I call mom. She’s in Tennessee visiting family. Nana answers the phone, deaf as a white Manx cat.
“SHE’S AT THE FAIR WITH STARR. I’LL TELL HER YOU CALLED.”
“OK, thanks. How are you Nana?”
“Ok, it’s good to hear from you.”
“I DON’T KNOW WHAT TIME SHE’LL BE BACK.”
“I SAID IT’S GOOD TO HEAR FROM YOU.”
“WISH I COULD SEE YOU TOO.”
“WISH I COULD SEE YOU! I LOVE YOU NANA!”
“I LOVE YOU A BUSHEL.”
“I LOVE YOU TOO A BUSHEL.”
“THAT’S THE BEST NEWS I HEARD ALL YEAR.”
“HOW ARE YOU-”
She hangs up on me.
September 16th, 10:10 pm: tonight is the Harvest Moon. From Instagram pictures it looks grand and orange. From here it’s a pretty little white orb with a face.
I start the second season of “The Knick”, about a NY hospital in 1900. Half-way in, just before Clive Owen’s character- Dr. Thackeray- is about to perform a major surgery (separating twin carnival girls who share a liver) he sort of freaks the fuck out.
He calls his lady. “I need you to tell me I can do this.”
This line- “I need you to tell me I can do this” (at least I think that’s what he said)- reminds me of Charley. All the time I spend telling him how fucked up he is when I know a little “yes of course you can” would make all the difference in the world. I have the patience to live in a hospital for two months. Do I have the patience to be a supportive wife to a boy learning to grow up?
“Charley has a whole lot of adult growing up put on his shoulders,” says his mom, Tracy. “…and he is waaaaaay behind the curve….for whatever soul reason his maturity has been put on hold.” And then Tracy gets into her astrology stuff. “About to be 28, his Saturn return will kick his butt into landing as an adult (or not) in ways we just cannot know yet.” Yes, I know but I am hoping for the best. Hope. His least favorite word. “Not having too many expectations of him….being patient and as steady as you can be will help a lot.”
Like Clive Owen says of Dr. Thackeray, “Even at his worst, there’s something in him you respect.” Half of the time I expect the worst though; can I circumnavigate these feeling of hope and these feelings of doom?
“Yes of course you can.”
The Knickerbocker is a fictional hospital based loosely off of the medical practices in 1900 NYC. In reality, for every 1000 live births in 1900, 6-9 women died of pregnancy related complications. Approximately 100 infants died before they were one. In NYC alone, 15% of deaths for women between the ages of 20-40 were related to childbirth. The first maternity hospital wasn’t established until 1914.
The year 1900 (and the first half of the 20th century) still weighed heavily on the side of natural births, but was also the beginning of an era endorsing “Twilight Sleep”, a two-drug cure created by obstetrical doctor Carl Gauss and championed by turn of the century feminists and The National Twilight Sleep Association. The maternal anethesiac Gauss concocted was a combination of morphine (which had negative effects on the uterus and newborn) and scopolamine (a drug that caused amnesia and used as a poison- a variation of which had been used to murder Hamlet’s father). Mixed into small doses, “Twilight Sleep” allowed women to completely forget their time in labor. The only snag was that both mom and baby were more likely to die.
Often placed in “labor cribs” to limit psychotic behavior, they would thrash around and claw at their cribs. Most of the time, their heads were covered with turban-like towels or blankets to prevent head injuries, and often they were constrained by straight jackets, blindfolded, or tied down. Husbands weren’t allowed to be in the labor rooms. The twilight sleep would happen in an amnesiac fog and be forgotten like a stoner’s nightmare. There would (hopefully) be a newborn baby when mom woke from her stupor, and everyone would be ecstatic. The end. It was deemed “liberating” for American women. Every modern American woman wanted this type of childbirth.
Sylvia Plath said of twilight sleep in her novel The Bell Jar, “I thought it sounded just like the sort of drug a man would invent. Here was a woman in terrible pain, obviously feeling every bit of it or she wouldn’t groan like that, and she would go straight home and start another baby, because the drug would make her forget how bad the pain had been, when all the time, in some secret part of her, that long, blind, doorless and windowless corridor of pain was waiting to open up and shut her in again.”
The 1920’s were a time of increased “Twilight Sleep”, ether, dilated cervix, cut episiotomy, and forceps. By the 1930’s, 75% of American births happened in the hospital and nearly 100% of births in hospitals were Twilight Births. By the 1950’s, 90% of American births were in hospitals.
It took not just several hundred deaths from Twilight Sleep, but the death of Frances Carmody, a popular society woman, for the campaign to darken and the popularity to die down.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that natural birth became popular again, and that quickly was replaced with the invention of the epidural which was a less invasive and harmful painkiller for the mom-to-be. It was also a time of more superstitious practices (doesn’t every era have them) where our modern Baby Einstein took the form of “space-suits” meant to ease pregnancy pains as well as raise the overall intelligence of mom’s future baby.
Remember, my Nana was the seventh of 17 children, and she herself had three kids. For her and my great-grandmother there were no Twilight Sleeps or epidurals or space-suits. These things belonged to a higher economic class, and for relatively poor families like my Nana’s, options were limited to home birth or natural hospital births, with a cold towel for the forehead, a lot of pushing and some prayers.
I’d like to think that this high blood pressure problem isn’t who I am. I’d like to think that perhaps, in my Nana’s time, I would have just gone to the hospital and delivered my baby with a cold washcloth and a few grunts. But that would mean I’d be a different person in a time with less vitamins and more complications. I’m instead reminded of Dr. Roberts back in Wyoming: “Neither of you would have made it.” C’mon, doc, a little optimism here.
Maybe it’s my fault for overthinking everything. I have a brain that likes to relate everything I watch or observe or talk about back to myself. So I see an episode of “The Knick” with a line that resonates and all of a sudden I am like Dr. Thackeray’s girlfriend. And then my night nurse Dana comes in and she tells me about her regular floor- PCU, my mom’s old department- and suddenly I’m thinking “I am like Dana” and “Maybe the answer is nursing; I should be a nurse”.
Dana says she met her husband at work. “He was on the same floor.” And she got her associates and then a bachelor’s online. “I got the associates before I had my children.” And she talks over me the way Charley says I also talk over people. YES. I should be a nurse!
I’ll probably change my mind in half an hour when I’m no longer watching “The Knick” and talking to Dana, but finishing a chapter in my book about dogs and then I’ll want to be a dog whisperer.
September 17th: According to my pregnancy app and the nurses’ computer notes, I’m 34 weeks today, not yesterday. That means baby Dakota is the size of a honeydew melon and about 5.25 pounds (probably bigger than that judging from the last couple of ultrasounds, maybe even 5.75).
I’m listening to a book on audible about a NY journalist who married a Brit and moves to Paris. She’s decidedly American, cinematically neurotic (inspired by Annie Hall and Sally Albright), and overly concerned with her diet and psychological ailments. She does, however, admit that the French know how to raise their children so it’s a book about how to raise children more like the French. The more I listen to it, the more I feel I already am naturally French, (and a little British), and certainly not American. I may not be a Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (wildly charming French singer), but I’m certainly not a Katherine Heigl (overtly annoying American actress).
Other than being a little on the higher side of the neurotic spectrum, I love sitting in cafes for hours reading a book, and I want more than anything to take my babies to the theater, art museums, bookstores and parks. Helicopter parenting and over-disciplining sounds old-fashioned, dull and exhausting.
I remember working in the public school systems in South Korea, and the number of children completely bogged down by their daily (by daily I mean Monday through Sunday) extracurricular activities and after-school programs for excellency. Maybe they are trying to be more American.
Melancholic France sounds more my style: fuck maternity clothes; have a sip of wine if you want a sip of wine; educate your child naturally and fuck this concept of “disciplining”; pick up rocks, bugs and dirt, and learn about the world in a tactile, explorative manner; don’t overly control a child’s diet and behavior; don’t overly control your own diet and behavior; have feelings. These children are little people learning to express and define their own souls. They will stop to smell the flowers and talk to a ladybug. These children are not our property to be doted over like an antique couch.
I wonder about Charley. Will he be able to “parent”? Will he have patience? Will he “step up”? His past is something I usually avoided explaining to people, not because I am embarrassed for him or worried about my future with him but because I know people wouldn’t understand and would immediately judge my situation for the worst. So why bother?
But I think about it often. There was the son he’d had, and never raised, when he was 17, and there was the daughter he’d had with another woman, and then never raised, when he was 25. And now he is 27 going on 28, and he’s going to either prove “third time’s a charm” or get overwhelmed, drink, and run. I mean, that’s what usually happens in movies. But this isn’t a movie, this is my husband and I chose him and there is a reason for that no one-especially people prone to probing for gossipy updates on Facebook messenger or Twitter-would understand or accept.
Some people meet the One when they’re 17, like my aunt in Tennessee. Others may have babies at 17, or disastrous relationships (or reread books about existentialism if they’re me), but don’t find the One until they’re well into their 30’s. Some find that person a couple of times. When they’re 40. When they’re 65. I’m not sure the One is ever the only person on the planet who can make you evolve and find true joy and meaning in life, but it might be the one who can do those things while also sticking around for a long time and not punishing you for your past or your weaknesses or your fears. I believe I have the One for me, and this time it’s not a fairy tale but a malleable reality where I have to work on my own evolution.
“I think it will be so great to have you here….and I do believe you will thrive, as will Dakota. I’m watching my son grow up before my eyes…..the rubber is meeting the road and life is helping him face adulthood. There may be some bumpy times, but you will make it work together. I can’t believe I will actually have a granddaughter right here in Taos”, says Tracy. I think she also is naturally French.
The fire alarm goes off. The nurses are sitting around the lobby like nothing happened.
“Someone was vaping.”
“Anything will set them off. You have to be careful.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t vape.”
Cami, (my pregnant nurse who comforts me by not asking annoying questions, but also unknowingly makes me feel like I’m lazy for letting her help me) tells me the lady vaping came out of her room and asked all innocently:
“What’s going on?”
Except the fire alarm detects where the smoke is coming from, and it was coming from her room. The nurses went in her room, which also had her baby in it, and it was covered in a cloud of fruity mist. The lady then said, “oh I may have vaped, I can’t remember.”
Good luck to baby.
It’s a beautiful day so I walk outside and sort of meander around a parking lot, staring at flowers. A petite blonde woman yells from across the parking lot:
“Can I help you? Are you okay?”
“Yes I’m fine I’m just taking a walk.”
“If you need anything WE CAN HELP YOU INSIDE.” No shit lady.
“Yes I know I live here right now, I’m just taking a walk.”
“OH, OKAY.” Fuck shit goddamnit.
So besides looking like I need help getting out of a parking lot, I feel pretty good. Still, I would rather avoid 9 out of 10 conversations. And the more I avoid them the more they follow me around.
“When are you due?” asks the lady picking up my meal tray. When you get out of my face.
“My daughter just had her fourth.” Do I look like I give a shit? I guess I look like I give a shit. Well I don’t. Everybody is having a fucking baby. Good job everybody.
I try to focus on being more French. That means (to me) that I will stand up taller, take chaos with a stoic grace, and walk with a sophisticated fluidity, not unlike a ballerina. I can do this, I can be rotund and graceful at the same time. I walk with a purpose. I … get tired and sit down.