Monday, May 27, 2013

the culture of motherhood: birth preparedness

At 1:34 am we got a knock on the door. “Monica’s in labor.” I really wanted to be present for the birth of this child, but I also had a hunch that she was not going to pop immediately considering that this was her first. I asked how long she had been feeling contractions and when I heard that they just started, I said, “Go to the clinic, I’ll find you there in the morning.”

Several weeks ago I asked Monica’s mother if she had prepped Monica for the birth process. Her response? “I told her not to make noise.” “No, no,” I clarified,” I mean did you teach her about how her body works and how the baby will be born.” “Yes. I told her everything. I told her not to cry or scream.” 

Apparently, ‘don’t make noise or cry or scream,’ is everything one needs to know to give birth. My over-prepared American-ness scrolled through a dozen replies in my head as I considered the 12 week long Bradley course we took and the hospital classes that are offered everywhere and options like Lamaze and Hypno-birthing, not to mention the gazillion books and websites that are meant to answer the never ending list of questions flowing from the mommy to be. The wanna-be-doula in me was having a crisis, thinking, “this girl is going to be a hot mess if someone doesn’t help her!”

I’ve asked women before why they aren’t allowed to make noise in the delivery room and it has always been explained to me that the silent laboring is out of respect for those who have gone before. The message: your mama was strong enough to shush up and push and you will be too. Women take this code of honor seriously; in all of the births I’ve attended I’ve only heard one woman come close to breaking the “no complaining” rule. She whispered, “I’m never doing this again.” Her aunt nipped that in the bud retorting, “Yes you will, you’ll have ten more, now get back to work.” Birthing is a woman-only event. When I’ve asked why the husbands are not allowed in the labor ward, the women have explained that they do it out of kindness to the men, not wanting them to feel inferior to their wives when they see how fierce they are. Several women questioned my choice to have Jeremy with me through Bronwyn’s birth. “Won’t you crush his manhood with your display of strength?” Haha. I just confirmed with Jeremy and he says his manhood is still in tact.

I’ve often thought about the first time moms like Monica who enter into that room to birth their child knowing nothing about the physiological process that is about to take place. I get stuck thinking about all the information they don’t have access to… But then I start thinking about the information they DO have access to.

-- You are supported by the throngs of women who have gone before.
-- Grown men cower at your current ferocity. 
-- God knows, and your body knows.
-- You can and will do this.

I think about how the American birth culture subtly rejects statements like these. Our birthing heroes are not the women around us but the white-coat OB’s who tell us how its going to be. When we say we can’t do it, the nurses readily agree and without further encouragement, start putting in orders for synthetic hormones and painkillers. We are taught to bow to monitors and protocol instead of praying for wisdom and worshipping at God’s grand design.

Watching Zambian women birth their children has convinced me that I still want to deliver any other children we may have at the hospital (I’ll talk more about the down-side of birthing at a rural clinic in the future.) But I am forever thankful for the knowledge these women have given me. They have changed the dialogue and thus changed the birth story. The strength and faith that accompany the steady determination of these women challenges me still.    

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

reason 628364 why I love breastfeeding

Just when I started to panic that Bronwyn might still be nursing in elementary school and that I’ll never wear a turtle-neck ever again, I read the most beautiful description in Kay Arthur’s book on the names of God:

“The thought expressed in the name “Shaddai”… describes power, but it is the power, not of violence, but of all-bountifulness. “Shaddai” primarily means “Breasted,” being formed directly from the Hebrew word Shad, that is, “the breast,” or, more exactly, “a woman’s breast.”
“Shaddai,” one of the Divine titles, meaning The Pourer or Shedder forth, that is, of blessings, temporal and spiritual. I need hardly explain how this title, the “Breasted,” or the “Pourer-forth,” came to mean “Almighty.” Mothers at least will understand it. A babe is crying – restless. Nothing can quiet it. Yes: the breast can. A babe is pining – starving. No: the breast can give it fresh life, and nourish it. By her breast the mother has almost infinite power over the child…
This is “El Shaddai,” the “Pourer-fourth,” who pours Himself out for His creatures; who gives them His lifeblood; who “sheds forth His Spirit,” and says, “Come unto me and drink:” and “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it:” and who thus, by the sacrifice of Himself, gives Himself and His very nature to those who will receive Him… This is the truth of the name “El Shaddai.”

