Remembering Little Lentil

Yesterday, October 27th, Little Lentil would have been one year old. All the writing, all the painting... everything I've done has been for LL, everything has been for me. In honoring LL and myself and all my feelings of loss, grief, joy, courage and the full spectrum of emotion and living, I'm re-posting one of my first writings about my radical miscarriage, Dream Journal.

Dream Journal

4/1/14 Tues 3:53 pm

I wake up in our bed, weak, so weak. It’s warm in the room. Our curtains are closed but the afternoon sun heats and still gets in. I feel warm and safe and in the heat of our bedroom, the air is full, a wholeness.

I wake up and remember my dreams. In them I tell my family and friends that the baby died. They look like the faces on the Look Kin side, my father’s side, but they are everyone. I’m in their house - Auntie Yuk Moy’s? - with people friendly, happy but some have questions. And some are so frustrated because they didn’t get the email - What’s going on?! Tell me!? So I tell them. We’re looked at with awe and horror.

I bolt awake and realize I forgot to cancel with my Spanish teacher.

I go to the bathroom for peeing and pooping and The Blood. I write this to Billy: Thank you Billy. We’ve been sleeping and I dreamt of telling everyone what happened. Even in my dreams the truth is present. Thank you for thinking of us on this strange and beautiful and horrible day. Much love to you and Savi and Lena - wow, she lights up our hearts. xoxox

Savi called. Barbi left a voice message. I want to call them but I don’t. I don’t feel like talking to anyone right now. I spoke with Rita but she doesn’t understand though she’s trying. Everyone is sharing their love with us the best way they know how. Sometimes, though, it’s more for them than it is for us. Even when we shared our joy of discovery of this baby, it was wonderful love and response but also a reflection of that person and their feelings and who they are.

I know I’m in shock. At this I break down, falling down a crumbled person. And then I’m calm and philosophical. I can’t help it. And I feel very protective of D. This is hitting him very hard - as excited as he was when he found out - and the the opposite. Deep sorrow. I feel it too. I’ve never seen him cry before. He cried and cried. We’re confused. We’re sad. I’m disappointed. You try to anticipate what you’re going to feel - you can try to be prepared for some things but not for everything. That’s not the point. We have no control. We are powerless, but we are also powerful. I found a new person inside of me as this little person was growing, and she was powerful, almost limitless mama/earth/crab powerful. And creative, so creative. A person who does have a green thumb, who loves life and helping things to grow. And making food - baking banana bread (albeit from a Trader Joe’s box but so delicious) and mashed potatoes for the first time. Hungry + fearless + road-rage-filled on her bike, barking at everyone and that felt good. Being honest + open in a way I haven’t been before. Loving my body. She loved her body. Growing out the hairs, reclaiming her hairstyle. Loving this body: curves + curves + belly + boobs + thighs + beautiful. Trusting the inner wise self - she is there, she is alive, she is here. Accepting things. Becoming more patient. Communicating even clearer than before.

I’ve thought a lot about this quote I read on a doula’s website + I think of it now: “Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers - strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.” - Barbara Katz Rothman

Even though the baby is gone, a tiny little thing that looked like a miniature person, I am still here. This mother is here and she is strong. She is sad and she is strong. Strength is knowing that crying and sharing our sad emotions is ok. I won’t try to “heal” soon. What happens is what happens. As I have throughout this pregnancy, I will listen to my heart, as I am right now, and listen to my inner wise self because she is always there inside of me and she is me. I will know what to do and how to feel and it’s all ok. It’s all ok. It’s all ok.

So, we're in a short documentary...

October 22, 2015: When Vee was 4 weeks and 5 days old, we were featured in a short 7 minute documentary along with five other mamas and their babies. Today, it was posted to the internet. The NY Daily News reviewed it and Mashable quotes me and, um, I feel a little nervous. 

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In mid August, I received a Facebook message from a friend of a friend (my high school best friend's ex boyfriend who I've actually never met in real life). His friend, Ashley, was casting a commercial celebrating new motherhood and the producer later wrote that they were looking for “strong, opinionated new mothers.” Well, that’s me! I was a little hesitant to get involved (I don’t support big box stores and the whole culture of consumerism) and yet agreed to do this pretty quickly. Yes, I am a new parent and won’t turn down some extra cash! Also, can’t I be in a commercial/short film and represent the radical side of parenthood, from my experience? I got in touch and after one phone interview at 10:30pm, several written applications and waivers, two Skype interviews (with both me and D, separately) and a personal visit at 7am from the director, producer, director of photography and seven others, within a week we were selected to be filmed for the roundtable of moms and their babies and for a day of filming at our home with a focus on cloth diapering.

