Laboring over labor

One of my best friends just gave birth.  We have that SATC kind of friendship where we share everything, so she was giving me a play by play, because in addition to being rather painful, it also seems like all the waiting gets really dull.  At the time, I was full of concern for her, but now that the baby’s here and she’s recovering (though she has an infection), my thoughts about labor are naturally turning towards myself, as I’m about to go through this in 15 weeks or so.  They can be summed up thusly:

AAACK!

My Facebook wall has had a lot of baby related stuff on it in the past year.  I suppose it’s because I’m at the age where a lot of people I know are having kids–fair enough, and actually, I like to see all the tiny babies and happy parents.  I even like it when people share baby related links, like one I saw today of a little girl who couldn’t quite talk yet but insisted on babbling fluently to her father on the phone as though she were having a real conversation.  Another where a couple took a video of their son every day for the first year of his life and then put 365 one second clips together for his first birthday inspired me to do the same when my daughter is born.  And dammit, my husband is helping me edit that stuff, say what he will about the effort. ;P

But today, there was a post with a very graphic drawing of a baby being born which reads “A human body can only bear up to 45 (del) unit [sic] of pain.  Yet at time of giving birth, a mother feels up to 57 del (unit) of pain.  This is similar to 20 bones getting fractured at a time.  Can u [sic] imagine it now, the mother’s pain and love?”

A quick google search reveals that this is not true, although the most reliable answer I could find did come from a blog itself.  That said, the arguments are logical: look up pain scales, and they normally go from 1-10, different people have different pain thresholds, and each woman experiences labor pain differently, depending on a myriad of factors, like the baby’s position for starters (one of the reason’s my friend’s labor was so long).  Also, the bad grammar in a trivia fact was already circumspect.  (Random note:  I’m much more about descriptive than prescriptive grammar, but if you want to sound like an authority on something, writing ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ is not the way to go.)

Nonetheless, this concept did unsettle me a bit since, as I mentioned, this is something I’m going to go through in a short while.  And it struck me that people don’t really talk about labor in detail.  If I had made this observation before getting pregnant I probably would have gone on a rant about how women are being oppressed and ‘women’s things’ are still taboo in society in a way men’s things never are.  Now I’m thinking that perhaps it’s a conspiracy of kindness.

Of course tv shows and films of the past generation or so love to show a lot of overexaggerated panting and women having their water break in inconvenient places and yelling obscenities at their partners for impregnating them.  But rarely do they show the truth of labor–it’s all done for camp or parody, or even in dramatic situations glossed over if labor is normal.  Alternatively, drama loves to dwell in all the bad things that can go wrong (anyone remember Sybill’s preeclampsia on Downton Abbey?  No?  That’s because you remember the season finale cricket game more, I bet.)

This is, I think, an act of mercy.  Childbirth is not something we talk about honestly because it’s not something that people can have an honest conversation about unless they’ve both done it.  Maybe mothers swap stories–I’m not sure, not having been one before.  Outside of that circle though, the conversation will never be productive.  Mothers won’t get the empathy they’re searching for because people can’t conceive of what it must be like, it’s such a unique experience.  The blog post which talks about the pain of childbirth has a long list of comments in which several men contend that getting a blow to the groin is as painful or more painful.  That one upsmanship is an example of the ignorance people who haven’t gone through it have.   On the other side of the coin, where I am, it’s just terrifying.  Obviously when my time comes, I’ll grit my teeth and find a way through, as every woman does.  But knowing beforehand that it could be days, that it’s hours of sweating and sobbing, that I could be on the verge of something scary, like a last minute c-section…I don’t think that knowledge is going to help me in any way.  It’s just going to make me more nervous, and already has, to a degree.  I’m all for openness and frankness, but sometimes, well–discretion is the better part of valor.  Giving birth is a valiant act, but the bravery of it lies in the fact that it is so inconceivable to anyone who hasn’t done it.

The new (royal) addition

Ok, I admit it.  I’m kind of interested in this royal baby stuff.

I choose my words carefully there.  Some people are enamored with the idea and going gaga.  MR was reading me posts off his decidedly more British Facebook feed where people were crying RULE BRITANNIA in all caps.  That’s not me.  Several of my British friends are taking a far more republican slant and expressing their disgust at the hullabaloo over the birth of a baby.   One is annoyed because she is on the verge of giving birth herself and is more focused on her own baby, yet everyone keeps texting her about the royal baby as if she cares.

I fall somewhere in between.  I am absolutely not a monarchist, but I do find all this interesting.  The birth of the prince is historic, because he’s not just another baby, important only to his parents.  One day he will be the King of the United Kingdom, and the remnants of the empire as represented by Commonwealth.  That’s rather a big deal.  This is an event that has been celebrated for centuries, and the lack of a son has caused war and unrest throughout England, brought in new dynasties, and, arguably, paved the way for women as rulers in the Anglo world.  It’s interesting.

