Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Scrubbing Couture

Once in a while, I realize that there's this whole other plane to domesticity of which I am rarely aware let alone part. Like when I visit Martha Stewart's website, out of morbid curiosity, and find a Valentine's feature on how to make handmade paper envelopes for distributing your home-baked, hand-decorated cookies.

What amazed me was the thought that there were housewives out there who had time not only to bake and decorate gift food but to handmake individual envelopes for them. Are there stay at home moms out there with that kind of time? Apparently. I would love to meet one....I have a few chores she can help me with in her free time.

I was equally amazed, as I browsed a magazine in the doctor' office, that you could purchase designer cleaning items-- rubber scrubbing gloves, dustpans, mops, scrub brushes-- in a bewildering array of modern colors and styles. And darn it, some of that stuff is cute. The bright blue rubber gloves, with their bold floral cuffs in a contrasting retro print, were so obviously a symbol of Ultra Domesticity that I felt a bit guilty for sneaking a look at the price tag to see if I could afford them. Ten bucks for a pair of rubber gloves is certainly beyond Walmart prices but not unreasonable. Perhaps the Martha Stewart woman wears these sort of gloves so her hands aren't rough for all that delicate paper she uses in her handmade envelopes.

All of this got me thinking.

Is it so wrong to want to bring beauty into the more mundane aspects of homemaking? The Martha Stewart Syndrome, embodied by the envelope-making house goddess I describe earlier, is really just a hyperextension of a good idea--- that everyday tasks deserve a bit of the extraordinary. Ms. Stewart has made an empire by commercializing that concept and creating a cult of the domestic where perfect women fill their perfect homes with exquisite creations that display their feminine prowess. Think Stepford Wives and pink angora sweaters. This stereotyping of the feminine role is just as damaging as the
Power Woman myth or the Sex Kitten myth or any of a dozen distortions of womanhood society thrusts in our faces.

But I really did like the cute scrubbing gloves. Does this mean I'm one step away from become a pink-sweater drone?

I don't think so.

Because, like I said above, the everyday truly does deserve touches of the extraordinary. Those of us who labor at home face any number of routine, mundane tasks daily. Dishes need washing, floors sweeping, clothes laundering...the list goes on. Even the most motivated house-cleaner-- which I am not-- has to admit there is something rather plain about dish soap and mop buckets. So why not infuse a little beauty into the process? Will cute scrubbing gloves remove my dislike for cleaning the bathroom? Not entirely but it will give me a bit more joy in the process. Will a mod-striped dustbin inspire me to dance Cinderella-like with my broom? I doubt it, but the artistic part of me will sigh happily when I see the colors.

When we take time to elevate aspects of our housekeeping routines, we elevate our attitude towards those routines. It could be as simple as picking out a cooking apron in a fun print that you wear each time you prepare a meal--- not only do you spare your clothes but you've created a small ritual for yourself, a tiny space for beauty to inhabit part of your day.

Certainly, moderation and common sense must be a part of this incorporation of beauty. It's all too easy to be swept up in our consumerist society's notion that being is the same as having. The things we use in our homemaking do not, in and of themselves, define us as homemakers. Nor will they give us a heart for tending our household. As with anything in life, a right perspective is important.

We all could benefit from small, deliberate acts of beauty in our daily routine. Maybe for one woman this means flowers on the kitchen window; for another it may be a little bit of lip gloss even though only a toddler will see it. Deliberate beauty could surface in way a wall is painted or the color of a pair of curtains.
It could even be found in a pair of bright blue, retro print scrubbing gloves.

Which I still just might buy.

Oh, and the gloves, among other interesting household items, can be found

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Freewrite No. 1

Driving down the edge of the storm:
ogre-faced clouds grimacing from the south, wind devils spinning circles in the tops of the trees. Tornadoes are afoot, pouncing on small towns like cats after a mouse, unaware they are tearing through the china cabinet. Rain slithers under the dark sky,
but I am safe
behind my glass, tourist to a downpour.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Evening Litany

Thank You for the food we share
Thank You for the hands that break the bread
Thank You for this shelter from the cold.

