Monthly Archive for April, 2012

Balancing Eco-Feminism, Motherhood, Anxiety and Writerdom: An Interview with Kenna Lee

Kenna Lee HeadshotWhere/when did you find support for your writing and the dilemmas you outline in “A million tiny things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate”–read excerpt on The Fertile Source here— (the tension between one’s ideal eco-choices and practicality: ie., jumping in the roomy mini-van with AC vs. the tiny hybrid where flying elbows make better contact and a far more stressed out mother at the wheel)?

Here I have to give full credit to my ex (my wife, The Pragmatist, in the book; we got divorced just after the narrative ends). She is a dancer and we had always made her pursuit of her art a high priority in our life choices; when I began writing after our daughter was born, she was very encouraging of my need to pursue my own creativity. So she allowed me the time, when we could find it (that eternal caveat), to get a lot of the initial writing done.

The end result of your observations often drew a laugh from me as I read, for the candor, for the all-too-familiar equations and resultant equivocations you managed to nail. How did you come by the humor?

Honestly, I think I was in a state of extremely heightened anxiety, as the crumbling state of my marriage added to all the (very real) eco-concerns I talk about in the book. I was sublimating that other life anxiety into the environmental stuff, so it was really pretty extreme. And that kind of crazy anxiety is… well, funny, when you cop to it (and even funnier when you exaggerate it). I find humor in glimpsing the dark edges of life, when they aren’t sucking me all the way over the edge. So the book tries to ride that line.

Once my ex really took off and the anxiety slid into real depression, I was scared that taking antidepressants would take away too much anxiety and make me unable to write. I get all earnest and that’s just so… earnest (i.e. boring). Of course, once I realized that crying constantly wasn’t really helping me find the humor in life either, I caved. Thank god. My next book will be about getting off those pills, and the humor is in that story too, but it sure is harder to draw out.

I loved the way you gave “personality profile” names for your children that weren’t their actual names: Bright Eyes, the Percussionist, Mowgli. How did you navigate writing about your children, thinking about them reading the book later, etc.?

I definitely want to preserve my kids’ privacy as much as I can, within the larger template of broadcasting the details of their lives to the whole world. I want them to feel in control of their own life narrative, so renaming them as characters allows both them and other people to perceive a little distance between my actual real-life kids and their book selves. I don’t post photos of their faces and you can’t tag me in photos on Facebook (unless they ONCE AGAIN changed all my default settings when I wasn’t paying attention) because people will tag my name with a photo of my child and I just don’t like having their images attached to any real name. It’s perhaps my Luddite side, or maybe I’m a closet libertarian, but I want them to make their own conscious choices about exposure and privacy. As long as I can write whatever I want to write. So, the names, I feel, both illuminate the kids and obscure them a bit. (They love them, too, especially Mowgli.)

How did you balance motherhood, working, and writing? Any words of advice for writing mothers?

Yikes. I hate that I’m about to say this, but, well, I’m just too lame to come up with something more original and it’s actually true (if unbearably trite): my word of advice is “balance.” I have to continually rearticulate my priorities to myself and others, so I can remember that for me (and I know this isn’t the right order for everyone), the kids come first, my nursing career second, and the writing is third. Which is not to say that I haven’t thrown our lives into complete chaos for the last few months so I could bring this book into the world; it’s just that if getting the next marketing task done would mean I’m not available to help with homework, it’s the marketing task that doesn’t get done.

And I’m way behind on my blogging, but I’m going on a bunch of field trips this spring that are taking me far from my laptop. For me, having clear priorities lets me deal with the day-to-day when I’m feeling like I should be doing lots more to give the book its wings, and instead I’m playing catch. I interviewed one publicist and when I got off the phone with her, I just KNEW that she would make me a famous writer, but I also knew I would have about ten stress-related health conditions when we got there. So I hired a more low-key consultant who helps me but who doesn’t really understand Twitter any better than I do, which is just fine, since she takes pressure off of me instead of adding it on.

That all said, if I had it to do over, I would have taken a leave of absence from work for a couple of months (if I could have afforded it) and filled my deep freeze with easy meals or frozen pizza and hired a housekeeper and an assistant. The book launch is not the time to be pinching pennies—it’s more of a break open that piggybank and give it all you’ve got moment.

