Sunday, January 16, 2011

It Doesn't Get Better Than This

Pinch me.  I'm going to Rome.  Rome!  As in, the Eternal City... Audry Hepburn's holiday locale of choice... the Pope's hood... The cultural and spiritual center of the Church.  And I'm going with the two men who are most dear to me on earth to witness the beatification of one of the men who is most dear to me in all of Heaven - John Paul the Great.

Stop it. 

Seriously God, stop it.  But don't really.  It's just that, well, over the past year or so of life, He's granted each and every desire of my heart, from the seemingly piddling (a tropical honeymoon) to the profound (marriage to the man of my dreams followed swiftly by the birth of our firstborn son)... and I'm starting to get kinda nervous.  Because, you know, things are so good right now that it's almost, well, too good.

As I was glancing nervously over my shoulder this afternoon, wondering whether my own mortality was creeping up behind me ready to pounce, my wiser (and far holier) husband pointed out an alternate - and far less morbid - possibility. 

"Jenny, you know, we're living His plan now.  This is what happens when you surrender control."


I kinda prefer that to thinking I must be approaching imminent death and therefore God, like some kind of benevolent administrator at the Make a Wish foundation, is lining up all my chips so that I can, you know, cash out happy. 

But if my husband is right and if this life, this glorious, complicated, unpredictable and highly enjoyable life is really what His plans for us look like... then damn, I wish I'd vacated the driver's seat years ago.  But, c'est la vie.  Or should I say ... questa รจ la vita.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Liberated for Slavery: The Life of a Cosmo Girl

I have a confession: I used to read Cosmopolitan magazine.  Really, I did.  And while it made me feel kind of dirty and offended my sensibilities as a woman, a Christian, and a human being... there was something, I don't know, almost addictive about reading all about the lifestyle contained within its tawdry pages.  It was, for me at least, a precursor to reality television; something you know in your gut is just terrible for you, but something so fascinatingly awful you can't look away.  Kind of like "The Hills."  But I digress...

The thing is, when I look back on that dark time in my life - the college years - and I remember the girl who used to eagerly devour her roommate's monthly subscription, there's a stark, obvious juxtaposition of my own personal misery to the gospel of liberation Cosmo preached.  As I look back over my life, it was during the lowest times that I saw only one set of footprints... okay, kidding.  But seriously, during what were for me the least satisfying times of my life, the times where I was living exactly as I pleased, answerable to me, myself and I alone...and hating every minute of it, these were the times during which I found Cosmo relevant. 

These were the times, quite honestly, when I found Cosmo palatable at all.  They say misery loves company, and with 13 million copies of "the bible" ala Sex in the City being cranked out each month... it would seem to be true.  But do I go too far by imposing my own subjective experience onto other women who may legitimately enjoy the read? 

Well, have you read Cosmo lately?  Even glanced at a cover?  I would venture to say that no healthy, self-respecting woman in her right mind, no feminist for that matter (in the best use of the term) would be caught dead with a copy of Cosmo on the reading stand of her StairMaster.  Period.

In a recent column for First Things entitled "The Cosmopolitan Life," David Mills pithily dissects the strange need for "liberated" women to subject themselves to the peculiar rhetoric of slavery to male approval which is familiar to each issue of Cosmo and every other magazine of it's ilk.  Glamour.  Marie Claire.  Redbook.  They're all preaching the same, tired lines promising mind blowing sex, steamy workplace hookup hints and beauty tips for shrinking one's backside in order to better attract a man whose head is stuck up his.  Or so it would seem. 

For all its big, blustery talk about being the guidebook of the modern, sexually-liberated woman of the 21st century, it would seem that Cosmo is, in reality, little more than a bit of poorly-crafted propaganda, a misogynistic rag intended for instructing women on the niceties of pleasing and keeping a man.

"But, but..."  the editorial staff might sputter, "these women are freely choosing to engage in wild, spontaneous and uncommitted sex.  That's progress.

Is it really? 