Thank You too for those we love
Even when it brings us sorrow
Thank You for the joy of hearth and home.

Thank You that You call us friend
Thank You that we know You
not as myth or legend but our Father
why should we be called Your children?

Thank You that You chased our hearts
Thank You that You poured Your life out
That You that we are made part
of Your very flesh and blood.

Thank You for the living Body
all the saints as one before Thee
Thank You for the family of faith.

Thank You for Your soon return
until then our hearts are yearning
Thank you for the life that has no end

As we go now into night
we lift up these praises to You
Father, Lord, Redeemer, Savior,
grant us peace till morning's made new.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Nothing Special

Over the past century, our society has undergone a radical transformation in world view with the rise of secular humanism and all its philosophical baggage.

This is news to no one.

What's interesting about this shift in thinking is the practical impact it's had on our culture's view of ourselves-- human beings, that is. Philosophically, we are told that we are the product of random chance, sheerly biological entities who just happen to be inhabiting this planet for the past two millenia or so. We are told that there is no real right or wrong, so we cannot truly condemn the actions of another no matter how offensive to us. Pedophilia is just another form of human sexuality. Murdering an unborn human being is an exercise of female choice. Even such tragedies as terrorist bombings and even the Holocaust are "contextual"-- they are wrong to us but to the participants, in their time and place, the actions were what was right to them.

Philosophically, the value of human life is no more than that of any other animal--- important, perhaps, given the circumstances but also just as easily dismissed under other circumstances.

But ironically, this is not our society's practical stance towards humanity. While our culture's attitude toward the value of the human shows the negative influence of modern philosophy-- just visit an abortion clinic-- overall the dominant attitude is that human lives are intrinsically worth something because they are human. Many object to the war in Iraq due to the human cost, both military and civilian. Thousands protest the Bejing Olympics due to the way that country has treated human beings in Tibet. And it's not just about global or national issues-- such institutions as welfare and child protective services are in place because our society thinks that a jobless single mom or a battered five year old are worth the money required to care for them. We lock up violent people so they won't do anyone else violence. Sometimes we even kill them.

It's an everyday tension between what the scholars say is true in theory and what regular people on the street believe in pratice. Even academics will rarely come out and state the full conclusion of the amoral values they claim. But once in a while, someone thinks secular humanism through to its logical end and has the guts to say where our modern worldview really means.

And interestingly enough, such logic comes from an alien hunter.

This article discusses the so-called "failure of the planet of the Apes hypothesis" which is the brainchild of Charley Lineweaver, a scientist with the SETI Institute. These guys get paid to scour the universe in search of intelligent, human-like life but Lineweaver had an epiphany. What's the big deal about being human anyway? He thinks we're making a mistake by "assuming that there is something about humans that is unique or special."

Finally-- someone acknowledges the elephant in the secular humanist living room. Any hard look at modern philosophy (or post modern, or post-post modern or what have you) will show that it gives no reason why we should care about human beings at all, other than self-preservation and species preservation. Any decent behavior is just a construct, a leash to keep back the animal that wants to rip out the throat of the guy who cut us off in traffic.
But here's the thing-- people don't really want to believe that. We want to believe that we special, that we are unique. That something intrinsic to us beyond simple biology makes us different than Joe Amoeba.

Cue the truth.
When the benevolent mask of secular humanism slips, we should be there to point out the gargoyle beneath. Ignore the disdain of the smug college professors in their academic towers, forget the scientists with the impressive white coats and clipboards-- they've already decided we're retarded, or insane, or both. We truth-bearers in a truth-forgotten world want to reach those people on the street who are finding that amoral worldviews are awfully empty beneath the promised freedom. We can tell them, on an individual basis, that their suspicions are right. We are of eternal value. We are hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind works of art.