I was equally excited and nervous. Though so much was cut from the film (they had to condense 5 days of footage into 7 minutes including D washing fake baby poo from a diaper and serenading Vee with his guitar) I was sure we'd be labeled the “cloth diaper freaks,” a self imposed label. But we weren’t. I was surprised by what an incredible learning experience it was and how transformed I felt after the “roundtable” discussion in the faux living room. During this discussion, I was breastfeeding the whole time, uncovered, and questioned if I should cover or not since they intended for this film to go viral. But I didn’t because I shouldn’t have to. And, I thought, it's important to show people nursing uncovered because breastfeeding is a completely natural and ancient way of eating. It was, along with so much, all edited out. There was air conditioning but due to the little hum it made, the crew had to turn it off whenever we filmed which made it SO HOT and humid. Vee and I may have been wearing the least amount of clothing but we were sweating buckets on each other. Ah the world of film!

The director, Cynthia Wade, warmed us up with questions and discussion about how each of us had been judged by strangers, by family and friends as well as words of encouragement. During the roundtable and in between takes, I felt that I made a connection with all of the moms. We all became friendly and at the end of the close to three hours of filming, we were finally asked how we had judged each another. Oof! According to D, of course I was the first to volunteer. In fact, Cynthia had created a safe space for all of us to talk and be vulnerable. So when she asked how we judged one another, I was right there, ashamed but admitting that I had judged the mom who used the formula and I judged the mom who covered while she breastfed. We had all judged each other. In those moments of judging, I would have that thought and then immediately say to myself Well I don't know her story, I haven't lived her life, I can't judge her and I wouldn't want her to judge me. I mean, that's why we were all there! And while these conversations were contrived on some level in a studio intended to look like a home (and a lot of time spent in the editing room), there were also very genuine connections being made and experiences shared and a desire to build a sisterhood.

Admittedly, I didn’t watch the director’s previous short documentary style commercial for Dove called “Selfie” (and later made me cry!) until after I met her. I did, however, google her and wasn’t surprised to discover that she's a Smithie. Of course she is! During the roundtable and the day of filming in our home, I got to know her and her crew more. Turns out she filmed Savi & Billy’s wedding (of Rev. Billy)! Chatting with the film crew, I also discovered a savvy group of people who were familiar with the evils of Monsanto and the creative community of Bread & Puppet Theater. The director of photography had even made a short film about the vanishing honey bees. Everyone working on this project was doing just that - working to pay the bills. At lunchtime, instead of eating from one of those food trucks you always see with film crews, they asked where the cheapest food in the neighborhood was (which is Dil-e Punjab Deli, between 20th & 21st Sts on 9th Ave).

Later, Cynthia wrote me the kindest email, “Thank you, my Smith sister, for being a part of the film last week. Thank you for your willingness to share your personal journey, and thank you for being the ice breaker at our round table discussion -- your willingness to be open, honest and vulnerable on camera allowed the other women to do the same. Thank you for that.” Oof! What a validation of my early mama-hood! 

In the days leading up to the release of this film, up to today, I've been nervous. I was nervous about how my radical communities would feel about me being in this commercial. Today I'm questioning myself a lot, worried about how I've been depicted in the film, if my hair is “too weird” or if people think I'm endorsing a formula company. I worried that I’d be judged for a film/commercial about judging moms! I absolutely do not support formula companies and at the same time I also don’t judge the parents that use it. There are many reasons why parents make the decisions they do and all of them are hard! Any issue I have lies in the way our historical memory and culture dictates and influences us to make the decisions we do and its erasure of our collective experiences with pregnancy, babies and our relationship with our bodies. I say end our cultural misogyny that pits women, female bodied people and parents against one another. We need to have full comprehensive access, support and education about the power of our bodies, pregnancies, breastfeeding and beyond. But as I re-read Mashable’s quoting of me these fears melt away when I realize that I, along with Yalixa (and Leslie!), helped to bring the often silenced and shamed experience of miscarriage and pregnancy loss to the national and international discussion. 