When in your process of writing the book did you realize you were writing a book? How long from start to finish and what were you the most surprised to learn as you went through the process?

Let’s see, the youngest was born just as I turned 38, and I started writing a few weeks later. It was on my 40th birthday that I admitted to myself and a few of my closest friends that I wanted to turn it into a book. And the book launched the week of my 44th birthday, as the “baby” turned 6. There were several non-productive post-divorce depression months and almost a year of waiting for my editor to have time to get to my manuscript (my brilliant and wonderful all superlative editor—it was worth the delay). Most surprising to me was simply that I was actually doing it—I barely even finished any of my college papers. So I was pretty thrilled to see myself having matured enough to follow such a big project through to completion.

In your Q and A session in Sebastopol at Copperfield’s last week, you mentioned that this book chronicles a very specific time in your life when the tighter domestic orbit of the household with three children underfoot heightened a sense of helplessness and anxiety about the world the children would inherit. You mentioned a current book project as well as an action-oriented blog. Would you share that blog link with us and talk a bit about how A million tiny things propelled you towards your second book project and your current philosophies?

Um, I also think I said I hate blogging and am not very good at it (reference above where I say I’m behind). But I do it, some. Here are the links: A million tiny things and A School Garden Year

The Million Tiny Things blog follows my meandering thoughts in general about parenting, the environment, activism (check last August’s posts for my arrest photos), and sustainability in all the various senses of the word. The school garden blog was really intended to connect parents to our school garden program and what we do there, but that’s the blog which will inform the next book as it will be about how all those moments of composting and craziness are what pulled me back into the land of the living.

As for the change in my focus, writing A Million Tiny Things helped me articulate and observe that particular batch of anxieties, and then not have to hold them so tightly. I also think it’s a natural evolution for mothers to emerge into a wider sphere as their children do, so I think it’s just a normal progression for me to be more focused on the bigger picture now. Systemic solutions, ho!

But on the way to the larger picture, I need to stop and look at the process of grieving and pain that has led me there. The first book was written as an act of service to other moms who might be feeling crazy like me and could use some company in that craziness. Then, when I was getting divorced, I immersed myself in other people’s divorce narratives as means of finding that kind of company for myself. I hope to offer my story into that library of healing possibilities; how we can connect our hopes for the earth and our children with our hopes for ourselves in a very concrete way. So some other mom who is bereft and suicidal can feel she’s not alone there, and that there’s a way out.

Any mentors you wish to share with us, or suggestions for further reading?

Oooh, yes. I adore Laurie Wagner, who teaches in-person in the Bay Area and also online. When I was just dipping my toe in the water of the writing thing, she had me write a list of what I wanted to write about, and that list could probably serve as a table of contents for the book. That reminds me, I need to get in touch with her as I think her particular style of pushing you into the truth of your story will be essential to getting me past the initial difficulties of writing a book about depression. Her site: 27 powers.

And for writing about motherhood and the environment, Sandra Steingraber’s Raising Elijah is my favorite. She doesn’t fritter away her energy on non-productive anxiety like I do.

Full-time nurse, part-time environmentalist, and all-the-time mother, Kenna Lee lives in Sebastopol, California, with her three semi-feral children and several domesticated animals. Her book, A Million Tiny Things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate (Mole’s Hill Press, 2012) is available now through your local independent bookseller; for more information, visit her website.

Circling Loss

Creative Non-Fiction by Amber Jensen

Sunday, March 9

I thought the process of bleeding away my second pregnancy was over.  Dressed in dark jeans, wedge heels, and a fitted black v-neck that exposed the freckled skin of my chest, I bounded down the stairs in my mother’s house, surprised at the easy flight of my feet over carpet.  I can do this, I thought to myself.  I can be happy. 

But then, as I hopped down to the final stair, a clot of blood plummeted from somewhere inside me, stopping just before it escaped my body.  This isn’t over yet.  I felt my body reel back against the momentum of acceptance I had been trying to build.  My belly hung heavy, throbbing, and empty. 

