And for once I was SuperMom

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Keeping Up Appearances

This is my second time returning from Africa to the United States. People have asked me what I think will strike me in my return. Before they ask they regale me with their stories of crying in grocery stores and being shocked by the huge disparity in wealth. I respond in my best jaded voice that I’ve already done that. It’s true, I have; I remember the grocery store, the Vons right next to my mom’s house. I have seen the poverty deferential already, I have seen our penchant for stuff that we don’t need, i think I can navigate that with some wisdom. A warming box for baby wipes, specially shaped pillows (ones for your neck on the plane, some for the pregnant belly, others for supporting the baby so he won’t roll over, others with built in speakers, etc.), all the different lotions and potions we have for our faces, hands, bodies, and hair. I could go on for hours.
I think what has caught my attention this time around is the orderliness of our environs. Our traffic patterns are orderly and calm. Our lawns are manicured and in neat little squares, they are lined with trees, and shrubs cut to the same size and shape. Our houses are filled with organizational devices, boxes, drawers, baskets, etc.
We worship time and coddle it like it is the most precious commodity. My mother in law has subscriptions to almost every women’s magazine there is that pertains to making your house a home. I usually eschew these and dodge them like a werewolf would a silver bullet. More accurately, I read them, and then I hate myself and I hate them afterwards. Often they are only full of articles that make me feel guilty, lazy, fat, out of style, and incredibly unorganized. My house is not decorated in the latest colors, I have several drawers of crap that I have not opened in months and could not tell you the contents of, I only own three kitchen knives because that’s all I need, and I will probably not decorate my home for Christmas in only shades of green, or take an entire day making apple danishes from scratch.
One was full of ‘time saving tips,’ such as re-organizing your grocery list so that it is organized in order of how you will walk through the store. You start in the produce aisle, put all the produce first and on and on. I think that would take more time than it will for me to run back and grab the item that I always invariably forget. Actually I would probably organize the list and still have to run back and grab something. Another was to create zones in your kitchen for everyday tasks, such as a baking zone or a lunch making zone. Who has that much space or stuff? Can’t I just pull the knife our of the drawer, doesn’t that take as much time? I remember seeing one tip where you placed boxes in your fridge of all the stuff you needed to make lunches. Can’t I just remember the mustard is in the door? I think we are trying too hard to come up with handy time-saving tips. There was one article with 25 clutter reducing tips, my mind got cluttered reading all of them. Which room am I supposed to use clear glass containers? Which room am I supposed to use lined baskets? How many file folders should I have? Where do I keep them? Who has this much crap?
I know that I am only in my late twenties but I have noticed that these magazines seem to have the same articles over and over again. You can tell what audience they are shooting for by adding ten years to the models featured, and they are wearing versions of the same eye-poppingly priced clothes that no one with a normal life will ever wear. There is the article with the star who talks about how her life is great, usually subscribing to whatever Oprah-ism is of the moment, or talks about rising above her checkered past, still espousing Oprah-isms. There are the articles about how to take care of your hair and skin in whatever season we are in, usually tagged ending in a litany of products that will solve your dry winter skin or your frizzy humidity ravaged summer hair.
This winter they seem to all have ‘helpful’ articles on ‘how not to get sick.’ One lists helpful tips such as: don’t shake hands, we’re all socially isolated as it is, let's not make it worse. I am honestly a little floored at how sanitized we strive to be, we are a nation of germaphobes. There are antibacterial wipes in the front of grocery stores to wipe down your cart handle, my mother-in-law saw a woman wiping down her whole cart. To which we both thought, ‘what are you gonna do, lick it?’ There are warnings on newscasts of what can make you sick, and apparently everything can. Your ‘green’ grocery tote bags will make you sick, because the meat you put in them might leak and get on your other groceries. Apparently there is bacteria everywhere, in your makeup, on the bottom of your purse, in your sheets, in the mints at restaurants, etc. Some of this bacteria means you should replace these items constantly. Like your makeup, every three months it should be replaced. I have had the same bottle of foundation since college (tells you often I wear it), it has never made me sick or given me a zit once. I am also not in the practice of eating off of any of these items, when was the last time you licked your mascara wand? So when I see all these warnings about what can make you sick I think what are really the consequences here? So you get sick? You get the flu, you get a cold, what happens when that happens to you? You miss a few days of work, someone else has to drive the kids to school, you lay about on the couch for a few days. You will probably get rest that no American seems able to afford themselves, we are too busy organizing our crap and re-decorating our homes in the latest colors.
I have also allowed myself to gorge myself on our media while I am here, as evidenced by the magazine reading, and I’ve been allowing myself to watch TV with almost wanton abandon. I haven’t watched TV or read magazines in almost a year and a half and it keeps me occupied while breastfeeding, an activity I find myself doing about two hours a day. I know, shouldn’t I be lovingly gazing at my baby? I do, but that can only keep you occupied so long. I am struck that we are a people obsessed with being ‘cool.’ And what we think is ‘cool’ is ridiculously off the mark. Our sports heroes do ‘cool’ dances when they score in the endzone, we have scads of commercials for new ‘cool’ technology, we have pop stars dancing across the screen in tight leather outfits doing advertisements for these technologies. Here I sit in my shabby clothes that don’t fit anymore, with my newborn child experiencing cross-cultural shock watching all this and feeling remarkably un-‘cool.’ But why? Shouldn’t I feel cool; I just brought life into the world, the one thing that the survival of the species rests on. I live in Africa, how many Americans can say that? We base our standards in people and things that are incredibly shallow and superficial, and maybe even not too smart. Technology is ephemeral and ever-changing, what’s in-style is also ephemeral and ever-changing, not too mention something that is deigned by designers and we are expected to follow and change every year. Kinda makes me feel like a tool.
Of course you can find programs about life changing events like birth, but they are overshadowed by things like ‘Say Yes to the Dress.’ A program focused on the most frivolous part of a life-changing ceremony. We seem to know that our homes are important, yet our media focuses on the walls and closets rather than the people that truly make the house a home. We know that weddings are important, a ceremony that marks the passage of two becoming one, yet we focus on the outfit rather than the two who are making the union. I guess appearances are more entertaining than really examining our lives….

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


It is strange to have a newborn baby right around the time of Christmas. Talk about a very real object lesson. We hear from the pulpit about the preciousness of the gift of Jesus and his humbling himself to come down to earth as a person to walk with us and give himself up for us. We hear songs of an infant born to the Virgin Mary, a swaddled babe sleeping peacefully in a manger. We see nativities with a serene bundle in a trough and smiling parents beaming down upon this blessed child, usually with hands prayerfully clasped. It makes you wonder though, I look at my precious baby whom I have just spent hours pacing our apartment to put to sleep, who can go from innocent and angelic to a screaming red faced imp in a moment, what was He like as a baby? I don’t know about original sin, I do think we come into this world with a sinful nature and I think we come with a drive to survive. Babies are the epitome of ‘survival mode,’ all they know is there own needs. They need to sleep, eat, be held, and poop and if any of these things hurts or isn’t happening they let you know, loud and clear. Crying is their form of communication and while it hurts our ears and causes psychological pain for mothers in the beginning it is an innocent deploring for help. They can’t feed themselves, they can’t clothe themselves, they need human contact and love and the only way to let you know is to wail.
Later on in life crying can become manipulative a wailing to make you do what I want, rather than an honest display of need. Hungry, tired, cold, I need love expands to I don’t want to share my toy, I don’t want to nap right now, and I don’t want to eat peas. Was Jesus never tempted to do these things? Did he not cry as a baby? I’m too realistic to believe that Jesus didn’t cry in Mary’s arms. In fact he may even have had a massive case of colic, where he screamed for hours on end. Did she want to flick him when he bit or squirmed during nursing? Did she cry and get frustrated? Mary may have even been so exhausted that she had irrational thoughts like all mothers. She may have even had post-partum depression. She would certainly be a prime candidate, think of her circumstances; knocked up by heavenly forces at fourteen, engaged to a man who was doubtful of her fidelity (can you imagine trying to explain that, ‘no really I swear, there was an angel and everything’), gave birth after a huge trip on a donkey fleeing for their life, in a barn! No doula, no midwife, no doctor, not even an annoying mother or sister, no women present. Can you picture a modern sterilized birth in those circumstances? Maybe the peaceful nativity scene should actually depict a tear-streaked Mary passed out on a bale of hay and a fumbling Joseph holding a squalling Jesus. Even more was it a hard birth? First births usually are, especially considering that she was a virgin, had no female help, and probably was exhausted emotionally and physically from her journey.
Maybe that’s the beauty of it, that it happened as it did. Jesus was born in a barn, he didn’t need a c-section, which in those days probably would have meant Mary’s death and Jesus’. That even if she was depressed she survived, she did it she brought Jesus into the world healthy, she raised him without the kind of support that we have today. Maybe that is the miracle that a baby was born with all manner of circumstances against him.
While holding my little child in church the other day I thought about this, the miracle of a baby. That this perfect little child is brought into the world. That through the blessing of modern science I and my baby are alive and well. I think we miss the point when we make Mary the perfect mother and the perfect baby. That this gritty, earthy event happened and everyone lived. I think that truly it is a miracle that my husband have made this baby and she is so truly perfect, when so much could’ve gone wrong that everything went so right.
It is humbling to think of my babies very dependence on me and my husband’s fumbling hands, and that Jesus entrusted himself to parent’s younger than us and a birth less medically protected than ours. He willingly acquiesced to the dangerous and delicate life of a human, just to make sure that we didn’t perish. Is this love or insanity?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Body Beautiful

