Which H Is Appropriate?

I had a migraine yesterday. I realized in the afternoon that I had been livid for the previous seventy-two hours creating the perfect setting for my body to revolt against my constant horrified scanning of Twitter and Facebook.

Livid is not strong enough a word. I wish there were a stronger word. Perhaps fuming or furious, incensed or outraged. I kept waiting for my anger to dwindle, and I kept learning more things that continued to stoke the flames of my rage.

Like I said, my body shut down. I cannot maintain that level of fury for that long.

I am still angry. But I have gone back to the baseline anger that has accompanied me since November 8, 2016 when I realized that the balance had not shifted as far as I had imagined, and that hate would continue to beat out hope. We are not the country I wish we were.

Demons continue to haunt us and tell us that we are only good enough if we can point to a group of people that is not as good as we are.

I hate being part of a “We” especially when the “Them” is unspoken. It is far too easy to label people when the labels are assumed.

So I’ll name it.

I am a white, millennial, Christian, straight, cis-gendered, married, southern woman living in rural North Carolina. (I’m also a mother of one, expecting a second, and currently my husband is the only one who earns money and works outside the home.) I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket, I’ve never had a negative encounter with the police, I’ve earned a master’s degree from a prestigious university, and my family holds no debt. My family has been in the United States for over five generations. Both of my parents earned master’s degrees. I have multiple medical doctors in my family, at least two family members own their own business, and most of my family owns their own home.

I benefit from each and every one of these privileges. (The only thing I’d need to be more privileged is to be a man… and I wasn’t born that way; trans men don’t have the same kind of privilege.)

I benefit from a system where my faith and skin color mean that I am part of the assumed “Norm” of the country. I benefit from a racist system of power.

Hundreds of people have written far more brilliantly about racism than I will ever be able to do, but it is impossible to read everything in the world. I am going to exceedingly oversimplify the issue here, but there are two basic forms of racism: personal and systemic.

Personal racism means that as a white person it is when I have a conversation with a black or brown person and say or think that they are lesser than me because of our different skin color. It is far too easy for me to deny this kind of racism. Look, I don’t do this, I’m not a racist. This can also be called prejudice: a judgement based on a difference between a self-identified people group and one that is different than the self.

Systemic racism is harder to define because it is so pervasive. It involves housing segregation, disparity in sentencing for crimes and prison populations, education access, home ownership discrepancy, poverty and unemployment levels, and a thousand other injustices.

They manifest in myriad ways, but these are the two forms.

It is because of systemic racism that I am a racist. I hold more power because I have white skin. I can’t just say that I don’t have this power. I do.

Racism directly refers to the group or person who holds the power. Those who do not hold the power are not racist. Black people are not racist. They don’t hold the power in this country. They may be prejudiced against others, but they are not racist.

So, why should I be angry? I benefit from the way that the country distributes power. True.

But I was baptized into the Church and I vowed: to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of my sin; to accept the freedom and power God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves; and to confess Jesus Christ as my Savior, put my whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as my Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Racism is the original sin of our nation and I have to fight it or risk betraying everything I promise in my baptismal vows.

And then I started hearing the news on Saturday. I saw that there were a group of White Supremacists flying Nazi flags and carrying tiki torches and confederate flags and shouting that they needed their land back. I heard that a domestic terrorist drove his car into a crowd of people who were protesting the gathering of White Supremacists and killed a woman.

And my heart broke again. And then I got mad.

And on Sunday I was driving to a vigil honoring her life and reclaiming the power of light in the darkness and as I drive to get on the interstate at my exit I see a newly erected flag pole with a brand new flag flying from it. I’m fairly certain it was erected this past weekend. It was a confederate flag.

img_5210It’s still there.

And I know, I live in the rural south, and I know that there are a lot of people who want to claim that flying the confederate flag is about the southern heritage and not about racism or wishing white people could still own black people as enslaved persons and claim their property. And I know that a lot of people who want to fly the confederate flag say that the civil war was fought over economic freedom and state’s rights, not slavery. Oh, and there were racists in the north, too.

But the confederate flag is a symbol that the KKK reclaimed during the Jim Crow era, after the experiment of  reconstruction had failed, and the confederate flag is a powerful symbol. Yes, it may be a symbol of heritage, but it is a symbol of our heritage of hatred. Shane Claiborne wrote eloquently about his struggle with the flag two years ago for Red Letter Christians.

The confederate flag belongs in a museum, with an explanation that it was the banner flag of the southern states in the Civil War, when good men died on both sides, but after the north won, it was no longer legal to count persons as property.

