A Space for Women of the World
People will ask me all the time how I felt when I was pregnant. I hated being pregnant. I hated feeling so out of control of my own body. I was tired all the time. I ended up in the hospital one day for a kidney infection. My feet would get sore from wearing what used to be my comfortable high heels. I had to buy bigger shoes. I forgot where I parked my car on a regular basis. I was hungry but I couldn’t eat anything. One day I ordered Tortilla soup and immediately got sick to my stomach and couldn’t eat a single bite.
“Ohhh,” some stranger said to me from the next table “that baby doesn’t like tortilla soup.”
Ohhhh, I thought, that baby needs me to eat in order to survive. That baby is sucking calcium from my bones. That baby needs to learn who is in charge here. All that baby wants is Cookies and Crème milkshakes… it’s what I survived on for months (well that and prenatal vitamins).
When I called my mother to tell her that I was pregnant she immediately said “why? You know that baby is going to need braces someday. How are you going to pay for that baby’s braces?”
I think most people called it “that baby” for a little while. I remember everybody kept asking me if I “planned that baby” or if I knew how much work that baby would be. I was newly engaged. I had a new job. I’d just moved to a new city. I was only 25 but I was almost 26. “Planned” is such a funny word.
I blame love. I met my husband and one month later we were engaged to be married because… love. Love is one of those crazy things that makes you forget all of the good punch lines and one liners of life. Love makes you do things like blow off your friends to stay home on a Saturday night to just stare at this man and wonder how it was possible he was real. Love makes you think nothing can penetrate the force field that keeps you glued to each other at movies or sitting next to each other on one side of the booth at restaurants. Love makes you totally okay with the fact that he is the whitest white guy and he wears socks and sandals. SOCKS AND SANDALS. Love. Love became inseparable lives became moving in together became planning the biggest Vegas bash for our wedding became “um, I have something to tell you.”
That conversation happened on a Wednesday on the phone. I was in our apartment staring at four pregnancy tests and a bottle of champagne. The champagne was what I’d planned to drink when I found out I was being paranoid and I actually wasn’t pregnant. I bought the tests and the champagne at the drug store down the street and the owner had just smiled and said “Good luck.”
I was only twenty-five years old. I was a twenty-five year old who was going to throw the biggest I’m not pregnant party ever, in three minutes.
At two minutes I called my best friend.
“I’m taking a pregnancy test.”
“You’re so paranoid.”
When I picked up the stick it had two lines on it.
“The freaking stick has two lines,” I said.
“Take another one,” my best friend replied.
Three tests later the freaking stick still hadn’t changed its mind and I was pregnant.
“Maybe you should wait and take another test in the morning,” my best friend suggested.
“Yeah, pregnancy tests are known to be total liars at night.” I faked a giggle. “Okay, I’ll go to bed and wait until the morning.”
“Are you going to call your future husband?”
“I’ll just wait until the morning.”
Of course when I hung up I went back to the store and bought some more tests. One of them HAD to be negative, eventually. Four more tests later (three positive, one mostly positive but it didn’t seem as sure as the other ones) I finally picked up the phone and dialed my future husband.
“Um,” I said “I have something to tell you.”
I really don’t remember a lot about being pregnant or all those things those women who love being pregnant (who are those women?) talk about: the first time you felt the baby move (felt like fishes swimming in my stomach) or when you felt a real kick (thought I was having a muscle spasm, almost took a muscle relaxer but then I remembered, NO that probably wouldn’t be good for the baby), or the first time a stranger asked you when the baby was due (some little girl in line stared at me and said “are you pregnant or what?”), or the first ultrasound (husband had no idea what we were looking at, I saw a hand and then another hand and then a head and I thought, holy crap there’s a baby in there), or when you heard the baby’s heartbeat (fast), or reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting (expect to randomly fall asleep at your desk, to get weird headaches, to day dream all day and to wake up every time one side of your body falls asleep and you need to roll over on to your other side). I hated being pregnant, my body wasn’t mine (you’re walking for two now!), my sleep wasn’t mine (you’re sleeping for two now!), my food cravings weren’t mine (you’re eating for two now!). I wasn’t doing anything for two, I was doing everything for one (that baby was already a selfish bastard).
When I finally (and man that felt like it took forever) went in to labor I tried to think about all those women on TV. Hoo, hoo, hee, breathe, focal point, I can’t believe people go through this more than once, I can’t believe this is happening, I can’t believe a tiny human life is trying to come out of me, I want to go home, I want to go home,
They gave me an epidural.
I was in labor for sixteen hours which is not as cool as it sounds because they were all epidural hours. Oh sweet nectar of the Gods, epidural. I question the sanity of any person who does not accept an epidural when offered. I question the sanity of women who have babies in general, but now that I was having one I could not understand why we don’t just give PREEMPTIVE epidurals.
At hour nine my brother called me.
“How’s it going?”
“It’s cool. It’s cool as a cucumber. I’m watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You should get an epidural!”
At hour ten I took a nap.
At hour twelve my Mom asked me if I was watching the contractions on the machine.
“Those are contractions? Those things look huge!”
I took another nap.
Hour fourteen was when the doctor came in and spoke to me in an extra non-alarming voice.
“The baby is stressed out,” she said.
“Give her an epidural,” I laughed. “Epidurals for everybody!”
Husband shot me a concerned, slightly annoyed look. “Give him an epidural” I whispered “he looks stressed out too.”