If we say it in humility and boldness and compassion, if we say it enough, people will listen. So stop reading and go do something about it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ten Things Learned In the Trenches

I think of laboring like parachuting. You can read about parachutes, take classes on parachutes, practice the correct way to put on your suit and the right way to pull the cord....but you won't really understand parachuting until you're falling through the air. Also, if you lined twenty people up and had them jump out of a plane, each of their experiences, while sharing common aspects, would be unique. The birthing process goes through the same stages for every woman but is at the same time highly individually. A woman in a naturally progressing birth process, for example, will labor differently than a woman in an induction or other situations. But there's something we all have to share with each other hopefully to make the process a little less scary.

In that thought, this is what I learned from my free-fall.

10) If you can, eat a really good meal at the beginning

When my childbirth instructor, Claudia, gave me advice for preparing for the induction, she told me to make sure I ate a high-protein breakfast. We're talking about three or four eggs and a bit of toast with juice....something to give energy and strength for the laboring process. Common medical knowledge encourages women to labor on an empty stomach but you're going to need fuel for the hard work of laboring. Eat whatever is comfortable for you. If you start labor naturally, you probably aren't going to plan a meal beforehand but you can, at the beginning of labor, eat something nutritious to help you build energy reserves. Listen to your body.

9) Bring a pillow or two and blankets.

Hospital rooms are even worse than hotels when it comes to comfort. The pillows are pathetic and the blankets are inadequate. Bring your own pillow-- one that is washable, no heirloom feather pillows please-- and use it to help you get into comfortable positions during labor and in recovery. You can also consider bringing a nursing pillow to ease the awkwardness of early nursings. The same rule goes for blankets-- it's good to have an extra one but make sure it's one that you can wash if necessary. I'd recommend one of the inexpensive fleece blankets you can buy for as little as $ keeps you and your little one warm and is very durable.

8) Don't be afraid to make noise when you labor.

Society loves the ideal of a placid, docile, passive birthing woman, one who doesn't make much noise and doesn't argue with the Doctors Who Know Best. It's one of the reasons why drugged labor is so popular; it's much quieter.
Real birth is noisy. Sound is a release, one that can help you deal with the pain of a contraction, but don't choose panicked, high-pitched sounds that will make you tense. I had a repetitive moan that I used during contractions--- actually I said "out, out, out" in a rhythm that I found soothing. In combination with breathing, the sound helped me stay calm and focused. Figure out what works for you and don't be afraid to use it, especially during pushing. You're pushing out a baby not taking tea.

7) Ask questions.

Along with preference for a quiet birth, society likes a docile birthing woman, one that goes along with whatever the doctors or nurses recommend. Your doctors are your birth partners, not birth generals. They are there to help you through the birthing process and, if necessary, step in the event of a crisis. You certainly can question or refuse any non-necessary intervention about which you feel uncomfortable.

6)Have someone who can say no for you.

This goes hand in hand with the previous tip. When you get going into labor, and especially when you get into transition, you aren't going to be the most rational you've ever been. It's usually at the point when you're tired and in pain that well-meaning individuals-- be they doctors, or nurses, or family members-- suggest pain medication or other interventions that may not be in your birth plan. Have your birth partner-- whether it's your husband or someone else-- designated to refuse things you don't want. Decide ahead of time what your criteria will be for interventions-- under what circumstances you would use them-- and have your partner stick up for you when you're immersed in birthing.

5) Limit the number of guests or observers.

My instructor Claudia said something to the effect that every additional observer you have, besides your partner and hospital staff, adds ten minutes to your labor. I don't know whether or not that's true for everyone, but you aren't a circus attraction. Labor is done best when it's as private as possible, and that may mean kindly telling friends and family to pace the halls. If you want family members or friends present, that's okay, but make your choices wisely.

Have relief support lined up to give your husband a break.

While you don't want a crowded labor room, you do want to have someone lined up to support your husband while he's supporting you. This could be a professional doula or a family member or friend-- just as long as someone is designated to give him a chance to grab a soda and sandwich or a bathroom break. Also, some husbands have trouble with the messier parts of birth and there's nothing wrong with having someone who can step in if he gets overwhelmed.