It seems awfully backwards to me to have to fill each monthly issue with remedial instruction on the carefully-crafted art of emotional detachment and hookups.  For above all else, Cosmo preaches relations without relationship.  Sex without security.  Booty calls without boundaries.  In other words, unpaid prostitution. 

Think about least a hundred years ago or so, women who engaged in casual, meaningless recreational sex were reimbursed for their troubles.  And actually in the state of Nevada, I believe some still are...  But the point is this; if this is freedom, then perhaps we should ask to be put back in chains, because I've yet to see a truly liberated woman gazing back at me from the cover of Cosmo... or from behind its pages. 

Call it freedom, call it progress, call it feminism if you will... but kindly do so with your tongue placed firmly in your cheek. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow Day

The view outside:
The view inside:

In a supreme act of domesticity, I made the above-featured double cranberry biscotti from scratch last night... with the help of my amazing husband.  Come to think of it, we made the the little blue-eyed cutie in the second frame, too.  Happy snow day, Denver!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Joseph Kolbe's Birth Story... An Exercise in Lost Control

My little Joey bug is 3 months old now, and I've sufficiently recovered from the emotional trauma that is childbirth to be able to share his birthday tale.  Now I'm not into sharing super personal or gruesome details on the internets, so if you're looking for some seriously disturbing mental images, you might want to hop over here.  This birth story is PG-13 at worst, and even then only  for the occasional use of adult language rather than graphic violence.  So here we go...

I woke up for work on a Tuesday morning in late September with some light contractions, but nothing serious enough to merit staying home.  Our little one was due October 7th, and although I was absolutely huge and measuring almost a month ahead (a flipping month!), neither we nor our doctor thought I'd go any earlier than our due date.  We'd had a false alarm over the previous weekend, which was shocking as we were the most prepared and studied first time parents in the history of human reproductive history.  Seriously.  You know, the parents who read everything, take all the classes and cannot possibly encounter anything for which they are not supremely prepared.  Right.  So as we shamefacedly drove home from the hospital that Sunday evening, I vowed that we would not return until I was 6 centimeters dilated and ready to transition.  And then, when we did return, I would be wearing my own fabulous little black "delivery dress", repeating calming passages from Proverbs to myself during the peak of each contraction, and bearing freshly baked cookies to deliver to the nursing staff, along with individual copies of our meticulously detailed, bullet riddled birth plan.

Convinced that I was not going to make my targeted date of September 30th as my final day in the office, my two favorite coworkers took me out for lunch and pedicures at noon, insisting that if we didn't go now, I wouldn't be around to go at all.  How true that would prove to be.

So there I sat, blissfully relaxing in a massage chair in a post-pedicure euphoria, a Smashburger extra-spicy-jalapeno laden baja cobb nothing but a delicious and heartburn-producing memory, when suddenly I had to get to the restroom.  I mean, my toes were not even dry yet, but I was utterly convinced that I needed to get up at that very second and book it to the ladies room at the back of the salon.  And so, shooting out of my chair with greater speed and accuracy than my pedicurist believed possible so late in the gestational game, I lumbered across the salon in my temporary foam flip flops, waddling urgently (but gingerly, mindful of my freshly painted toesies).

Arriving just in time, I heaved a sigh of relief at the minor victory of not wetting the pedicure chair.  5 minutes later, still reveling in that "just in time" feeling, it dawned on me that although I had been drinking gallons upon gallons of water these days, this was probably a different kind of water loss.  Just then my delightful coworker Jenny knocked on the door and timidly inquired whether I was in labor or not.

"Ummm... actually... I think maybe?" I replied uncertainly.  Muffled squeals and scuffling from outside the door and then...silence.


I'd been abandoned in the Snappy Nails restroom, and I was going to have to deliver my own baby using only a can of industrial air freshener and a commercial pack of 1 ply toilet paper.  Not a minute went by, however, before my second coworker, Brigette, a seasoned veteran of motherhood who was herself with child, though far less obviously, appeared outside the door, calling to me in her heavily accented southern drawl, 

" doin oh-kay?"

