Archives for the month of: January, 2013

It’s time to talk about poop.

And I’m not talking about baby poop either.  That’s for another day.  I’m talking about real, grown up, dropping-the-kids-off-at-the-pool, I-really-need-to-eat-more-fiber-what-has-fiber?—Kale?-What-do-you-even-do-with-kale? adult dookies.  Specifically, female dookies.  Specifically, mommy dookies.

My entire adult life, I’ve been fascinated with birth stories.  I still love birth stories.  They’re amazing.  I love hearing how women go through pregnancy, create a life, then figure out a way to transform that life from the wriggling gut parasite of fetus-hood into an actual, independent, full human being.  I ask every woman that I know about their pregnancy and birth experiences.  Now that I have pregnancy and birth experiences of my own to share, it all becomes a wonderful bonding moment, full of laughter (Yes! Birth is often funny!  My birth story is hilarious.  I love telling it), tears, emotion, and lots of smiles.

And they have all lied to me.

I know that my girlfriends have all been lying to me, because I am the only woman I know who has produced a child who admits to shitting the bed during delivery.  I did it.  I was trying to push out a baby, and a big brown snake came out instead.  To be fair, it didn’t help that my mother, holding my right leg, was repeatedly shouting in my ear, “Push like you gotta take a poop!  Like you gotta poop!  POOP!!”  It’s hard to ignore that kind of advice.  Also, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.  The nurse was trying to coach me how to push (that’s another thing they never tell pregnant women.  When the time comes to actually deliver your baby, you feel like you have to push, and you suddenly realize that the whole “How to Actually Get the Baby Out of Your Body” was a chapter that was sorely missing from What to Expect and your eight thousand or so parenting classes).

<Sidebar> Even with an epidural, you *will* feel it when you need to push.  You may not quite trust yourself: “I think I have to push?”  But you’ll feel it. Don’t believe those usually-holier-than-thou, home birth, all natural, have-the-baby-in-the-bathtub women who claim that epidurals make you “numb.”  That’s bullshit.  Epidurals are amazing.  You’re going to feel it.  You’re just not going to feel like you’re dying the in the process.  They take away the sharp pain, leave the pressure and the dull, persistent, cramping pain, and make your butt cheeks feel like they had a shot of Novocain, which is just kind of awesome in and of itself.  Get the epidural. </Sidebar>

So I pushed like I had to poop.  And it made me poop.  After that, I realized that 1. My mother has never delivered a child vaginally.  She had three Cesareans, and had never even experienced a contraction in her life, so listening to her birthing advice was probably going to be useless (My mother, by the way, still swears, in spite of my, my husband, and my father’s testimony, that she never repeatedly yelled, “Push like you gotta take a poop!” while I was delivering.  “Well, that wouldn’t have been very helpful,” she now states.)  I also realized that 2. Pushing to give birth to a baby is a different kind of pushing to any other pushing anyone has ever experienced ever.  It’s not from the top or bottom, but almost from the center of your abdomen, starting with your oblique abdominal muscles and moving into the center of your belly and down.  When I was delivering, it took a long time to figure out how to actually push this way, and I could feel when I did it correctly.  But then my mother would yell about pooping again, so by the next contraction, I was usually right back at square one.

But back to the poop itself.

Honestly?  I would have never known I had pooped while delivering had my nurse (Melissa, who was a giant bucket of Awesome the whole time, except for this one moment) not insisted upon setting up a mirror right in front of my horribly misshapen vagina.  “No, no, I don’t want the mirror,” I pleaded with her, fighting through insane contractions and starting to sweat from the realization that I really WAS going to have to shove this baby out THROUGH MY VAGINA (Yeah, yeah, I know.  Technically, I knew that it was customary to give birth this way, but I really didn’t quite grasp the reality of the whole thing until about ten minutes before I started pushing. I was still, frankly, convinced that the Doctor would buzz in, take one look at me, and say, “Well, this woman can’t possibly deliver vaginally!  To the c-section room with you!  Don’t you worry about a thing.  We’ll knock you out good and hard, so you won’t wake up until the kid’s three.”  I think at one point I even said, timidly, hopefully, “You don’t think we should do a c-section?” I’m pretty sure they just laughed at me.).

“You don’t think you want the mirror, but, trust me.  Lots of women find it inspirational.  You get to see the baby coming out!”

It was not inspirational. 

Sweat, weird patches of hair, stretch marks.  Some papery piece of almost translucent skin they told me was my “perineum” (When you’re a mom, you have “perineum.”  When you’re a normal person, you have a “taint”).   Apparently, I have a birth mark vaguely shaped like Russia on the inside of my upper right thigh that I didn’t know about until that moment.  And in the middle of it all was the top of my daughter’s head, covered with a long thatch of dark hair.  Her head was cool to see for about thirteen seconds.  Hey!  There it is!  The head!  I’m doing it!!  Then, my contraction ended, I took a breath, and she scooted right back inside of me.  Gone.  Two minutes later, I had another contraction, her head started coming through, then, whoop! back in.  I was completely distraught.  This was useless.  Pushing was doing nothing.  We were making no progress.  I hated that mirror.  Then, I watched myself shit the bed.

