsters. There was one item that had a treehouse that said "no girls allowed," and I threw that out on principle. The rest I happily put on my little girl.

Some people waited until after the baby was born to give us gifts, and that was when the pink started flowing. At that point, I discovered that I enjoyed dressing my daughter in the little girly things, too. I liked the flowers and the frills and the tiny bows. And the dresses! With the TINY BLOOMERS! I didn't even mind the things that said "princess" on them, because that makes me the queen. In fact, I liked the little girly things so much that I began to wonder if it wouldn't have been so bad to know ahead of time that we were having a daughter. It wasn't all pink stuff.

And then we went to a shower being thrown for Josh's cousin, who knows she is having a girl. She gave me a bag of stuff that people had given her; she said she wanted to spread the pink around and lamented that she had not yet received any camo babywear. There were some hats with giant bows and a set of footed pajamas with ladybugs. Finally, there was a hot pink onesie with a big gold crown on it and "Princess" in gold script. Attached was a tutu in zebra print of pink and pinker pink. It was awful. It went straight into the Goodwill pile with the no girls allowed onesie.

Now I think we did the right thing by not finding out. We avoided an onslaught of pink animal-print, and a little girl learned that dinosaurs are for everyone. I call that a win.


or i'll know.

It was 10 AM, and I was taking my discreet black shoulder bag into the conference room when I realized that there were certain key pump parts sitting on the drying rack at home. Ugh. I knew this was going to happen at some point. I hopped in the car and drove home to get the parts, vowing to start keeping my spare set at the office.

As I came into the house, Josh was folding laundry. "I forgot my pump parts," I explained.

"Oh. I thought you were mad."

"Mad? You thought I came home from work to yell at you about something? That you had done something and I would know?" See, this is a joke at our house. Whenever we leave, we tell the dog "Be good. Or we'll know," with ominous emphasis on that last word. We imagine that from her perspective, we are magicians because we always know when she has not been good. But really, when the dog is bad, it's pretty obvious. Like, shreds of trash all around the trash can obvious.

We laughed at the thought of me knowing about what he did, ha ha, but then-

"Wait. What did you do?"

He looked sheepish. "I gave the baby a drop of grapefruit juice," he confessed.

"Did you take a picture?" I mean, the damage was done here, but hopefully he made it worth it by immortalizing her expression.

"Yes!" He got out his camera and showed me a Facebook post of our baby making the kind of face you might make if your world had just opened up to the existence of sour citrus. I giggled.

"Okay, that's cute, but don't do that anymore."

"She liked it!"

"Her face says otherwise."

"So that's mean?"

"No, it's not mean. I look forward to giving her sour things and laughing at her expression. She's just too little right now." I have fond memories of being at K&S Cafeteria, watching my brother squeeze lemon slices over a spoon and then giving it to his son. My nephew would make a face each time and then ask "More soup?". My brother had done it the first time as a joke to see the baby make a face, but now he was obliged to continue until all the lemon slices at the table had been exhausted. Kids can turn things around on you like that.

"Alright, fine."

"I have to go back to work. Be good. Or I'll know."



The first day of my daughter's life, I waited for someone to tell me to feed her. I'd read a dizzying amount of advice, much of it conflicting, but one thing that had stuck was that it was best to feed the baby within an hour of birth. So as the nurses were doing this and that around me with their friendly yet ruthless efficiency, I asked, "Should I feed her?" What I was really asking was "Can someone show me how to feed her?"

I'd signed up for a breastfeeding class a few weeks before my due date. Then I didn't go, because a blizzard came in. My non-attendance was out of character for me. I spent the afternoon trying to figure out if the class was cancelled in the face of winter weather warnings. I checked websites and called what turned out to be a doctor's office that was completely unrelated to the classes, where a friendly receptionist went above and beyond trying to find someone else to call. The class started at 6:30 and ran until 8:00, which is when the weather advisory started. And then I got a dinner invitation, so I decided to just assume the class was cancelled.