Opening the door, I assured her that, other than the massive water loss, I was feeling just fine... too fine, in fact, to be in labor.  After all, I knew that nobodies water actually broke in public.  That only happened to 1 in 10 women, or in the movies.  And I was going to have a remarkably calm, controlled and textbook childbirth experience.

Undeterred, Brigette bundled me in paper towels and grocery bags (this was glamorous, people) and hustled me to the front door of the salon where Jenny met us, grinning, holding a bag of industrial strength pads the likes of which had not been seen since middle school health class.

"I didn't know what else to do so I ran to the grocery store next door and, well, here!"

Still utterly unconvinced of the actuality of my predicament, I allowed myself to be bundled into the car and driven the 2 blocks back to our office parking lot, where we sat for no less than 20 minutes arguing about what to do next.  It went something like this:

Me: "I'm fine, I can drive home"
Them: "No, you're in labor, you cannot drive."
Me: "But it doesn't hurt."
Them: "Jennifer...we're calling your husband."
Me: (whining) "But I don't wanna leave a car heeeeere."
Them: "Jennifer, we're driving you home."

At this point I probably should have accepted defeat.  I mean, I was in no shape to go back to my desk at the rate I was leaking water (sorry, but no other word will do), and they were using my full name and threatening to call my husband.  These girls meant business

So we headed home, me in the passenger seat and Brigette driving my car, Jenny caravaning behind us in her ride, and about 45 minutes into the drive (did I mention I had a delightful daily commute?), I started experiencing serious pain.  I called my poor husband who, at this point, had probably fielded half a dozen phone calls from me assuring him I'm "fine" and to "just stay at work until I say so".

"Babe, come home now.  Seriously, NOW." 

He did.

Upon arriving, he found me in our bathroom, candles lit and dripping wax all over the tile, trying in vain to practice some of the relaxation techniques we'd mastered.  Jenny and Brigette were pacing anxiously in the living room, no doubt nervous about the way I'd gone from zero to 60 in a matter of minutes.  Though I was still muttering about the birth ball, the rolling pin and the heating pad we'd carefully laid out for use during my long, home-bound labor, we ran out the front door, obnoxiously huge suitcase in tow, and booked it to the hospital for the second time that week. 

One bonus from our previous visit was that all the intake paperwork was done, and upon arrival I was plopped into a wheel chair and wheeled directly to a labor and delivery room.

Despite my plaintive panting cries of protest that I "was not sick" and "could definitely walk by myself" (I was a Bradley-trained mother, after all) I was nonetheless delivered to our richly-apportioned LDR suite on wheels, and then quite suddenly, Dave and I were alone.

I made a beeline for the bathroom of our palatial suite and the giant, sunken bathtub I'd been envisioning throughout my entire pregnancy.  5 minutes of tortured soaking by candlelight quickly disabused me of the notion of a peaceful water birth, however, and I allowed myself to be led back to the dreaded hospital bed where I'd sworn I'd spend absolutely no time at all.  At this point our doula, the one we had been planning on interviewing that very evening, called from Panera to inquire as to our whereabouts.  20 minutes later she met us at the hospital, where we hired her on the spot.  Her presence proved to be one of the greatest blessings of our labor, which was so far nothing like we'd anticipated.

By 10 pm that night we were sure I was in transition.  My contractions had been 2 minutes apart since the car ride to the hospital, and they were increasing in intensity.  A truly terrible phenomenon which I would not wish upon my worst enemy, they were double peaked contractions, meaning each brought two high points of intensity rather than one, leaving virtually no time for recovery between them.  In addition, I was experiencing back labor and was honestly convinced that someone was dragging a shovel down the inside of my spine, raking each vertebrae with its jagged metal edge.   (We'd later discovery that baby was posterior, hence the crazy back pain)  I reluctantly consented to an exam so that the nurse could check my progress, warning her that she had exactly 30 seconds before I would be writhing in pain and utterly uncooperative.  Expecting to be told that we were in transition and minutes away from pushing, I asked whether our doctor had been called yet.

