She Started It All!

kissingThe evening in question happened some time in January 2008. The Laning couple had just spent a weekend away from each other doing their various social justice work. Mr. Laning had been involved in an action in D.C. with Witness Against Torture, where he was arrested for protesting at the Supreme Court. Ms. Laning was engaging in her first nonviolence workshop with Alternative to Violence Project, where she spent a weekend with ex-gang members in the Bronx. It was one of those rewarding, transformative weekends where you view the world differently. Apparently, we viewed the world so differently we decided to make a baby, our first!

baby announcement

The pregnancy was normal and miserable (I quickly discovered I hated pregnancy). I was working full time, puking part time and growing a gigantic baby. I didn’t really have any pregnant friends or family around, and so I sought out my own community. I joined a yahoo group and arranged pregnancy meet ups after work. The meet ups quickly turned into pregnant ladies complaining about pregnancy and stuffing their faces; basically perfect! It was a great way to meet people and talk about things my husband didn’t understand! I didn’t know much about pregnancy and labor, and so I researched the hell out of everything. I had not been exposed to much about births other than my mother who had two c-sections, and my sister who had two hospital births. I did not know anything about midwives, natural birth or home birth but knew I wanted something different from what I had heard. I remember the first time I watched the Business of Being Born and bawled every time a baby was born. Actually, I watched births on youtube constantly and read birth stories like crazy. I was obsessed with this world and knew I wanted it. I contacted my insurance company and they falsely told me they would not cover a home birth. I did what I thought was the second best option and went to a midwife practice at Beth Israel.

crazy baby

The midwives at Beth Israel were nice and I particularly liked one. She was British and really open to any of my alternative ways of laboring. She was brutally honest about the hospital and informed me that many of the practices at the hospital were archaic. I tried to ignore this as much as possible because I wanted to believe in my ability to force my needs and wants when it came to labor. As my pregnancy progressed, it became clear that I was going to give birth to a 10lb baby. This was a concern for my midwife because she claimed the hospital frowned against vaginal births and big babies. Around my due date (the first week of October) she intervened and swept my membranes. I agreed to this because I was worried if my labor didn’t get started, they were going to force me into surgery. This was not a healthy mindset for a full term pregnancy.

pregnant lady

The morning of October 4, 2008 I woke up giant, pregnant and leaky. I couldn’t really distinguish between the type of leaky I was feeling and the normal type of leaky. So, I used the bathroom, ate some breakfast and waited to find out what would happen. The leaking kept happening and seemed heavy enough I called the midwife. She asked some questions and then told me to wait 24 hours before heading into the hospital. She explained that if I were to go into the hospital now, they would either send me home or strap me to a machine. So I waited, wet and uncomfortable. I was not feeling any pains other than braxton hicks, waited my 24 hours and I headed into the hospital. They checked me and said I was at most 1cm dilated and no contractions. They tested my leak and claimed it was urine. I had no faith in these people from that moment because it was clear to me that my leak was not urine. Anyway, they sent me home angry, worried and very uncomfortable.

The following morning, Monday, October 6 I went in for post-date, fetal testing. I was leaking like crazy (towels in my pants crazy) and very irritated. The testing went fine, my fluid was good and my baby was healthy. I headed to the midwife, pulled down my pants and she freaked! Not only was I leaking like crazy but now there was meconium, or newborn baby poo. This was a red flag because it was obvious there had been fluid leaking for two days and the baby may be in trouble. Before she sent me to the hospital to be admitted, she told me to stop and eat before because they would not allow me to eat during labor. She also told me to sneak in gatorade because I would need it. I followed orders, worried and scared.

beth israel

I arrived to the hospital and they immediately started a pitocin drip, strapped on a baby monitor, laid me on my back and told me not to get up. Until this point, I had not felt any real contractions and so when the pit contractions hit, I was overwhelmed. The contractions were strong and constant but I remained strong and refused medication. This process went on for 7-10 hours and with each hour they would increase my dosage. At around this point the contractions were coming every few minutes and hitting me so hard I cried. I could not get up and walk off the pain, or get on my hands and knees. Everything they told me to do felt opposite to what my body was telling me. I completely lost connection to the baby and could not do anything but focus on fear and pain. Around hour 10 I finally gave into their suggestions for drugs and got an epidural. Not only was the pain too intense but I was not progressing; having only reached 3 cm at this point. Also, I had a fever and could not keep up with the demands of consciousness.