I also feel a connection of sorts with Will and Kate.  Prince William is around my age, which is something I’ve always found cool.  I always looked for people who were my age in both life and fiction because it meant they were going through the same stages of life with me.  And indeed, this is certainly true for the Duke and Duchess.  They got married a year before me, and they’ve now had a baby just a few months before me.   Except everyone cares a lot more about what happens to them.

I watched the royal wedding, but this is not surprising, considering how much time I spend watching Say Yes to the Dress and other shows  in the TLC Friday wedding lineup.  Even after my marriage last year, I still get drawn in by the snarkiness of the UK version of Four Weddings (and think how my wedding is better) and the fun of Don’t Tell the Bride (and think how my husband had much better taste).  It follows naturally, then, that I should watch the royal wedding in all its panoply and fabulous dresses.  Seriously–a knockoff of Kate’s dress was second choice for my own wedding dress.

My husband, as I mentioned, is virulently of a different tack.  He posted about exactly how little he cares, and got rather ranty about it.  Last night we were talking and he mentioned that he realized through all of this that he was definitely a republican.  Not in the American sense of the GOP, but in the sense of res publica, a thing of the people, rather than a monarchist.  This got me thinking.  Perhaps I’m interested because I have the luxury of detached interest.  Yes, this is a chapter in history, yes the idea of actual princes and princesses is like a living story book, but this is not my future king.  I may live in the UK, but I’m still an American citizen.  The idea of royalty is the stuff of legends, not reality–all of my government is directly elected by the people.  This all sounds very high minded, and practice has shown that directly electing leaders does not necessarily guarantee better ones (*cough* Dubya *cough*).  On the flip side, the hereditary House of Lords often makes wiser decisions than the crazy-ass Senate.  In then end though, it means that I was raised very republican indeed, and I can’t imagine any other way of living.

Rolling Stone

The phrase ‘rolling stone’ calls to mind a couple of things:

First, the adage “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” which people tend to take as a positive thing–no baggage!  Life of freedom!

But I tend to agree with Bob Dylan’s take: “How does it feel/ To be without a home/ Like a complete unknown/ Like a rolling stone?”

It’s a pretty bleak picture, leading a nomadic life.  I’ve made the move to a completely new place four times in my life, and each time there was a long settling in period where I was finding new friends, getting used to the place (for every place is different from New York City), and trying to carve out a new life that would in some way match up to home.  This is a tall order.

Each move I’ve made has been worth it for one reason or another.  I went to college in upstate New York and found that the rest of the country, and especially the rest of New York state, does not view the City with any kind of awe or reverence–more fear and distrust.  I saw what life was like in a quiet-ish college town where the only thing open past 2am was Wal-Mart.  I learned that life outside a throbbing metropolis is very different to life in one.  Along the way, I also made some decisions that would influence the trajectory of my life–making a couple of really important friends, finding my first boyfriend, choosing French as a major, discovering that after all, I did love to teach and wanted to make that my career.

My junior year abroad in Paris was the fulfillment of a dream.  I saw Paris for two days my freshman year of college and fell in love.  I have never loved a city the way I love Paris.  The grace and beauty among the grit, the centuries of beautiful architecture clashing with the odd extremely modern building, the food, the people, the vistas everywhere I looked–it was all amazing.  In a year, I went from quasi-conversation to highly proficient in French, which I consider an achievement.  I traveled around Europe for the first time. I found the fun in being a penniless student.  I made friends in a strange land.  I loved it, but I also grew fatigued from thinking and working in another language constantly.  In retrospect, I would look at the relationship I clung to as a weight holding me down, holding me back.  But I came back from that year wiser and more confident in almost every way.

I went to Durham, North Carolina on a mission for love.  There I found a love of sweet tea, barbecue, and fried chicken, but also saw that I am definitely not a Southerner, and that urban sprawl is not really my cup of tea.  I also went thinking myself a romantic heroine and came back shattered and disillusioned–I had given so much up for love, a chance to live in France again, a chance to return home to my friends and family in New York, and it all ended up in nothing.  I thought then that I was a fool, and the bitterness stayed with me until I found a man who I really loved, and who really loved me, and then I realized that year beyond the Mason-Dixon line was only a year of preparation.

Now I’m in England for almost exactly a year, and in a way all the other moves have prepared me for this one, and yet not prepared me at all.  I know what it is to be homesick, and how to deal with it.  I know that eventually, I will make friends, even if I’m a slow mover.  I know how to navigate all the cultural differences, because in their own ways, Oneonta and Durham have the same amount of culture shock as Coventry when you come from NYC.  But of course nothing in these moves could prepare me for the other shake-ups–immigration, marriage, buying a house, having a baby.  Those are what make this journey its own.

I don’t regret any of these moves, and I value the struggles I went through to settle in new places.  But they are struggles.  I need roots.  I need to belong.  I need a home.   I cannot call myself a free spirit in that regard.  Sometimes a little weight holding you down to a place is a good thing.  It’s good to have a home.