Thank you to Cynthia, Willa and Ashley - I hope you have a vacation soon and are getting the rest that you need and deserve! Sending so much love to the warrior mamas and their babies featured in this: Liz, Jennifer, Yalixa, Shyrelle and Leslie. It was a pleasure getting to know each of you. You are my heros! 

xo

My Guide to Personal Self Care and Inner Revolution

Nursing Baby Vee 

Nursing Baby Vee 

1:43am Sun Sept 13th 2015 - Let me get right to it - I haven’t been taking care of myself. I find myself rushing more and more and the aches in my back are returning. I still get in my daily shower but it’s been almost a week since I’ve had a Spa Shower and took my sweet, precious time. I find myself Stress Cleaning + Tidying rather than drawing, painting, writing or darning. If I’m going to be up at 3am after a night feeding, I’d rather make art than clean, though cleaning (i.e. putting things away and sweeping) is extremely satisfying for some part of my brain. I see now how easy it is to not take care of myself. Self care is already challenging and even more so when you have a small mammal creature dressed in human baby clothes to care for - but why? Because they are both work. Work can be fun, work can be a lot of things but it is still work. In the midst of one of my late night/early morning Tidying Sessions, I started this: My Guide to My Personal Self Care and Inner Revolution:

Morning exercises to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing!" 

Morning exercises to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing!" 

1. In order to maintain my sanity, do my self care and put the work into unconditionally loving myself every single day, I must take my Daily Shower. This is about being immersed in hot water. I get on my hands and knees and become that laboring animal again.

2. When I get out, I use the large orange towel with suns on it, gifted to me by DK. This is the one I labored on in the tub channeling the whales, cats, orangutans and rats and birthing people throughout time, remembering that they're always with me, and reminded each time that they are my only religion.

3. When I wake up and before I go to bed, I do my 3 minute floor exercise (lying on my body pillow with my arms bent and raised at my sides) to strengthen my chest cavity whilst singing along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and petting the cat-baby. I quickly learned that raising a baby is all about creative multitasking. At night, however, I prefer to listen to whale sounds.

Gratitude Postcard for Aijung, Watercolor on cardboard, 4" x 5.5"

Gratitude Postcard for Aijung, Watercolor on cardboard, 4" x 5.5"

4. Put D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” on repeat and write, write, WRITE. Best to write after I’ve been healed by a Spa Shower so the words can flow out though it doesn’t always work that way. My friend, B, coined my style as “Soul Writing” which sounds more complimentary than how I think of it - Mind Vomit.

5. When Vee nurses, paint.

6. When Vee nurses, write.

7. Before dinner, when Vee nurses, COLOR in a coloring book. No thought required.

8. Remember to pee, poop, listen to my body, do not put off having to go to the bathroom when I'm at home especially when I'm feeding Vee or he needs me.

9. Fluids, liquids - drink them!! Especially coconut water and eating watermelon - electrolytes are real and are important!! But don’t ask me what they actually are.

10. Food and eating are important!!

11. No electronics while eating meals together with D.

12. NO (more) STRESS CLEANING. I don't do that shit any more because there are other ways to dismantle my anxiety and give myself the feeling that I have control in my life. I ask myself all the time now Is this a need or a want? Wants, though also important, can wait and only you can do you!

13. Feeding my friendships and relationships through social media, texting, phone calls, emails, postcards, letters, handmade gifts and HANGING OUT IN PERSON.

My local swimming pool.

My local swimming pool.

14. SWIMMING. Lakes are ideal and so is the ocean. I will, however, accept a pool. As of Wednesday, I'm astronautical again. The weightlessness of swimming in water reminds me of space, outer space. A pregnant space traveler not entirely certain of the future. There's excitement and fear. The Fear of the Unknown is powerful but now I know what it can mean to labor and birth. It’s not pleasant though it’s not supposed to be. It's a rite of passage for me, for many women and human beings and creatures of this earth, and out of the fire we step a warrior mother, a parenting warrior survivor.

15. NATURE. We’re going to sit in it today.  

16. Express gratitude through personally written, empathetic responses to people's messages to me, painting Gratitude Postcards (and mailing them) and small paintings on cardboard.

17. Breathing, deep breathing. If pregnancy is a marathon, what is life? Pace yourself! And breathe.

Goddess shrine and Little Lentil's memory box. 

Goddess shrine and Little Lentil's memory box. 

18. Cuddling baby, cuddling D and cuddling our cat-baby - sometimes all at the same time!  

19. FORGIVE MYSELF. Forgive myself every day, all throughout the day. Your mind is powerful. Repeat, “Forgiveness is coming to me easily and effortlessly.” (Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain) Eventually, it will. I can also say Compassion is coming to me easily and effortlessly and I do.    