Pregnancy and childbirth are the greatest physical experiences you can go through as a woman. They are these strange automatic processes that start without your knowledge and sometimes without even your desire. With my first pregnancy I knew that I was pregnant within days of conception. With my second I had a nagging suspicion that my period was not going to make it’s appearance.
From conception your body starts changing and doing these odd things that they have never done before, everything you have ever known about your body changes and you are dealing with this whole new creature. First my skin broke out, which it hasn’t done since high school, and then it was clearer than it ever has been. Then my breasts got huge. Then I got sick as a dog, but at the same time was so hungry and knew the only way to stop the hunger was to eat, driving me back to the fridge three times a night, after dinner. Then there was the heartburn, nine months straight of heartburn. All the while your belling is growing like something out of a science fiction movie. For all the strain that your body goes through it’s really quite amazing that you can come out looking basically the same. I didn’t get stretch marks, which I raise my glass to good genetics for that stroke of luck, at the end of my pregnancy I marveled at my still smooth skin because how could it go through all that stretching and not get destroyed?
And then you go through childbirth, which is this amazing automatic journey that your body goes down without your say, opinions, or desires taken into account. All these automatic processes begin, things are contracting and dilating as fast or as slow as they will. If all goes well you end up with a healthy baby.
Then, oh and then, your milk comes in. After having my breasts poked and prodded in the hospital, with this strange fluid coming out and attempting to suckle a child that continually falls asleep, my milk actually came in. Picture this: the power goes out in our little apartment, a friend is over holding my new baby, and I feel like someone has replaced my breasts with boulders. The first advice they give you when your milk comes in is to take a hot shower, because I had a non-waterproof dressing I could not take a hot shower. So the next option was a hot compress. So I am standing in my dark bathroom with Scott’s headlamp balanced on a shelf, a towel across my belly to protect my incision, boiled water in a bowl in the sink and two hot washcloths held against myself, I am dripping everywhere, and my breasts look like those fake bagel boobs that you see on bimbos on Dr. 90210. I think when I see this, ‘why would anyone do this to themselves on purpose?’ My head is tilted back in sobs, my poor husband keeps coming in and asking me what I need, to which I wail in reply,
“I don’t know!” Because truly I didn’t.
There you are: where your flat stomach used to be you have a flaccid gut, where your perky chest was you have these large unpredictable breasts. The strangest thing about all this is that at this point you are at the culmination of your womanhood. This is the thing that our bodies were made to do, men can’t do this. When I see women who haven’t had children yet I think,
“You don’t even know what you’re capable of, you don’t even know what your body can do.” I don’t tell them this, because understanding doesn’t occur until you have a baby. In our politically correct times it isn’t okay to tell women that child birth is a part of who we are and of what we are supposed to do. We tiptoe around the infertile and those that have chosen not to have children. In these times when we are thinking about overpopulation we have forgotten that we have an urge to propagate, that we are animals that need to further our race. With readily available birth control and in a do what you want culture we have forgotten that sex is for making babies.
As I was walking around Heathrow airport with my new baby in a sling across my achey torso, I saw all these posters of models and actresses advertising perfumes and makeup. There was Kate Moss in a black bustier promising me beauty if I bought this makeup. There was Scarlett Johansen popping the cork on a champagne bottle promising me elegance and fun if I wore this perfume. Never mind that that particular ad was ridiculous because nobody looks like that when they are popping a cork, largely all eyes are squeezed shut and faces ducked down away from the bottle because I think whenever a cork gets popped everyone in the room is a little afraid that it’s going to shoot them in the eye. Looking at all these promises and ideals of femininity I found them ridiculous and felt that I had absolutely nothing in common with these women. I felt my distended belly, my aching back, and swollen chest and thought that there was nothing more foolish than these overdone pictures. The advertising was completely lost on me, knowing that no matter what kind of perfume I put on I would still have a belly to contend with and a baby to feed.
Why is it that these women are our ideal? They don’t look like women that would be interested in child bearing, much less even physically capable of it. They don’t even look like they eat. Why is it that we have made body fat, the very thing that allows us to get pregnant and then support the baby the enemy of beauty? Here I am all belly, boobs, at the height of my womanhood, my body has done the very thing that women’s bodies are capable of doing and I am so far from what we consider beautiful in our culture that I have been avoiding mirrors that show anything below my shoulders (unless I want to check if my stomach has shrunk).
Our cultural ideals have so far removed us from what is feminine by touting images that are too thin to be healthy and denying that childbirth is a part of us so ingrained in who we are that every woman I have seen struggle with infertility has gone almost mad. I say we take the power back, the ultimate act feminism is to say that who we are and what we can do as women is so precious and so important that we are proud of it. No matter how thin models get or how many toes we try not to step on feminism is being proud of who we are as women, we are not made as men and quite frankly my big behind is never going to be anything less than that. So get pregnant, get big, we are mothers and no one else can do that.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Childbirth Education II

…..I am being wheeled into my labor room. I can see Scott and he’s holding a bundle of blankets in his arms,
“Is that my baby?”
“Yes, want to hold her?”
I just nod. He hands me this little creature wrapped in hospital issue baby blankets. She is sleeping, and she’s beautiful. Her face has perfect little eyes, a perfect little nose, and a perfect little rosebud mouth. And she’s mine. She has an indentation on the top of her head where her poor little skull was mashed against my body for hours and hours. Scott snaps pictures of us. He tells me that he didn’t stay in the operating theatre during our operation, watching his wife get cut open wasn’t his idea of fun. Turns out Emma had her back against mine through labor, which explains my back pain. She was also crooked and her head was cranked back, which makes sense because when I would contract my belly had odd an shaped lump at an angle, rather than a smooth oval of a back. The cord was wrapped around her neck three times. We didn’t know this because it had happened in between my last ultrasound and the birth. She was never going to descend. Dr. Rachel probably wouldn’t have called a c-section as early as I did, because she was being very respectful of my birth plans. When she came to see us later that day she walked in the room held out her hands and said,
“God’s providence.” We would have ended up in the theatre anyway, and probably under much more dire circumstances. This way I took the brunt of the trauma, and although our little girl was purple when she came out, she came out yelling. I would rather be the one with the healing to do.
I spent the rest of the morning in and out of sleep with my baby on my chest. The rest of our time in the hospital was a comedy of errors in communicating with the nurses and trying to figure out what our new little creature needed. Apparently she just needed to sleep, and that she did. I tried to feed her, and I think that I successfully did in those first few days, against my own anxiety and nervousness at ‘doing it right.’ Periodically nurses would come in throughout our stay and ask if I was breastfeeding, but would not offer advice. When one finally did I was so annoyed I just turned her down. Nurses and doctors would tell me to feed her every two hours, my friends who were parents all confirmed that children don’t really eat at all in the first few days. This seems to be a constant, the medical profession tells you what science says, while your friends and family tell you what really happens.
We spent our time ducking nurses with pans of medication, that they never explained unless I asked, trying to get them to leave our baby with us, they kept wanting to ‘warm her up’ (put her under a heating lamp, my child is not a greasy hamburger), bathe her, and ‘top her up’ with formula. We let them top her up once, she spit it all up, that’s my girl. The desire to give the baby formula so early in her life really doesn’t make sense to me at all, I’m not even producing milk yet. If the baby is only eating colostrum why does she need fake milk?
The nurses never seemed to show up when you needed them and always when you didn’t. So our new little baby kept us up all night, as new little babies are wont to do, and we are finally sleeping at 6am, this is when they choose to take my blood pressure or bring me hot chocolate. I would pretend to sleep and Scott would scare them off. On the first day in the hospital a few hours after I was out of surgery I was by myself, I think the nurses were bathing Emma while Scott watched and I realized that I needed to pee. I want to remind you here of my propensity to read everything during pregnancy, this comes from a deep vein of anxiety within my being, a desire to know absolutely everything so that I am not caught with my proverbial pants down. I didn’t read the section on c-sections, because I wasn’t going to have one of those. I may have given it a cursory glance, but did I commit it to memory? No. I don’t even think there was a part about c-sections in a few of my books. They make you believe that c-sections only happen to women who aren’t in control of their labors, to women who have not read their books, to women who will just let the medical establishment just do whatever they will to you. I am not one of those women, but I ended up with a c-section. So now what am I supposed to think? I hadn’t read the part in ‘What to Expect’ when it tells you to get a nurse to help you get out of the bed after your c-section. So I sat up, swung my feet over the side of bed, stood, swooned, and immediately sat back down on the couch across from my bed. Now in this hospital when you have gynecological surgery they give you a thick pad that looks like it was made in the fifties for women in the military, tell you place it between your legs with no underwear or anything to secure it to your body, and then ask you to perform feats of acrobatics such as hefting yourself from a wheelchair into a bed. Trying doing this without separating your knees, I dare you. So at this point I had removed said 1950s military issue pad, because I was going to the bathroom, and would take care of myself. Upon realizing that wooziness would not allow me and that I was firmly attached to an IV, I sat and thought about what to do. I managed to hit the nurse button, a nurse arrived, I pointed out that I was attached to an IV and needed to go the bathroom and that I would need a new change of sheets and robe because the aforementioned pad was no longer doing it’s job. She told me I could wheel the IV into the bathroom and hurriedly left and I continued to sit on the couch in this state of woozy frustration for the next twenty minutes or so. I grew tired of waiting and wheeled the IV into the bathroom and fixed myself. Apparently all of this you are not supposed to do right after a c-section. I seem to have recovered okay and am doing ever progressively better despite my ignorance and sometimes direct defiance of medical advice. Maybe ignorance isn’t terrible?
Ah well despite all these hiccups we got out of jail free and early. Took our baby home and spent the next few weeks in our sweltering apartment juggling our child, having friends visit, and taking small quick excursions outside the home. Until we took the ultimate excursion and traveled the 24 hours (two eight hour flights, and one six hour layover) from Nairobi to Chicago. Some parents we talked to were shocked that we were going to do that with our baby at such an early age, others were excited for us stating that will the perfect time to travel because all they do is sleep. Again another place where ignorance is bliss, we booked the tickets before Emma was born and were going to go whether I had stitches or not.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Childbirth Education