(And yes, I am aware that the history is muddy, and that some places that were not yet part of the United States of America were slow to catch up with justice.)

By all means, we should keep the flag and with it the confederate statues that were erected during the Jim Crow era reminding every single black person that they were still “not as good” as any of the white people around them. But it all belongs in a museum of hatred.

We should not forget our history. But we should never celebrate the hatred of our past. We must confess it and work to remedy the harm that our systemic hatred continues to inflict on our neighbors.

Part of the remedy work is confessing our own blind spots and privilege.

Part of the remedy work is listening to people who don’t look like us.

Part of the remedy work is me listening to you if you disagree with me. (Honestly, call me and we’ll talk.)

Part of the remedy work is learning about the Black Lives Matter movement and why it is necessary. (And why All Lives Matter twists the issue away from the fact that black bodies are killed at an alarming rate by law enforcement with little to no redress whatsoever.)

Part of the remedy work is educating yourself and looking to multiple sources, not always ones that agree with you.

Part of the remedy work is showing up.

Part of the remedy work is humility.

Part of my remedy work is knowing when I need to be angry and learning when I need to take a break before I get a migraine.

Part of my remedy work is taking time to show my daughter what love means. And when she is older, I will teach her that she holds privilege simply because of the color of her skin, but that she should do everything in her power to help me tear down that system of privilege.

It is not simple work. It is not easy work. It is necessary work.


Traveling Companions

I like to think of myself as a light packer. I don’t believe that this is actually true, since I also like to always be prepared for anything that might happen.

Is there a drought? I probably need my rain jacket just in case.

Is there a heat wave? I need an extra sweater.

Will there be enough pillows? No, definitely not the right ones, I should bring my own.

And you can’t forget your duct tape and dental floss. You know. Just in case.

But, will I be gone for two weeks? I should be able to carry everything just by myself.

Unless, I’m going by car. Then, a week spent at the lake can fill up my trunk. Granted, I am including everything I need, plus everything my husband needs, plus everything my daughter needs, plus a stroller. And food. And games and toys. And five books. Make that twenty.

I’ve got to be prepared.

But I want to pack light. I don’t want to bring anything extraneous. I pride myself on using all the clothes that I have packed for an excursion. Or at least only have one shirt left over that I didn’t get around to wearing. You never know when dinner will fall in your lap when you have a two year old.

Before I was married, I was able to pack for a weekend in my Shanzu bag the size of a medium purse. I could fit everything in there. Even a towel. (Because if you have a towel, then folks know you are prepared.)

Now that I plan for more than just myself, I seem to carry more with me.

This is probably about more than packing.

Now, when we travel, we go together. It means that when we travel, we go in the car, and we venture to places that a two year old can explore.

I like to travel light and fly far and spend all day out exploring.

But these days I travel with extra snacks and clothes and toys and books and music. And we make sure that there is always a space in the day for a lengthy nap.

Truly, though, it’s not so much where I go than who I get to go with.

Over the past two years, I have not spent a night away from my daughter. She’s gone everywhere I have gone. I’ve seen the world through her eyes. At her pace. We wander and explore and take breaks and stop to examine the cracks in the sidewalk. We play in fountains. We watch the birds. We crash in the waves. We hear roller-coasters roar. We share snacks.

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Probably the first night I will spend away from my daughter will be the night I am in labor with my second-born child. It will be a different kind of adventure than all the ones that I have gone on for the past two years, but one that I hope will be familiar, since I went through a similar journey during my first labor with my daughter.

I will take too much with me. The drive will be both longer and shorter than I remember, probably counted in contractions rather than minutes or miles. Depending on how fast labor intensifies, I don’t even know who all of my traveling companions will be.

But the most important thing about traveling is being on the same page with your companions. One of the first things I did with my husband when we began our relationship is travel with him, because I knew that I needed to know that we could travel together, in agreement with each other. We’ve learned each other’s idiosyncrasies, and now we are more and more on the same page when we travel.

Adding a child to our travel plans changed we way we didn’t things, but we kept communicating and learning from each other. Soon we will add yet another child, and so our rhythm will change again. We will have to remember that we don’t know everything we think we know.

Choosing to travel with companions is humbling. You can’t always have your way. But if you have the right companions, you can have a much better time than if you were alone. You will end up with a memory that changes you both, forever.

Play With Me

Watching my daughter play has reminded me of some of my favorite toys as a child. Before seeing her pull some of them out, I’m not sure I could have told you what they were, but now, after she has loved on them in the same way that I must have, I remember how much fun I had with them.