20. RELEASE GUILT through Daily Showers, writing, drawing, painting, ceramics, exercising - whatever feels healing is Releasing Guilt.

Our cat-baby knows how to sleep! 

Our cat-baby knows how to sleep! 

21. Go to SLEEP at 9:30 or 10:30pm with the baby and then...

22. Get up at 6 or 6:30am!  

Sex and masturbation, while vital to happy and contented living, is not on this list. I’m ok and not ok with that. I’m not doing the vast majority of the things on this list though I’m trying. I’m also quite happy with not being pregnant so if Vee acts as some kind of natural birth control I’M OK WITH THAT.

One last thing! I’m in love with this paragraph from Natural Health after Birth: The Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness by Aviva Jill Romm: “This chapter is for your pleasure. Your pleasure and peace are the root, rock, and center of what you bring to your family. When you feel rested and replenished, you glow from the core of your being, and this glow spreads warmth and comfort to those around you. When you feel nourished, you are better able to nourish those around you. When your cup is empty, you have little to share; when your cup is full, it runs over to fill those around you. Why nurture yourself? Jennifer Louden puts it well in her guide to women’s nurturing, The Woman's Comfort Book: ‘Because self-nurturing is survival. Women take care of others every day. But how often do we turn our wonderful nurturing ability toward ourselves?...When we nurture others from a place of fullness, we feel renewed instead of taken advantage of. And they feel renewed, too, instead of guilty. We have something precious to give others when we have been comforting and caring for ourselves and building up self-love.’ And as Rabbi Hillel once said, ‘You have a solemn obligation to take care of yourself because you never know when the world will need you.’“ (P.213) 

And now…on to my day/night of Unconditional Self Love and Celebration!

(Editor's note: The writing, editing and posting of this took over a week because PARENTHOOD.) 

My Pillowy Mountain of a Body

Me and Baby V

Me and Baby V

August 25, 2015 - I had prepared myself for a long recovery. I had no expectations of my body “bouncing back” after giving birth so I was surprised when, after constant nursing, a natural birth, swimming daily for months, etc, etc, my big belly became a small pillowy belly in a couple of weeks. I took photos in our long mirror and documented the rivers of pink and purple, my tiger, warrior stripes all over my tummy and hips and thighs. A day and a half after walking this fire of labor, with blood from the birth still dried on my skin, I cried in the shower when I allowed myself to commune with My Inner Wise Self and do some self talk - Your body did this! You're incredible! You can do anything! I rode this surge of divine female confidence for a while until The Fateful Farmer’s Market last Saturday.

Sketchbook: The Ancient Art of Breastfeeding at 3 Weeks 1 Day, pen drawing

Sketchbook: The Ancient Art of Breastfeeding at 3 Weeks 1 Day, pen drawing

We go to this smallish farmer’s market every weekend since it re-opened in May. They’ve seen my belly grow as the snap peas go out of season and we’ve made friends with Barry from Barry’s Tempeh and Aditi from Calcutta Kitchens. I love going to the farmer’s market. The fresh food is awesome (though expensive) and tastes so good and I like talking to people. It’s a very social experience for me.

Sketchbook: Bear Mountain Woman, colored pencil drawing

Sketchbook: Bear Mountain Woman, colored pencil drawing

This was the second time that we visited the whiskey and rum tasting table. I hadn’t sipped any booze for almost a year so I was excited for my postpartum tiny cup of their brew. Jen, who serves and sells the liquor from Van Brunt Stillhouse, is so incredibly warm and friendly. I had my little, tiny cup and hung around to chat.

These two women came over to check out the free samples and realized a baby was wrapped to my chest. Like most people, they were excited to see such a young baby (or shocked, I’m not sure anymore). And then, The Unsolicited Advice and Comments. One woman was floored to discover I had had a totally natural, unmedicated home birth and jokingly said she was afraid of me which I laughed at. I actually liked this because there is something to be revered in a person who has birthed a baby naturally and walked that fiery rite of passage. The other woman... I can’t remember the exact words but something like Well, now you gotta watch that belly and exercise and get rid of it. I couldn’t believe she made a judgement on my 3 weeks postpartum body. My body that was already significantly smaller than it had been when I was the living, breathing home for this rainbow baby. Jen and Aditi, shocked, immediately said I think you look great! We were all shocked. I think most people wouldn’t say this sort of thing but I’m sure it’s on people’s minds.