With thick red threatening the fresh denim that hugged my hips, I froze at the bottom of the stairs facing a framed collage of photos from my wedding day.  I pleaded with my husband’s dimples, his squinting, cloudy eyes.  When can I leave this behind?

Then from my left I heard a deep, primitive yowl.  I turned to find the tiger eyes of my mom’s large ginger cat peering at me from his lowered head.  His whiskers extended towards me as he tracked the scent of blood. 

 

Thursday, March 6, morning

Having called the doctor, my sister, and Blake, I replaced a heavy, red maxi-pad with a weightless, white one.  I changed from blood-stained grey cotton into fresh, black lycra pants.  Then I waited.  For my sister.  For the doctor.  For Blake.  For the news.  But I already knew.  Nothing so small could survive this. 

I crawled into the living room and lined the seat of the recliner with a tan towel before climbing in.  Then I covered myself with the quilted patchwork of pink and blue calico my grandmother made for my high school graduation.  When I closed my eyes, I pictured Blake, driving home from work after receiving my call: “Can you come home?  Something’s wrong . . . Erin’s taking me to the doctor.”  His response had been simple—“I’ll be there soon.”  He didn’t ask any questions or make me say, Blake, I’m losing the baby.  He just came.  He couldn’t have known what was wrong, still, I imagined his eyes following the painted white border of the interstate over hills, around curves, and beyond the horizon, squinting toward a place in the future where everything will be all right, seeing that place like he always does, even when I don’t believe it exists.

When I felt my two-year old son squirming up under the thin weight of the quilt, I discouraged him, saying “Mommy feels sick.  George, please . . .” Then I gave in, slid my hands around his chest, feeling the ridges of his rib cage as I guided him up unto my lap.  He squeezed out from beneath the blue floral border, nestled his blonde head against my shoulder, and raised his thick-lashed brown eyes to meet mine.  Forcing a giggle, he said, “See mommy, we are happy.”  As I drank in his expression—his dark eyelashes, raised eyebrows, lips pressed into a smile—I knew he was right.  But I couldn’t admit it yet, so I closed my eyes and watched spots of light dance behind my eyelids.  I envisioned the black, plastic bag slouched beside the dresser in my bedroom.  I remembered what was inside: maternity clothes, still dangling price tags.  I told myself, We have GeorgeIt will happen again.  And even if it doesn’t . . . we have him.  I closed my eyes and rested against his small strength. 

 

Thursday, March 6, afternoon

By the time I heard the words—“we can’t detect a heartbeat”—I had already begun to move from mourning to acceptance.  Maybe this is best, I told myself.  Maybe something was wrong with the baby. 

I lay back against a stiff mattress, abdomen exposed, eyes closed.  I imagined George sleeping over Blake’s shoulder in the waiting room outside, his body ironing wrinkles into his dad’s button-up plaid.  I summoned the soft static of Blake’s fingertips circling the surface of my skin to replace the hospital sheets scratching my lower back, the hot weight of George’s sleeping body to protect me from the cold air that poured from a vent overhead.  I tried to imagine away the steel and ceramic, machines and measurement, but the slather of thick gel, the shocking cold of plastic, and the smell of sterilization grounded me there.  Eventually, the even voice of an ultrasound technician, barely audible above the hum and click of technology, commanded my attention.  “The fetus stopped growing at about five weeks.” 

Five weeks.  I inhaled the reality, felt it echo in a hollow space at the base of my throat. 

I heard the crackling static of the black and white monitor to my right and couldn’t help but look.  Its glow reminded me of my first ultrasound and the pixilated image of George’s fingers flexing across the screen, but this time I saw no hope, no miracle there.  Only fuzzy, grey flecks spitting shadows. 

When I closed my eyes to the eerie darkness of the room, my mind traveled backwards.  Five weeks.  Was the baby was still alive those nights in February, when I fell asleep under the weight of my Shakespeare anthology, when I worried that I couldn’t keep up with work, school, and pregnancy?  When I finally started dreaming about a baby girl with my dark eyes and Blake’s wide grin, was I picking out names for a lifeless child? Then as my memory moved forward, I remembered the muscle-wrenching that I shrugged off as morning sickness, the relief I had felt that my breasts weren’t swelling so much this time.  Maybe my body had been preparing me all along. 