I read all the pregnancy books and birth books that I could get my hands on here in Nairobi. All of them ones that I knew to be reputable and written by responsible sources, and then I re-read them. I committed the stages of labor to memory, I knew all the terms, I wrote out an all natural birth plan, I acquiesced to a few interventions ‘in case of emergency.’ I was prepared to let my body do what it needed to do as women have been doing for centuries. I was ready to have an all natural beautiful vaginal birth that would be a culminating experience in my understanding of my womanhood. A beautiful rite of passage into motherhood, I would nurse my healthy baby instantly and instinctually right in the delivery room and walk back to my labor room, just like Dr. Bradley and Dr. Sears promise. (Why are there birth books written by men?)
By the end of my pregnancy I was so big and so tired that I am not sure that I even cared anymore. As a good friend said to me, ‘they can pull it out of my nose.’ Now the actual anatomical possibility of that makes one cringe it does send the message, by the end your back has never hurt so much, your ankles have never been so big, and you’re so large that you’re sure you’re being tracked by satellite. I still wanted that natural birth experience and was determined not to become a victim of overly controlling obstetricians and nurses.
After a few weeks of on again off again prelabor contractions on Saturday November 1st at 2:30pm they became fairly regular. About every five to six minutes I would have a contraction and they would speed up when we walked. I thought I felt a dribble of amniotic fluid that morning, in retrospect I am pretty sure it was sweat. We tracked these contractions for about fours hours and at the urging of my doula, Jane, we went in to the hospital at 6:30pm.
We gleefully leapt out of the car and bounded up the steps into the maternity ward of Aga Khan hospital. I entered the waiting room carrying my birthing ball jauntily under one arm like a beach ball, Jane looked at me and said,
“You’re still smiling.” A wave of doubt washed up my back and tensed up my neck. Did I come in too soon? Did I not follow the advice of everyone and come in to the hospital too soon? Was I destined to be watched too carefully and become a downward spiral of unnecessary medical interventions that leads to a false failure to progress and a c-section?
“Should we go home?”
“No, you’re here and you may have leaked amniotic fluid, we should get you checked out.”
Nurses usher into a series of labor rooms, starting with a meager one, giving us a deluxe suite (which we determine our insurance won’t pay for) and then back into one that is more normal. Eventually a nurse comes to check my dilation, Scott, Jane, and my friend Jessie leave the room, it is at this moment that I realize that some doctors and nurses are better at their job than others. After violating me and declaring me only 2cm dilated she leaves. My ‘team’ comes back in the room, the wave of doubt keeps crashing at the back of my neck and I feel that this is going to take a long time. We decide to stay a few hours until the doctor gets here and talk to her about whether or not I should stay.
Dr. Rachel arrives at 9:30pm checks my dilation, she is better at her job, and I have not progressed. We decide it’s best to send me home to rest for the night and see where we are tomorrow morning. Scott and I sleep as best we can, with me waking at each contraction and him in a more heightened state of nervousness than normal.
In the morning my contractions are still 5-6 minutes apart and increase to 3-4 when we walk, the same loop around our neighborhood that we have been walking for days. They are getting stronger and by late afternoon I have to stop what I am doing and focus on relaxing through the contraction. If I relax and hang my belly out and breathe the pain lessens and almost disapears. On our walks this, of course, bring stares as I lean against Scott. I close my eyes and ignore it, because I might just pop someone in the face if I catch them staring at me.
After a few conversations with Jane we go into the hospital at 4:30pm. Another internal exam shows that I have progressed to 3cm, this nurse decides to leave her hand in there to feel for a contraction and to see if my bag of waters is bulging. I rest in knowing that one day she will have to answer to someone for her masochistic health practices.
The next few hours are spent chatting, walking around the hospital with Scott, and me sitting on a birth ball. During this time we experience three twenty minute power outages, I am blithely not bothered by them, because I can push a baby out in the dark. Why would that affect me? At around 9:30 a different nurse checks my dilation, I have achieved 5cm. This is the night nurse, and she does not check for a contraction or my bag of waters breaking. I like this nurse. After this exam I elect to lie down to get some rest, because it still looks like it’s going to be a long time. I adopt the side lying position and pray for rest, which is hard to come by.
At 12:30 the same nurse checks me again, and announces,
“She’s at nine centimeters!” In a flurry of excitement Scott and Jane flank either side of me as I pull on a white hospital robe and hurriedly walk me down the hall to the delivery room. I haul myself up on the delivery room bed, the is a rush of nurses around us, and new doctors and personnel show up in the room. The nurse tells me if I feel like I have to take a ‘long call’ (go poop) I should let them know, because that means I am ready to push. Dr. Rachel arrives, she breaks my water (at this point I am so out of it I don’t even care and since I had not really formed any opinions about AROM I just let it happen), and gives me another internal exam, there is no announcement and whispering in the room. Now, with each exam I am gripping on tight to both Jane and Scott’s hands and trying not to squirm. My threshold for pain has gotten lower as my body has gotten more and more tired. I have started ‘sounding’ with each contraction because it releases all the pressure of each contraction. I do feel like I have to take a long call, but know that I can’t yet so I am no longer trying to relax with each contraction and feel as if I am almost fighting my body. I have to ask,
“How far along am I?”
“Five centimeters,” I can no longer put on a brave face, I cry out and tears roll down my face as I grip Scott’s hands. He leans in and whispers to me on each contraction. I don’t even know what he is saying but I know he loves me. Disembodied torsos and heads of nurses move around me, someone asks if I want painkillers, I shout yes, twice just to make sure they hear me. They give me a shot of Demerol and an IV of some kind of muscle relaxant, in the hopes that I can sleep. After this I am so groggy that I am falling asleep between each contraction, when I look up during the contraction I can see that Scott’s head is down as well. After awhile I try a bath to see if that will help, I give up when I feel it is not. Jane gets me up on the birthing ball again, I am so groggy I am falling off it. Back to the bed.
At 4:30 Dr. Rachel comes back, I have progressed to 7cm. I see a dark shadow of her face floating above the IV, she suggests Pitocin to speed up and help my contractions, I ask how much longer, she estimates two hours. I have read so much about it and heard so many horror stories about Pitocin that I know I can’t do two hours of stronger harder unnatural contractions.
“Let’s just do a C-section,” I announce.
“Wait, wait, wait, that was one of the last things you wanted to do. Why didn’t you want to do a c-section?” Scott won’t let me make a rash decision.
“I didn’t want them to cut through my abs and I don’t want a scar.” I left out the whole unconscious for the first hours of my baby’s life, but right now that seems like a fair trade off for more immediate gratification. I hear Jane from behind me,
“They don’t cut through your abs, and you will hardly even see the scar.”
“Let’s do a c-section, can we do a c-section?” I beg.
In a matter of moments Dr. Rachel is putting a form in front of me that consents to the surgery I thought I never would have and I eagerly sign. Disappointment follows the nurses and doctors around, a black shadow in the background, but I am too exhausted to really give him the time of day.
I get lifted onto a gurney, I am wheeled into the hall, past my friend Jessie, she waves as if I am getting on a cruise ship (later she tells me I was so non-responsive that I scared her). Powerlessly I am wheeled about, soon a perky woman with a hindi accent appears at my head and puts a mask on my face and tells me to breathe in, it will stop the pain, it does. At this point I am writhing with each contraction, trying to hold my baby back. The perky woman (later I will meet her in a conscious state and will know that this is the anesthesiologist), asks me if I want a spinal or if I want to sleep. I choose sleep, sleep sounds good right now. She turns around and announces very loudly to someone that I want to sleep; this strikes me as strangely comical at the moment. I feel wiping and tugging down on my lower abdomen and it occurs to me that I am being shaved. I call out for the mask again, the perky woman plants it over my mouth, God bless her. Someone takes my hand I turn my head. My mind takes a few moments to register that this man in a medical mask is my husband. At this moment I can’t help but think how handsome he is….

