Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Clementine Honey Cake: The cake for winter

Clementines are a Christmas tradition of mine. When I was a child, there would always be a crate of clementines sitting under our stockings on Christmas morning. It was a Christmas-only treat, one I delightfully associated with The Days of the Wells Fargo Wagon bringing citrus to parts of the country that did not grow it. Of course, I grew up in the 90s, so this was not my reality, but the clementines were a sweet, child-friendly upgrade to the watery, hard-to-peel oranges that my father packed for lunch a few days a week. And I wanted to pretend I was from The Olden Times of Yesteryear.

I was genuinely sad when "Cutie" clementines became A Thing and suddenly, they were everywhere, no longer special. Luckily, (uhhh) they are still prohibitively expensive to make it onto our weekly shopping list, but they do still make it under our Christmas tree (now, Hosea's stocking).

As a child, I would devour my Christmas clementines by Boxing Day. While the temptation is still there, I also have a more mature palate than I used to and I find myself wanting to celebrate these little jewels in ways other than Straight-Down-The-Gullet. Cake is for mature palates, yes?

I imagined this cake after Christmas, with our wealth of clementines sitting around begging to be  turned into something delicious. I made the cake when we had a pile of these tiny orange orbs sitting in our new house, after a desperate attempt to Buy Anything The Toddler Will Eat
It is a good cake for winter, which might even mean that clementines get bought in January now. It is a great everyday cake... particularly for days when you should be doing something else. Like working. Or cleaning. Or calling your phone company. This recipe has a whole cup of whole wheat flour in it, which means that this gets to qualify as nutritive cooking, rather than frivolous baking. It's a necessity.

Cake Ingredients:

*3 clementines
*6 tbsp butter
*3/4c honey
*1 tbsp vanilla
*1 large egg
*1/4 c milk

*1 c white flour
*1 c whole wheat flour
*1/4 tsp salt
*2.5 tsp baking powder

**optional: powdered sugar

Whipped cream ingredients:

*1 clementine
*8 oz whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While it is preheating, put the butter in an oven safe mixing bowl and set inside the oven to melt. Meanwhile, grease a 9" cake pan.

Once butter is melted, remove from the oven and immediately (before allowing to cool) zest the 3 clementines into the butter. Do not touch the bowl, which will be hot. Obviously. Because I obviously didn't do that. Obviously.

Add the honey and beat. Once cool enough to touch, add the egg and beat.

Juice 2 of the clementines into a measuring cup. It should equal ~1/4c. If it falls too short, juice the third clementine. If it's close enough, peel the third clementine and feed it to the whiny people around you who are impatiently awaiting cake.

add enough milk to equal 1/2c and beat into the butter/honey mixture along with the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Then, slowly incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing until the batter is smooth.

 Pour batter into greased cake pan and bake for 30-45min, or until a toothpick comes out clean

While baking, pour the whipping cream into a metal bowl and zest the final clementine into it. Refrigerate the bowl.

When done, allow the cake to cool completely. Dust lightly with powdered sugar, if desired. Beat the cream until whipped and top each slice with a generous dollop. Proceed to kick everyone else out of the house and eat the entire thing yourself.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Birth of Hosea: Leaving Birth Work: Lessons from Laboring

In the days that followed, we basked in the feeling that God had protected us. Still shell-shocked by what had unfolded, I could only be grateful for the pieces that could have gone wrong, but didn't. We went over and over the details we were grateful for: the kindness of nurses, the compassion showed by doctors, the well-being of our son, the mere chance (an oversight, really) by which we avoided NICU (not by need, but by policy), the incredible support we received from our community. We fired the midwife and learned what it was like to heal from abdominal surgery without any postpartum care. I was grateful for everything I knew about the physiology of bonding and I catered to it all. It took weeks, maybe months for the grief, disappointment, anger, questions to rise above the numbness.

I had hoped laboring would show me I was strong, but I learned I was weak. I wanted to learn that my body was capable, but I learned what it felt like to need help. I wanted to learn what pure, joyous love felt like, but it took two full weeks for me to feel the bone-aching, teeth-cracking love of motherhood. I hoped that the birth of my son would bring me back to birth work, a path I had taken some time off from.