Still, I doubted myself, wondering, Was it my fault somehow?  Should I have known something was wrong?  Then a whispered thought: Would it have mattered if I did? 

Ever since I had seen the cotton fibers of a pregnancy test swell, watched a pair of pink lines sweep across a plastic window, I had been telling myself that it was the second baby, that I was under a lot of stress with graduate school, and that it just didn’t feel the same.  Now I began to wonder, had it ever seemed real?  My stomach fluttered.

 

Saturday, March 8

For two days after the miscarriage, I perched in a nest of blankets and pillows, pressing a heating pad into my stomach as my body anchored me in loss.  As long as I had to sit still, muscles twisting around a void inside my abdomen, it was impossible to move on.  While my head moved back and forth to maintain the steady rocking of the recliner, my thoughts rolled between acceptance and guilt.  I fixed my eyes on the tan walls, striped curtains, and shadowed blinds of my living room.  I fixed my mind on facts and statistics.  Seventy percent of women who miscarry go on to have normal, healthy pregnancies.  Now, with early home pregnancy tests, we detect pregnancy so soon—before, women probably didn’t know when they lost early pregnancies.  I returned to the idea that something must have been wrong.  Maybe this was never a viable pregnancy.  Still I asked myself, shouldn’t I feel sadder?  What kind of a woman, what kind of mother, am I?

When Blake talked to his boss, his end of the conversation comforted me:  “No, actually, she’s doing all right, really good, I think . . . but you know, this happens sometimes, and really, we’ll be fine.”  It made me believe he understood, that he wouldn’t blame me for being ready to move on.  But when my own phone rang, I ignored it, trusting that my sister would tell anyone that needed to know, not wanting to convince anyone that I was fine, doing well even, not wanting them to know that my only wish was for the cramping and bleeding to end. 

You should feel sadder.  Mourn longer, I told myself.  It had only been a few days and I already felt myself wanting to move out of my chair and leave this loss behind.  I remembered my friend, Angie[1].  It was the first week of our Intro to Graduate Studies class, when we knew each other only from in-class introductions and a few minutes of casual conversation, when she scooted her chair around the corner of the table that stretched the entire length of the classroom and asked, “So, how old is George?”

“He’s almost two.”

“That’s great,” she smiled.  “Tom and I want to have children, but we lost our first baby.” 

Her voice quivered and she lowered her eyes, but she went on to explain that after the miscarriage and after beginning graduate school, she wasn’t sure when she would be ready to try again.  I felt uneasy about the personal conversation I had just shared with a near stranger, guilty about having shared stories about my son—his love of books, baseball, and trains—with a woman who wanted but had been unable to experience motherhood.

But now our roles had reversed: Angie was five months pregnant, and I couldn’t help but wonder if now, when I returned to work and met Angie in the hall, she would feel ashamed of her pregnancy, the way it might remind me of what I had lost.  I wanted her to know that the promise of her bulging belly wouldn’t bother me, but I knew I couldn’t explain.  I was afraid to discuss it because I feared my eyes and voice would betray my secret—that I didn’t feel like crying, that I really thought it was better this way. 

 

Tuesday, March 11

            It’s Tuesday, and I’m back at work.  On my desk, I discover a bulky manila envelope—sealed, no name written on it.  I pry open the metal fingers, tear back a layer of yellow, paper skin, and tip the envelope over my desk.  Out falls a lavender book.  On the cover, above the fringe of a plaid baby blanket, the title reads:  When Your Baby Dies: Through Miscarriage or Stillbirth.  A green sticky note matching the book’s soft colors carries a message from Angie. “Here is a little book that may or may not be of some use to you.  May God comfort you in your time of grief.” 

I don’t cry.  I don’t smile.  I don’t open the book.  I tuck it back into its envelope, seal it up again, and slide it under a pile of scratch paper and junk mail in my desk.  Closing the cold metal drawer, I pause to think about Angie.  Even now, five months into her second pregnancy, she mourns the loss of her first one.  Only five days have passed since my miscarriage, and I no longer think of the pregnancy I have lost as my second pregnancy.  I have erased it.  This one doesn’t seem to count.  I’ve only had one. 