Sunday, October 25, 2009

No Return

So here I sit 39 weeks pregnant. I have had heart burn for nine months straight, I have seen my ankles swell to scarily large proportions, I have puffed up and gained weight in ways that I thought not possible for my body, my lower back aches pretty much no matter what I do, and I have seen my athletic body deteriorate to a level of fitness where an hour walk sounds like a bit much.
I think that pregnancy is the great equalizer of women. I have talked to women that say that they loved being pregnant, I have noticed however that none of them have been pregnant in the last five years. I think that is the time limit when the great revision of history begins for women. I have three other friends who are pregnant right now. As I watch one friend, who prior to conception loved food, slowly laboriously push food around her plate at dinner time. I talk to another friend who seems to be handling pregnancy with smiles admit that she is felled by massive headaches almost daily. And my other friend who gleefully admits that she puked so much that if she didn’t have her own office with a locking door she would have had to go on medical leave.
Yes, the books have all these handy tips on how to deal with this and how to deal with that and some of those tips do provide relief, but the next day it’s back. You may be able to de-swell your feet for one day, but the next hot day that comes around or day that you spend sitting or standing too long, ka-bam! The cankles are back. You go to your doctor and say, ‘this is happening to me,’ and she says, ‘Are you drinking enough water?’ and you say, ‘Two litres a day,’ and she says, ‘oh,’ and changes the subject. There are some things that I can’t change and some things that have plagued me that other women never have a problem with. Or things that my body never once did that other women have had the whole time. I didn’t really swell until the last month, my colleague at work said that her rings were off her fingers in the first trimester, and my other friend says she never swelled once.
I am due on Nov. 4th, I have one or two more weeks to go or four if the child decides not to leave the ‘comforts’ of my body too soon. Ever since my 37th week I have felt like I was running in slow motion towards a cliff. Like in some foggy dream where I want to move faster but can’t make my feet and legs move. Like they are slogging through thick dense mud and I am surrounded by impenetrable mist that has infected my brain with the inability to think of anything but babies and pregnancy. People kept asking me if I was going to stop working before I had the baby and I said, ‘no, why would I?’ I can understand why now, it’s not so much my body, it’s my brain. The effort it takes to pull my brain out of the nursery and put into my classroom is colossal, I feel like a pregnant Sisyphus. Not only do I have to lug my weighty girth up a huge hill for eternity I have to push my brain out of baby muck onto a hill only to have it slide right down again once I achieve one coherent thought. I think I would be perfectly content to spend the next few weeks sitting in the baby’s room and baking until she chose to show up.
Compounded by all this is the fact that I am having prelabor contractions all day long. On Wednesday of last week I had them for twelve hours every five to twenty minutes. I figured they were prelabor but I kept hoping that the switch would flip into labor at any point. Yesterday Scott and I walked for an hour and my Braxton-hicks were so intense I almost couldn’t walk, but the second we stopped walking so did they. I think the hardest part is thinking with each one, ‘is this it?’ and not really knowing for sure until they stop or change, I just keep praying for something to start leaking. And yes, they are physically taxing, and today I find myself feeling like a damp wrung out washcloth, but mostly it’s the emotional energy. The hoping and wondering if we should pack our bags, and go to the hospital but knowing that upon examination I would just be told to go back home. Above all the most draining is truly not knowing when this baby is going to make her entrance, some women have prelabor contractions like this for weeks before they go into labor. I am committed though, I have committed to continuing to work because I want that time off with the baby, and quite frankly there is no way out of pregnancy but out….

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mommy and Me

As my belly has expanded by leaps and bounds in the last few weeks I have realized that motherhood begins with such sacrifice. As an active women I have hard time feeling my body become increasingly taxed by activities that never would have caused my body any exertion before. Stretches that wouldn’t have stretched before are now a strain on tight muscles. Walks that would’ve felt like nothing are tiring now. Running is an absolute impossibility. We begin this process of motherhood by giving of our very bodies.
I helped Scott with the beginning of a camp training this weekend; during this I thought through aspects of leadership again. At one point self-care was brought up, the process of taking care of yourself first before you take care of others. I learned self care in a very real way on my first backpacking trip. The trip took place in Wisconsin in May and was subjected to oft felt Midwestern spring weather patterns, constant rain and a surprise snow storm. I was sopping wet from the waist down for eleven days straight. When we would get into camp everyone would just start setting up camp, I finally had the courage to take a break and change my sopping wet clothes so I could better move, gather firewood, set up tents, and cook dinner. If I changed clothes and took the five minutes to rejuvenate I could take better care of myself and the people around me. Right now my fairly low maintenance body has become high maintenance. If I don’t drink enough water I suffer, if I don’t eat well I suffer, if I don’t properly rest I suffer, if I don’t exercise my body (in gentle ways that I used to call old lady exercise) my body really starts to fall apart. My non-pregnant body is used to being deprived of food, water, sleep, pushed to all kinds of crazy excesses in sport and now I can do none of that. Presently the three flights of stairs up to my class winds me, probably because my heart is presently turned on sits side, but from a woman who likes to climb mountains this is a hard weakness to feel. Right now to best take care of my impending child I need to just take proper care of myself. I think this is the first lesson of parenthood, so take proper care of your child you must first take care of yourself.
Prior to my marriage I looked upon the bonds of matrimony as an institution that would only take me further from myself, that once I married my life would stop. Once I said ‘I do’ my waist would expand, I would stop traveling, and no longer be able to pursue my career because my husband’s everything would come first. I would pick up his nightly nacho habits, we would no longer be able to afford travel, and we would make all decisions based on the advancement of his career because, after all, aren’t I just going to get pregnant and quit work? I have traveled more since I have been married, and have gone farther in my career than I ever did on my own. There have been some un accounted for weight fluctuations, but I won’t blame Scott. I have felt that my impending motherhood was going to provide the same kind of death to my life; in the same places and in other’s as well. I have seen mothers stop exercising, stop interacting with their husband (unless it was about the baby), stop eating well, stop their career, stop their education, and stop interacting with their friends (unless those friends had kids). I have also seen all of these ‘sacrifices’ looked on as virtuous, because doesn’t the child come first?
But if pregnancy prepares me for motherhood by taking good care of myself and therefore the child, why do I feel like that our society expects me to give up everything that gives me life and keeps me sane? Why does it expect me to stop my job, which provides income and helps others, and start recording every minutiae of my child’s life in a scrapbook? Why does it expect me to stop exercising and start making kid-friendly, shaped like a lady bug, snacks? Why does it ask me to stop making art and start making homemade wrapping paper? Why does it tell me that I won’t be able to hike, which is free, but I should be able to afford a gym with daycare?
I read one article in a Parenting magazine about how to take care of your child in the ‘witching hours,’ those hours between school and dinner. One suggestion was to make peanut butter and jelly sushi: flatten bread, spread with peanut butter and jelly and then roll it up and I was to give this to child twenty minutes before dinner. Why would I waste the time to make an elaborate snack right before dinner when I could be making dinner? The schedule for this article had me dancing on my head in some ridiculous way every fifteen minutes, when am I supposed to make dinner? Where does this madness stop? When can highly educated women expect to stop running circles around the perceived demands of a small child and make real decisions? Will my child feel more loved because I quit work and spent all day making faux-sushi? Will my child become a contributing member of society because I stopped painting and hand decorated all their Christmas presents and those of my thirty person family? Will my children score better on their SATs because I stopped exercising and started going to every ‘Mommy and Me’ class available? Yet every woman’s magazine I pick up aimed at women in my time of life tells me that these things are necessary for a healthy child.
I was raised by a single mom. I didn’t get shuttled to hours and hours of sports practices. Would I be more confident if I did? Probably, but it didn’t happen so why dwell on it. I was a latch key kid, I did watch many clandestine hours of afterschool television when I should’ve been doing homework, (if you’re reading this Mom I’m sure you knew or aren’t surprised, our garage door was really loud) would my time have been better spent in piano lessons, maybe, but it didn’t happen so why dwell on it? I tell you what did happen because of my upbringing that I didn’t see happen with my friends who were shuttled to and from lessons and made all kinds of personalized snacks, I entered college being able to cook and clean almost anything. I remember going to school with people who couldn’t use a mop or a vacuum cleaner or an ATM or fry an egg. I am not a picky eater; my mom wasn’t going to short order cook all kinds of specialized crap just because I didn’t like it or wanted something else.
So how do I balance this? How do I take care of myself, and take care of my child and still get to enjoy time with my husband? How do I raise an independent child that still has the opportunity to be on a few soccer leagues? How do I keep my career, keep exercising, and keep my sanity without folding to all the Martha Stewart crap that American culture tells me I have to do to be a good mother? How do I take care of myself without turning into Oprah?
I think I start with knowing who I am and what I am willing to spend my time on. I love food, food is a bit of a hobby of mine, my children will be well fed at mealtimes. I am not willing to spend my time making special snacks, they can have a normal peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A one minute prep time for snack means I love you and want to meet your needs just as much as a ten minute masterpiece. I think I have to ask myself continually what are the long term effects of the things I choose to do with them and the things I choose to keep for myself. What does this mean for the eternal? What does it take to raise a well-loved cherished child and still use my god-given gifts to the best of what God has intended them for?

