A Very Revealing Baby Story: A Barbaric Yawp

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I want to start at the end, at the glory.

You’re supposed to hear a cry- a drawn out newborn wail, tearless and gasping. That’s how you know everything is ok. A little squawk will do, or even a gurgled protest, but Willa came out with what I imagine Whitman meant by a “barbaric yawp,” something more animal than human.

To hear her voice calling to us was the sweetest assurance, even more so than the muffled percussion of the sonograms at our prenatal appointments or the early pokes and flutters felt in my womb.

There is so much hidden behind the curtain of skin, muscle, and organs; we could only make guesses about our baby. “She’s so withholding,” we would say to disappointed grandmas with their hands on my stomach. Willa, who moments earlier had been violently rippling my stomach flesh, held deadly still under the watch of others trying to catch her acrobatics.

There is so much hidden behind the curtain of skin, muscle, and organs; we could only make guesses about our baby.

In her thirty two week ultrasound, the doctor pointed out the improbable presence of hair on her head, and the tech showed us the way she was practicing her breathing, preparing her lungs for inhaling  those first  gulps of air.

After forty two weeks of waiting, we were alert and ready to find out who this baby was.

“Not a small head” announced Dr. San Juan, the doctor who had joined our birth team. Was this in place of the announcement that the baby was a girl, do doctors feel like they must announce something about the baby? “Medium sized hands for a baby.” or “Thought you should know your baby has well-proportioned ears!”

Drew took over at this point, finally able to touch our baby who had been wrapped up in my body, snug behind my tissues. She held his finger as the neonatologist checked her out, since she’d gotten busy pooping in the two weeks since her due date.

“She’s so nice,” he kept exclaiming. “You’re going to love her.” His words became my comfort, a mantra as I laid there opened like a sardine can, exposed and helpless. Inhale, she’s so nice. Exhale, you’re going to love her.

Nothing prepares you for the fact that an actual baby comes out, a human who’s been hanging out inside of you, suspended upside down in a contracting womb.

Nothing prepares you for the fact that an actual baby comes out, a human who’s been hanging out inside of you, suspended upside down in a contracting womb. On the inside, she was overpriced pink shoes at the baby gap, she was lumps protruding from my stomach of maybe a butt, maybe her torso?

She was waves of nausea and back aches, and a basketball with flowy blouses draped over top. She was my wide-awakeness in the middle of the night and an occasion for strangers to offer me a seat in the lobby of crowded breakfast restaurant. She was a name, carefully recited to make sure it sang just right in the air. She was so many abstractions and hunches, but now she was nice and not a small head and a voice that could muster a primal yell.

When I become sad or start to feel shame about my story, I think of that blessed moment where she, scrappy and brave, met the air with an unapologetic screech, wild and wonderful, arching her neck with strength to meet the world.

She was nice. I was going to love her.

You Are Here Stories: Powder Room Diplomacy

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The year is 2007 and our bags are packed with “layering tanks” from American Eagle, flat irons to steam our hair into long, flat planks, and short denim skirts. The manufacturers have carefully ripped the skirts to look like the storied clothing item of a ranch hand or someone who has army crawled through a field of barbed wire.

Well, not ALL of our bags share these contents. Mine didn’t.

It’s senior ditch day and I have packed the few items I imagined would be necessary for the sort of girls weekend where we’d eat ice cream out of the carton in between fistfuls of Cheetos: comfortable sweatpants, a swimsuit, and a small bag of hodge-podged toiletries and makeup that I don’t intend on using…


Read more about my makeup woes at You are Here Stories.

A Very Revealing Baby Story: Posturing to Tell a Magnificent Tale

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I feel pressure to have a beautiful and hilarious birth story. Which is odd, because Willa’s birth already happened. The particulars have long since unfolded, yet I find myself wanting to weave my words in such a way to change its trajectory.

There must be some wry comments I could make about bodily fluids or an eloquent turn of phrase that could render the story more palatable to me. Instead, I have ten or twelve unfinished documents, each dripping with disclaimers and contextual pleas for mercy. Willa’s birth has become its own perfect metaphor for trying to tell others about it: a failure to descend.

Slowly, as my body heals, the mind has come with it. I notice that somewhere below my rib cage, where my stories churn and twist, I am ready to start telling about my labor and delivery. I am ready to proclaim it with the right posture, no longer with hunched shoulders and my head weighed down by excuses. I’m ready to roll back my shoulders, lift up my head and look the world in the face to tell our story in the way it deserves to be told. 

I am ready to start dismantling the wall of questions of what I could have done differently, to take each blasted brick of shame and kiss it goodbye, letting them drop so my hands are free to enjoy the luscious joy that is my daughter.

While some have counseled that I owe no one the story, that it’s mine to keep private, I’ve known for sometime that it doesn’t belong to only me. It belongs to my husband and to Willa. It belongs to my mom and Dad and sister in law who carried my literal weight in the delivery room. It belongs to everyone who continues to fail at their carefully constructed dreams and ambitions. It belongs to those who need to laugh into the darkness. It belongs to those who hold up their sadness over their head like prized hunt, even though their arms shake with the weight of its lifeless form.