There is one toy set that I especially remember and that she is having continual fun with each day: the Sesame Street neighborhood playhouse. Burt, Ernie, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird have their little beds and nest, breakfast table and chairs, couch, slide, see-saw, and car to carry their groceries from Mr. Hooper’s store. Oscar the Grouch is in his trashcan outside. It is thirty years old. My daughter loves it. Not because it is Sesame street, but because it is an entry for her to pretend that another world exists.

She doesn’t know these characters, so she has made them her own. She cares for them. They share her crackers, they nurse when they are thirsty, they have apple and blueberry and cherry snacks whenever they can get a bite. They drive around in their little car from the Hearth Plateau to the cliffs of Mount Couch and through the pass to the Caverns of the dining room table.

I love play, because it allows people to imagine another world, one where the rules don’t always apply, where you can try things out to see how they work without being judged for not fitting in. My daughter reminds me that I need to keep playing, to keep imagining a world where things are not always what they seem. Play reminds us that there are more ways to do something than the way that everyone around us is doing it.

The world is a much bigger place when you can play in it, when a box can be stacked, or become a drum, or be a place for a baby to rest, or a hiding place, or a kitchen cabinet. We live in a fascinating place, we just miss it too often, because we expect to see what we already know. What if we looked at the world like a place to play, where we expect to be surprised by what is in store for us?

Two Years Ago Today

This story begins on the fifth and continues into the morning of the sixth when we met our daughter for the first time. I’m so grateful that I had the option to deliver my daughter at Natural Beginnings Birth Center in Statesville, North Carolina. They were profoundly supportive in helping me have a natural, intervention free birth. I look forward to working with them through my current pregnancy and delivering with them in January. 

Warning: medically accurate descriptions. 

I woke up at six am on Sunday morning, July 5, to contractions that were strong enough to make me notice them but not strong enough for me to think they were anything other than the practice contractions that had been occurring over the past month. I went to center and then got a shower and decided that I wanted to go to church. A friend of ours lives down the road and pastors a church in the area, so John, Beth, and I went to worship with his community.

In the midst of worship the contractions continued.

At home for lunch, we ate and decided to head out for the afternoon to do some more shopping. I called Margo, my doula, to let her know that I was having regular contractions, but that they didn’t hurt. She encouraged me to ignore them, and to rest, if I could. If I wanted I could keep track of how many I was having per hour and then just calculate back how often I was having them.

After lunch, I went down for a nap, which was the last true rest I got that day.

We went out and went shopping for furniture to finish out our house. After shopping at GoodWill and BigLots, including going from Mooresville to Statesville to be able to have the furniture delivered, we headed home with a new set up for our living space. Nesting indeed.

My contractions continued to grow stronger, and more frequent, but I was still unsure if I was in labor, or just having another practice day. But I wanted to call our parents, just in case labor had begun…

Beth fixed us fajitas for dinner, which were delicious. A few times during dinner, I had to stop eating so that I could breathe through a contraction. At least once I got out of my chair to kneel on the floor. We determined that we needed to call the midwife on call, Margo, and our family. Mom and Dad headed our way and Margo came to help me cope with the strengthening contractions. Nicole, the midwife on call, encouraged me to get in the bath to see if the contractions would space out any when I got in the water. We left the Womens world cup playing.

They slowed, a little, but not much. Margo came and encouraged me to go rest and while I did lay down, I didn’t sleep any, since the contractions continued to get stronger.

I threw up at some point around here, I am not sure exactly when.

I came back into the living room, and we started watching Twister. I figured that a movie would keep me distracted while I coped with more and more pain. Every seven minutes or so I would move from my position on the futon to my yoga mat on the floor, resting my head on my exercise ball, while Margo applied counter pressure to my back in the midst of the pain. I started feeling nauseated at each contraction, and thought I might throw up, Beth went to go get a big pot to sit by me on the floor, just in case. Margo massaged my feet while I rested and watched the movie.

While we watched the movie, Beth and John (mostly Beth) constructed the bench we had just purchased from GoodWill for the end of our bed. It was good to have folks distracted around me, so that I could also be distracted from a lengthly process that had only just begun.

Mom and Dad arrived shortly after the movie ended, and I called Nicole again, letting her know that my contractions continued to get stronger. By this point, the only thing that helped me cope with them was not only pressure at my lower back, but also counter pressure on my hips. This meant that two people were responding to me each time I said: help.

(Mom made cookies as she arrived, and they got ready to come to the birth center with us.)

We called the midwife and she said to try the tub again. I got back in the tub to see if the pain would lessen or slow down, but even in the tub I needed the pressure on my lower back to cope. I threw up again, and Margo encouraged me to call the midwife to let her know that things were progressing.