Once the epidural was in, I relaxed and slept. I felt nothing and after 7 more hours in “labor” I began to throw up and I felt her drop. She was in the birth canal and I felt it. It was the only thing I had felt in the second half of labor and I knew it was time to push. I started pushing regardless of who was around, I knew she was ready to come. The midwife and nurse came in to check on things and agreed it was time to go. The baby was doing well and I had enough strength in me to push her out. After I had been pushing for 10-15 minutes a bunch of people came into my room. They claimed because of my fever the baby was in distress and they were worried about infection. They tried to give me a fever reducer but since I was pushing, the medication did not stay in (this is what happens when they try to administer medication to a pregnant woman who is pushing a baby out). So the doctor came in and made a decision, “Ms. Laning, if you don’t push this baby out in 10 mins, we are taking her out.”

It was at this moment that I gave up. I knew there was no way she was coming out now because my body shut down. It went into flight mode and they wheeled me into the O.R. I don’t remember much about my surgery other than feeling cold, exhausted and high. A couple of times I remember them adding more meds because I could feel them cutting me, and I was shaking on the bed. I knew they were done when I heard her cry and it was magic. I wanted her so badly but my body wasn’t able to have her. I felt some comfort knowing her dad could take care of her and that she was healthy (the cry was intense)!

emmas first

They brought her over to me and immediately I felt differently. Yes, I was totally out of it but I was so happy to see her, to hold her, to have her in my life. It wasn’t perfect but she certainly was. It wasn’t much later that I passed out and they wheeled me into recovery. Dad had to make a choice between his wife and child, which I know was hard. She needed him more than me but it was the first time he had to chose someone over me.

first moment

I woke up in recovery alone, high, sore and scared. I was in a room with a bunch of empty beds and I yelled out. A nurse came to me and I told her I wanted my baby (it was more of a demand). They wheeled me into the NICU to see her. She was staying in the NICU because they believed she may have an infection from the meconium or my fever. She was huge, 9 lbs 6.8 oz,  20.5 inches and looked like she could eat the other babies (my little sumo)! They had all kinds of wires and machines attached to her, they were giving her antibiotics and pricking her foot every hour to test for infection. It was not something I handled well. This was really our first meeting because I barely remembered the first. She opened her eyes and looked deeply into my soul. She knew my voice immediately and calmed down, it was truly a magical moment. They allowed me to nurse her for a few minutes but made me give her up way too soon.

emma and mommy first

From the moment of our first meeting, I fought every second to get her out of that hospital. They bullied me into giving her formula, claiming my milk had not come in. I was producing colostrum (liquid gold) and that was all she needed but I agreed to the formula because they told me they would let her out of the NICU. The formula they gave her distended her stomach and she threw up everywhere. Once I finally got her back I went to see the lactation consultant who became a quick ally. Everything she said made sense to me and was in opposition to what the other nurses were saying. She taught me a lot about nursing and was the one positive thing (other than Emma) that came out of that place. We played the game as best we could so we could get out and after three days they released us. I had never been so relieved as the moment I walked out of that place and was able to take my baby home.

emma home

We adjusted to life as a new family poorly. Emma refused anything but me, and I struggled to deal with my birth. I cried a lot in the beginning and so did she. A wave of anxiety hit me so hard that I could barely function on the inside. My mom stayed with me for a couple of weeks which really helped with recovery but nothing could have ever prepared me for the emotions that hit after her birth. It was so hard to recover physically and emotionally while trying to care for a newborn. I didn’t let any of it stop me from doing my job and she was cared for very well but we struggled. Emma never slept (and didn’t until she was 3), she nursed all day and night and freaked if I put her down. I know now that all of this was related to birth trauma and we both felt very insecure without each other. I tried to go back to work when she was 9 weeks old and it didn’t last because I cried every day for a month and quit. We eventually figured it all out but those first few months were rough.