This is why I think that many of my girlfriends are not intentionally lying to me about their birth poop stories, or lack thereof.  Melissa had that stuff wiped up, cleared away, and changed out before the smell could hit my nose (my husband claims he smelled it, but he’s smart enough to not mention these things to a woman in active labor.  Or a woman in post-baby aftermath.  In fact, he only admitted that he was aware that I had pooped months later, when I was talking about watching myself do it).  If I hadn’t actually seen it happen, I would have never known that it happened.  And that’s what amazing, awesome nurses do.  They deal with blood, and shit, and piss, and puke, and snot all day long.  It’s not a big deal to her, and it wasn’t a big deal to anyone else.  Hell, I was having a baby.  Who cares about poo? 

<Sidebar> If your husband makes stupid comments about you pooping while giving birth to his baby, now is the time to file divorce papers.  If he cares at all about the variety of fluids and solids emerging from all the parts of your body while you are bringing life into this world, unless he does it specifically to make you laugh, or relax you, or for any other reason than he is genuinely disgusted by your body at that moment, take half his shit and move on. </Sidebar> 

I was honestly more fascinated than embarrassed by the whole thing myself.  After all, I had never seen an actual poop coming out of me (Though I guess it looked exactly as I assumed it would).

Here’s the big secret about poop that I learned from my birth experience: Poop is no big deal.  It isn’t.  Really.  Even children’s books tell us that everybody poops, and it’s true.  Everybody does it.  And if you’ve had a vaginal delivery, odds are really good that you’ve done it too.  In front of a room full of people.  And they didn’t care.  Because shit happens.

During one of my gazillion or so parenting classes, we were going around the room asking any questions that we had.  The very first woman who raised her hand said, “Now, I heard that it’s common to poop . . .”  She didn’t even have time to finish before the instructor interrupted her.

“Ahhh, yes, the whole ‘pooping on the table’ question.  Well, first of all, I don’t know why everybody says ‘table.’  You’re not going to be on a table.  You’ll be on a bed,” chuckling to herself.  “But everybody says, ‘poop on the table.’  I don’t really know why!”

It was clear to all of us by the way she dodged the question with this semantic discussion that her real answer was, “Oh, yeah.  Totally.  You are going to poop in front of about 15 strangers.”  The woman who had asked the question looked genuinely horrified at this thought, and I get it.  Poop skeezes people out.  It’s gross.  It’s warm, it’s smelly, it’s everything that your body has rejected.  But that kind of makes it like giving birth in the first place.  It’s not a beautiful process, but it maintains life.  So, ladies, be proud of your birthing poop.  And be happy if you do get that final bowel movement in before the main event. That first poop after baby can be one of the scariest of your life, especially if you had to get an episiotomy.  You WILL be grateful to anything that delays *that* experience, trust me!

 

My final word on Mama Poop right now is this: The SECOND you find out you’re pregnant, call your OB and ask to be prescribed (right now, I’ve only seen this available via prescription, but the vitamin companies need to get in on this immediately because it is a miracle, right up there with double rainbows and microwaves) the prenatal vitamin with the stool softener already mixed in.  I saw my OB after I hadn’t had a bowel movement in eleven days, and I thought I was literally going to blow up.  After I got that prenatal, I pooed every day of my pregnancy, and THAT is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

So, what say you, mamas?  Did you poop on the table while giving birth? Don’t be shy.  There aren’t any rules here.  It’s the Internet!

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My hands are ugly.

The skin over the back is thin, papery, rough, and wrinkled.  The knuckles are swollen, red, and scabbed over from decades of untreated eczema that often leaves them looking like the knuckles of a prize-fighter, or a drunk with a violent streak.  The palms are flaking and cracking.  The nails are uneven.  They break easily, or peel off, leaving thin, delicate strips just begging to be bitten off.  I cut my nails short.  Blunt.  I don’t even use a file to shape them.  I say that it’s so that I can play guitar and type more easily, but, really, it’s because they’re so thin and soft, if I did let them grow out, they’d just prove too tempting. I’d chew them into non-existence.

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My hands today. A very good day. Just a few cuts on the knuckles.

I know my hands look bad, and I know that, since giving birth to my little girl back in February of 2012, they’ve only gotten worse.  Scalded by steam used to sanitize her bottles and pacifiers.  Sliced by kitchen knives as I clumsily concoct homemade purees for her, and attempt to create elaborate, edible dinners for my husband (I have actually cut off large chunks of my left thumb several times now. I’m amazed that I don’t have a permanent dent on the top of it).  Plunged into soapy sink and bathtub water.  Exposed to vicious cleaning agents and a never ending parade of cloth diapers needing to be rinsed, scrubbed, bleached, and scrubbed again.  My hands have not fared well the past ten and a half months.  Their increasing ugliness is part of my physical transition into motherhood.  My bloody, dry, battered hands are as much a part of my body changing from childbirth as my soft, empty breasts and opened hipbones are.