By two in the morning, I was ready to go to the Birth Center. We knew that I needed to be dilated at least 5 or 6 to be admitted, but I really didn’t want to get much worse before making that car ride. Beth rode in the back of the Prius with me, applying pressure to my back while I attempted counter pressure to my hips with a kikoi, while John took the curves of the road as quickly and as smoothly as he could. Margo and Mom and Dad followed in separate cars.

When we arrived at the Birth Center shortly before 3 in the morning, Nicole checked me, and let me know I was at 5 centimeters. She admitted me, though they would have preferred to wait until 6. John, Beth, Margo, and I took a walk around the parking lot, stopping every five minutes or so for me to rest into John, while Margo and Beth applied pressure at each contraction. This was pain that I was standing on my tip-toes trying to avoid. I was nauseated again at each pressure rush.

We went back to the labor room, and Margo suggested that I lay down, trying to relive some pain and get some final moment of rest. This position, however, made the pain so bad that I threw up for the third time.

The Baby’s heart rate was checked and she was doing well, so I got in the shower to try to get some heat and water on me before I got in the tub. The shower worked a little, John got in his suit and helped apply pressure when I contracted, but I asked them to go ahead and fill the birth tub so that I could get in.

The water felt really good. Being supported by the weight of the water helped. The pain was still there, but I could cope. I had to be reminded constantly to keep my face loose and the tones of my voice low at each contraction.

At some point after getting into the pool my water broke all in a rush, and I pushed for the first time. I did it instinctually, I didn’t even really register that I had done it until Margo asked me: Kathy, are you pushing? Yes. I guess I am.

They got me out of the pool so they could check me; I was at 9 centimeters. I was allowed to start pushing, following my body’s natural urges. I think this was around 5 in the morning. I asked how much more they were going to hurt, and whether I had gone through transition yet. I knew I could take more, but not much more at all, and I wanted to know what my limit would be.

I kept changing positions in the pool, and finally came to a squat, where I was bent over the edge of the pool, gripping Beth and Margo’s hands, getting a drink of water between each contraction. I pushed.

Around 6 or so, I was told I could reach down and feel the baby’s head. Indeed, just inside was the dear crown of my child. I pushed.

At some point Tracie, the midwife who was working with me, said that I had only two or three more to go. This did prove to be the case, unfortunately, she meant pushes and it turned out to be hours.

At around 6:30 Tracie said that if I wasn’t going to give birth in the next few minutes, that we would need to get out of the pool so she could help me. I asked what help entailed, and she said, she would be able to coach me better if we were on the bed.

At 6:45 or so I got out, already shaky, and we moved to the bed. And that’s when the pain changed.

I didn’t feel it in my back any more. I didn’t feel nauseated any more. I could feel Rebekah pressing at me, trying to do more than crown. She would crown for the next three hours.

I got on the bed and we began to push. I held my legs, and pushed. I held on to John and Beth, and pushed. I felt my mother and the nurse, Jennifer, hold my feet, and pushed.

Tracie began to run her fingers along my perineum at the break of each contraction, and it hurt deeply, I wanted to leave the pain. She was massaging me, applying a quart of olive oil over the next three hours, trying to help Rebekah slip out.

I pushed. I asked if I could get on my hands and knees, and we tried that, and I pushed. I couldn’t do it as strongly, so we pushed again from my back. I laid on my side, with my legs in full squat, and I pushed.

I could only get three real pushes in with each contraction. At each contraction, Rebekah moved the tiniest amount. But it was not enough.

I had a hard time catching my breath. I was so very hot. (I learned later that everyone else was very cold, the room was cold, I was just doing so much work.) I got a drink of water after each contraction. I realized, at some point, that no one had said for a very long time that I needed to loosen my face or speak in low tones. Beth actually told me: say it, just say it. I couldn’t even get in a curse word in the midst of the pain.

I kept myself from biting John but I realized the next day that I had bitten my lips to smithereens.

Mom prayed that I would use my strength to complete this task that I had begun.

I was tired. I was in pain. I was working. I was still working so hard and I knew that she was so very close.

They kept monitoring Rebekah’s heart rate and she continued to be good, even though she had been in the crowning position for such a long time.

Tracie said that if I didn’t push her out on my own in the next two to three contractions, she would have to preform an episiotomy. She said that she hadn’t done one before.

I went through one contraction. So close. So very close. Not there yet.

I breathed deep. I waited. I felt the contraction come on, and took a deep breath and pushed. I breathed and pushed again.