Page 33 from "The Affirmations Colouring Book" By Sarah Mangle

Page 33 from "The Affirmations Colouring Book" By Sarah Mangle

I’ve had a lot of conversations in my head about this during my daily shower. I’ll hang up fabric over the mirrors and then take them off again. I don’t want to see my face, I don’t want to see my body - I don’t want to judge myself. But here I am, I’m doing it. Looking at those stretch marks, are they tiger stripes? I barely remember that that is what I call them now. Look at the lines, look at my belly. Well, I always had a belly - But Look At It! I have a belly. I have a body. I am a person. I am a person that gave birth to a baby 3 weeks and 5 days ago. How am I supposed to look? How am I supposed to feel about this body? This body that created a miracle. This body that made magic. This body that walked through fire and hell and has the scars to prove it. This is my body. I love my body. My body is earth, mountains, rivers and trees. My body is the site of an ancient tradition of life on earth. I love my body.

It Takes a Village: The Courage to Ask for Help

My 13th bowling birthday party: Me, Tak & Jazzy J (June 1995)

My 13th bowling birthday party: Me, Tak & Jazzy J (June 1995)

August 17, 2015 - I was raised by a village. When I was 6 years old, my dad moved back to Trinidad and my mom raised me as a single parent. That was the same year we joined The Community Church of New York, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Previously we attended The Riverside Church where I was also baptized. To explain what UU is...it’s basically the everything bagel of religions. We have Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Wiccans, Atheists, Agnostics - everyone is welcome. Each UU congregation is different - some are more traditionally religious than others. Mine was very liberal and progressive but I wouldn’t describe it as radical. Located in Murray Hill, it’s still a great, diverse place to raise your kids. The main Hall of Worship is very traditional with cushioned seats bolted to the floor in set pews with a stage at the front where ministers make announcements and preach and are flanked by busts of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Margaret Sanger, Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Ghandi as well as banners representing major religions from around the world. 

Wearing my UU chalice in the Spring of 1996

Wearing my UU chalice in the Spring of 1996

When I was 13, it was time for me to go through my Coming-Of-Age ceremony. Although I had attended church school (and other activities and outings) regularly from the age of 6, I was the only 13-year-old at my church so I went up to Fourth Unitarian Universalist Society, near Central Park. I knew about this “Society” because I was in middle school with one of member’s sons, J, who was also good friends with my mom. Later we discovered a photo of us at around age 3 or 4 at church school at Riverside Church before our moms had met. At Fourth UU, the pews were moveable and often placed in a circle for worship. It was a smaller congregation and had a homier vibe. Other non-UU kids were excited to be able to play basketball there and other fun things not typically associated with church.

My graduation from 8th grade: Grampy + Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, my mentor (June 1996)

My graduation from 8th grade: Grampy + Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, my mentor (June 1996)

Our Coming-Of-Age group had 2, sometimes 3 girls and 3 boys. We had two group leaders, and every Sunday we would all meet to talk about our belief system and other religions and white privilege and all the sorts of things a “hippie church” would have you discuss as you enter “adulthood.” Sometimes we met at Fourth UU, sometimes at All Souls (a really God-centric, traditional, large and diverse UU church even further uptown). Throughout the year we went on "Cons," mini sleep-away conferences for Teen UUs in NJ and Upstate NY. Typically everyone smoked cigarettes except for those kids from NYC. We also each had a personal mentor we met with to discuss our belief system/credo. Mine was Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley who became my friend and even gave me her bible from seminary which I have yet to read. At the end of the year, the boys and girls were split up for our rite of passage ceremonies. These were created by us, our mentors and our families. The boys stayed at Fourth UU and did things like get their feet washed by their mentors. The girls, on the other hand, had what felt like a real adventure.

Maine, Summer 1996

Maine, Summer 1996

We went Upstate (or somewhere in "the country"), and it was beautiful. It was me and E, our mothers, her mentor (mine couldn’t make it) as well as one of the boy’s moms who was going to lead us in a Wiccan ceremony. It was so green and lovely and there was a wandering cow roaming about. At night, we all sat around a fire and made clay sculptures of our fears and later went to the pond and symbolically and literally threw them away. We also danced around a fire to the moon and the goddess. The moon was so big that night. In our separate tents, E and I were to write our feelings, hopes and dreams. I wrote, "When I am faced with a problem, I either react in two different ways. Depending on the challenge, I may prove that I am fearless and dispose of the problem. Other times I will look for someone else (my mother) to get rid of the problem." (My Coming-Of-Age Journal, 6/1/96) I was by myself a good long while until I found a tick and got my mom to get rid of it. When we got back to the city, there was a party, full of women, at the boy’s mom’s apartment where we were given gifts and were celebrated. I remember always wishing that I had gotten the “Clueless” DVD gift instead of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Later on we each wrote up and read our Credos to our congregations during a special church service. 