Instead, my experience with this midwife may have ensured that I never do birth work again.
It's tempting to say that the midwife we hired was a cruel and uncaring person, but I don't actually believe she is. Perhaps this is all projection, but what has been hardest to come to terms with when I reflect on her behavior is that I think I can identify with it. I don't know what inspired this midwife to act the way she did, but I am quite sure it had very little to do with us. I recognize some of (though not to that severity) behavior in myself... feeling paralyzed in potential conflict, not feeling able to claim my own opinions, freezing or remaining silent out of fear of displeasing, wanting to project my own short comings onto others, to make other people pull the weight of my fears. 
 We all have bad days, days of self doubt, when our darkest parts rear their ugly heads and we forget the tools we have to overcome them. We take it out on our loved ones, ourselves, cars in traffic, people at the grocery store. We might slack off at work and feed the kids take out. And we get over it, we apologize, we go on about our week. Her bad day, her weakness, her blunders, they were just another day of work for her. One botched birth out of hundreds she has attended. But that one job for her was a monumental experience for my family. It was how our child came into this world. Her actions turned what would have been, on its own, an extremely difficult labor, into a trauma. Because of her, I had anxiety attacks whenever I left the house for the first 6 months of my child's life. Because of her, I might not get to have any more children. And, because of her, I no longer have any sense of vocation. It's not that I love birth less, or that I am more afraid of birth. I still believe birth is usually normal and can usually unfold at home, without intervention. 

In my years of studying birth, people would occasionally tell me that the idea of "holding lives in their hands" was too intimidating. That never felt true to me until now. I realize now that midwives, birth workers, OBs... they do hold lives in their hands. But it's far beyond the beating heart or breath in a body. A baby can be well and a life still wrecked by the actions of a caregiver. My loss of vocation comes from the realization that midwives hold stories in their hands. The stories they create are what parents carry forward into their lives, their parenthood, what their children carry with them. That is a huge responsibility. One I'm not sure I am ready for yet, perhaps not ever.
One way I grieved was to remember all the birth stories I had heard from families who loved their care providers. How many of those stories had I cringed at because they contained unnecessary, even unkind interventions? But these families loved their care providers, never questioning them, because they were kind and the family felt supported. I felt the midwives got away with putting their clients in jeopardy by being kind. Now, I find myself a little jealous. How different could my story have been, under the same circumstances, had my family been treated differently? What if I felt like my midwife saved me, instead of traumatized me?

As useful as that exercise might be to me as a birth worker, though, it isn't helpful to me as a parent. Wondering what might have been different doesn't change what happened. Finding all the ways my midwife was responsible for my family's trauma doesn't make my family less responsible for its own healing. I don't know if I will ever forgive my midwife (and I still pray I don't run into her at the grocery store), but I don't need to forgive her to move forward.

The most surprising thing about being a parent? (People ask me this all the time). I learned that there is life after birth trauma. I know that sounds simple, maybe even obvious, but it wasn't to me, until I had my son.
I didn't really expect I would get a baby out of my c-section. I blame that, mostly, on the sleep deprivation, but I think I also sort of believed that, if I didn't have a good birth, I wouldn't experience parenthood. But, I did get a baby. And though, in retrospect, I understand that I struggled with bonding for the first 2 weeks, I did bond with him. Fiercely. I get up and care for him every day and every day he does something (or a million somethings) that make my heart burst and I wonder how I managed to win the lottery of life and get to be his mother.

It's been one year since my labor and his birth and I have come a long way. I am rarely haunted by flashbacks anymore. I still shake when I talk about his birth. I don't have anxiety attacks when I go to the store. I still cannot say that I gave birth. My partner and I have experienced the typical ups and downs in the transformation of parenthood. All the ups feel like victories and validations. All the downs are still haunted by the accusations of the midwife. They are heavier than they need to be. I am sharing this story a year later to release the demons that still haunt me: the shame and fear, especially around my experience with this midwife. I cannot change my birth story, but I am ready to claim the good memories. I am ready to remember the protection and gratitude I felt during those early days. I am ready to claim a story of resiliency for my son and my family. It is a practice, which telling this story is a part of. We are practicing resiliency- understanding that healing will never fix what happened, but will help us feel whole, help us feel enough. Enough for each other. Enough for our son.

The Birth of Hosea: Day Five

This is the only photo I have from the day Hosea was born. The rest of the post will be only words, as I cannot imagine what photographs would feel appropriate to space out these words.

A year ago today, I was given a hesitant countdown: "a couple more hours for your body to dilate that last centimeter, or we need to consider other options."

I swallowed hard, my partner locked eyes with me: "this is the time for prayer, ok?"
I allowed myself to fall back into sleep, and let the clock watch me.
2am came quickly and I prepared myself for the news that my cervix, after so many hours, was still holding fast to its edge. 

I liked this doctor. He wasn't condescending or dismissive. Neither did he sugar coat information or evade my questions in order to placate me. He was respectful and thoughtful and attentive. I prepared myself to negotiate the terms of a cesarean with him. The doctor's face brightened as he withdrew his gloved hand. 10cm.
My eyes welled with tears and my heart leapt as I thanked God for answering my prayers.
More rest. I was grateful for any more time to let the epidural drugs wear off, to let my baby get ready to be born.

Then, I pushed in all the ways I knew better than to push: Eyes-bulging, blood-vessel-popping, hernia-inducing, purple pushing. I didn't care about the consequences to my body. 1 hour, 2. Nurses praised me, and suggested I take breaks. No. Harder. Longer. I heard the nurses telling my support team to look at the head. One position, another. I pulled on the squat bar to keep my hips elevated over my rubbery legs. 3 hours, 4. Shift change. New nurse. New doctor. 5 hours. I tried not to look at the clock, focusing instead on the sensation of trying to move a whole person through me. I felt this little person shift within me, wiggle shoulders, a head.

"You have been pushing a long time, but your baby is doing fine. Let's try one last position?"
The instant my body's weight shifted to my side, the hot pain of 2 days prior came slicing through me again. Unprepared, I cried out, shaking, unable to shift my weight back alone. A flurry of nurses.  More epidural, lidocaine, locked eyes, coached breathing. I was sure my legs would be sliced ribbons by this pain.

My partner took my hands and our eyes welled with tears. I knew that our journey to birth was over and I couldn't say it out loud. "I know." I said. "I know." She kissed me.
"I've reconsidered a lot of my opinions midwifery because of this." The midwife said, as she stood at the foot of my bed, preparing to leave. She came closer and looked into my eyes: "I love you." She said, before she left.
It was 2 days later that I learned of the nasty things she said in dark corners and behind closed doors.

I watched florescent lights pass overhead through teary eyes. I was almost unaware of the entourage that came with my bed to the operating room. 

In a tangle of sheets, they lifted me from the bed to the operating table. Cold Hard Narrow Steel. Like something they put dead bodies on, I thought.

A spinal block, extra IV ports, do I consent to a blood transfusion, if necessary? O-, I kept saying, just to make sure they knew. O-.

Masks, hairnets, paper gowns. "It's me." My love had to tell me, as she took her place by my head.
"Do you feel that? Do you feel this?" Tugging, pinching, burning smell. I drifted in and out of consciousness.

"Do you hear that?" My partner asked, and I jerked myself awake. Squalling. Baby squalling. I hadn't even realized they had started the surgery. But, sure enough, over the sound of the vacuum emptying my womb of blood and fluid, over the clinking of instruments, a baby let out jagged, shocked cries.
In and out of consciousness. Tugging, sucking, pinching. More burning smells. Skin. That's my body being burned, I realized.

"Do you want him on your chest?"
"Yes" I knew that was what I was supposed to say. Gloved hands unwrapped his little body and held him to me. His big, grey eyes were wild and his mouth searched for me. He nursed while I was sewn shut.

We had planned to wait a few days to name him, but we both knew his name immediately. Hosea: God is help. His middle name, he would share with his great grandmother, who passed just 2 weeks before. 

That night, it snowed.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Birth of Hosea: Day Four

On this day, one year ago, the sun rose again and I found myself surrounded by eyes. Sitting in my tub, I felt like a seal in a tank at Sea World. My friend spooned honey into my mouth in between contractions, my partner held my hands. The air was electric, tense, and I knew we were at a cross roads.
"Do you think I need to go?" I asked
"No," the midwife said.
"You're so strong." My love told me
"You're so tired" the midwife said
"I believe in you."
"I'm worried about you."
"You can do this."
"You could rest...".