Sitting in the maternity ward with a baby who was probably hungry from her long journey out the birth canal, I wished I had gone to the class. Finally, a nurse took a few minutes to show me how to hold my baby and put her on the breast. I found this to be comical and a little bit barbaric. You rub the baby's lip with your nipple, which makes her reflexively open her mouth wide. You immediately stuff as much boob as will fit into her mouth. Imagine someone shoving a water balloon in your mouth every time you yawned. The nurse warned me that the baby would not eat very much, as her tummy was about the size of a marble. I was delighted to feel what must have been the baby latching on to my nipple. The feeling almost immediately ended, but I figured that was how it was supposed to go.

Had I attended the class, I might have known that the baby needs to stay latched on to get any milk, even enough for a marble-sized tummy. The result was that the baby did not get really anything to eat that first day. On the morning of the second day, I woke up feeling refreshed and rested, though a bit sore in some areas. I was hopeful that we would be released that day, and the midwife seemed to think I was good to go. They even started the checkout process by having me fill out the postpartum depression screening. I checked the boxes that said I was able to feel cheerful as much as I had before, that I was not crying for no reason or blaming myself for bad things that might happen.

The nurse came in and asked me how the baby had eaten the night before. Pardon? That was when I found out that I was supposed to be feeding the baby through the night. In fact, I was apparently supposed to wake her up to do so. Having not attended the class, I can't say whether those particular topics were covered. I just thought I had one of those good babies that sleeps through the night right away. All these parents complaining about the baby not sleeping, when they're the ones waking them up to stuff boobs in their boob-holes. Susanna continued to be very sleepy, to the point where she didn't wake up much even for me to ineffectively feed her.

It didn't seem like a problem to me, but the pediatrician was concerned about my very sleepy baby. She was so concerned that she had someone come and poke my baby's foot to draw blood (baby woke up for that). The blood test came back positive for jaundice, and so my dreams of being released were dashed. I was more annoyed than worried, as I knew jaundice was pretty common in babies. Josh had had it and look at him now, a big strapping man, a father even.

Jaundice in babies happens when their bodies are unable to break down bilirubin. When a red blood cell gets old, it breaks open and all kinds of stuff spills out, which is broken down by the body into other stuff, including bilirubin. The liver then breaks down the bilirubin and then its passed on out in either solid or liquid waste. Babies, with their brand new livers, take a little time getting started. Plus, the blood that a fetus has has different characteristics than the blood of a tiny person living out in the world, so the body is breaking down more red blood cells than usual. Because the bilirubin is flushed out the digestive tract, it is important that the baby get enough to eat for the digestive system to be flushing.

My not feeding the baby had caused her to have jaundice. I mean, I didn't know, no one told me how to feed the dang baby. I guess I could've informed myself, by like, taking a class or some...oh. Skipping out on that breastfeeding class a month ago gave my baby jaundice. Fantastic.

Jaundice is treated with light. This treatment was discovered accidentally, when sick babies taken out in the sunlight did better than babies that stayed inside. Now, they use a light board. This was a small surfboard type thing hooked up to a car vacuum cleaner type thing that created blue light. You put a mask on the baby to protect her eyes, then put her on the board and swaddle baby and board all up together. It looked like she was in a tanning bed. I was still not worried. Sure, my baby was sick with my incompetence, but she had a super-common condition that they treat with the power of the sun.

But then I was lying in the hospital bed, holding a baby strapped to a glowing surfboard. Josh had gone home to feed the dog. I couldn't snuggle my baby, I could only hold the board she was strapped to. I couldn't see her face, as it was covered by the mask. I sat and looked at my baby in her terrible Hannibal mask, sleeping on her eerie glowboard. All because I blew off a breastfeeding class to go have dinner with my friends.
Could I have that postpartum depression form back? I need to change some answers.

Then Josh came back, and Susanna devoured some milk I pumped for her, and her bilirubin went down, and it was all fine. We were cleared to take her off the light therapy so we could snuggle properly while they worked on our discharge papers. At last, they let us take our little glowbaby home.


a bargain and an adventure.