It must have been different for her, I think.  She didn’t have another child to give her hope, to make her believe it could happen again, to console her in case it didn’t.  I try to imagine the desperation I would have felt if this had been my first pregnancy, but I can’t.  Maybe she needed a book to give her hope, needed to talk about it, needed to remember the baby she never knew, but I don’t.  I have George.  George, whose heartbeat echoed through a Doppler monitor, making my skin tingle months before I ever heard him cry or saw his lips opening in an awkward smile.  I can’t equate the loss of a pregnancy to his life, this emptiness to his presence.  I don’t need a book to tell me the difference.  Without opening the pages of the book or acknowledging Angie’s carefully chosen words, I wrap a fleece scarf around my neck, button out the cold, and race to class feeling convinced that no one understands, that everyone expects me to be broken, that no one believes I can be happy with what I have.

            Not until almost a year has passed, not until I have begun to write about the experience of losing a baby will I open my drawer, notice the corner of the manila envelope hidden beneath a pile of junk, and pull it out.  When I slide the book out and begin to turn its thick, waxy pages, I will find a series of prayers and stories meant to encourage and comfort me.  And I will be glad I waited to open it.

            The book outlines the “painful clichés” people fall back on when trying to comfort women after a miscarriage; these clichés—it’s for the better, there was probably something wrong, you can always have another—are the things that continue to comfort me.  The things I continue to believe. 

The book also suggests that mothers who miscarry “view the remains” whenever possible.  View the remains.  Ask a medical professional to help search for these remains.  If no remains can be found, look at pictures of a fetus at that stage of development.  This will encourage acceptance and aid in the grieving process, the book says.  When I read this, the first thoughts that enter my mind are, I didn’t need to view the remains.  I felt each clot of blood as it escaped my body and imagined in it a small mass of tissue, an undeveloped face, limbs that would never grow.  But eventually, I will become curious and search the Internet—first for information, then for images.  I will find some form of comfort in learning that the baby that passed from my body was the size of a raisin; that its heart may never have begun to beat; that like most early miscarriages, this one probably resulted from chromosomal abnormalities.  And I will allow myself to continue believing in what others may see as painful clichés.  I will not insist that others believe them, but I will hold onto them myself. 

Only then will I reread Angie’s words—“a book that may or may not be of use to you”— and realize: we doubt ourselves enough; we have no need to start doubting each other. 

 

Saturday, July 12

I am leaving the screaming, splashing chaos of the public pool with my red-cheeked son hanging limp in my arms when I see Sasha, a high school friend, emerging from the bathroom.  The olive undertones of her deeply tanned skin and the waves of blonde hair that she flips onto her back remind me of cheerleading and math class.  I begin to smile.  But then her cute paisley sundress stretching over her round belly catches my eye, reminds me that I was pregnant, that I would have been that big by now, too.  I feel a throbbing sensation in my ears. 

As Sasha beams towards me, I shift George from one hip to the other, preparing my escape.  “Look at him!  He’s getting so big,” she begins.  “Yeah, he’s wiped out—the sun and all the swimming,” I explain.  “I better get him home, down for a nap.”  We say goodbye, promise to get together sometime soon, and then I set out across the park toward home, running away from something I thought I had forgotten.  Maybe too easily, hisses a voice inside my head. 

I recognize the pursuit. 

Suddenly, I find myself back at the bottom of the stairs, sense narrowed eyes upon me, see the cat with its weight balanced on thick pads of paws, whiskers tracing the scent of my loss.  For five months I have hated that cat, but this time, as I replay the scene in my mind, I watch his muscles flex as he stands from his predator’s crouch and skulks away.  This time I realize that it is not the cat, but the woman at the bottom of the stairs that terrifies me: the way she hesitates, holds herself back.  It is the woman who pursues me, seething with self doubt. 

Not today, I tell myself, and I slow my steps until I can feel the tickle of grass reaching up over my flip flops.  I concentrate on the sleepy weight of George’s head on my shoulder, his dangling limbs bouncing with each of my strides. 