“We’re not incredibly concerned” the doctor continued. “But I want to prepare you. We may possibly need to go in for an emergency cesarean.”
I laughed. “Will I get more drugs?”
At hour fifteen baby was still stressed out. My cousin came to visit and I looked over at her.
“She’s stressed out,” I said. “She’s coming in to this world a total stress case.”
“Well what can I do?” my cousin asked. She looked at the nurse but the nurse didn’t say anything. “Should I sing to her? We can sing one of the old songs. I can burn some prayer root.”
“Nothing should be burned in here,” the nurse spoke up.
“It’s just prayer root,” my cousin replied, “just a root that we burn to bless things and to pray for things.” She pulled a piece out of her pocket. “See, it’s not big at all.”
“You cannot burn things in here.”
“It might help her.”
The nurse just glared.
“Or,” my cousin said. “We can just sing. What do you think she wants to hear, Flower Dance song, Brush Dance song?”
“Sing her that one you made up, about being a good person so maybe she’ll stop worrying so much.”
My cousin leaned down and started singing to my stomach.
“That’s beautiful,” the nurse said. “Where’s it from?”
“We’re from a small tribe in Northern California,” I explained. “The Flower Dance is to celebrate women, well to celebrate a girl when she becomes a woman. We sing a lot of songs for…” I faded out and things went black.
When I woke up my cousin was in the doorway with my doctor listening intently to what she was saying. Husband was on the couch rubbing his eyes and my mother was holding my hand.
“You passed out,” my Dad said; he was standing behind my mother.
My cousin finished with the doctor and walked over to the bed. “So,” she said very gently “they’re prepping the room for a c-section. They want to get you in as soon as possible. They think she’s more than ready to come out now but apparently you just aren’t ready for her yet.”
She didn’t know the half of it.
“Okay,” I nodded.
I was wheeled in alone so the doctors could prepare. Everything was bright and the nurses and doctors were in such good moods. “It’s time for baby,” one nurse said to me.
“We’re ready,” the doctor said. “Are you ready?”
There was this moment in the delivery room when I was on the table, the split second before they pulled her out, my doctor said “here she comes” and it was like time stopped. Literally, one second before she was here, time actually stopped.
Things were silent. And then I heard her breathe.
And she was here…
Soon after my daughter was born, my mother came to stay with me so that she could help me while I was learning to be a Mom. I remember handing her the baby one morning so I could take a shower. In the bathroom I sunk down to the floor and started crying. I don’t know why really, I just know that I felt overwhelmed and tired and like everything was different and I felt really alone in that moment. I resented my husband because nothing had changed for him. He still got to go to work. He still got to make runs to the store by himself. I was tied to a baby, a tiny little life that slept a lot, but also woke up in the middle of the night sometimes just to visit. I let her sleep on my chest (even though the nurses said not to do that). I let her cuddle up next to me on the couch. I fed her whenever she was hungry. It was me and her and then everyone else. And that baby was expecting me to love her.
When I came out into the living room my mother was holding my daughter in her baby basket rocking her and quietly humming to her. She was singing the same song my grandma used to sing to me. It was the song that her grandmother sang to her. I sunk in to the couch next to my Mom and sighed. She looked over at me.
“Traditionally the Hupa people believed that after a baby is born you’re supposed to keep it in seclusion for ten days. This is what we did as part of our welcoming ceremony. Ten days was our magic number, a way for the baby to get comfortable in its new world and for the Mom to get the hang of being a Mom. The woman was tended to for ten days but was also secluded, left to her own devices to bond and take care of this brand new life. The baby was not given a name or any gifts during this time and everyone waited anxiously for the ten days to be over. Ten days was granted to give the baby time to grow, time to get acquainted with this new world and a chance for it to be close to its new mother. We would say, after ten days the baby is ready. Ten days also meant the mom was read… so they say.” She stood up to bring me my baby. I tried to wave her away but she handed me the baby basket any way.
“You know, nobody tells you this because the only thing they usually talk about is what a happy time this is. But change can be so jarring and you do have to take the time to mourn your other life. Everything is different now, and it will never be the same. And it’s a good thing because you have this baby girl but it also means that you will not be going back to your other life. And there is a certain mourning that has to go in to that. You have to mourn that life a little so that you can move forward.”
“That baby took my whole life.”
My mom just smiled. “Yep,” she said. “She gave you a new one though.” She leaned down to kiss me on my head. “So that’s day four. I say… give it 10 days.”
Later, after my ten days were over and my Mom went home I was sitting outside with my daughter watching the rainbows that were created through the sprinkler. She was barely a few weeks old but she was already holding my hand while she slept. My mom called on the phone and I answered. “How’s our baby?” she asked.
“She’s good. She’s a genius. This morning she told me that doing dishes is overrated.”
“Well then,” Mom said “She’s definitely related to you.”
The sprinkler clicked a little and started moving its way back toward us. I rocked on the porch swing and watched the water fall to the ground.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies with a designated emphasis in Feminist Theory and Research from the University of California Davis. She has her M.F.A. from San Diego State University in Creative Writing and Literary Research and her B.A. from Stanford University in Psychology with a focus in Health & Development. Dr. Risling Baldy is an enrolled member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe with ties to the Yurok and Karuk peoples. She is the author of a popular blog that features articles on California Indians, pop culture, representations of Native people in mass media and self-representations of Native peoples via social media. www.cutcharislingbaldy.com/blog