Last week I happened to drive by my regular haircut place, Famous Hair. Just so you know, I am fully aware that Famous Hair is a ridiculous name. I guess hair can be famous, for instance, Donald Trump has famous hair. But that's hardly a selling point. In case you can't tell by the nonsensical name, Famous Hair is the kind of place where you just walk in and get a cheap haircut. I've been going to such places since I left my hometown, as I am unable to devote whatever time and resources is required to find an actual stylist. I like being able to decide that I need a haircut today, and I really like paying $14 for the service. My results have been mixed. I've gotten several bad haircuts, many serviceable haircuts, and a couple of really great haircuts. The last time I got a really great one was at Famous Hair, which is why I kept going back, even though I rarely got the stylist that gave me the great haircut, because he was often booked. Why couldn't I be bothered to book him myself? It's almost like I don't care that much about my hair, and that is why it will never be famous.

But Famous Hair is no more, because that location has been turned into a Great Clips. Or a Smart Cuts. Was it Super Snips? I don't know, but I really didn't want to go there. I look down on those places. I am too good for Super Snips; I demand Famous Hair. If only I had taken the time to book the great stylist who used to work at Famous Hair, I would probably have his new location and I could keep getting great haircuts somewhere else.

I am not sure when I had my last haircut - as you can tell, I'm pretty lax about all things hair. I stopped curling my hair every morning over a decade ago, and then I stopped blow-drying it, and now I can't even be bothered to wash it every day. But whatever haircut I'd gotten before (which had been deemed serviceable) had grown out, and it was looking neglected. And honestly, I'd been feeling a weird urge to do something crazy, like dye it hot pink. I've never dyed my hair a normal color, and so I blame the desire to go nuts on having a baby. Like a mid-life crisis. I'm too young to be a mom; I have young hair. I thought maybe a new haircut would whet my appetite for change before I did anything that would scare my infant.

So I took to the internet to find a new haircut place. Searching for "raleigh haircuts" only gets you barbers, because men want their hair cut, while women want their hair styled. I found lots of results for "raleigh salons," but they charge a lot more than $14. I cannot imagine that kind of haircut that $50 gets you. That haircut better do my dishes. Will this haircut soothe my baby and guarantee that I am victorious in all arguments with my husband? Then I'll pass, thanks. Some of the salons are also bars, which seems very convenient and hip, until you consider that maybe your hair only looks good until you sober up.

Then I happened upon the website for the Paul Mitchell School. I could have a cosmetology student cut my hair for $12. It sounded like a bargain and an adventure.

The Paul Mitchell School certainly looks like a real salon, with blaring hits of the 90s and a warehouse feel. The students were dressed in all black, and many of them had funky hair styles, so everyone looked a bit goth. I was introduced to Kelli, who would be taking care of me today. The first thing she did was have me sign a waiver, saying that I understood that she was a student and was therefore released from any damages. I wasn't sure if that included anything worse than a crappy haircut. I cut my husband's hair, and I did get his ear one time, so maybe there was that. Then we talked about what I wanted that day, and I had come prepared. Usually, I act dumb and surprised, as if I didn't know they were going to ask me that question, because the truth is, I don't ever know what I want. Sometimes I really do go in there and say something like "I want something that I can wash and do nothing else that will look good." Some stylists run with that, glad that finally someone recognizes that they are the expert here. But mostly they look scared that whatever they do, I'm not going to like it. While it would be an excellent learning experience for a student to encounter a customer such as me, I had previously googled "haircuts that look good air-dried." The internet said a layered bob was what I wanted, and so that's what I told Kelli.

She filled out a little sheet, then went off to fetch Barry, who is a teacher at the Paul Mitchell School. They discussed the plan (layered bob), felt my hair and talked about what products and the kind of layers to cut to help my hair look its best. I enjoyed the attention and felt like I was going to receive personalized service. We had a plan for my hair! Barry signed off on my hair plan, and Kelli outfitted me in a smock and took me back to the sinks.