As I pass the steel structures of a play area, our duplex comes into view across the street.  I notice Blake’s car in the driveway and feel myself eager to get home.  When the gleaming yellow plastic of George’s toy loader and flat bed on the front step catches my eye, I quicken my pace.  I leave the dizzying swirl of voices, the screech of swing set chains behind.  I allow myself space.  A warm breeze rustles the leaves of the cottonwood trees, George’s soft hair flutters on my cheek, and I relax.  I am happy. 

Amber Jensen is a wife, mother, teacher and writer.  She will graduate in May with a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans’ low-residency program.  Her essays, poetry, and reviews have been published in  North Dakota Quarterly, Ellipsis, Assissi, and Terrain.org.

 


[1] The names of people outside my immediate family have been changed to protect their privacy.

April, An Excerpt from A Million Tiny Things by Kenna Lee

a million tiny things by Kenna LeeEditor’s Note: I met Kenna Lee when our children attended the same school for a stint, and “met” her again online, impressed not only with the quality of her writing, but impressed that she was working, midwiving, and mothering three children, all while “blogging to booking.” Having chosen “April” to run (pulled in by this birth chapter’s beautiful blend of the forthright and the lyrical), I realized this excerpt happens to be missing the eco-query that dominates the majority of Lee’s book.

By eco-query I mean the kind of contortions one goes through in one’s mind with children in utero, on hip, underfoot and the future (theirs) suddenly matters, as do the choices we make as consumers: wooden toys? recycled plastic? cars that run on veggie oil? worth the choir of fighting that goes on in a smaller hybrid vs. the notorious mini-van with AC?! Lee tracks these interior monologues and more, by turns relentless and hilarious, in A Million Tiny Things. I still, however, stand behind this lovely chapter as well. Enjoy.–Tania Pryputniewicz

 

Year One, April                                                                     By Kenna Lee

Bright Eye’s roses are blooming, bringing the first year of her life full circle. No, they’re not on the rose bush we planted over her homebirthed placenta, California hippie-style, because said placenta is tucked half-forgotten at the back of the freezer still, languishing in typical third-child neglect. We’ll plant it someday, when we remember, when we muster up some of those elusive items that such tasks require, namely time and energy.

No, Bright Eye’s roses have come to be called that because they were blooming when I was in labor a year ago. These baseball-sized white popcorn roses are improbably right outside my bedroom window; improbable because our house is built onto a hillside, and so my bedroom looks out into the treetops on the downslope. This particular rosebush, in order to survive, has reached up through the canopy of trees to claim its ration of sunlight. In most locations, a sky-high rosebush would be wasted, its blossoms inaccessible to human enjoyment, and from the ground below one would never suspect the exultant profusion of blooms lurking above the tree limbs. But here is my window, from which I can almost reach out to pick them, and from here, one year ago, I pondered them for many hours as my contractions became less and less manageable.

I was reluctant to leave the bedroom when I was in labor, as it’s the room farthest from the neighbor’s house, the same neighbors that called the cops, suspecting some domestic disturbance, during my last, nightmarish labor, during which my repetitive, Psycho-worthy screams let everyone know that I was definitively not a strong, silent, capable baby-haver. This time, knowing that I lacked the self-discipline to endure the agonies of childbirth quietly, I hid out in the bedroom, encouraging The Pragmatist to distract the boys elsewhere. I paced the short feet of floorspace left between the king-sized family bed, now protected by a plastic sheet tucked beneath our least-cherished bedding, and the padded turquoise birthing tub set up hastily that morning after I woke with surreal surety, announcing, “We’re having a baby today, boys.” Within this cramped space, I paced, and stopped, and moaned, and stared at the roses.

As skeptical as I’ve always been of the idea that having a focal point would make the intense pain of contractions more manageable, it worked. Probably because I didn’t plan it and wasn’t trying to focus on something, I was just, well, staring at the roses. And of course, it only worked until I reached that “I can’t do this anymore” stage which was the secret code by which The Pragmatist knew to call the midwife, even though I had expressly forbidden midwife-calling until I was really quite farther along, having gotten very tired of having a midwife around during that first, 49-hour, self-esteem destroying labor.