They said I was almost there. I took one more breath before the contraction ended, and pushed for all I had for the final time.

Rebekah came. Oh, praise the Lord, once she came, she came all at once. They rubbed her body and placed her on me. She was perfect. It was 9:43 in the morning on Monday, July 6, her due date.

Mom cut the cord after it stopped beating and I don’t even really remember the placenta coming out.

I could barely move. They pulled the sheets under me to the head of the bed so that I could sit up. I was so very tired.

I held our new daughter. She is so very strong.

I was in pain the next day over my entire body. My throat felt like it had been strangled. I was sore from my shoulders, head, hips, thighs, and down to the arches of my feet.

It was all worth it. It was worth it to labor while fully present, even with all of the pain. It was worth it to have to go through three hours of her crowning to be able to not be cut. It was wonderful that I was in a place where I felt supported, surrounded by folks that were focused on me and my ability to be able to do this work, this labor, on my own, following my natural instincts.

Four days later I’m still sore. I’m still tired. But I have the most amazing gift in my daughter, resting in my arms. I am sure that we will have many more adventures together.

Hearts Formed and Unformed

Trigger warning: Pregnancy loss

Three years ago, today, John and I lost our first child to miscarriage.

Nothing prepares you for this kind of loss. It unravels you. After the fact, we learned that at least a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage, but no one talks about it, so no one knows. I didn’t tell more people outside of immediate family than I could count on one hand for over a year.

It was the continual questions of, “Is this your first?” when I was pregnant with R that hurt the most. How are you supposed to respond? Do you throw metaphorical cold water over the conversation by saying, no, but there’s not a living kid? Do you grin and grind your teeth?

I was pregnant two Mothers Days in a row but only had one kid on the way.

I had a meeting to go to that night, and I was not sure what was going on, and so I went to the meeting and the only thing I could think about the whole time is, “I think I’m losing my baby.”

The next day, I had a transvaginal ultrasound while the technician spent the entire time speechless. And then I went into the exam room to wait for the doctor and she came in and said, “so you know what’s going on,” and no one had told me, and she went into an explanation of what Down’s Syndrome is… No. I needed someone to tell me I had miscarried, to just tell me and let me sit with it for a little while.

I don’t think it was Down’s. Something just didn’t stitch right. Her heart could not beat. And we lost our child.

I named her Sarah Grace. I’m still learning grace through this experience.

Don’t tell me it was God’s plan. Don’t tell me I should just be grateful for my Rainbow baby. I know this can be uncomfortable, but sometimes you simply need to sit with someone in their grief whether you have experienced the same thing or not, and hold the space of their grief.

The first trimester of my second pregnancy I don’t think I really ever relaxed. I couldn’t write the cheery letter to my firstborn like the one I wrote in the week I knew I was pregnant with Sarah Grace. I didn’t dare to dream until I heard her heartbeat the first time.

My parents, my husband, and I stood around a stand of daffodils in our yard on the first anniversary of losing her and prayed a liturgy for pregnancy loss together. Sometimes other’s words help.

I’m healing, still. I encounter the grief when I think of her, when I remember the experience, when I hear of other women who have experienced the same kind of loss. It’s easier to deal with, to examine, to turn over in my head and consider how I’ve changed because of losing her.

Gradually, my heart mends. Eery so often I’ll find a stitch that slipped and needs to be worked back into the fabric of my heart. The patch remains, but I become more whole.

Life is a very strange thing. It’s tenuous. So many things have to come together in the right way to create a life. But those around us can seem so strong sometimes that we forget the frailty under the surface. We forget the careful knitting that was necessary to form our inward parts and bring us into being.

I pray for hearts formed and unformed.

I pray for hearts broken and healing

I pray for hearts joyful and grieving.

I pray for hearts questioning and certain.

I pray for your heart and for mine.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

This prayer by Rev. Karen Westerfield Tucker from “A Service of Hope After Loss of Pregnancy” found in The United Methodist Book of Worship (p624) helped me heal. I offer it to you if your heart needs healing.

Lord, we do not understand why this life, which we had hoped to bring into this world, is now gone from us. We know only that where there was sweet expectation, now there is bitter disappointment; where there were hope and excitement, there is a sense of failure and loss. We have seen how fragile life is, and nothing can replace this life, this child, whom we have loved before seeing, before feeling it stirring in the womb, even before it was conceived. In our pain and confusion we look to you, Lord, in whom no life is without meaning, however small or brief. Let not our limited understanding confine our faith. Draw us closer to you and closer to one another. Lay our broken hearts open in faith to you and in ever greater compassion to one another. So raise us from death to life; we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.