Terrified. Relieved. I folded.

The car ride to the hospital was the longest I've ever been on. I writhed in the back seat of our car, hugging the headrest, moaning into my partner's shoulder. The lazy traffic of an early Sunday morning passed us on the highway and I watched the woman in the car behind us. Could she see me? Could she imagine the story that this little box of steel was transporting? How could this just be a normal day for all of these people?

The hospital was grey and quiet. Though I had been to births in hospitals before, I think a part of me still expected the commotion of a movie scene. Nurses and doctors fussing over me as they whisk me through the hospital doors. But, it was just us: the midwife, the friend, the partner, and the crazy-looking pregnant woman with sopping wet hair tied clumsily to her head, wrapped in pajamas and sweats and jackets and blankets. And the security guard who insisted we register for ID tags, while the midwife shut the elevator door in his face.

They say there are actually 3 responses to danger and threat: fight, flight, and befriend. Trading my home for a hospital, the very insitution that I had spent years learning how to avoid, was not safe and I knew that I could not survive whatever would happen next alone. I lathered our midwife with undeserved compliments and gratitude. The nurses and CNMs were kind and sympathetic and I thanked them as many times as I was able. I accepted almost every intervention they asked my permission to do. It was easy. I had already given up having a safe, natural birth. There was little more to give away. I needed support, kindness, validation more than I needed autonomy. And, truthfully, I needed some of these interventions too. I felt as if I were watching a movie of a labor and I watched as the mother need the interventions that are overused and abused by care providers. I learned what useful intervention looked like. I saw what the cost was. But that mother couldn't be me, because I knew better. And this mother didn't care.

Hours ticked by. Shifts changed over. My labor unfolded as if in some other room, behind closed doors. I would awake to a nurse or a doctor asking me a question, giving me information, and I would choose What To Do Next with this mysterious labor that was unfolding, unseen by me. "No more epidural, yes pitocin." "No more pitocin, yes more antibiotics." "Yes, more pitocin, no, absolutely no, internal monitor." It was like a game that I played with no hope of an ending.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Birth of Hosea: Day Three

One year ago today, I turned 27 years old.

The daylight felt harsh against my tired eyes and my body couldn't get warm. I shivered in my wool sweaters and turned the heat up to 90. The heavy blanket that my labor had been yesterday began to feel tight, suffocating. My anxiety grew into a tightening in my gut, knowing that things could not continue as they were, but feeling utterly helpless to do anything about it. The midwife came and settled herself in, deciding without a word that today would be the day. My contractions were long and irritated, demanding attention, but in all the wrong ways. My feet ached from walking for days. I longed to rest. I sensed the growing worry in the house and, feeling defeated, I fought the sinking feeling in my gut I was disappointing everyone.

This was when I gave up. I gave away my intuition, my ownership of my body, my power. I knew the risks of what I consented to and I consented anyway. I learned, in that moment, that support and the threat of its absence is the greatest weapon a birth worker has. She never argued, never insisted, never cajoled or threatened. But the message was clear: I didn't have to follow her prescription, but if I rejected it, I rejected her support. She would sit there in silence, allowing my partner's confidence and comprehension to continue to erode, allowing me to continue to flip through my textbooks, too discombobulated to remember anything I had learned about labor and birth over the past several years.
I couldn't do this alone. I looked into the worried eyes of my exhausted partner. I looked into the depths of myself and, finding no resiliency, I broke.
Yes, fine, any of it, do it.

I don't remember the contractions, just the hot, slicing nerve pain that shot down my legs. The emotionless, blank eyes of the midwife staring.
The night was long. I would lose consciousness, while standing, between each contraction and I would have to catch myself each time, before I collapsed. Twice, I saw the midwife arranging her kit and I knew she thought I was near. Both times she was wrong.
"I'm never doing this again!" I croaked to my partner as a contraction subsided, not because I meant it, but because I couldn't think of any words to convey how it felt to be in my body.