Remember that your birth plan is flexible and doesn't determine the success of your birth

We touched on this in the last post but I want to reiterate that the goal of birth is the baby in your arms not a perfectly executed birthing plan. Even a textbook natural labor may not be exactly as you planned. If circumstances require interventions that you would have preferred to avoid, such as induction, medication, or even a c-section, keep your focus on the destination-- your baby.

2) Keep your baby with you after

Some hospital staff get downright hostile to the thought of a mother actually keeping her baby with her after labor rather than letting the newborn spend hours in a hospital nursery. The hours after birth are important not only for bonding but for establishing milk flow, and both are accomplished by keeping the baby with you and allowing them to nurse on demand. A hospital does not have the right to take your baby to the nursery against your will. While you may concede to leave the baby in the bassinet when they are sleeping, since many hospitals have an aversion to co-sleeping, you can fully insist that the baby be left in your room. You will have to be vigilant; even after my husband and I made it clear that under no circumstances was our baby to be in the nursery, the nurses still tried to keep the baby on the grounds that they knew what I needed better than I did. My husband ended up accompanying our daughter to the nursery for any necessary procedures and then accompanying her back. Don't be afraid to be insistent.

1) Trust that God is in control

No matter how crazy your labor gets, God is directing your path and your that of your baby. You can cry out to him for strength at any time-- even if it's a wordless moan-- and He will come to give you strong and sure aid. When it came time to push in my labor, I couldn't feel much due to the epidural and subsequently couldn't use the pushing techniques I'd learned in class. At the final moment, my body and spirit were absolutely drained and I remember calling out to God, silently but with all my soul. At exactly that moment, a primal, indescribable strength filled me and I was able to deliver Ember. I am no mystic, but I do know that God is with us through our labor and is our greatest comfort. There are no atheists in foxholes and delivery rooms.

So there. That's what I've learned, and it may be totally irrelevant for your labor. But then, it may help you just a little, which is my hope.

Happy parachuting!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Baby In Waiting

I was going to write about meatloaf today. Really.
But, Dear Reader, you are spared my musings about meat because something much more interesting has come up. One of my friends in South Carolina (shout out to Felicia) is mere days away from birthing her baby girl Abigail Jane, and she asked me about my experience at a birthing center. Birthing my daughter was simultaneously one of the most joyous and frustrating events in my life so far, which means I am going to blog about it. Saw that coming a mile away, didn't you?

BIrth, like weddings, first kisses, and many other social milestones, is a loaded pistol. We supply the ammo, in the form of expectations and aspirations for what the experience will be like, and hope it goes off in the direction we planned. Bullseye! A dream come true! Take a wedding. Sometimes we get so excited with the fulfillment of our own personal fairytale that we don't stop to ask where exactly we got our idea of what that day should look like. What do you mean I can't have a hundred doves released in unison at my exit, each bearing a single long-stemmed red rose in their beak? The wedding industry makes billions of dollars off women who buy into the pre-packaged fantasy of the Perfect Day and then spend the first five years of their marriage paying for it.

Birth dreams are even trickier. We have nine months to plan-- and sometimes panic-- for the arrival of this brand new person who is entirely dependent on us to make sure they get through customs okay. Sure, we know we have midwives and ob-gyn docs and husbands and family and friends but when the rubber meets the road, we're the ones pushing the baby out on D-Day. (Delivery Day, of course). The pressure is on to have the Perfect Birth, one that occurs without a hitch, without any messiness, and, for many women, without any pain. Dominant social and media images reinforce this fantasy with the In Depth Exclusive World Features of celebrity mothers who pose for glossy magazine covers, cooing over their angelic babies. They are graceful. Elegant. Thin. They speak in glowing terms of their Birth Experience and leave me wondering if they were actually even there for their own labor.

For those of us who see through the obvious birth propaganda, the Perfect Birth dream can be even sneakier. As you plan and prepare, the temptation is to focus on one certain type of birthing process as The Way the baby absolutely must be born in order for the birth to be that mystical, magical experience we've been told it should be.