The best part of a haircut is when they wash my hair. When I was growing up, my mom took me to a lady named Marilyn who cut hair in her basement salon. Marilyn had long fingernails, and when she washed your hair, she used them to give the most exquisite scalp massage. I've never encountered anyone else who used their nails, and I can only assume it's discouraged at places like the Paul Mitchell School for some hygienic or liability reason. But even without Marilyn's magic fingernails, having someone else wash my hair under warm water rates highly on the list of life's simple pleasures. They charge extra for it at the walk-in places, and I always pay for it, even as I skipped the dry and style option.

Kelli was just rinsing out the conditioner when a weird noise started ringing through the building. I thought it was part of the music, like maybe this was when everyone stopped what they were doing and did a dance featuring combing and clipping hand motions, but when I opened my eyes, Kelli was looking around, confused. Someone came by and told her it was a fire alarm, and that we needed to exit the building. Kelli wrapped up my hair in a towel and we walked outside to the far end of the parking lot. Of all the things I expected from getting my hair cut at a cosmetic arts school, a fire alarm was pretty low on the list, somewhere below synchronized dance breaks.

We stood outside for five minutes or so. It was a beautiful day. I looked like someone who, well, had been in the middle of a haircut. Kelli kept apologizing, but I kept grinning like a galoot, because it was just so funny. Whether I was going to receive a good haircut was still yet to be seen, but I was certainly having an adventure.

Finally we all filed back inside like schoolchildren, and I took my seat at Kelli's station. She proceeded to cut my hair. The only warning I would give someone who was considering having their hair cut at the Paul Mitchell School (besides the obvious one) is that it takes a long time. Some of that is inexperience, I'm sure, but I think the students are also going slow to make sure they do their best work. At every station, the stylist was hunched over and squinting, as if they were cutting hairs one by one. So carve out a couple hours rather than a half hour and you'll receive the most meticulous haircut of your life. But hey, they're up to code on their fire safety!

Generally, I prefer when the stylist does their job silently and I don't have to talk to them, as the conversation inevitably ends up being about my job, which is boring to talk about with people who aren't particularly interested in computers. However, I discovered that having a child means I have so much more that I can share with the average person. We talked about babies and birth and husbands and drastic postpartum dye jobs, and somehow I really bonded with my randomly-assigned cosmetology student.

After she was done with the scissors, Kelli swept my hair off the floor and gathered it in a ziplock bag, which is pretty creepy. I mean, we bonded, but it's a little soon to be collecting each other's hair. She said it was for dye tests. Otherwise, she would have to do tests on hair that came from a big box in the back, where it was all mixed and matted together. I agreed that sounded kinda gross and gave my blessing for her to practice dying on my discarded hair. I trust that she won't use it for voodoo dolls, but I did sign a waiver.

One of the other teachers came by to survey the job. She took the scissors and did some kind of trimming thing where they seem to cut a millimeter off every third hair. I don't know what this does, it's hair science. The teacher signed off on my new cut, and Kelli was beaming with pride over it. I don't know anything about hair, so the effect was that I felt good about it. It was shorter than I had planned on and is a total mom haircut. I fear I may end up back at the Paul Mitchell School to get pink streaks put in, as soon as I'm feeling ready for another adventure.


all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

One week past my due date, I was still pregnant. I had an appointment with the midwife, where we confirmed that I was still pregnant and that the baby was fine, just on its own schedule. She offered to do a membrane sweep, which is where she takes her finger and sweeps it around the cervix to separate the membranes around the baby from the cervix. This releases prostaglandins, which tell your body to get that other little body out. I wanted that little body out. To everything there is a season and all that, but Mama says it's time to be born now.

This is a birth story.