Wow. Even as I re-read the words for the fifteenth time, I’m still awestruck that my body and my gifting as mother-nourisher would serve as a most accurate example of the nature of God.

I’m truly humbled.

I've expressed before my love of the African nursing culture and frustration over the lack thereof in America. I understand it’s cultural and that’s just sort of “our deal.” Africans don’t bear their thighs. Americans don’t bear their boobs. But in making women nurse in seclusion, even communicating shame upon the act of nursing itself, is it possible that we are dishonoring the very name of God? With some of America’s attitudes towards the publicly nursing mother, are we profaning that which the Lord has called holy?

Just some (baby) food for thought. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

mothers day

Last mothers day was all about Mama Rawson. We were still living with my parents, and Bronwyn was about 6 weeks old. If I remember correctly, I still hurt. None of my bodily functions had normalized and so when I looked into the face of the child who had broken me, I didn’t expect a big mothers day hoo-pla-pla out of her. And at the same time, the more I considered my own state of physical distress, the more I felt awe and gratitude for the woman who had done all of this for me too. I think I told her half a dozen times that day, “I’m sorry I pret’ near killed you. Thank you for loving me anyway.” She always laughed. Clearly her pregnancy amnesia set in after 30 years, though I was sure mine never would.

Since last mothers day I have been telling Bronwyn fairly consistently that for Mother’s day 2013 I expected flowers and mylar balloons and pony rides. She also just laughed at me (why does no one take me seriously?). When I started spouting this line 11 months or so ago, I think there was a slightly serious undertone to my ravings. “Cuz ya know what? I DESERVE IT!” were the words behind the words. If I am really honest, the truth is that for a very long time, I felt like my role as a mother was to give and give and give without receiving and I kind of begrudged it all. I’m ashamed to say it, but it took me time to realize what the true gifts of motherhood are. I felt like flowers and balloons and ponies were the only things that would make up for the hurts in my body and the hurt in my heart as I embarked on a (somewhat) thankless journey, struggling to remember why we thought this “make a baby” thing was a good idea anyway.

When Bronwyn started smiling back at me and making faces and reaching her arms out and calling for “mom,” I started to get it. She may never thank me in the way that she should until she births a child of her own, but she says thank you to me every day in her own small way. But that’s not all. As even more time has passed, I’ve come to appreciate the truer gifts. Her smiles and expressions are adorable to say the least, but they are also temporary, fleeting, momentary. Instead, this child of mine gives me the best mothers day gifts every single day. Every time I fight the temptation to worry about her, or deny my own comfort to put her back to sleep at the breast for the gazillionth time that day, or humble myself as a glorified tush wiper or take pride in her character formation… I know that Christ is at work in me. I have never cried so much as I have this past year, though I know that these are the tears of breaking for the purpose of rebuilding. I see a strength of heart, conviction of faith and dedication to step in ways never would have been possible had I not been given the gift of motherhood.

And so when I ask Bronwyn if she has prepared that pony ride for me and she laughs back, I laugh too and without a hint of pretense or cynicism; for what her laugh really means is “oh silly mom, who needs ponies when I’ve given you humility and endurance and a servants heart?” And she’s right.  

THAT SAID… I still want to tell you about my mothers day.

I read in a book once that one way to honor your husband is to brag about him in public, so I’ll say out loud for the world to hear: JEREMY KICKED BUTT THIS MOTHER’S DAY!!!!!