There are many other instances of my UU community village raising me on overnight nature retreats, Special Friend Sundays, marches, parties, church school activities and play dates outside of church. They are actually too numerous to list!

Little Lentil Landscapes II: The Shame of Womanhood, Watercolor, 12" x 16"  May 2014

After I had the miscarriage last April, although at first I was ashamed, at the first sight of the blood, that D and I had told over 100 people we were pregnant at 8 weeks and then lost the baby at 10 weeks, I was relieved. From the email I sent out, people wrote back their condolences. For those that wrote those 7 key words - Let me know how I can help - I wrote back. We sat a radical Shiva for the next two weeks. Friends brought groceries and dinner and sat with me in groups, one on one. I shared variations of my radical miscarriage story and they in turn would share theirs, if they had one. Some had many. Others knew they just wanted to feel with me and be with me even if they couldn’t personally relate to having a pregnancy loss. Friends appreciated being told how they could help and that there was something they could actually do to provide the support that I wanted. The months that followed, when the visits stopped, were particularly difficult as I fell into a postpartum depression until the end of November when I found out I was pregnant with V. Even though I was pregnant with our Rainbow Baby, feelings and emotions are complicated.

Little Landscape I, Watercolor, 11" x 14" May 2014

I knew with this birth/labor/postpartum I would need help. I made an announcement at rehearsal, my radical community village, which I’m so blessed to have and be apart of, requesting help. I started to make a list of people who I felt comfortable with coming and helping out as well as the kinds of food I’d like to eat. The three godparents, D, A & J went above and beyond! Not only did they help us to purge and make this into a home and me, to finally feel like a human being at home, they organized and hosted the baby shower. After D (the papa bear), they were the first ones to arrive and help me labor, feed me, give me sips of coconut water and then take care of all three of us after the birth by making us meals, washing the dishes, sweeping, cleaning up the kitchen and eating areas, shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, and folding the laundry besides entertaining us with songs, music and friendship. D (papa bear) was also doing so many of these things and was in charge of my placenta smoothies (which I miss so much). They stayed from Thursday when I went into the "early" labor until Monday morning (V was born Friday morning).

Little Lentil Landscapes III, Watercolor, 12" x 16" May 2014

A has been in charge of a (short) list of some friends to help us out and created a schedule for visits, food drop offs, etc. The last few days (and week) have made me see that I need to tap into my Courage Reserves and put this Big Ask out there: Hello Village, will you please help us? Someday we will need babysitters but right now, if you live in NYC and are willing and available, are you able to: drop a meal off, do a load of laundry or pick up some light groceries? If you can do one or more things either one time or on a weekly or monthly basis, please send me an email and let me know (I’ll also put you in touch with A. to add you to the roster of helpers). If you’d rather buy us something, our registry is going to be open indefinitely with things that we need and would be so appreciated.

dawn@dslookkin.com

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

xo

My Radical Home Water Birth / My Spirit Walk Through Fire (PART I)

There are many shrines around our home including this one, dedicated to my father, Victor Hong Chu Look Kin. 

There are many shrines around our home including this one, dedicated to my father, Victor Hong Chu Look Kin. 

After having my baby on Friday, July 31st at 5:46am, on the Full Harvest Blue Moon, I get asked a lot, What was giving birth like? Now some people ask and actually really, really want to know. Others are just going through the motions. I have the short and the long answer. The short answer: It’s like a Spirit Walk through fire and hell and when you emerge, you’re a Warrior Mother.