"You're so close, my love."
"No, she isn't."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Birth of Hosea: Day Two

A year ago today, I watched as morning dawned again. A cold front had come in and the clean sunlight and bright leaves of the day before were replaced with an overcast sky and frigid air. My contractions continued as they had the night before. They felt lazy and whiney rather than demanding. We ate quietly, sleepily, planning the day ahead cautiously. My labor felt like a heavy blanket over the day, keeping us still and reserved. 

I retreated to the bedroom again, to privacy, hoping to keep my mind from distracting my body. I remember the quiet conversations between my partner and my friend as they sat at the dining room table. I smiled to myself, thinking it felt like Thanksgiving, to hear them together, to feel their love.
The midwife came with suggestions of things I could take to make my body contract. I declined. She left. The acupuncturist, who cared for me as I tried to conceive this baby and during my pregnancy, came and sat with me, turning needles into tender spots. Contractions came and went without promise of rhythm or regularity. Prodromal labor, it's called.

Evening brought low spirits, a hushed, unspoken anxiety. 2 nights without sleep already and I was still unable to lie down. The midwife came and went again, taking with her, my resolve to let my body and my baby lead my labor. I resigned myself to the regiment of herbs to make my womb contract. I sent everyone off to bed again and sat in the night.
In the very early hours of the morning, my partner woke. Having exhausted the "safe" use of herbs without much success, I was losing confidenence. "Let's do this" she told me, taking me by the hand. We lit candles, put on music, and went through all of my midwifery textbooks for things we could do to help my body welcome labor. She held me and we danced in the dark. She wrote down every song that played in a little book, so she would remember the soundtrack of our baby's birth. I had never known I could love someone so deeply. What a great preparation for parenthood, I remember thinking, to fall in love all over again.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Birth of Hosea. Day One.

At 12:30 in the morning, exactly one year ago, I awoke in the dark to the ache in my back that I had become accustomed to in pregnancy. Placing my hands around my great belly to guide it, I rolled over to my other side. As I did, I felt a distinct *pop* between my legs. My eyes flew open and I held my breath. As if in a movie, I placed an arm on my partner to wake her, uttering the timeless phrase: "Honey, I think my water just broke". Sure enough, as I heaved my heavy body to its feet, I felt a great flood of water drop from within me and I heard it hit the floor with a surprisingly loud crash.

This wasn't how it was supposed to be: A full week before my due date, no hint of impending labor, but there was no question that this would be "it". A trickle of water, a small leak, that could repair itself and I could continue to gestate, but not this. This would not repair. Our baby would come soon.
A call to the midwife, a call to our friend who was supposed to fly in on my due date, and I settled back into bed, shaking with adrenaline hoping, hoping to get rest before labor started.

 The baby moved gently within me, telling me they were well. By the wee hours of the morning, the gentle tightening of my womb strengthened and I could no longer lie down. I squatted on the birth ball by our bay window, head resting on cloth diapers piled there, and watched the sun come up.
That day, I felt strong.

Our friend arrived on a last minute flight, I ate small meals and felt the comfortable flurry of preparation around me. My partner glowed. I retreated to the bedroom mostly, noticing that contractions stayed strongest and closest together when I was alone.

The midwife came and went, our friend made dinner and we enjoyed it together, quietly, full of anticipation. I sent everyone off to bed, knowing that they would need rest for what was to come. I turned off the lights and lit a fire in the fireplace. My contractions strengthened, lengthened, and came closer together. 4-6 minutes apart for a few hours, requiring breathing and gentle moaning. The cusp between early and active labor. I filled the birth tub with water boiled on the stove. I felt sure I would wake my love in the early hours of the morning for support. "Please sleep," I told her, whenever she would wake. "I'll need you."
I remember the sound of the fire, the wind outside. I remember a deep feeling of calm as I rode my contractions in the dark.
Then, like a switch had flipped somewhere inside me, the contractions nearly stopped. Every 10-20 minutes, one would pass over me, weaker than before. An invitation to rest, I assumed, remembering the wisdom of so many birth workers to sleep whenever your body lets you. But upon laying down, contractions would feel like knives from within me, taking my breath, restricting my movement, doubling up on each other... I had the distinct feeling that it wasn't the right kind of pain. My body or my baby could not handle lying down, so I knelt on the couch, my head resting on the back cushions, swaying back and forth, waiting for morning to come.