On parenthood: I remember when I first visited El Salvador many years ago. I had read and studied and thought I knew about issues of 'developing' countries, but when I got there, I kept thinking, "How did I not know this?" The lived reality was so completely different than any book or article. The vibrancy, the connectedness, the way of life were all so much more viceral and tactile. Being in versus knowing of.
Same goes for parenthood. I have friends with kids. I know tons of kids. I know lots of parents too, including my own. But again, I sense, "How did I not know this?" How did I not know the sleepless nights but how, really, they don't matter? How did I not know how attached I'd be (literally - breastfeeding means I can never be more than 90 minutes away) and yet how, really, it doesn't matter? And how did I not know how parents, all parents everywhere, have done this very same thing, over and over, and will keep doing it? My friend Aimee calls it the Mom Club. I guess it's the Parent Club and those of us who have babies especially probably get this best of all. Whether Dylan is hungry or tired or fussy or smiling or poopy or sleeping or sweet or spitting up... it's all the same. I pick him up, hold him, love him.
On time: Last night I tried to take a bath while Chris cared for Dylan. I'd been in a few minutes when I had to come out and feed him. Then our cat Moon wanted into the washroom so I let him in. Then he wanted out. Then Dylan wanted to eat again. I gave up on my bath. When Dylan and Chris were still sleeping this morning, I tried again to have a nice hot bath. I wasn't in three minutes when he started fussing. I got up to feed him but he decided he wasn't hungry after all. I went back into the tub. Fifteen minutes later, he decided he was hungry after all. I gave up on the bath again.
You can only laugh at it, really. My time, it seems, is no longer my own. But if it were anything else, anything, that wanted to consume my time in the same way, I wouldn't respond with the same sense of care, compassion and love. He's a baby. He wants love and holding and to eat. And I can be all that for him. That means much.
Everything takes longer. Making supper, tidying up, getting out of the house. And it's more complicated. I popped into a coffee shop yesterday and had to maneuver the stroller up the stairs, try to keep the door propped open with my foot while pushing him up more stairs, then weave through the narrow aisles and customers going in and out. As I got out of the shop with some help from kind passers-by, I thought about how single and able-bodied, I have an enormous amount of physical freedom that lets me squeeze in, be flexible, know how time can be shaped and used. Time is different with a baby. I don't suppose I don't mind, actually. There is adjustment needed but really, maybe there's something powerful in living on a baby's timetable than my own.
On bodies: When the baby of a friend spat up on me this past summer, I was kinda grossed out by the warm, sour milk all over my hands and down my arms. Do I care about Dylan's spit? Not a bit. I'm elbow deep in scrubbing his poo off the cloth diapers, wipe his mouth with my thumb, feel his hot pee on me as he's being changed. At the doctor's office, his leaky poo was so plentiful it crept out the sides of the diaper, down his legs, onto my shirt and pants and dripped onto the floor. Grossed out? Not in the least. Put out? Not at all. In the past two weeks, with the home birth and all that's been going on with my own body plus Dylan's, we have definitely seen our share of what our bodies have to produce - poo, pee, blood, amniotic fluid, spit up, goopy eyes, snot, tears, breast milk. Even our cat Bosh joined in by vomiting in the crib. And yet all of it feels so completely and totally OK.
On modesty: Before the homebirth, I had some small misgivings about baring my all to our good friends who would be assisting with the birth. For Chris and the midwives, it was no big deal. But how would I look my dear friends in the eyes at dinner parties when they'd seen me so open and so exposed? When it came time for the birth, none - none - of that mattered one bit. Neither was I shy nor embarrassed. It had nothing to be with being nude. It was about birth.
Yesterday, in the grocery line at the store, the woman in front of me, the cashier and I started talking about breastfeeding. The cashier commented that she was scared, when her kids were babies, that she'd be embarrassed to breast feed in public. When it came time, though, she didn't care at all. Me too, I thought. Just minutes earlier, I'd pulled the stroller into the little cafe nook in the grocery store to breastfeed Dylan. "I guess this is weird," I thought. "Having my boobs out in public like this." But actually, it didn't bother me at all. I looked around and noone was staring or seemed to even care. It has nothing to do with modesty. He's just eating.