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On Tuesday, July 28th, my “due date”, I got ready to go to PT (physical therapy) for my hands and wrists. For the past 4 months I’ve been swimming increasingly more and more to the point where it was daily, sometimes 7 days a week if not 6 days at our local NYC Recreation Center pool. People come from Queens to swim in this pool, it’s that nice. Well the pool is nice - the locker room is pretty disgusting and falling apart because the city doesn’t put enough money into it. And people steal the rings that hold up the shower curtains and sometimes steal the shower curtains as well! Ruby, who often cleans the bathrooms, told me this. I see her literally every day. She says How are you doing mama? and I tell her. There are other regulars, mostly swimmers, the old Chinese ladies, actually a lot of them are in their 40s and 50s and really what do I know. They swim faster than me even though we're all in the slow lane. I have a lot of swim buddies and some kind of recognition with the life guards. For a while there was Jose who was like a father figure and looked out for me. But when summer started he was sent to supervise the beaches which made me sad. The three times I’ve been to the beach before giving birth, I’ve kept an eye out for him.

So I was swimming because my hands were swollen from the pregnancy and I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as a result. No, I wasn’t typing a lot. I wasn’t doing anything to aggravate my hands - I was just pregnant! Everything below my neck was swollen. So I started swimming to help relieve the pain and reduce the swelling. It worked for a long time until it didn't and then I really, really had to get a PT.

I started seeing Phaeleau at Spear Physical Therapy in mid-June. I went to their location in midtown because they could see me sooner than the one closer to me. I wasn’t planning on continuing there since I had to literally walk up 4.5 flights of stairs to exit the subway but I stayed because of Phaeleau. Phaeleau is the hapa papa bear of the mid-town PT location. He’s the senior staff there and the head hand physical therapist. A native New Yorker, he has a daughter who’s going to start high school in the fall and grows a tomato garden outside of his window in Brooklyn. He’s super friendly as is everyone there - these people really love their job and their coworkers! I’ve never seen it before so it’s such a unique and lovely environment. PTs are talking to each other and their clients and clients talk to other PTs and other clients. There are a lot of conversations going on at once and it’s so fluid. It’s a beautiful thing.

For the past couple of weeks before I went into labor I had to reduce my bi-weekly appt to once a week, a Monday or Tuesday, because it was just so crazy hard for me to get there. And because I’m so cheap (read: thrifty!!) I refused to take a cab until I did. I had my session and it was good. Another PT whose been there every time recently took the course to tape up people’s arms so I worked with him as well. He had asked when I was due and at this point I just knowingly would say Soon. It’s like that scene in Beetlejuice. Lydia asks what his name is and he says Oh I can’t tell you that because then you’ll tell your friends and I have to show up at the mall and sign autographs and shit. You feel me? I said Soon because otherwise I’d have to deal with bull shit comments like Any minute now! which I actually used to say until it was actually really true. Or Any day now! Or (in an elevator I accidently pushed another button in addition to the ground floor button) Don’t go into labor! So, it’s Soon. But to this PT I whispered, Don’t tell anyone but I’m due today. I explained why I was being so private and he totally got it. He also asked the other question that people just ask, I’ve asked!, but which is really unempathetic and insensitive: Is this your first? I said No, I had a miscarriage last April but this is my first rainbow baby. He totally got it and didn’t get weirded out that I just told him that a baby died in my tummy. This was such a refreshing reaction considering that 25% of all births result in miscarriage (or more). I always have fun at PT and this was another great appointment.

I took a cab home and when I got inside the apartment I felt different. Like really subtle tiny differences. I’ve been having Braxton Hicks rushes (read: contractions) for like 2-3 months but it wasn’t that. This felt like tiny, miniscule cramps in my tummy, like more body feelings in some more places than before. Moments after getting home, I transformed our bedroom, with its one ocean blue accent wall peppered with my watercolors, into a space of complete mediation. I covered up the mirror, the table with the fish tank on it and the bookcase. Every surface had a Venus of Willendorf/Animal/Mama Earth shrine on it with plants, candles, my hand held goddess sculptures I made in ceramics class, incense, lavender, shells. It was so peaceful and beautiful. After I set this up, I began to doubt myself - Am I in labor? I feel like I have so many days before. But I knew I would know instinctively and if I had done this to our bedroom it must be true. Uncertainty, however, is what pregnancy is all about.

Tuesday, July 28th at 4pm, the very earliest of changes were felt in my body signaling the beginning of early labor. The following day, I gave a tour of how I set up our bedroom to prepare for my home water (natural) birth.

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Stay tuned for Part II!

xo

 

Therapy Tuesdays and the 12th Anniversary of my Father's Death

Dad as mattress with Dawn, Orleans, Cape Cod, early '84

Dad as mattress with Dawn, Orleans, Cape Cod, early '84

For the past 6 weeks, Danny and I have been attending a bereavement group for pregnancy loss. Although it was my idea to attend, going every week has been so difficult for me and I'm relieved that today is the last day of the program. Tuesdays is also when I have my own personal therapy. And today is also the 12th anniversary of my father's death.