To be fair, my hands were never the best part of my body. I remember being a kindergartner, living with the embarrassment of having to sleep with gloves on, filled with slimy lotion prescribed by my pediatrician. The bottle said “unscented,” but there was a slippery residue, a faint whiff like medicinal olive oil that I can still remember as clearly as I remember the smell of my father’s Old Spice, the odor of which would enter the room before him, waking me up in the mornings before he ever had a chance to pat my shoulder, rub my back, and whisper, “Get up, sleepy head.”  I hated those gloves, and would frequently lie to my mother, saying that I went to bed with them on but woke up without them.  I must have pulled them off in my sleep.  It was wishful thinking. I wanted my subconscious to despise those gloves as much as I did.

Even now, on the driest, coldest winter days, when my hands crack and bleed and scab, my husband holds them gently, pityingly.  “Poor hands.”  I’ll catch him sometimes, rubbing his fingertips across my knuckles, feeling the texture of their roughness.

And now, every day I look at my daughter’s hands.  Soft, round, plump, warm.  Her knuckles are small dimples on the back of her hands.  I count them. Four.  Four dimpled knuckles. Then again.  Four knuckles.  Five fingers.  I could count them all day.  I love when she touches my face, my cheeks, my lips, and I can feel the incredible smoothness of her fingertips, untouched by work or stress or strain.  Cherubic.  I love to trace the lines on her palm with my eyes, roving back and forth.  Love.  Life.  Success.  All mapped out in her perfect, perfect hands.

Just recently, I’ve noticed that I pull my hands away from hers.

It’s not that I don’t love to hold her hands.  I do.  It’s that I don’t want her to hold mine.  I don’t want her to feel my embarrassment.  Her angelic hands shouldn’t have to touch mine.  They shouldn’t have to feel their unloveliness.  This blatant aesthetic dichotomy shouldn’t exist.  My hands aren’t worthy of touching her, of rubbing over her body like fine grain sandpaper.  I don’t want her to remember her mother’s touch like this.  They’re not good enough for her.  I don’t take care of myself.  I don’t get them manicured, rubbed, scrubbed, and polished.  They aren’t feminine.  They aren’t what a woman’s hands are supposed to feel like.  They are a sign of my failure.  I’m not good enough for her.

But, recently, several blogs have made me realize my recoil and reassess my ungainly hands.  Amy Morrison’s “Why You’re Never Failing as a Mother,” Allison Tate’s “The Mom Stays in the Picture,” and Retronaut’s “The Invisible Mother” (a collection of Victorian-era photographs where mothers actually completely cover their physical bodies with large bolts of fabric, so they can hold their children still while the film develops and keep the child the central focus of the image) all reminded me that my changing, developing, rapidly altering body should not be a source of pain or embarrassment or shame.  Are my ugly hands a sign of my failure of womanhood?  Or a sign of the failure of “womanhood” to account for a new mom?  Do I think that hands need to be long, slender, and callous-free in order to be valued?  Do I think that I still have value, with my loose abdominal skin and stretch marks and no clear career path?  Who is failing whom?

I don’t want to be invisible to my child.  I don’t want to resist her touch because I’m uncertain about my own.  And I’d rather have my daughter know the roughness of her mother’s skin than to not know any touch at all.  Looking back over the years, I want my daughter to remember her (somewhat) energetic, youthful mother, cracked knuckles and all.  I want to tell her, again and again, that I am crazy in love with her.  Speech is not enough. Language fails during these times.  Through my touch, through my smile and laugh and hugs and kisses, that’s how I show her that I love her more than anything, more than myself.  And through my hand holding.  I’m 30 years old, and when I walk down the street with my aging parents, I still instantly grab their hands whenever we come to a crosswalk.  You hold hands when you cross the street.  You hold your mommy’s hand.  That will always keep you safe.  You can’t cross the street unless you have somebody’s hand.  Everybody knows that.  My child will know that.  Small though they might be, her mommy’s hands will be there to stop traffic, to banish monsters, to wipe tears, to turn the tides, to pluck the moon out of the sky for her.  She needs to know that I’m not invisible.  She’s the central focus, but I’m standing right next to her.  And I’m holding her.

It’s time to stop being ashamed of my hands.  Broken, calloused as they are, they are mine.  And this perfect little child standing before me?  She’s mine too.  Her hands are in many ways my hands.  And maybe one day, I’ll have to put lotion on them that smells like medicinal olive oil, place them in white cotton gloves, and send her to bed, miserable and obstinate.  I’ll pretend to believe her when she comes to me in the morning, claiming to have pulled them off while she slept.  Even if she inherits her mother’s eczema, she will be perfect.  I’ll show her that by example.  By being proud of my own hands.  By being bold and unafraid of what they represent for me as a woman, as a wife.  And I’ll kiss her little hands.