Mommy no-nos

Here’s a list of things I cannot eat while pregnant:
1. Alcohol: May cause fetal alcohol syndrome.
2. Caffeine: coffee, chocolate, tea, green tea, soda, etc. In a study they found that women that who ingested 6-8 cups of coffee a day had a higher risk of miscarriage and had lower birth weight babies. So they recommend you drink under 200mg a day, a cup of coffee has about 170mg of caffeine in it.
3. Lunchmeat: may have a bacteria that causes a harzardous bacterial infection.
4. Soft cheeses like brie, camembert, and feta: made with unpasteurized milk that may have bacteria that causes hazardous bacterial infections.
5. Sushi: it might make me sick, read give me food poisoning (for the record I have never gotten sick off of sushi). One source I read said that there could be parasites that can cross over the placenta and harm the baby, the very next source said that parasites cannot cross over the placenta. Do women in Japan stop eating sushi when they’re pregnant?
6. Tuna: I should avoid tuna steaks because they have too much mercury in them, might damage my baby’s nervous system. But I should eat canned tuna to get omega-3’s, but only 6 oz. a week.
7. Sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and stevia: all sugar substitutes and since some cause cancer in lab rats I shouldn’t eat them or only in moderation.
8. Herbal tea: since we haven’t done lots of conclusive studies on herbs that are used in teas I should either cut them out or not use them at all. I also found conflicting information on herbs; one source would say that hibiscus was unsafe and the very next would say that it is just fine (by the way hibiscus is in every red hued herbal tea out there, very hard to avoid), I had the same thing occur with lemongrass, red raspberry leaf, fennel, and peppermint.
9. I should buy organic foods: by the way there has been no conclusive study done that show that organic foods are actually better for you.
10. Uncooked eggs or meat: say goodbye to runny yolks and medium rare.
11. Afalfa and other sprouts: may have bacteria.
12. Meats that have nitrates in them.
I think that’s all I think of right now.

Things that I am not supposed to do while pregnant:
1. Take hot baths or hot showers: might overheat and cook the fetus or make my skin itchier than it already is.
2. Hiking on uneven terrain: have these people even been hiking before?
3. Bike or walk on uneven terrain: might trip. Apparently anything but pavement is very bad for me. Have they considered that most of the world is unpaved?
4. Biking on wet pavement, bumpy roads or winding paths.
5. Sitting too long.
6. Standing too long.
7. Dye my hair.
8. Use perfumed anything.
9. Smoke.
10. No more skiing or snowboarding or ice-skating until the kids out of the womb.
11. Wear sandals or high heels, I should stick to 2-inch wide chunky heels. Or tennis shoes because those are always okay for Americans. We do love our athletic footwear.
12. Lying on my back.
13. I should never lift more than 12 lb. weights. Never mind that I can chest fly 20 lbs. but once I am pregnant I need to stop that dangerous activity.
14. Horse back-riding. Didn’t Mary ride a donkey into Bethlehem? So irresponsible, what were they thinking?
15. High altitude.
16. Rock climbing.
17. Contact sports.
18. Gaining too much weight.
19. Not gaining enough weight.
Wrap me in bubble wrap and stick me in a room with a bowl of fruit. But wait, the bubble wrap might make me too hot. And the fruit should be organic, washed properly and not too old….
The other day we were at a friend’s house enjoying barbecue and conversation and I made a comment about something I’m not supposed to eat and the two fresh faced right out of college girls looked at me and eagerly asked what restrictions do I have. I threw back my head and cackled and started regaling them with the horrors of pregnancy diets. My friend, Muhia, and father of two laughed and said, ‘Welcome to parenting.’ He then began to talk about how you sleep your babies. He said his children were the old model and you had to lay them on their bellies or else they would choke and die, and now these new models have to be slept on the back or they suffocate and die of SIDS. But if you lie them on their back they may develop a flat head. Unbeknownst to Muhia earlier that week I had just sat Scott down and asked him what he thought on whether or not we should sleep our child on their back or belly. We reached no conclusions.
My grandmother smoked through all her pregnancies, and had three healthy babies. My mother slept us all on our stomachs, and we didn’t die. I’m sure she also put back a few cans of tuna and took some really hot showers. Still she didn’t kill any of her children and all of our nervous systems work just fine.
Well all this to say I still put down my one allotted cup of glorious black coffee, brewed so strong I am sure that my child already has hair on his or her chest. I walk on uneven terrain (I live in Africa for pete’s sake), and I’m a little cavalier about washing my vegetables. I guess I just need to break rules and live on the edge. Damn my stinking rebel streak.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Harbingers of Adulthood

Harbingers of Adulthood

One of my fellow teachers here at Rosslyn has gone back and forth between Michigan and Kenya a few times. This last time on their way back to Kenya her kids asked her what she was most looking forward to here in Kenya, her response, ‘Househelp.’ Labor is inexpensive here and most westerners employ people in the interest of providing a job and having some help doing tasks that take monumentally more time here than at home. Our househelp is named Mary, and she is wonderful, I don’t think she has any idea how much easier she makes my life. Anyway my co-workers couldn’t believe their mother’s response; they thought she would say, the animals or the mangoes or something else. I laughed because I totally understand their mom, and this is such a juxtaposition of adulthood and childhood.
Every now and then something hits me on the head and makes me think, ‘Oh, I am all grown-up.’ Here are some of those things:

1. Christmas or your birthday comes around and you can’t think of anything you want.
2. Or your Dad asks you what you want and all you can think is, ‘sheets.’
3. It’s two weeks to your birthday and a friends asks you want to do and you don’t know because you didn’t even realize that your birthday was coming up.
4. You wake up before your alarm clock and you consider getting up because you can get a few more things done.
5. You can’t, actually can’t, sleep in past 8am, unless sick or pregnant.
6. You see college age girl your first thought is, ‘she doesn’t even have hips yet.’
7. You would rather rent it from blockbuster.
8. You feel guilty when you let other people do more work for you.
9. You look at pictures of yourself in college and high school and think, ‘I was skinny, what was I thinking?’
10. You get excited when you think about organizing a new part of your house.
11. It’s almost as much fun shopping for someone else as it is shopping for yourself.
12. You’ve decided it doesn’t matter what’s trendy, what’s trendy is what doesn’t make your butt look big.
13. You actually know what colors look good on you.
14. You do think actresses and models look too damn skinny.
15. You see a handsome man on the street and instead of being attracted to him you think, ‘Yeah, but can he cook?’ Or, ‘That’s nice, pretty doesn’t change a diaper at 3am.’
16. A night out with the girls still gets you home by eight or nine.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Not so Great Expectations

“There are two basic types of expectant mothers: The Nervous Expectant Mother and the Smug Expectant Mother. The NEM has no idea what motherhood will be like, and she fears the worst. The SEM, on the other hand, tells everyone how long she plans to be in labor and insists to all who will listen, ‘There’s no need for the baby to interrupt our lifestyle. He’ll just have to fit into our schedule.’
“Although the SEM is undoubtedly more at ease during her pregnancy, on the whole the NEM is the better off of the two. When her baby is born, she usually discovers that things aren’t as hard as she expected them to be, and she relaxes as she gets to know her baby. On the other hand, there’s nothing like the devastation experienced by the SEM who has just had the run pulled out from under her and all her grand expectations.”
Hah! For once in my life my anxiety ridden and expect the worst attitude has and will serve me well. I am the NEM. I am the youngest in my family so I never diapered my two older brothers. I baby-sat a fair amount, rarely for actual babies. And usually hated it.
I have two good friends that now have nine month old babies. I look at their sweet faced children that are so calm, and cute and think this won’t be so bad. Then one of them tells me that she hasn’t gotten a full night’s sleep in nine months and you can hear the edge in her voice that dances on the crazy. Then I spend the evening with the other friend and her family and her astonishingly beautiful baby girl proceeds to burst into screams and tears for the whole evening for no apparent reason. Then I rest my hand on my swollen belly wherein lies my child ( who has taken to sucker-punching me in the bladder) and I think, “what have we done?”
I have looked at pregnancy as a liminal stage that is very similar to being engaged. You’re nervous, you have butterflies, you cry for no apparent reason, the two of you fight for no apparent reason, you get cold feet, then those feet get pretty hot…hmmm, I think that’s how I got in this mess. Cold feet in pregnancy are different because it’s a much more permanent process than a diamond and a non-returnable dress. (Which I think they do just to freak you out. I remember taking deep breathes when I put that credit card down.) When you look at marriage, if you are truly in love with that man, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Companionship, security, someone to share the workload, sex, all these are great things. I have never once had to clean up Scott’s urine, vomit, or poop. He has never kept me up all night with screaming and crying. He has never thrown the dinner I just made onto the floor. He has never thrown a toy at my head. I have never had to threaten to “pull over” if he doesn’t stop whining.
While we were engaged he never gave me heartburn three times in one day that was so fiery I wanted to just give up. To this day he has never once given me gas so bad that I gave up on the day and went to bed. Our fights have made me cry, he has frustrated me to the point of tears. My decisions have to take him into account. I often structure days and make choices to do things for him. Big decisions aren’t made without him. And at the end of the day I love him so much I wonder if I’ve gone batty. How can I spend an entire week with a person and then miss him when he walks out the door?
Here’s where I think my Eeyore attitude benefits me. I mostly only see the sleepless nights, excess noise, and potential permanent detriment to my body. I’m too realistic to go into my doctor and demand a birth with no medical interventions. I know what I would like, and I know that I am physically and mentally strong, but I know that life often has other plans. I know that I watch other parents and think, “I will never..” Then another part of my brain goes, “I wonder what will make me eat my words…”
There’s another part of me that knows that I will be okay on some level because of how I know I would feel if this baby came out less than perfect. Or if she didn’t make it at all. Even though she jabs me I still want her. And I cry at diaper ads.
So who is this little person that is wreaking havoc with my insides? It’s hard to believe what people tell me, that I will love this person more than my own life. We keep doing it though, we keep falling in love and having babies. My mother told me her birth stories and each ended with, “who knew that the love of my life would be short, fat, and bald.” I’m already madly in love with someone bald, can short and fat be so hard a jump?
Written by Lara