July has been a strange and difficult month for me despite all the fun things that have happened. I celebrated turning 32 with a party, something I haven't done in a decade, went on camping trips and to friends' birthday parties. I go to these gatherings, these fun things and I say hello to people, to my friends, but I don't feel like myself. I'm a numbed version of me. I say I'm ok but I'm not. I've been feeling the pain of death.

Often July 29th passes and I don't realize it has but this month I've thought about it almost every day. I wanted to make a ghost bike for my dad - paint a bike white in his memory and chain it near to where he was killed with a note, with flowers. I really thought I was going to do it this year. But once more it's not happening and I feel I've failed his memory again. I've been crying all day and yesterday too. Death is so hard. I don't know if I'll ever get the hang of it.

Last night when I was sitting in my hot shower, sobbing and letting go, I told myself, after the session tonight, I'm going to ride over to where he was killed on his bicycle, on 34th St and Dyer Avenue, killed by a city bus and a truck, and light candles for him, say something, do something. My hope is that after today I can find some release, at least for this year, at least for this summer. All this loss is ripping me apart and I feel so broken all the time. His death is apart of me. Little Lentil's death is apart of me and everyone else that I've ever lost. And I am still here. And I am still alive. How do you live after death? I ask myself so many questions and I tell myself, Yes today is going to be a hard day. That is the truth and it is my truth.

A quote that I have on the wall above my bed, that I remind myself frequently is this:

"Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles." - Charlie Chapman

Please remember my father, Victor Look Kin, on this sad day of remembrance.

Every day is a time for forgiveness

The Hairy Goddess of Love Takes a Spirit Bath, 9" x 12" watercolor

The Hairy Goddess of Love Takes a Spirit Bath, 9" x 12" watercolor

Last night after rehearsal, five of us walked, Jessica, Onome, Lizzie, Ashlie and myself, singing down the street. At the corner of 8th and Avenue C, we sang and we chanted, we improvised and supported each other, sang songs that we knew and made up the rest. This was a gift.

Every day takes courage for self love. And every day is an opportunity to be reborn. It's been a long while and today I had my Spirit Bath. While the hot bath was filling up, I smudged my whole home with sage, blessed with the friendship of birthday love, blessed with my living plant babies.

I rang bells in every room, to the closets, to the guitar. I came to the living room and realized I had created a space for creativity, a space to support myself. This is a space of courage. What is courage? Courage is asking for what you need. Courage is speaking your truth. Courage is owning your story. Courage is setting boundaries. Courage is reaching out for support (a quote from Brené Brown).

Last night I made three signs with this affirmation. One in orange craypas and then in permanent blank marker and then I painted it. This helps me to remember what courage is and believe that I am full of courage. Courage means being open to making "bad" art and "poor" writing and still wanting to share it with the world. Courage means making mistakes. Courage means allowing myself to be imperfect. Courage means embracing myself every day.

Have Courage My Friend (inspired by the inspirational quote by  Brené Brown ), 9" x 12", watercolor

Have Courage My Friend (inspired by the inspirational quote by Brené Brown), 9" x 12", watercolor

In my Spirit Bath I poured lavender Epsom Salts, my large and interesting shells already beneath the water and rang bells around me. I drank and drank my water. I asked myself what was the intention for this bath? I didn't know. In silence I got in and allowed my mind, myself to wander. I cried and cried. I forgave myself for misjudging old friends and new friends too. I forgave myself for misjudging myself. I thought about my father. July 29th will be the 12th anniversary of his death. I cried and cried. Is this Shadow Grief? It is my truth and it is my story. I thought about him and what I can do to honor him this year and honor my own grief. I want to make a ghost bike for him - paint a bike white, have a ceremony and lock it near where he was killed on 34th St. and Dyer Avenue. It's time.

I get out of the bath and notice some soot from my sage stick on the bathroom sink and I tell myself Every time I want to clean something or do something that is not apart of my new habits of living with Spirit Baths, singing, eating and painting and writing, I will take a moment to breathe. Ten deep breaths.

I find that I forget who I am or forget that I am loved. I can be so hard on myself. Every day is a time for forgiveness. And a time for singing. A time for swimming.