"Well, you're somewhere between a four and a five, so it will probably be a few more hours."  She cheerfully informed us as another contraction slammed though my body.

All thoughts of natural childbirth exited my mind at that point as I yowled our "code word" for epidural use.  I had made my husband promise that no matter how badly I wanted one, no matter how convincingly I pleaded with him or with the staff, I was not to be given an epidural.  I wanted to do this on my own.  But just in case things didn't go as we'd planned, we'd settled upon a phrase which, if uttered, meant, basically, "give me drugs NOW."

About 12 minutes after I started yelling "Portiuncula" (we are seriously dorky Catholics), the anesthesiologist of my dreams arrived and knocked me into 1999.  He was handsome, efficient, and utterly in agreement with me that the music of Nora Jones was "terribly annoying" and that pumpkin spice lattes were, indeed, the best part of fall.  Nodding and smiling as he adjusted my crack drip, he slipped from my room as I slipped into drugged relaxation, but not before calling my father to tell him that I was "wasted and listening to Dave Matthews" and that it was "just like college all over again." Ahem.

Not my finest moments, those, but 10 hours later when I was still laboring, I was thanking God in heaven for modern medicine, and I was doing so often.  And audibly.

Meanwhile, Dave, Jessica the doula and I spent the remainder of the night watching the Hills and listening to Taylor Swift on iTunes, because deep down in my heart of hearts, I am a 15 year old girl.  Especially when I am under the influence.

I was hardly having the stoic, empowered experience I'd been envisioning.  The experience I'd carefully crafted and prepared for.  All of my dreams of a natural, uneventful labor had been destroyed.  But in their place, God was doing something incredible in my heart ... and through my body.  At 9:45 am on Wednesday, September 22nd after 19 hours of labor and nearly 5 hours of pushing, our wonderful doctor gave one final good hard tug, slipped the umbilical cord from around our little one's neck and placed a writhing, cone-headed little blue alien on my chest as the attending nurse asked Dave, "who is it, Dad?"

Dave looked and, choked with emotion, said to me, "It's our's Joseph."

My heart exploded.  Unimaginable joy flooded through me as I looked at our son, seeing him, knowing him after all these months of unknowing.

"It's you," I whispered to him, choking back sobs, "it's been you all along."

And boy oh boy, was he worth it.  Every contraction, every push, every drip of the IV, every sleepless night, every pound gained...and every alteration to my plans, to my preferences...none of it mattered in the end, it turned out.

All that mattered was that our child was here, that Dave and I had been allowed into this mysterious and sacred fellowship of creation with God Himself, and that Joseph now existed because we had cooperated with Him.  And it was so good.

And the epidural?  Oh yes, that was very good.

I love you, Joseph Kolbe...and I couldn't have imagined a better entrance for you myself.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Waking Up Sober

Dare I hope that society is coming to a gradual, grudging awareness of the realities and risks of contraception from at least a biological perspective?  Just this morning I stumbled across not one but two fantastically insightful and honest pieces from the secular media concerning the ironies and intricacies of our collective contraceptive mentality which has spawned an industry...and left an entire generation of women to live lives of fabulous freedom, at least until they marry in their thirties and discover that pesky 'problem' of monthly ovulation which they've been so long suppressing is no longer an issue...and pregnancy is no longer a possibility.  Cue the intro for the infertility industry to pick up where it left off with the Pill.  As this brilliant piece from New York Magazine points out, "The Pill didn’t create the field of infertility medicine, but it turned it into an enormous industry."


Finally, in this piece by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat  I found an even more honest admission of the odd contradiction of a society which is simultaneously so hostile to - and so desperate for - the 'product' of fertility: the unborn.  The last line pretty much says it all, "This is the paradox of America’s unborn. No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed."