Breathing techniques for the patient who’s been stuck in a hospital too long, or the pregnant woman experiencing intense contractions, or anyone thinking too many morbid thoughts and needing to chill out:
- Take an organizing breath—a big sigh as soon as the contraction or stress begins. Release all tension (go limp from head to toe) as you breathe out.
- Focus your attention.
- Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, allowing all air to flow out with a sigh. Pause until the air seems to “want” to come in again.
- With each exhale, focus on relaxing a different part of your body.
“God! You’re such a downer.”
“You’ve been in a hospital too long.”
In 20 minutes of conversation, I’ve talked about Trump, sexual assault, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, high blood pressure, stress, strokes, brain aneurysms and the Black Plague.
“Think about Taos and call me back,” Charley says.
It’s October 10th. I woke early when the vet clinic in Jackson called to share my dogs’ records. They then sent them to 10,000 Wags, the dog hotel.
Duke is missing one shot so I text my mother-in-law to see if he had that when he was neutered. I set a vet appointment just in case. I have an NST, urine test, blood draw, and ultrasound. I also am trying to direct Charley and help him figure out how to clean my car, get a P.O. BOX, print the lease agreement, sign the electric over to his name, get his license, and get Duke to the vet. He feels overwhelmed.
“I can’t get my license. Maybe I just won’t come.” Good grief Charley.
Tracy messages me back and says Duke got his shot and she’ll give Charley the paperwork. She writes: “Hi Claudia….yes I did get your response…thank you💜 I’ve been really backing off and working my Alanon program so I can be healthier and more centered. … I’ve not been resourceful in the face of all the challenges lately. Feeling like with your own mom so far away, I would be responsible for more than I can handle with a new baby….plus all the other pressures you will encounter as you adjust to your new life in Taos. Unlike your mom, I am not retired. Perhaps I was projecting that too much would be required of me, and I apologize. …and it’s weird to be in the role of “mother in law”…..which carries with it expectations I am not really prepared for! I would rather be a good friend and a fellow artist …I think of you every day and pray for your well being…”
I am reminded of times I’ve been fired, or my writing was rejected or a guy said I was great but he just wanted to be friends. I feel unwanted. I want to run away and I’m not even in Taos yet.
Charley says he’s had so much to do all day but all he did was go to the electric company and get a burrito. I tell him this.
“Im not picking you up. this is too absurd. I dont even have proof of residency or anything, and della aint responding. Ur bitching me out. Fuck this.”
“Didn’t think u would. You don’t seem very interested in this baby and your mom has expressed how having a daughter in law and taking care of a baby is too much for her too maybe I should just move somewhere by myself…”
We argue for a few minutes then stop. I take a walk and consider calling him back. I pick up the phone and he calls me. We apologize. Dakota kicks.
“I removed the Darwin sticker from your car.”
“There’s a lot of hardcore cholo Christians in this town… I’ll get you a new one.”
“I added two New Mexico stickers.”
“What the fuck.”
“They’re really cool.”
“I took off the Charlie Brown sticker. … I’ll get you a new one.”
“What the fuck is wrong with Charlie Brown?”
“It’s Charlie Brown.”
“I fucking love Charlie Brown!”
A long pharmaceutical commercial plays and mom tells me over the phone she didn’t pack my favorite plant because there are border controls between the states:
“Wait. WHAT the FUCK? I didn’t move to Mexico.” She sounds delusional like a Trump supporter or an undecided voter. I hang up.
I go on a walk and a lady says “Any minute now?”
Breathing techniques to simply calm down:
- Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs.
- Hold your breath to the count of “three.”
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach
I get back to my room and instead of the steak I ordered the cafeteria brought three packs of A1 sauce and noodles with Alfredo sauce.
The cafeteria brings the steak an hour late. I’m watching “Infamous” about Truman Capote and his brussel sprouts voice. He is interviewing Perry Smith, a small town murderer, for his book In Cold Blood. It’s a good movie with Toby Jones, an actor who I think nails the part better than Philip Seymour Hoffman’s more popular portrayal in “Capote”.
Everything is making me feel murderous right now. It has to be hormones and I know I’m not the only one. “I just want to tell people to shut the h*ll up all the time,” says one pregnant woman in their third trimester.
“Co-workers who I have worked with for 11 years who never really bothered me previously and who are only acting like their normal self’s make me want to punch them in the face…” says another.
“Yesterday I screamed at my husband for God knows what. Seriously, when he asked me why I was yelling at him, I had no clue!”
“Guys don’t have a clue.”
Okay so wanting to run away to Scotland and murder my nurse and divorce my husband are all normal emotions!
“In the early months [of pregnancy] some women experience nausea, fatigue, tender breasts, and the fear that something might go wrong,” says Clark Gillespie, M.D., author of Your Pregnancy Month by Month. “As time goes on, there’s insomnia, more pressure on the bowels and bladder, and feeling overheated — all of which can contribute to irritability.” And then there’s all the hormones. People recommend talking it out, taking walks, taking long showers, and deep breaths.
This is a great time for me to develop patience. Either I can start seeing faces in my room like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 story The Yellow Wallpaper, (in which the narrator is forced by her doctor and husband to have a “rest cure” after childbirth, and after months of bedrest starts seeing a caged woman in the wallpaper). Or I can shut up and realize that all of this has been like an extended meditation retreat with more snacks and less meditation.
In the morning, Dr. Luikenaar says everything looks good besides an increase in protein in my urine and some high blood pressures but nothing to worry about now. And she has an induction drug for Thursday night that isn’t FDA approved so don’t bother googling it.
“But is it safe for the baby?”
“Sure.” (I don’t know if she said “sure” but that’s what I heard.)
And she reminds me that I’d have been induced weeks ago in most circumstances but with my situation I was lucky to still be here. I don’t ask anymore questions about it because I’m just feeling relieved and rather happy to make it to 38 weeks. 37.4 weeks today. Dakota’s more or less 7 pounds- as big as a leek. If I don’t get through labor soon I’m going to be the size of a hippopotamus.
Breathing techniques for the second stage of labor (aka. expulsion breathing) for when the cervix is fully dilated and the baby is ready to come out, but anyone can try these if they make you feel better about yourself:
- Take an organizing breath- a big sigh as soon as contractions or self-loathing begins. Release all your tension (go limp from head to toe) as you breathe out.
- Focus on the baby moving down and out, or on another positive image.
- Breathe slowly, letting your contraction (or newfound positivity) guide you. Accelerate or lighten your breathing as necessary for comfort. When you cannot resist the urge to push (and it “demands” that you join in), take a big breath, tuck your chin to your chest, curl your body and lean forward. Then bear down, while holding your breath or slowly releasing air by grunting or moaning. Most important of all, relax the pelvic floor. Help the baby come down by releasing any tension in the perineum. (Obviously this part is solely for pregnant women.)
- After 5-6 seconds, release your breath, and breathe in and out. When the urge to push takes over join in by bearing down. How hard you push is dictated by your sensation. You will continue in this way until the contraction subsides. The urge to push comes and goes in waves during the contraction. Use these breaks to breathe deeply providing oxygen to your blood and baby.
- When the contraction ends, relax your body and take one or two calming breaths.
Male seahorses get pregnant and have babies. I still think some men would like to experience the sensation of a contraction or a crowning baby, but only in the way that you might be eating popcorn in a movie theater and want to share in a character’s hardships climbing Everest for two minutes (and then you eat more popcorn).
Facebook notifies me that it’s been exactly a year since I first saw Charley at a gas station in Moab, and then talked to him at a hostel and invited him to my tent. October 11th. One year. Facebook had pictures of our wedding- standing in front of the Tetons, and slicing cake covered in strawberries and flowers.