On the love of innocence: Lastly. When I was pregnant, and particularly near the end when I was huge, people on the street, in meetings and at work would generally be pretty excited when they came into contact with me. Standard questions were when I was due and whether I knew if it was a boy or girl. I suppose this was a way for people to be connected to the baby-to-be. I never minded, though sometimes it was pretty funny and sometimes a little too predictable. But Chris rightfully pointed out early on that it's because people love babies and they want to be a part of that.
Now with newborn in tow, what I thought would be less attention has become more attention. Some of it is crazy overt. At the grocery store, I swear every woman over 60 years old pulled me aside and asked me about Dylan - his age, his size, his sex. They smiled and warmed over and wished me many blessings. But that's not all. Not including all of our friends and family who have been so over-the-top generous with gifts, visits, food, emails, calls, thoughtful notes, there's also this kind of warmth from even passers-by. I catch them sneaking peeks into the stroller. I see them making way on the sidewalk. There is a kind of joy and reverence at the newness of being and, I think, its innocence.
I think people love babies, even ones they don't know, because there is so much hope there. In all the things in our lives and in the face of so many challenges and struggles, there are really few things that are such unadulterated simplicity as newborns. They're not corrupt or conniving, not tricky or sneaky. And what's more, they don't even know about these things.
As I nestle with Dylan in my arms in bed, stroking his head and feeling him fall into a deep and peaceful sleep curled up against me, I think, "Know this, my little one. You are loved, you are safe, you are cared for and you are wanted."
If, at this point, he knows anything, I hope it's this.
Bit of a re-write from my pre-birth poem about labour:
At first it’s a slow leak, nothing to panic about. We watch the game after a brief call to the midwife, who is concerned by the snow barricading her country home.
To bed for now, in our basement bedroom.
4 am comes too early. My between-contraction naps become too brief and frequent. Then pop. Gush. Bags of waters, which protected this 9-month concept, down the drain. Still no midwife.
5 am the shrieking begins; there’s blood on the floor. A slightly panicked call to the midwife, who says in the face of rapid dilation, to stay low and calm - no shrieking.
Just low moans, at the buffalo frequency, bouncing on your birth ball.
Fill the tub. Muddy bloodied waters. No problem, as long as it’s warm in the cold and cool in the heat.
Stay low and calm at the buffalo frequency.
Help me, you whisper your scream. We’re only 2 hours in.
Stay low and calm at the buffalo frequency.
You can do this, I mock confidence. And then we’ll have a baby.
Where’s the midwife? Your query more rhythmic than contractions.
Friends come first, with a breakfast to go cold as they boil water, like a 60s sitcom birth. Filling our birth pool by the fire they built in our living room.
Where’s the midwife?
Stay low and calm at the buffalo frequency. Tepid water over contracting belly, moaning low. 300 liquid scoops cool the pain until it gets worse, and you push them away as the midwife arrives.
I feel like I want to push.
No don’t do that! quoth the ignorant partner.
The voice of experience searches for cervix, finds nothing, says, it’s all natural. You’re ready to go.
So up we go, lumbered stair-climb, you staggering, punch-drunk like a lopsided prizefighter begging to throw in the towel, as we throw you into warm water.
Nobody can do this but you, and guess what, you’re doin’ it. You will get this baby in your arms, she informs you, her lips taut like the memory of a cigarette, her voice all silken dominatrix. Now push!
You scream your war cry. Forget low and calm, to hell with buffalos. You sweat methane, but you won’t take my hand, just ice-water. Ice-water to forehead, ice-water to lips, to throat, then spilled under a small slice of sea. My hand is freed For shoulder neck massage.
You wail, just short of ululation. Your language is clear, your cries reverential. This is not the time to be crass, though the neighbours think you are being tortured.
The baby responds with a crown. You can’t see it. Anticipation fills the room, like a back-alley yodel you’re so close, Mama, we all agree. But you aren’t impressed by the sliver of emergent hair. I’m so far away. Can I quit now?
Low moans, buffalo frequency.
Seven more warriors cry. Seven more uterine contracts. Your baby’s face is slipping through, and my hands are placed for the pull, but the shoulder is stuck as we heave, and it’ll surely break with such force, our biceps one way your contorted primal writhing the other.
I can only whimper and cry, as this marathon miracle 1st prize passes through my hands, head-first into the rivulet between your breasts. Legs are spread to see his swollen testicles dangling. It’s a boy, my little baby boy! But you already knew that. My shoulders heaving tears, your face a sheet of white shock. What just happened?
