Friday, August 29, 2008


This post does have a Trenton focus, and was composed primarily with one hand (Matthew needs my other arm, so he can eat), and is therefore several days in the making.

This baby business has me thinking a lot about shapes. It has me thinking how we live in squarish buildings, in a city with orderly (at least in design) squarish/rectangular blocks. We have goals that depend on relative straight line steps, and we create spreadsheets with a tidy grid full of boxes to mark our progress.

Yet, so much of the natural world is curved, or outright circular: pregnant bellies, and breasts, and mouths, and heads, and bums; outside, there are hives, and nests, and tree canopies, and stones, and tornadoes, the changing of the seasons, and flower buds that open into full circular blossoms. The sun is a sphere, and so is our earth.

Also, our daily rituals are based on circular habits. Sure, we may have tasks and goals and deadlines at work, but so much of our day-to-day activities revolve (as in a circle) around the same things every day: we get out of bed, and head to the bathroom; we have our coffee, and go to work; we come home and make dinner, and do dishes and laundry and put out the garbage; we read or watch TV and head to bed. And the cycle starts all over again the next day. The daily chores — unlike projects at work — are never done for good, which can be frustrating, but they are — if nothing else — proof of life. A decent life with food and shelter, too.

Circular patterns turn up throughout society, often as successes and failures. In Trenton, we've got patterns of poverty and crime and addiction and abuse, and a couple of experiences I had in and around the hospital last week made me think a lot about this. I was talking with a young black girl, who was 16; she gave birth to her daughter two days before Matthew was born. It's easy for society to condemn a girl like this, but giving birth is perhaps one of the most difficult things a person can do; and then holding a little one afterward is so powerful. In our arms, we hold another human, unique, and so vulnerable, so dependent, and yet, so strong (I've wrestled with Matthew a lot during these last 11 days, as we both get the hang of breast feeding), and full of raw potential. These little, helpless babies can be anything, and so much of it depends on our actions over the next couple of decades. It's amazing and scary, all at the same time, and I hope more than anything to provide a really good foundation for my kid so he doesn't grow into a knucklehead.

So, back to this young girl: like me, she was admitted to the maternity ward at Capital Health's Mercer Campus with some ideas of the sort of birth experience she wanted. Her hopes were like mine: she wanted a natural birth (no drugs); she didn't want a c-section; she wanted to breast feed her newborn. When I met her, she was holding an ice pack to her abdominal incision and was loopy from painkillers, and she was bottle feeding her baby. I asked her what necessitated the cesarean birth, and she said that her baby had trouble descending through the birth canal. And when the girl cried out in pain (labor and delivery, like some other aspects of life, hurt; some parts of life are just meant to be painful, I think), she was given an epidural, and she lost her ability to push, which is one of the lousier side effects of that sort of anesthesia. There are birthing emergencies from time to time, for real, and it's good that we live in an age where we can cope with them. But we also live in an age where a lot of OBs like to play golf or go yachting, and/or don't like to wait around for women to take the time they need to get their babies born. It's quicker to remove the baby surgically, but it's not better for the mother or baby: recovery is hell; there are new studies that imply that babies lacking in that final rush of hormones as s/he is born may contribute to autism; it interferes with the bonding process; depending on the types of meds the mother is given, she may not be able to breast feed — or even tend — her baby.

I have thought about this girl every day since I got home from the hospital — and the gaping differences in my life compared to hers. We live in Trenton, too, and we're certainly not rich. But we have decent insurance, and we planned for this baby. I have a very close relationship with my midwives, and feel comfortable with the OB they work with. They had my back, and were willing to work with me as long as I needed (as long as both baby and I were safe) to birth Matthew. My birth experience fell well within my expectations. The young girl's didn't. It could be that she really had an emergency situation; it could be that she was too immature to understand the work she needed to do to get her baby born, and the associated pain. But she may have been given a quick and easy c-section because she didn't have insurance or a dedicated obstetrical team, and was just another pregnant black girl in Trenton, and the attending OB didn't want to wait around any longer.

I don't really know why this girl's birth experience deviated so much from her hopes, but I do know the impatient OB scenario happens to so many women, regardless of class or color. But I wonder if it happens more frequently to society's most scorned group: the pregnant, black teenager?

Last Wednesday, we were finally discharged, and Glen drove us down Prospect Street to get us on our way home. It was surreal for me — trapped in the hospital for almost four days, three of those days with a pristine little baby so full of promise — to see all of the morons in long white t-shirts, selling drugs in broad daylight, or milling about aimlessly. I felt angry about Trenton, and I wondered about our future here with a child. On one hand, seeing the knuckleheads doing what they do, with impunity, in the hospital's West Ward neighborhood, made me want to leave (no wonder the hospital wants to leave, too). The West Ward is home to a strong voting block on city council; it's home to some of the largest, richest churches in the city; and it's where the mayor has a house. You'd think with this sort of power — political and biblical — one of the city's largest employers wouldn't have to deal with the long t-shirts and drugs right outside their doors. WTF?

On the other hand, the anger over the knuckleheads has made me feel like fighting for Trenton even more. Maybe I'm crazy. I don't know. I'd love to know what other blog-reading parents of new babies and young children think about this. Are you going to stay until your child is ready for school? Or do you plan on homeschooling or sending your kid out of the city for an education? What about your neighbors? Crime on your block? Do you allow your kid to socialize with anyone else?

Things aren't so bad over here in our neighborhood, for the most part, but there are challenges ahead; I'm sure that's the case even if we lived in a "safe" suburb. But, I'm glad to be in a good relationship, and to have some groundwork in place for our future with Matthew. We have supportive families, reliable vehicles, skills, and life experience upon which to draw, as needed. I think about that young black girl, and her adorable newborn daughter; I wonder about what part of the city she calls home, and her life there. I wonder about the father of her baby. And , most of all, I wonder about what sort of future is ahead for that little girl. I hope it's not nearly as glib as I imagine it might be.

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