I wanted to induce labor for two reasons. One, if I did not have this baby within the next week, they were going to check me into the hospital to induce me with drugs. All I knew about being induced with drugs was that the contractions came hard and fast, and it would be unlikely that I'd be able to have a med-free birth. I have always known, nay, assumed that I would give birth without chemical pain relief. It was the way my sisters did it, the way my mother did it, the way her mother did it. People respond to this in two ways - by nodding and saying of course, that's the way to go, or by looking at me like I've lost my mind. Finally, someone asked me why. And the answer was pride: ours is a competitive family. Then I looked up some other reasons so I would have something to say (bottom line: use of drugs increases uses of interventions such as forceps or c-section, so you get a snowball effect of increased risk to mother and baby).

I took a childbirth class that spent a lot of time discussing natural pain management - not say pain relief, but management. The midwife teaching the class talked about pain versus suffering. Most of the time, when you go to the hospital in pain, it is because something is wrong. But when you're having a baby, it's supposed to hurt. It is productive pain, as it is your body preparing to do something momentous. Labor requires pain. It does not require suffering. Pain is a physical phenomenon, suffering is mental. I felt prepared to handle pain. Being induced meant letting go of my med-free childbirth plan. While that wouldn't be that terrible, it wasn't what I wanted.

The second reason I wanted to get that baby out was because of my grandmother. Ninety-four years old, her short-term memory was not great. The past couple of visits, she looked at me and apologized for not quite being able to place who I was. But she knew that her granddaughter, Sandra, was going to have a baby soon. She asked my mother every day if I'd had that baby yet. She always forgot that we didn't know the sex, and she had it in her head that it was a girl.

I read somewhere that there are three ways to enjoy something - in anticipation of it, experiencing it, and remembering it. When we are born, everything is anticipation. As we live, things move from anticipation to experience and finally to memory. For my grandmother, most of her enjoyment was in memory, and this was apparent as she fondly told us stories from decades past. But my baby was something she could enjoy in anticipation. I was never hurt when she momentarily forgot my face, but I was deeply moved that she remembered there was a baby coming.

Aside from her memory, my grandmother's esophagus was no longer working. She had been having problems with phlegm for a while, and it finally got to the point where she could no longer swallow any food. Her esophagus finally wore out. Of all the parts in the body that serve us tirelessly, I never thought about the esophagus giving out. The doctor said that they could put in a feeding tube to buy her some more time, or they could make her comfortable. My mom had to make a hard decision. She thought about pain and suffering and made a call to hospice.

This is a death story.

The morning hospice was setting up a bed at my parents' house was the same one where I was having my cervix swept. My siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles were coming from all over the world to my hometown. I was sitting at my house, four hours away, maybe going to have a baby. I knew that I would never see my grandmother again, and she would never get to meet the new baby. But I promised my mom to send a picture of the baby as soon as it arrived so that she could print it out for Grandmother. It was important to me that Grandmother get to experience what she'd been anticipating. I wanted the baby out.

The cervix sweep doesn't automatically start labor. To be honest, I'd had my cervix swept the week before on my due date. I'd felt some cramps for a few hours, but that was the end of it. This time, the cramps came sooner, and they never really went away. They went from a constant dull ache to having peaks and valleys. The midwife had told me to come to the hospital when I was having contractions lasting a minute, five minutes apart. I downloaded a contraction timer app to my phone and lay down on the couch to watch X-Files while Josh showered. I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Josh put on a button-up shirt and a bow tie to look nice for the baby.

We left for the hospital at around 7. According to my timer app, the contractions were five minutes apart and one minute long. I called my mom to let her know it was go time. I texted my brother-in-law to ask him to look in on the dog. I was in pain for one minute out of five. I was not suffering.

Josh dropped me off at the emergency room entrance and parked the car. I went inside, declined the wheelchair, and walked over to admitting. Josh came in while they were asking me questions and checking my insurance. A nurse came down to escort us to the maternity ward. They showed us to Room 2, where I was told to undress and put on a gown to wait for the midwife. When she arrived, she checked my cervix.

I was dilated 3 cm, which was exactly what I had been that morning. They told me I was probably not in labor, that this was just cramping caused by the membrane sweep. I could wait a couple hours and they'd check again, but really, I ought to just go home, take a Tylenol, and go to bed. Dejected and embarrassed, I did. I felt like a moron, and I was still in pain. But I had been told that it was not productive pain, just pain.