My hopes for the birthing of my daughter were formed based on extensive reading I did about natural childbirth. I wanted to be strong, aware, and actively participant in my labor. I knew it would hurt, that it would be messy, and exhausting. I was okay with that. I didn't want to tear. Above all, I did not want medicine, whether for pain or otherwise, or any other unnecessary medical intervention. My husband and I chose to work with midwives that operated from a birthing center within a regular hospital, thinking at the time it would offer the best of both worlds-- midwifery service with a neo-natal unit just down the hall in case of complication. We took a natural childbirthing class. By the time the end of my pregnancy came, I was ready for anything--- except the news that the midwives wanted to induce my labor due to their concerns over my ability to deliver a large baby.
Looking back, I should have refused. Medically, both the baby and I were fine. I knew in my gut that I could have the baby just fine but I was a first time mom and they were the Professionals. We agreed to the procedure on the assurance that they would start with the least invasive methods of induction.

We showed up at the hospital, bright and early, with my suitcase full of all the labor helps I'd learned about in class-- music, castor oil, washclothes for compresses-- only to be met by a doctor and a nurse who did their best to convince me of a c-section. I could have thrown my bedpan at them. When my husband and I refused the c-section, they started me on pitocin, a common labor-inducing drug that is certainly one of the more invasive induction options.

Even though my childbirth instructor had told us that induced labor almost always required pain medication due to the severe intensity, we decided to hold off as long as I could and try to manage the pain using the techniques we'd learned in class. Of course, I couldn't use most of them because I was strapped to a bed full of machines-- none of which I wanted but at that point had no option. After several exhausting hours, the nurse informed me that if I didn't have the baby within a few more hours, the doctors were going to do a c-section on me whether I wanted it or not. An epidural, she said, would speed up the labor and allow me to still give birth vaginally. I agreed. Just before the labor deadline, I started pushing-- completely numb mind you-- and ended up with a third-degree tear. The last shred of my Perfect Birth Experience disappeared.

But I was holding my daughter. The moment I felt her head begin to emerge, as I pushed, all I remember is crying out my baby, my baby, over and over again. I didn't care how she got there; she was in my arms, already looking to nurse. I lifted her to my breast, awkwardly, and whispered her first Bible verse in her ear. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotton son....

As happy as I was to finally have my daughter, the deep-set disappointment in my birthing experience lingered. I felt inadequate, somehow a failure as a woman for not being able to follow my natural birth plan. I wondered if I was weak and spineless for not insisting on what I felt was best. Then it clicked...
no birth experience is perfect. I was holding onto my Perfect Birth Plan so tightly that I'd forgotten that God, in His sovereign grace, had a plan of His own that was far superior. He knew exactly the steps needed to bring Ember Rose into the world at the time He saw fit, in the way He saw fit.

So to Felicia, and anyone else with a Baby in Waiting, I'd say this-- certainly dream, certainly plan, certainly hope for the best birthing possible. But at the same time, rest assured that God's planning too, and be aware that His plan may look different. The birthing process, while important and beautiful (yes, I mean beautiful, even in the midst of the mess and the chaos), is just a journey. It's the destination that is really the point.

Tomorrow--- Ten Things I Wish I'd Known Before The Trenches, and other thoughts on laboring.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Some Sort of Introduction

New blog, first post.

::listens to the crickets in cyberspace::

Why does starting a new blog always seem to be so formal? As if all of the cyberpeople are lined up, in suits and dresses with big flower hats, waiting for me to hurry up and cut the virtual ribbon so they can hit the cake and punch tables.

Disturbing the Universe
is all about books, Domestic Dissident is more about what's going on in my head about life, especially life as it pertains to keeping a home and raising my daughter. Also expect lots of random stuff about yarn and other things knitting. What could homemaking and mothering possible have in common with dissidence? A dissident, in any culture, is one who questions normalized trends and chooses a path that is deliberately different or in opposition. That's what I'm doing, and although it may not seem that washing dishes or making peanut butter sandwiches sounds edgy, godly femininity is a radical choice in our culture, one that I'm proud to make. And occasionally blog about for anyone who is listening.

All right, cyberpeople. Speech over.