Tables turned

The question is this:  Are you as comfortable in front of a camera as behind one? Being written about, as well as writing?

To me, those are really two different questions.  If you ask whether I want to be in front of the camera or behind one, I will jump up and down and say IN FRONT.  And I will speak in all capital letters.

Being an educator is really a ‘behind the camera’ position for people who like to be in front of the camera.  The goal in teaching is to give students enough knowledge and know how to let them go off on their own and succeed.  Thus when I attended an (amazing) teaching Shakespeare workshop that stressed performance, they had the teachers do tons of acting activities and then insisted that is what we should have our students doing, rather than standing up and reciting monologues ourselves.  I blushed and my heart sank at the same time, because I could remember the relish with which I delivered Antony’s soliloquy–O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth…

But of course there is a huge in front of the camera aspect to teaching.  I have to stand up in front of teenagers 5 times a day and somehow command their attention for an hour.  For any teacher who cares about their job at all, that is going to take both some serious gravitas and a variety of performance antics alongside carefully selected information.  It’s hard, but it definitely kills any performance anxiety.  I have a friend who is a really good singer, so much so that I’m rather jealous of her (although I can carry a tune ok myself), but she absolutely shrivels with embarrassment when the opportunity presents itself to sing.  Meanwhile I’ll snatch up the mike a the first opportunity, and often make my husband let me sing when we play Rock Band.  I am not sure how much he enjoys this, but he tolerates it well.  I suspect because I am playing video games with him.

Part of that may be British v. American cultures.  If British people are any good at anything, they are never ever supposed to say, and never supposed to put themselves in the limelight.  Ever.  Even when people compliment and coax them, they’re supposed to act like they would never do such a thing, even if they too want to belt out Bon Jovi at the tops of their lungs.  This is weird to me, because Americans live to celebrate their achievements.  Yes, there are brash show-offs that nobody likes, but if there’s a quiz and you’re good at trivia, you’re supposed to step up and say so.  If you won a trophy, you put it on your mantlepiece.  We have at least a dozen reality shows related to minute personal successes (Toddlers and Tiaras, Dance Moms, that one about the cheerleading squad a couple of years ago…)  There are entire businesses devoted to framing diplomas for display purposes.  I think a British person would curl up and die at the very thought, even while secretly wanting to show the world that yes, they worked f-ing hard and deserved that First, dammit.  (For you American readers, that would be summa cum laude.)

Needless to say, I don’t know what to do with myself here.  Nor do I know if I want to raise my daughter with such false modesty.  Girls have a hard enough time getting to success in this world (yes, still), and I don’t think they should feel that’s something to be ashamed of or hide.  I want her to know it is ok to be proud of yourself if you are good at something.

 

There is then the other question–am I as happy to be written about as to be the one doing the writing?  When I was a kid, it was my goal to be mentioned in a newspaper article.  There were a couple of instances when I was around 12 when it might have happened because I was part of some local interest stuff.  It didn’t, and I found myself disappointed.  I realize now though that what I wanted was a glossy, fabulous portrayal of myself in print (though the fact that I thought the New York Daily News was going to get me there attests to my innocence).  I didn’t want the truth, and all the gory human bits out there for everyone to see–all my flaws and all my realities.  I went through a period where I hated to find out that novels were semi-autobiographical, because I didn’t want to know about real people’s real lives.  I wanted to escape into a whole other world about invented people who somehow also had very real problems.  In all my stories and my novels I worked to make sure my characters were nothing like me and didn’t have my life at all.

I think for a long time this was because there was always something I wanted to escape.  When I was a teenager, I was lovesick with nothing to show for it, growing up with a volatile father.  When I was in my twenties, I had my career but I felt myself pitifully alone.  I didn’t want to hold a mirror up to that.

Once I started dating MR, I thought about starting this blog because I suppose I felt I had the happy ending.  Everything had been there to lead me to this.  When I was younger, all my foolishness and my loneliness and all my flaws just seemed to be glaring evidence of why I was unhappy.  I didn’t even feel like I had a real story arc, just that I was in this constant flat world–at least, I started to feel that way if I looked too closely.  Now though, I can trace the conflict, the rising action, the climax.  As I’m only in my 30’s I would hope I’m not in my final denouement just yet, but all this makes me realize that the questions and worries I’m going through now are similarly preludes to something bigger.

So finally I started to write a semi-autobiographical novel, about a girl who grows up in New York and winds up moving to England, and her great-grandmother, who grew up in England but wound up moving to New York.  One of those dual timeline things.  I still worry that the modern day character, who is based on me, is far less interesting, but then I also feel her story is vital to the novel, that the whole thing wouldn’t work as a straight historical novel.  I’ll call that progress.  I don’t know what publishers will call it, if it ever gets to that stage.