Thus began my suffering.

I went home, changed into pajamas. Josh moved the TV from the living room into the bedroom so we could watch March Madness. I lay in bed but did not sleep. I threw up the PBJ and Tylenol. The pain sharpened. I paced, I rocked, I sat, I stood, but nothing helped. As the contractions worsened, I concluded that if this was not labor, then I was not going to be able to stand actual labor.

My wounded pride told me many lies. It told me that I was stupid for thinking I had been in labor before. It told me that I was still not in labor, and I should be able to handle this. It told me that if I went to the hospital now, they'd just give me a Tylenol and send me back here. Labor was causing me pain, and my ego was making me suffer. I cried out, shaking my head, "I can't do this I can't do this."

Finally, five hours after we'd left, I told Josh to take me back to the hospital. If this wasn't labor, well, I still needed medical attention, because something was happening to me.

The second trip to the hospital was remarkably different. Josh had changed out of his bow tie. I only changed out of pajamas into essentially different pajamas because there was vomit on the first set. I didn't call or text anyone on the way, but instead moaned. When he dropped me off at the door, I sat down immediately in a wheelchair that was parked outside and shivered in the cold until he got back. Being admitted was quicker this time because they still had my information, but I was much less helpful. When the nurse came to get us this time, I'm sure she thought, now that lady is about to have a baby.

When the midwife checked me this time, I was at 9 cm. I would have pumped my fist in the air and shouted "TOLD YOU SO" but I was busy shaking and moaning. She told me to moan in a lower register, to direct the sound down. I don't know if that is real science, but it helped. Or maybe finding out that my pain was productive helped. I was no longer suffering. Josh told them that I had said something about an epidural back at the house. The midwife said we could do that, or we could just go ahead and start pushing this baby out. The epidural would make things take longer. I said let's do this.

Somehow, in ten hours of birthing class, I never picked up that pushing a baby out takes hours. Birth videos and sitcoms alike edit that part down. In the movies, it takes three pushes tops. I'm here to tell you that it takes many, many pushes. It took me two hours of pushes. A contraction would come, I would PUUUUUUSH for a count of ten, let out my breath in a scream and then do it again, and again before finally collapsing as the contraction ebbed. In between, I lay there as if dead, out of my head with exhaustion and pain. I was there and yet not.

Two hours of pushing sounds like a lot, and it is, but pushing was a million times better than not. This was something I could do to fight back. In those seconds where I would get my breath back to start a new push, the pain was crushing. So I pushed back.

In the movies, they say, "I can see the head!" and then whoosh! the baby is out. No. That baby's head was just chilling out in my vagina for a half hour, easy. The midwife said I could put my hand down and touch it, which I did, and it was too weird. They wheeled a mirror over so I could see. I thanked them and asked them to take it away again.

Time goes strange in the delivery room. There was a clock on the wall, so I could do the subtraction and tell you how long it had been. But it felt like minutes, and it felt like years. I counted time by the signs that the midwife was preparing for the delivery. The nurse wheeled in a table of instruments. Part of the bed at my feet was removed. A ceiling panel was removed and a giant spotlight pulled down. A group of pediatricians arrived and began setting up in the anteroom in case of emergency. I could tell we were nearly there, but I had no concept of when it would be over.

So when at last, at last, there was a baby, it seemed oddly sudden. There was a little cry, and the pediatricians smiled, packed their things, and left. The midwife handed the tiny, wiggly, goo-covered person to me. The umbilical cord was blocking my view, so Josh had to tell me that I had a daughter. I had a Susanna.

I held my little girl while cleanup and damage control went on below my waist (so. much. blood). Josh took some pictures of the squinting new person, then emailed them to family. When the midwife and the nurses were done, they dimmed the lights and our new little family was left alone. Josh collapsed on the couch in the corner, but Susanna and I were wide awake. I held her to my chest, skin to skin. She made gentle snuffly noises and blinked in the light of her first day. I could've watched the expressions flicker across her tiny face all day. So it was you, I thought. It's been you in there all along.