Gift giving when you live in the bush is really, really hard. Possibilities are limited when there is no 1-800-flowers and Amazon does not deliver to Zambia. (I actually keep a running list of the things I want to buy Jeremy one day when we are in America but can’t right now.)

We’ve both learned to keep pretty low expectations in the gift giving department and be totally happy with home-made cards and really super enthusiastic wake up greetings. So it was absolutely wonderful to come out of the bedroom and find all this:

Hot chocolate made with warmed milk. (The effort that goes into this is more than you would think when there is no microwave. Therefore – very special.)

Card. A legit card. What!

And then the sweetest gift you ever did see. Would you just look at this shirt!

That white thing on the pocket, yeah that’s Bronwyn’s hand-print. Way to go little lady! I put it on and Bronwyn immediately got frustrated that she could access her nursing friends so I took it off. I told her she needs to wean tomorrow so I can start wearing that shirt all day every day. She laughed and then started clawing at me to get to her breakfast, reminding me again, of the gift that has been there all along. Thanks Jeremy for the kick butt hot choc, card and shirt, and thanks Bronwyn for the kick butt character development. I love you both. And thanks for making this mothers day ROCK. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

conquering the salaula

I went to get Bronwyn dressed the other day and found that her cute little belly was pushing the limits of her pants. 

As I rummaged through her other clothes I started to worry a little bit as everything was fitting a bit snug. When we left the states I brought with us clothes of size 3 months up to 24 months and figured that that would obviously get us through to our next trip home. (after all, I was convinced she was going to be a starving African baby and be half the size of her cousins… oh fear, why did you get the better of me!) 

At any rate, here we are, our perfect one year old busting out of 24mo clothing. I should have known better given her combination of genetic material. So with few articles of clothing left, I had little choice other than to dive in and conquer THE SALAULA. Salaula is the Bemba word for the used clothes piles at the market. Shop keepers buy clothes in large bales and then rip them open and decide how much each item is worth. They make different piles – the $3 pile, the $2 pile, the 50 cent pile, the 10 cent pile. It’s all rather intimidating and stressful, actually. There is no rhyme or reason, no categorization by size. And these are only found at the local market in Mansa. It’s so hard to explain these small town markets. You kind of have to see them (and smell them) for yourself. Restaurateurs are butchering chickens out front. Hoards of alcohol seeking men have nothing better to do than heckle the token white people. It’s often hot and always crowded with people waiting for a bus to somewhere else. And there always seems to be a dust storm blowing through.

When a new bale is opened, women swarm to see what treasures they might unearth. There’s always a guy with a megaphone standing above each pile, yelling to shoppers, “Two kwacha one item! Two kwacha one item!” Even long before Bronwyn came on the scene, I remember thinking to myself, “Poking around in those piles might be a kick, but I never want to have to find baby clothes in those piles.”

And yet my button popping, muffin top baby girl pushes me out of my comfort zone yet again. In I went. I took Jeremy for backup in case mamas got pushy or inebriated dudes put us in danger. I‘ve actually been salaula shopping a few times now and I seem to get smarter about it every time. Some lessons:

1. Don’t even try to get in on the newly opened bails. Not worth the insanity.

2. Don’t go any time after 9 am. It’s too hot and too busy and people pay far too much attention to the white folks.

3. Go to the salaula piles run by women. They are nicer and more helpful than the guys who try to use your baby as a marketing scheme for their own piles.

4. Have no expectations. Sometimes you’ll find awesome pieces, other times nothing but rags.

5. Pick up clothes that are bigger than what you need right now. It will alleviate some of the “find clothes or your baby goes naked” pressure later.

There is a lot of gross in the piles. I’m not sure who donates poop stained, hole laden, stretched, torn, faded, ratty clothes, but there sure are a lot of them. Fortunately, someone is dropping off hardly worn, sturdy fabric, cute-to-boot stuff too. Like this darling dress:

And these items I’m excited for her to grow into soon:

I wish ya’ll could come and “shop” with me one of these days… you may never look at baby carters the same way again. =)