But by the time the midwife showed up, I had mostly forgotten about those instructions, and about the roses as well, and was just trying to imagine how anyone anywhere is able to endure torture without immediately divulging any and all pertinent information. I knew then that I would never, ever be able to become a spy, because I would have told anything to anyone if it would have made the pain stop. I became unbearably self-pitying and bossy, to which The Pragmatist responded by announcing that if I ever had another baby, she would divorce me unless I got an epidural.

I bellowed and shrieked, and the boys, playing with our friend Rachel in the kitchen, dug out the industrial workman’s ear protectors I had bought them to prevent them from incurring early-onset hearing loss from The Percussionist’s drum set, and came dancing through the bedroom to show them off. “We’re going to Rachel’s house to sleep, mom,” they giggled in my panting breaks between the contractions, “because we are tired and you… you are TOO LOUD.”

“And it would just be too uncomfortable to wear these earphone things to bed,” The Percussionist explained.

Before they even completed the five-minute drive to Rachel’s house, we’d called them to turn around if they wanted to see the baby come out, as the baby was on the way any second. They got back just in time for Mowgli to state his preference to sleep and immediately do so, and for The Percussionist to see everyone gathered around the birthtub, watching me squatting in such a way as to prevent anyone from seeing or knowing that the head was coming out, except by the fact that I was clutching between my legs and ordering the midwife to “HELP ME BREATHE NOW.”

Once the velvet head slid out under my palm, and it was a sliding motion, though that particular verb fails to convey even a slight sense of how incredibly torturous the moment was, I sat back on my haunches and announced, “The head’s out,” somehow expecting someone to do something about it, you know, like deliver the rest of the baby. But I believe I had cowed them all into such submission that they all froze, waiting for their next order, so I shrugged with intense frustration, and thinking, “for god’s sake, MUST I do everything myself?” I pulled my daughter out of me and up into my arms.

So tiny (at 8 lb, 6 oz the smallest of the three), she nestled there, wet-warm and cheesy, head out of the water, while I suddenly shed the shattering terror of laboring and embraced the more tender terror of motherhood again. The pain behind me, I could stop fighting, lay down my arms, and surrender to the awe of her first breath of air. Not the most articulate person during times of great stress, I kept breathlessly repeating, “I’m so happy. I’m so happy,” over and over, as if I needed convincing of it.

The Pragmatist and our midwife supported me as I stood to move onto the bed for the delivery of the placenta, and I paused, towel-wrapped babe in arms, noticing with intense gratitude the treetop cascade of roses hovering just beyond the window. Even now they remind me that behind pain can lurk unfathomable beauty, just as behind the burning and fear of birthing my daughter, a great healing lay within the experience of bringing her into the world with my own hands. Something that had broken in me during my first too-long, too-scary birth was put back together by that sensation of feeling her muzzle-soft crown swell into my palm, the impossibly smooth skin bloom into her face. For days, weeks after she was born, I repeated the motion, sliding my palm over her soft hair, down her temple, and in doing so I was telling myself without even realizing it at the time: that which is broken can be healed.

It is a message she does well to bring with her, accompanied as she is by my load of eco-anxieties. Her roses are blooming again, and for her first birthday, I’ve managed to pull a few down from up high to cut for our kitchen table. On her actual birthday, as if aware that I won’t be able to remember the milestone without this coincidence, Bright Eyes takes her first reeling steps toward me, my only-yesterday newborn girl, walking. I greet this new child, this toddler, with the same words I used when I first looked into her face one year ago: “Hello, Bright Eyes. I’m so happy.” Happy, and scared shitless, but still walking forward, step by careful, brave step.

Full-time nurse, part-time environmentalist, and all-the-time mother, Kenna Lee lives in Sebastopol, California, with her three semi-feral children and several domesticated animals. Her book, A Million Tiny Things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate (Mole’s Hill Press, 2012) is available now through your local independent bookseller; for more information, visit her website.

Read our interview with Kenna Lee: Balancing Eco-Feminism, Motherhood, Anxiety and Writerdom.

 

Be Back Soon

Due to personal and professional obligations, we’re a little behind with this month’s usual Monday postings but hope to be back up and running in the next week or two. Thanks for your patience.




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