I can imagine the scene at my parents' house when the email arrived. One of my mom's favorite things to do is tell people good news. I can hear her talking in excited not-really-whispers about her daughter's new daughter while my dad sings "Oh! Susanna." She told Grandmother and showed her the picture. Maybe she got to tell her a few times.

Someone sat with Grandmother all the time. She wasn't allowed to eat because of the danger of her aspirating it into her lungs, which would be traumatic. She couldn't even have water. My mom used q-tips to keep her mouth wet. Grandmother, forgetting, would say she was thirsty, and my mother, her daughter, would have to tell her she couldn't have a glass of water. Grandmother would ask if that was what the doctor had said to do, and then accept it calmly.

She was awake and lucid for a couple of days, as the parade of visitors came through. She'd tell the same stories over and over and then laugh at herself when she realized it. She got weaker. The hospice people gave her some morphine, so there was no pain, no suffering. She died early in the morning, three days after her 78th descendant was born.

I missed the funeral. I heard it was well-attended.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. For Susanna, a time to be born. For my grandmother, a time to die. For mother and I, a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. It's jarring to process it at once: my grief while I hold my new daughter, my mother's joy as she makes funeral arrangements. Birth and death are not opposites so much as complements; we all have to do both to experience any of the things in between, hopefully with as little suffering as possible.


working mother.

I walked into the office this morning with my purse, a grocery bag containing my lunch, and a black shoulder bag containing a breast pump. I was surprised when I got to my cube and found it exactly the same; the rest of my life had changed so much.

Everyone stopped by to welcome me back asking how I'm doing and whether I've slept at all in the last six weeks. One coworker asked gently how I was doing and then looked at me with concern, as if to let me know that I could feel free to open up. I replied that I was doing fine, and he turned away, almost disappointed, mumbling something about women having trouble leaving the baby.

I did not have trouble leaving the baby. I told my husband where he could find the milk and then reassured him that taking care of an infant was not hard. Well, it's not complicated. And then I just left with my discrete black shoulder bag, off to bring home the bacon. And the milk.

Mid-morning, I decided to investigate my options. I went into the ladies' room and discovered that there is one outlet located by the sink. To pump in the relative privacy of a stall, I'd need an extension cord. My other option appeared to be a storage room, which was more private in that it had a lock on the door and no one would be able to hear the telltale whirrr-click whirrr-click. However, I'd have to put some kind of sign on the door to prevent others with a key from coming in to get the old accounting records, which felt pretty conspicuous. Also, all the outlets were hidden behind shelves of boxes. There were a couple of empty offices and conference rooms, but they all had windows. The only other woman at work recalled that when she'd gone through the same thing a decade and an office ago, the maintenance crew had come in and installed blinds on a window.

It seems like there are laws about accommodating working mothers who need to breastfeed. Installing blinds would be accommodating. Had I brought this up more than half an hour before I needed it, that might have been possible. Since I did not do that, for the time being, I was given an extension cord. A bright orange, thirty-foot extension cord. Itis not ideal, but it works.

So I sat on the toilet, pumped, emptied the full containers into the jar, and then pumped some more. I got milk on my shirt, and the jar I brought was too small. I left the pump parts drying on a paper towel by the bathroom sink, but I had to put the milk jar in the company fridge. I thought about labeling it, in case someone thought about using it for their coffee. Being a working mother is so glamorous.

In the afternoon, I texted my husband to ask what time he would be bringing the baby by to meet my coworkers, because it is apparently a crime to have a baby and then not show it to everyone. He responded that he was at the store, picking up ingredients for dinner. I admired his ambition, as I have only been on a solo excursion with the baby one time, and it was for a required doctor's appointment. I wondered if the baby would fuss or if he would have to change a diaper in the men's room, where there was probably not a changing station. Being a stay-at-home dad is so glamorous.

Today my old life met my new one. It was the first day of the new normal.