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Nickeled and Dimed

I feel like living in Nairobi is like being nickel and dimed to utter frustration. My friend who was living in Sudan was denied everything, no electricity, no running water, no white people, he was living in a world apart, from camp to camp in the bush. Here I live in a city and almost anything that I want is available to me. If I am able to pay it. Twelve dollars for a bottle of contact disinfectant, six dollars for a box of American cereal. Sure you can pay three for the Kenyan produced cereal, but it tastes like a wheat field, and the wheat, the dirt. Sure, you can get cheese and sliced bread here. But the cheese tastes as if, as my good friend puts it, the cow has been eating garbage. The bread is fine if you toast it or grill it, but tastes like sawdust if you just want to eat it as in on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or the BLT’s we ate last Sunday. I sat eating said sandwich thinking, this is why I don’t eat sandwiches here. I remember in our first week a friend saying that she couldn’t stand the bread here, I remember thinking, ‘It’s not so bad.’ Yesterday I stood in front of all the bread in Nakumatt and realized we had tried all of it and it all tasted like sawdust, and I couldn’t bring myself to buy any loaves. I have been nickeled and dimed out of buying bread.

I’ve never been mugged, I don’t think I’ve ever been touched, I’ve never been accosted, but yet leaving my house and doing errands and walking down the street takes immense amounts of emotional energy. I get stared at all the time. I live in a wealthy neighborhood that is crawling with white people, but still every Kenyan I pass in my car or while walking stares at me as if I am two headed beast. No second head, it’s just blonde. In the village you greet everyone you pass, but Nairobi is just like any city where you there are no steadfast rules for greeting people. So I’ve made up my own; I greet women. Sometimes they smile and wave back, others glare at me as if I moved to Africa just to steal their men. Which my swelling belly seems to attest to, never you mind I am happily married to a US citizen. The men I don’t greet, except for the guards. My logic is that I am a married woman, I wouldn’t greet men I don’t know on the street in the US, why would I do it here? I greet the guards because they are just doing their job, and you know what they are probably bored and could use a smile. Besides if anything goes down, the mugging that people keep threatening will happen, hopefully they are the ones that would help the white woman who has waved at them on her walks and runs each day. The children are the hardest. Because they are just children. But they beg and call out at you, I’ve had them follow me for a good mile or so and ask for money or sweets, or mimic and mock my running. I’ve had them yell at me and call out English greetings in mocking tones. And I hate having to walk by packs of these kids and in fact actively try to avoid them, and then I feel guilty. Lots of guilt. Because they are poor and they are kids and maybe they don’t know better, but they do, but then again they are poor and they are poor and they are poor.

I have a general rule of not giving to beggars. Because I think it just teaches people to beg. Maybe you read this and you judge me, and say but they are so poor. But there are others who are living here who are not poor. It can be done. It’s not as simple as that when you get here. When you see the blind man being led through traffic by the child with an empty cup, what do you do? What can a blind man do in a nation that starves its own people?

And in this you can see the summation of my frustration with Nairobi, I came here to help. I came here to be part of Africa. I came here to facilitate the success of people that are just like me, but born to unfortunate circumstances. But then we get abused. A family that I have come to enjoy, I taught each of their children last year and will have their eldest next year, is now considering leaving. After being here for a year and half and having work permits, delayed and then delayed and then delayed, having promises getting broken and then broken and then broken, having Kenyans get excited about a program and then never showing up and then never showing up and then never showing up, and having people promise to pay them and then never getting paid and then never getting paid and then never getting paid, they are at the end of the proverbial rope and now it’s fraying. This is added to by watching Scott talk about programs that would be so easy to implement and how everyone was so excited and now a year later this exciting and excellent program is still in the storage closet. I’m sure that some of this is due to the ‘relational yes.’ If an American is not going to do something they just say no, because that’s the truth, we’re used to that and that’s what we expect. If an African is not going to do something he says he’ll be there and then never shows up. In his mind he has kept the relationship going because he has said yes to your face, whereas to us he has just lied and broken a promise. I think for us it’s hard to know was that a relational yes or was that just a random act of ‘I’m not going to follow through.’

You can’t make people work. They have to want to and they have to see the benefit of hard work. I didn’t come over here thinking that my culture was superior and it isn’t, but we do have areas in our culture that have brought our success. Some would say it’s because the white man has colonized and pillaged, and there is truth to that. But we do work hard, there are plenty of Americans of every color that are where they are not because they used someone else, but because they showed up every day to work or class and did the work that was required of them, and then did some more. There are Kenyans with strong work ethics, and as always the truth is somewhere in the middle and with people there are hardly ever absolutes, and there are plenty of Kenyans with no work ethic at all. You have more than me, so why don’t you just give it to me?

I don’t know if it’s better to have something, tasted it and then have it taken away or if it’s better to never have it at all, daydream about it and not know what it’s really like?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


“Technically a pregnant woman is eating for two. But it’s important to remember that one of the two is a tiny developing fetus whose calories are significantly lower than mom’s- a mere 300 on average a day, more or less. So if you’re of average weight, you now need only about an average of 300 calories more than you did prepregnancy – the equivalent of two glasses of skim milk and a bowl of oatmeal….What’s more during the first trimester you probably don’t need any extra calories at all.”
What to Expect When You’re Expecting, pg. 93
These words seem to me to be the mad ravings of a complete sadist. ‘Two glasses of skim milk and a bowl of oatmeal.’ I don’t know a single woman who only increased her caloric intake during pregnancy by ‘Two glasses of skim milk and a bowl of oatmeal.’
When you think of my metabolism during pregnancy I want you to picture a large pack of ravenous hyenas descending upon a kill during a time of famine. Picture the wicked and hunger driven glee as they destroy their new food. To compound that I want you to picture said hyena lying on his back after the meal bloated, sated, engorged lying about peacefully licking his chops. Now in two hours that fat animal will feel as starved as it did right before it’s feeding frenzy. Now this, if you can grasp the fullness of this beast within me you will understand how I feel and how my body has changed.
I have a sweet tooth, always have, but the belly aches of one too many cookie dough enhanced sleep-overs have taught me to enjoy my sweets in small portions. A few squares of chocolate here, a few spoonfuls of ice cream there. The other day I was making cookies and I popped a small ball of dough into my mouth and felt the beast rise up within me. It occurred to me that I could eat the whole bowl, this bowl that would make 4 dozen cookies. All of it. Before I was creating life in my womb that would have been an unheard of desire, for it would have left me curled in a ball on the cold hard tile floor of my bathroom with another kind of creature inside. I didn’t eat the cookie dough, I’d been reading too many warnings about glasses of skim milk and oatmeal.
Why do we as a culture have this obsessive need to quantify everything? Why would we tell a woman who is growing life in her womb that she only needs 300 extra calories? Or that in her first trimester while she’s growing a placenta, increasing her blood volume by 50% and a baby (however small that baby may be) that she may not need any extra calories at all? I ate more in my first trimester than I have in my second. I ate when I was hungry, drank when I was thirsty, and generally obeyed the raging beast that had taken over my once placid body. Every woman’s body is going to go about pregnancy differently.
In my first trimester when I would read the books I would start to panic about my expanding belly (thighs and butt). I looked about a month more pregnant than any of the diagrams in any books (I think that’s more owed to the fact that I am short waisted, not that I have been eating more than two glasses of skim milk and a bowl of oatmeal). But then I would talk to another woman about her experience and relax as I heard stories of maternity clothes at 8 weeks and gaining 90lbs over the course of a pregnancy.
Is it our ridiculous obsession with thinness? Being here in Kenya I have relaxed about the way my body looked. Kenyan women are touted for having a shape and described as beautiful when their figures are ample. I have been able to not think about my weight so much and enjoy the fact that a few pounds magically disappeared because of a lack of processed food in my diet. Guess I didn’t them anyway. Honestly I would feel fine about myself and then a friend would pass on a copy of People magazine and I would start to feel nervous about the size of my thighs compared to some new nymphet that was being touted as the new ‘it’ girl. I don’t even know who half the famous people are anymore, is that a harbinger of adulthood?
Then I got pregnant and grabbed a copy of ‘What to expect’ and in a time of life where I shouldn’t be worried about thinness at all I am again worried about gaining ‘too much’ weight. Even though before I never really actually struggled with being overweight, I just thought I was. Lovely body dysmorphia, the plague of all girls raised in southern California. Makes me want to punch the authors.
I am sure that people did conclusive and exhaustive studies on how many extra calories it takes to make a baby. And they came up with the magic number of 300. I want to make them all pregnant and see what they have to say about that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Elusive electricity, bloated bellies, and garden gnomes...