Charley calls and tells me one dog has peed all over the mattress, and another dog already had peed all over the other side of the mattress. One of the cats was always in his face and another cat was eating all the food. Charley wants me to help him cum but the cleaning lady is in my room. Charley asks me to call the Red River DMV outside of Taos to find out what he needs to do for a license. “Thanks, Secretary Claudia.”
“Fuck off.” Turns out, it’s been so long since he got a second DUI and lost his license, that he will need a written test and then a driving test on a different day to get a new one. So he can’t get his license before driving my car to Salt Lake.
“Do you believe in me? Do you trust me?” he asks.
“I have to.”
Stephanie the masseuse comes in and gives a great massage but once again she cannot stop talking and asking questions. Finally I ask, “Do you usually talk during massages?” She says yes. She says most patients talk. I kind of expect asking her this will make her stop but it doesn’t. For some reason I have the feeling I’m not the only patient who’s exasperated with her chit chat. So how can I politely tell her to shut up? A few one word responses?
One woman describes her own experience with this problem: “I must have something written on my forehead that only I can’t see…I’ve had female trainers at the gym telling me their gynecological problems, massage therapists telling me about their love lives, even a woman at the checkout suddenly telling me that her son died and she can’t get over it … I have some kind of curse on me that makes people unload all their baggage.”
Similarly, when I’m thinking in my head, “no please leave me alone” some people are thinking “oh she looks nice, let’s tell her my life story”.
I go for a walk. It’s a little grey out like a painter dropped dirty water over his paper. I AM NOT A CAGED WOMAN. I AM FREE!
I’m waving my arms in the air. A lady eyes me up and down, finally stopping at my belly. “How are you today?”
“I’m not answering that question anymore.”
I hurry back to my room. The cafeteria forgets the extra rice to go with my chicken paprikash.
“Do you guys have to forget something or give me the wrong thing every meal? Is it a law now?” This is what I’m going to say when someone comes to give me my rice, but so far it’s been an hour and nothing.
Finally a lady comes in with a net in her hair and a plate of jasmine rice. “They told me to tell you that there were two servings of rice.”
I’m torn between wanting the correct food and not wanting it peed on. “Fight Club” made me paranoid about restaurant and cafeteria food for he last 17 years. “There hardly was any rice though. There were like two spoonfuls of rice. I feel like they forget something every meal and it’s frustrating.”
I’m flustered like a person who hates confrontation trying to put her foot down and getting it stuck in a hole in the floor.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “that’s just what they told me.”
“Okay it’s not your fault. … Take care … Have a good day.”
On the last day of summer, the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper locks herself in her room to strip the remains of the wallpaper. She declares to her husband, “I’ve got out at last…in spite of you and Jane!” Her husband faints.
When I was in grad school for fine art and photography, I made an installation with yellow wallpaper and projected an image of a woman dancing and some slowed down sounds from a song. It was my equivalent of Gilman’s story except at the time my cage was alcohol and self-doubt and social isolation.
I go to the window and place my forehead on the glass. I see my nurse Stephanie out my window walking hurriedly back to the pavilion with a Subway sandwich and a stethoscope. I feel earnest. Just as some of the staff make me paranoid and irritated, others were some of the best people I’d ever met and I felt I owed it to them to let the higher ups know WHO was putting in the extra effort to make the patients feel at home.
I fill out a comment card: For Lynette, Stephanie, Jeanine and Sherry. The best nurses in antepartum&postpartum. They do everything they’re supposed to do and more. They’re logical and empathetic and some of the top nurses I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
A rich couple are complaining about a 19th C Victorian house on House Hunters. “There is such a thing as too much wood.” Hold your breath to the count of “three.” Charley will be here in two days. I can hear a woman moaning. That will be me in three days.
I write a post on Facebook with a black and white picture before Charley cut his hair off:
“One year since we met at a hostel in Moab. You never know when or where you’re going to meet the one (person you want to stick around forever). Love you Charles Turner ❤️”
*art by Tremenuga Trifonova