The radio sings: I’m Here for You
A smile washes over my body. He looks like me. He looks like you. A smile washes over my body, blocks my fears of tyrannical fatherhood.
We kiss, each other and him, our lips his cheeks.
Just sculpted lines between mother and child have blurred and blended again, leaving a singular hope.
At 10:15 AM, Thursday Nov. 20, right on time, after a frighteningly quick labour, we welcomed 10 pounds 7 ounces of Dylan Mika Kevin Benautio to our home. [He arrived to the tune of I'm Here by Martin Sexton. The first song I sang to him was Happiness by Ron Sexsmith.]
He was born in a wading pool in our living room. His mother is a champion.
We had to go it alone for the first few hours because Mr. Benautio brought with him the first snowstorm of the year and the midwife was snowed in. By the time she got here Miia was fully dilated and ready to push. Two hours later Dylan was in in her arms.
She's tired but despite having a giant of a first baby in record time she's doing very well. We feel very lucky to have been able to do this in our home, naturally, thanks to our amazing midwife Kelly, her partner Maren, and our good friends Jason, Jocelyn and Isabelle who prepared the birth water, made us food, took pictures and video, and were our invaluable moral support.
It was an amazing experience to say the least. Words can't do it justice. With Dylan it was love at first sight, and seeing Miia push him out I fell in love with her all over again too.
Mama Miia resting two days after passing a manchild.
As I write this, there's a little foot pushing under the ribs. Kicking it back, it seems.
What's really pretty marvellous is to have come this far along, to feel just on the verge of, "Yes, OK! Bring it on," but to have nothing to do, really, but wait. Nature and baby will take their own course and will join us when they think is best.
There is something humbling in this. Something that continues to be larger than us, that will decide on its own when baby enters the world. Just as I can't will my heart to beat but need to trust that it knows its role and is best suited for it, so too I can't will this baby out. Instead I trust that it will come when ready. My singular role is to abandon any illusions of control.
Funny too talk of the relativity of time. Can days and weeks feel any longer than waiting to birth a child?
Apart from all this, things are well on this end. Rainy and cold autumn so I've snuggled up with Margaret Atwood's "Cat's Eye", a cup of tea and some letter writing. I may even push myself to wipe down the washroom and vacuum. Domestic bliss.
Much love to folks out there. We'll obviously keep you posted.
This is how I'm imagining labour based on pre-natal classes [I'll let you know fairly soon how it compares to the real thing, from my 'helper' perspective]:
You’re in the marathonic power of labour, the opaque shadowing of your membrane networks. Splashing bags of waters onto your clean floor leaves you spewing complaints about contractions and the impending doom of allegations, or is it obligations.
You will get this baby in your arms, the nurse informs you, her lips taut like the memory of a cigarette, her voice spilled gravel on lovers’ lane. Now push!
You scream your war cry. You sweat methane, crush my hands into broken blisters, bouncing on your birth ball, under a small slice of sea. Mah! there! Fuckerrrrrr! You scream, and it can only be directed at me.
But the baby responds with a cry, while I can only whimper as this marathon miracle 1st prize passes through my hands, head-first into the rivulet between your breasts. It’s bloody blue and conical, with double bum-flaps exposed to your exhalation wind.
As lips encircle nipple, suck so hard it blocks my fears of tyrannical fatherhood, a smile washes over my body.
I kiss the miniscule foot at your belly. Just sculpted lines between mother and child have blurred and blended again, leaving a singular hope.
And this is life in the lead-up time:
This rhythm is ours: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. We don’t want your structure, don’t want your counting rituals.
It’s a unified sway: A – B – C – D. Whatever symbols you show me, can’t represent how hard it is.
No words for our truth: cloves – cinnamon – cardamom – nutmeg. Sugar pulls it all together, we swallow when it’s just right.
Pregnant curves roll into my angles: her – cats – children – home. Burning logs and minor keys, deaf to television punditry.
Good news folks, Rattling Books is going to publish one of my short stories --in audio! It's part of their Earlit Shorts series and will come out some time after Christmas. The story is called Delia and Phil. I'll keep y'all posted.
Miia's at 37 weeks today, which means baby is now 'term,' and could healthily and happily come out any time between now and five weeks from now. One week of work left for her, and we're enjoying this anticipation.
Btw, click on the bike picture for my latest column.