Earlier this evening I leaned my head back against our couch, the one luxury here in Kenya that I do not feel guilty about owning, and wished for all the world that I could fart and take a hot shower or even better a hot bath. I felt as if a small garden gnome had plugged a bike pump into my bellybutton and gleefully jumped up and down on it for about an hour, making my twenty weeks pregnant abdomen feel like the most uncomfortable and tight place in the world to dwell. We woke this morning to a power outage, a daily occurrence in Nairobi, and later found the power return but only at a dim brown half light. It remained this way for the rest of the day. We left in the afternoon to go workout at Rosslyn’s gym and hoped that upon our return that we would have full power. Alas, it was not there still dim and ineffective. We quickly revamped our dinner from oven baked quiche to something we could cook on our stove. My spirits sunk in a bit, I could tell power would be elusive for quite awhile.
Looking at an evening of semi-darkness, part of me thought there would a good way to take advantage of this situation and I could sense my dear husband’s amorousness. Unfortunately this possibility was ruined by the fact that Gnorbert had done his worst to my insides leaving me feeling like an overzealously blown beach ball. At the advent of my pregnancy my libido disappeared. It’s as if it stood up, dusted off her jeans and said, “Well, my work here is done, I’ll see you kids in nine months, ten months, if that labor is a rough one. Have fun now, ya hear!” Well if you stuck around maybe we could.
We checked with our fellow American neighbors, Jill and Nate, if they were in the same predicament, they answered the door headlamps ablaze and I knew the answer. Right after dinner I could see a dim light out of our door, the hall lights in out apartment building were on downstairs, I smacked the light switch for our upstairs hall lights and low and behold they blazed to full blinding light. I cried out in indignation and frustration, what was this? Everyone else had power but us upstairs dwellers? Is this a conspiracy against the foreigners? And how is this possible?
Jill and I marched downstairs to see if the guard was about and he could solve our problems, all the lights were working downstairs. Through stilted and slow English we explained that our lights were not working. He came upstairs and Jill demonstrated that they were having a brown out. He said he would call the handyman, he returned shortly with a plastic chair and an energy saving light bulb. Jill and I had now taken to sitting on our well lit landing and discussing our days. Fatalism had conquered our spouses who saw no point in calling our landlord, because they wouldn’t fix it tonight anyway. As the guard returned with said light bulb Jill and I exchanged looks and shrugged, we could tell him that wouldn’t work, but best to let him find out on his own. He makes his discovery and disappears with his plastic chair and promises to call someone. Tomorrow will be a dim day as well. And perhaps without coffee, a true aggravation.
Scott calls our landlord who never picks up her phone until we’ve called atleast four times. She does not pick up. We resign ourselves to a dim night and return to our respective apartments. Again all I want is to fart and bathe, and I think to myself these are not horrible requests, these are not bad desires, these I don’t think, are even pampered American desires. I start water heating for the treat any traveler or developing nation dweller has been treated to of a bucket bath. After placing the sufaria (cheap aluminum pot) on the stove full of water I settle into our lovely couch and allow myself that one glorious sigh.
While in my dimly lit shower splashing hot water from a plastic tub over my shoulder I think this is why Nairobi is so frustrating. I gaze at the tub and think if I could just sit in a bathtub of this delicious brew for a half hour my abdomen would relax and deflate and my problems would melt away. But, no, we have a stand up shower, and there is not power enough to heat water so I can’t even have the reasonable facsimile of a hot shower. You almost have everything you want, hot water, electricity, etc., but often it is taken out of your hands and is just there right outside of your reach. Like right now, there are blazing lights RIGHT OUTSIDE OF MY DOOR, LITERALLY!!! And it’s not taken for good reasons, usually because someone was incompetent or stole something. We keep hearing that the rains have failed in Nairobi, there is drought because the rains have failed. Apparently the year has been drier than normal, but this dry year has sure yeilded more in the past month than they see in Nevada all year long. It's not that the rains have failed, it's that Nairobi has failed to properly catch the water that has fallen.
My husband just leaned over me and made a smart suggestion of taking advantage of the situation, I told him of what Gnorbert hath wrought. Damn pointy capped little beast, he probably crossed some wires as well…
Written by Lara

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Baby Blues

So Scott and I realized that we have blogged maybe only a handful of times while in Kenya, so I am writing. While not much in Kenya has changed, it’s still full of corrupt politicians, they are still complaining that the rains have failed even though gallons of rain water get wasted because they aren’t catching it, the internet is still slower than a three toed sloth with chronic fatigue syndrome, even though there’s been talk of installing a fiber optic cable from U.A.E. for years. The political situation still feels unstable, the economic situation is still unstable, riots could break out anyday, and they regularly do. But that’s Kenya.
As I sit here feeling my underwire straining at my ever-expanding ribcage and bustline the one thing I can think about that has changed is that I am pregnant. Since I have announced on Facebook and we put it in our ‘monthly’ newsletter and there’s no way I can physically hide it at this point the cat is out of the bag and I may as well blog about it.
Pregnancy feels very similar to me of the process of falling in love and getting married. While I feel that pregnancy is less tangible stress (nobody buys a big exceedingly expensive white dress to give birth in and you don’t have middle-aged over made-up sales ladies pushing a cathedral length veil on you and cooing about how this is the most important day of your life and you should have whatever you want, even if you don’t want it) there is an event to prepare for, one that will be perhaps a day long that will forever change your life. There are insecurities to be grappled with, there is the thought over and over again of, ‘how will this change my life?’ There are fights to be fought with your spouse/fiancĂ© and the main all-encompassing feeling of doubt that you are actually ready to be a parent.
As with my engagement period I entered it with two sides of my emotions parroting very different things, one side giddy with excitement and breathlessly in love and the other side stressed out over the event of the wedding day and the fear of a deep abyss of not knowing what I am really getting myself into. Months up to actually getting pregnant I kept daydreaming of myself pregnant, big bellied and as beautific as the Virgin Mary (like every girl dreams of her day in the white dress). I wanted to start my family, Scott has been ready for at least a decade and me feeling more and more like this is the time to start our family. So we get pregnant (he gets on one knee and slides the ring on my finger), and I wonder, ‘what have I just done?’ The different between getting married and getting pregnant is that there is no turning back with pregnancy. I think even after we put down hundreds of dollars on the dress we all knew we could bolt. It’s not the same. The baby is in there. You’re getting whatever comes out.
Again one side of me is excited picturing a cute little cuddly baby miracle that I get to take care of and mold (as much as it will let me) and the other side of me knowing that I won’t get to sleep in again for the next decade. I fear just how this little life will change my life? Will I ever run that marathon I’ve thought about? Will I ever get to New Zealand like I have always wanted to? And what exactly is my body going to look like when this is all said and done? I’ve been told all the sacrifices are worth it, that my priorities will change, that New Zealand becomes less important and that you may not care as much about sleeping in or marathons. People have done this for millennia, someone did it for me. But really what does it do, how does it change you? And is it all worth it?
Now part of this fear needs context, I have become increasingly more athletic in my life and have gotten used to pushing my body in sports. I have a healthy heart and body and it usually rises to the occasion, I can hike as long as I want, lift as much as I want, run until the path disappears, etc. In pregnancy that is all gone, you’re tired all the time and not tired in a normal way, not in a, ‘I can push through this if I want.’ No, it’s time to sit and put your feet up and pass out. And your body keeps getting increasingly bigger, and as someone who has struggles with body image expanding thighs and arms (not too mention behind) are hard to take. And for me pregnancy does not bring on that beautific Virgin Mary glow, I feel more like a large gestating beast stomping through Nairobi. Some women sail through pregnancy feeling fabulous and loving the changes in their body, I liked mine better before (which is good since this does only last nine months), a host of common ills have sunk in upon me, heartburn, fatigue, morning sickness, etc.
And you know and I have never really enjoyed baby sitting. I’ve always kinda resented the fact that it was foisted on me because of my gender. Really, can’t I just mow your lawn for ten bucks? Instead of being left with the child you refuse to discipline because that would squash his creativity….I know it’s different with your own kids, but I don’t have those yet….
So my whole body and lifestyle has changed and I’m not sure what’s going to happen on the other end. I felt the same way with marriage I wanted to be married, I wanted this man in my life but I wasn’t really sure how it was going to change my life. Now with marriage I found that it only made my life better, and that’s what I’ve heard about babies, but doubt arises in my mind because never once has my husband woke me up in the middle of the night crying because I need to feed him. And how awkward would that be if he did?
So recently trying one of my many mental games to fix my attitude about thighs that have never rubbed together like that before I have started thinking about things that I like about being pregnant:
1. Insomnia? What’s that….zonk…snorrrrrrrrrr……
2. My nails are strong and awesome, hooray for prenatal vitamins.
3. My hair is thicker and once I figured out how much oilier it is and that I can no longer fudge the shampooing it looks pretty good.
4. For my whole adult life I have carried a full Nalgene around with me, often I gaze at it’s half empty carcass with guilt because I don’t really like the taste of water, I have toyed with adding stuff to it but eventually that just makes your Nalgene taste funny and adds calories, what’s a dehydrated girl to do? NOW, I can’t get enough water down my parched gullet. I drink three liters a day, and just water, not Crystal Light or lime flavored water, just pure water, that’s all I want.
5. I think it’s been good for our marriage, it’s brought us into a raised mutual respect as we deal with the changes this baby has already brought. We get to have fun conversations about names, nurseries, and how we’ll take joy in our little progeny. Conversations about how we hope it gets my hair and your eyesight, etc.
6. I like the attention I get, I thought it would annoy me but it doesn’t. I don’t even mind the belly rubs. At this point it’s still mostly good friends who are that audacious.
7. Feeling the baby move. It’s weird, it’s kinda alien, but it’s nice to know that there’s someone in there.
So I’m sure that when I am gazing at that little pink face I will wonder how I could have ever doubted my joy and happiness and thought, ‘will this all be worth it?’ The same way I felt after the dress was dry-cleaned and hermetically sealed into a plastic bag, ‘it’s all worth it.’