first fam pic

We went to therapy together to deal with my anxiety and we healed together. She was a very perceptive and wise baby, and she taught me many things about being a mother. We adored each other and she completely transformed me. I never expected to accept my birth because I was just so angry but I learned to appreciate her birth. Now that so many years have passed, the exact emotions leading up to surgery are a little fuzzy. I can really only see images about the experience and I think that is good. Trauma is emotionally and physically draining, and if I were to continue to carry those intense feelings with me forever, I would not function properly. I have had to let go of those feelings in order to be a happier person and a better mother. It is not an easy task but time has definitely been my friend. Aside from having time on my side to heal, I have also begun looking at my hospital experience in a whole new way. I am not saying I look back and think “that was a good thing, the doctors sure knew what they were doing” but I can look back now and see so much life, Emma’s life. Emma’s life changed my life forever and I cannot thank her enough. Actually, each day I should say that to both of my children but rarely do. When I look back at my birth with Emma, I now see only her life and how it makes everything better. Without Emma, life would be meaningless, without Emma, we would not be a family.

I retell Emma her birth story on her birthday every year, partially because she asks and partially because it is amazing.  When I started retelling her story, I had to chose my words carefully. I was pissed about my section but how could I possibly make Emma feel like her entrance into this world was devastating. My birth experience was not her fault and she should in no way feel the weight of that. I started telling Emma that her birth can be explained by her stubbornness, assuredness and attachment to me. These have been her strongest traits since birth! She has such an intense personality and it actually makes sense to me that she was a difficult birth! When I tell her story or think about her birth, I think about how hard it was and how Emma and I shared this truly difficult experience but it was what forged our relationship. We were tested as mother and daughter, we prevailed as mother and daughter, and our love is way bigger than any crappy birth story!

Happy 7 years to the girl who made me a mother. I get to hang out with you and be in your life, and I cannot think of anything better. You drive me crazy with your moodiness, sarcasm and intensity but you balance this with your empathy, kindness, and desire to do good. You are a complex creature who feels beyond your years, and ability but it is these things that draw people to you. Each year you get stronger and I see you being able to handle this gift, and I know the world is going to benefit immensely from it!

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emma

Radicals, Marriage, Love, Birth Control, Part 2

voltairine

Voltairine de Cleyre is one of the most fascinating people in history. She was a contemporary of Emma Goldman but until she was plucked from obscurity by Paul Avrich in the 70s, many had not heard of her. She is not exactly “known” now but at least in certain circles her voice lives on. Unlike many of the historical anarchists we know of, de Cleyre was American born. She was born in Michigan in 1866 to an American mother and a Communist, French father. Her father was born out of revolutionary French fervor and therefore he named her Voltairine (after Voltaire).

Her story, like many of those born to immigrants (or who were immigrants) starts out in abject poverty. Her father worked odd jobs and her mother took care of the children. At a young age, de Cleyre was sent of to a convent for her education. It was in this staunchly religious environment that she began to form her ideas about religion and politics. From her essay “The Making of an Anarchist” de Cleyre speaks of the pain of growing up in a convent, “the old ancestral spirit of rebellion asserted itself while I was yet fourteen, a schoolgirl at the Convent of Our Lady of Lake Huron, at Sarnis, Ontario. How I pity myself now, when I remember it, poor lonesome little soul, battling solitary in the murk of religious superstition, unable to believe and yet in hourly fear of damnation, hot, savage, and eternal, if I do not instantly confess and profess!” Perhaps it was her upbringing in a Communist household that prevented her from believing in God, or perhaps she was innately suspicious of religion as a female growing up in Victorian America. This strong atheist view point stayed with de Cleyre her whole life and it is at the heart of her feminist philosophy.