Written by Lara

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mt Kenya trip

In old portrayals of early explorers and missionaries in Africa they seem to always be marching through the wilderness accompanied by a huge train of natives lugging the Westerner’s massive baggage. This image has always been somewhat distasteful to me, but it wasn’t far from our reality as we climbed Mt. Kenya. Lara and I were the only wazungu (white people) in our group of 86 that set out on our expedition. That’s right, 86 in one group. Of that group 51 were porters, four were cooks, three were professional guides, four were facilitators from Tanari (this included me, Lara, Muhia and Mwas) and the rest were reporters, photographers and other staff of Nation Media group. We made quite a procession as we made our way up the mountain.

We were enlisted to facilitate this trip because the CEO of Nation Media Group, Linus Gitahi, goes to our church. As a result of an earlier trip with Muhia, Linus wanted to do a trip up Mt Kenya to help “demystify the mountain” for Kenyans. Like much of the rest of the beauty of the country, Mt. Kenya is enjoyed by myriads of Westerners and few Kenyans. So the thought was to send some journalists to experience the mountain and send back live reports to tell the story.

As we got closer to the trip the marketing people at Nation Media had the idea of using the trip to raise money to feed the millions of Kenyans struggling to find enough to eat. So it was decided that we would set the goal of raising 8 million shillings (about $100,000) or 1 million for every 1000 feet of vertical ascent. So now, in addition to stories about the mountain, we were on a major publicity campaign to “raise a mountain of food.”

In case you hadn’t guessed by the fact that there were 86 people on the trip, this expedition was incredibly different from the ones that Lara and I have led in the past. The trips we have led emphasize spiritual growth through the challenges of simplicity, problem-solving, and community living in a small group. We are used to leading groups in which the participants have to carry all their food and equipment, do all their own cooking and find their way through dense woods. On this Mt Kenya trip participants carried nothing more than a daypack. They had chai and snacks waiting for them when they arrived at camp as well as three hot meals a day served to them with no effort of their own. They slept in huts where they had bunk beds with mattresses. Essentially, they were spared all challenges except having to physically walk up the mountain.

Before long it became clear that many of the participants were woefully out of shape. Americans often assume all Kenyans are built like their countrymen and women who dominate the professional marathons and Olympic long distance runs. And, generally, this is the case with working class men. However, our participants were mainly from the upper middle class. Their girth reflected life spent sitting behind a desk. They don’t walk to work or engage in any physical labor. These guys represented a growing group in Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam that have succumbed to the sedentary lifestyle of the West. It was abundantly clear in the pace they set and in the amount of complaining about aches and pains. You may notice that I referred only to men who were out of shape. That is because of the four women on the trip, three had no significant struggles and, in fact, were among our strongest hikers.

A peculiar feature of this trip was what happened when we arrived at camp. Most of the group would scatter to prepare their stories. They would retrieve their laptops from the porters that carried them and start typing up a story. The newscasters would prepare their monologues and then give them in front of a camera. Then they would set up the satellite device and send their stories in. It kind of took away from opportunities to bond as a group or to debrief the day.
When it came time to sleep we found that the benefits of staying in a hut had to be weighed against some serious drawbacks. The walls were so paper thin it was almost like sleeping in one big tent with forty other people. Of course, one of Murphy’s laws is that the people who snore the loudest will always be the first ones to fall asleep. So we were serenaded by tremendous snoring complete with sounds that I swore only happened in cartoons. We were also woken more than once with a light shined in our faces and desperate calls for a doctor. The emergency turned out to be an older man who couldn’t get to sleep. So, apparently he wanted others to join him in his sleeplessness.

The perils of staying in huts also included over booking. One night there were no beds so Muhia, Mwas and I had no option but to sleep on an icy, concrete floor. On the last night before our summit ascent we slept in a cramped, ridiculously over booked hut which also doubled as a kitchen. This combination led to a marked shortage of oxygen. This is of course the last thing you need when attempting to sleep in the already thin atmosphere at 14,000 ft. Needless to say, it made for a rather sleep deprived night with quite a few of us making midnight excursions to empty our stomachs among the boulders.

As with any wilderness trip, we had the anchors – the people who drag the group back. One, a journalist from Uganda, complained constantly. He proudly proclaimed that he never did any physical exercise. He questioned why anyone would want to put themselves through the torture of climbing a mountain. My appeals to the beauty, the bonding, and the challenge were dismissed. Then I pointed out that our efforts were going to raise money to feed millions who were starving. Our struggles on the mountain would help many who were suffering. He asked, “Why should one person suffer for a whole bunch of people he doesn’t even know?” I answered, “I believe one man suffered and died for the whole world.” He didn’t respond then, but later he told me that my walking with him and encouraging him really helped. Obviously not too much, because the next morning he quit and walked out the way we had come. It was sad to see someone give up simply because he lacked the fortitude to persevere. You can read the report he wrote about the trip here. (notice that there is a lot of detail about the first days but none about the summit)

Another group member always seemed to end up in the back no matter what we tried. Everything we tried to help her out or to get the group to stay with her proved unsuccessful. As the afternoon dragged on, the woman would shuffle a dozen steps or so and then stand catching her breath for a few minutes. One participant got so anxious to get her to our campsite before nightfall that he began giving her piggy back rides. He later sent for porters to come back to help us and they took turns carrying her as long as they could. I didn’t feel our situation was that desperate, but they often didn’t listen to me or the other facilitators.
This woman who was carried didn’t seem to be humbled by her experience, but a couple other members of our group were. One of the news anchors, Robert, reminded me of Will Ferrell’s character in Anchorman. I could just imagine him saying, “I don’t know if you know this, but I’m a pretty big deal around here.” He wanted everyone to think he was a ladies man, but he seemed like he was really a bit of a mama’s boy. The first couple days he seemed determined to show how strong he was. He pushed as hard as he could, racing up the trail. But then on day three the altitude hit him. He became violently ill. While before he had always been at the front of the group, now he trudged along in the back.
In very vague terms he talked to me about making a deal with God about pushing himself to the limit. Robert thought that hiking as hard as possible entailed testing to see what he could handle. I told him that he should be careful about what kind of deals he makes with God. I also pointed out that God often chooses to test us through adversity, that maybe the day of struggling through illness was a greater test than feeling great and hiking fast. This conversation led to several more on a similar vein. Robert always talked about God very ambiguously. Towards the end of the trip he talked about wanting to make serious changes in his life. Other than quitting smoking he never revealed exactly what changes he wanted to make. He talked to me about holding him accountable, but my efforts at follow-up have had no response.

Another participant who was humbled by God on the mountain was William. William is one of the lead photographers. He too was really strong at the beginning of the trip, but hit the wall once we got to the high elevation. Muhia, our mountaineering expert, diagnosed William as having high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and could die if he didn’t come down to a lower elevation. William was carried down in a stretcher by a group of porters and was later airlifted to a hospital. This experience definitely humbled him. I’m not sure if it was the fact that he was near death or perhaps the realization that his personality was so abrasive that his co-workers actually delighted to see him brought low and the porters threatened to leave him on the mountain, but William seemed to come out of the experience a changed man.
After all was said and done twenty-one of the Nation Media participants made it to the summit of Point Lenana. We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise at the top and took plenty of pictures for the newspapers and television. Several of the anchors filed live reports as well. It was evident that many of them were quite proud of their accomplishment. Most of them were stretched out of their comfort zone in one way or another. As for what kind of lasting change or growth will come from this experience, who really knows. At the very least we helped this group and through them thousands of viewers and readers experience the majesty of God’s creation on Mt Kenya. We also helped to raise a quite a bit of money to help the starving people of Kenya. To top it off, Lara and I got to enjoy a beautiful week of hiking together. Not a bad job, if you can get it.