Both de Cleyre and Goldman were radical, female Anarchists. They believed in full emancipation from the government, from men and from the rules that confined them to pregnancy and ignorance. Around the time that Goldman was beginning her activist career in New York, de Cleyre was moving to Philadelphia. She moved to Philly and wanted to live independently, so she started working as a teacher and tutor to some of the poorest in the city. She never worked in a traditional school but taught piano, reading and writing to immigrants in the City’s tenements. This work confirmed her feelings towards government, religion and women’s issues. She saw some of the worst living conditions directly related to how immigrants were seen by society and how women were seen by men.

philly ten

De Cleyre had very strong opinions about marriage and kids. In her essay “Those who Marry Do Ill” de Cleyre discussed the issues of marriage and how it is equal to sex slavery for women. Marriage to women of the early twentieth-century was similar to that of a prison according to de Cleyre, she wrote that men are “our Masters! The earth is a prison, the marriage-bed is a cell, women are the prisoners, and you are the keepers!” She would not agree to marry in her lifetime and believed that “men and women [should] so arrange their lives that they shall always, at all times, be free being in this regard as in all others.” Freedom above all else is what de Cleyre sought and so when she gave birth to her only child, she felt the confines of motherhood and abandoned him with his father.

In 1890 Voltairine de Cleyre gave birth to her first and only child Harry Elliott. The event was not something she enjoyed and fell into a deep depression. She spoke of the event in “An American Anarchist” by Paul Avrich, “I think I hardly laughed once for the year preceding and accomplishing his birth.” Having a child according to Emma Goldman, “did not fit into her life, her plans, at all…She had things she wanted to do with her life, and he was not part of them.” Getting pregnant and raising a child in de Cleyre’s position would have been very complicated. Beyond being poor and not having access to proper birth control, she was not married and her son was destined to be a bastard. Harry was lucky enough to be raised by his father but would suffer the injustice of being born out of wedlock and the rejection of his mother. De Cleyre writes many essays on the topic of birth, children and marriage because it was something she believed women were forced into by man and church. They were not in charge of their own bodies and since birth control was illegal, a woman was destined and subjected to many pregnancies. Often these multiple pregnancies had ill effects on a woman’s mind and body. She would be forced to bear children despite the health and safety of her and her family.

De Cleyre’s politics were very clearly about emancipation and the right for women to chose their paths. She was not anti-marriage because of the loving union humans may have sought but rather because of the religious and political ties. She was an early advocate for free love, homosexuality and birth control. She did not advocate for people to stop having sex or stop having babies but yet do so out of free choice. De Cleyre writes, “while I’m am not over and above anxious about the repopulation of the earth, and should not shed any tears if I knew the last man had already been born, I am not advocating sexual total abstinence.” She later writes “I would have men and women so arrange their lives that they shall always, at all times, be free beings in this regard as in all others.”  She felt the government and the church had too much power over how women conducted their reproductive business. The lack of freedom to decide if and how many resulted in many unwanted pregnancies leaving “little babies, helpless, voiceless little things…forced into this world to struggle and to suffer, to hate themselves, to hate their mothers for bearing them to hate society and to be hated by it in return.” She had first hand knowledge of this experience with her own son and went on to write a very lengthy poem called “Bastard Born” in 1891.

(excerpt)

Why do you clothe me with scarlet of shame?
Why do you point with your finger of scorn?
What is the crime that you hissingly name
When you sneer in my ears, “Thou bastard born?”

Am I not as the rest of you,
With a hope to reach, and a dream to live?
With a soul to suffer, a heart to know
The pangs that the thrusts of the heartless give?”

I am no monster! Look at me —
Straight in my eyes, that they do not shrink!
Is there aught in them you can see
To merit this hemlock you make me drink?

As we still see today, De Cleyre’s criticisms about the church and government having too much control over our reproductive lives are real. Women continue to debate with government over access to affordable birth control and the legality of abortion. See here an article where a fully insured woman has to wait 6 months to get approval for an iud (and could obtain a gun in less than 2 days), or see here, an article where Pope Francis is considering pardoning women who have had abortions. Sure this sounds like a progressive step for the Catholic church but it also sounds like a lot of power given to a man, and institution over how you conduct your sexual and reproductive life. At some point we have to walk away from these traditional notions of what women’s roles are and declare reproductive emancipation! power

References

An American Anarchist: The Life of Voltairine de Cleyre (1978)

Bastard Born, Voltairine de Cleyre (1891)

Those Who Marry Do Ill, Voltairine de Cleyre (1908)