So will you bear with me as I sputter out this story? It won’t be in a neat package, not even linear. It will be in fits and starts and stalls and detours. But I need to tell it, because all the other things I need to say in this life are waiting behind it in a major traffic pile up in the back of my mind, horns honking, wanting to get through, not knowing about the poor stalled story at the front of the line with a sputtering engine, waving apologetically for people to go ahead as it fumbles around with the inadequate tools in the trunk. 

I’m going to write this story in approximately five hundred word chunks.  More very revealing baby installments. Some snippets will be out of context to help me appreciate the shining things, to hold them up and separate them from the dull and disappointing.

Pull up a seat on my bed, because it’s the only room in our house with air conditioning, and it’s a bazillion degrees this summer. I’m done stooping low. I’m ready to look into the light till my eyes hurt.


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You are Here Stories: Unexpected Favorite Things

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“…but don’t you think the gazebo looks a little bit small?” The voice of our Austrian tour guide settled comfortably at the top of the treble clef. Saccharine as Salzburg’s famous Mozartkugel, this woman might as well have been a recording playing from an MP3 player hanging from a lanyard around our necks.

“How could they do the sixteen-going-on-seventeen dance here?” She jutted her head forward, the rest of her body remarkably stiff.

At this point in the tour, I could see where her query was going. Similar rhetorical questions had lead to the revelations that the front of the Von Trapp family home was a different property than the back of the house, that we couldn’t get to the exact spot where the opening had been filmed, and that the free place to stay in the downtown was in fact the city’s prison.

While the Alps were, well, the Alps, just about everything else from the movie was a jumbled amalgamation of buildings, Hollywood soundstages, and private properties that we whizzed past on the tour bus…

Check out the rest of this piece at You Are Here Stories!

You are Here Stories: Tongue Depressors and Other Teaching Relics

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I curate a small store of relics from my years teaching in Chicago– crayon-drawn cards, apology notes with misspelled superlatives, and portraits where the size of my head dwarfs my torso. In one early drawing, a student depicted me with flowing red hair and a bikini. I have two guns in holsters at my hips and a rainbow behind me.

I’ve packed away most of my memorabilia in a catchall file in our spare bedroom, trying to organize and place memories from a time that spilled outside of any boundaries I tried to create for it. One lone tongue depressor has made it through three apartment relocations and three school changes. Each time, I considered tossing the stick, but I always ended up keeping it, laying it back amongst my pens. It’s small enough, important enough to keep.

It’s Corvell’s stick. I met Corvell in my first year of teaching, and he was my first student to disappear…

Read the rest over at You are Here Stories! This month’s theme is “Mess in Place,” which is a perfect topic for most human beings. Enjoy!

A Very Revealing Baby Story: Trying or Surprised

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In the world of baby conception, society dumps moms into two categories: trying or surprised. I have prepared the following infographic to illustrate these sociological groupings:

When Drew and I began to tell people about baby Vosburg, many presented us with this binary question, “So were you trying, or was it a surprise?” In other words, were you having copious sex with the purpose of making a baby, or did your forget to take your birth control pill?

Not only did I not want to let mere acquaintances into my boudoir, neither category painted me in the way I wished to be perceived.

Baby stuff is weird. It seems like magic, things swishing around in some primordial alchemy, and then… a baby? So many friends, and siblings of friends, friends of friends, and kids of friends struggled to get pregnant. Sometimes, out of the blue, the reproductive magic worked, but others continued to wait. I wanted to skip over this part, the “trying,” which involved taking your temperature, paying attention to what comes out of your cervix, and making monthly pass/fail appointments with your period.

I also rarely like to admit I’m “trying” for anything. Trying reveals desire and volition. Saying I’m trying to become a professional writer exposes me and spotlights the fact that I’m mostly a part time library worker who occasionally takes freelance work and even more occasionally writes on her personal blog. Saying you’re auditioning or applying or throwing your name in… all of these things invite commentary, invite phone calls and text messages, invite prayer, invite vulnerability.

I wanted to be breezy about my fertility and baby-making. But people who say they’re breezy are rarely actually breezy. Breezy was a phrase I repeated over and over again on my wedding weekend when the napkins didn’t show up or the roses weren’t garden roses, or when our intimate first look included a fairly distant uncle sniping pictures from the bushes.

By “I’m breezy!” I actually mean I’m wound as tight as a top, I live in fear of what people think of me, and I carry an overwhelming sense of doom and worst case scenarios.

I took a  pregnancy test within the “first response” window after our first month of being “breezy” with fertility. Nothing, same old control line and three minutes of nothing else. This justified my breezy path; a baby would come or not come in its time. I was so fricken breezy about it all.

Flash forward several nights, and I’m waiting in bed for Drew to get back from CVS with more pregnancy tests. I imagined that he probably wasn’t back yet because he got in a tragic car accident. The police would hand me the pink box of pee sticks along with Drew’s cell phone, wallet, and other items confiscated from the wreckage. I’d take out one of the tests and find that I was expecting twins and also that I had become the main character in a Christian romance novel about faith through trials called “Labor of Love” or “Fourth Trimester: Grief.”

So after Drew came home alive with a box filled with fate wands, I ripped through the packaging and headed to the bathroom to put my mind at ease, to continue my breezy journey where I painted with all the colors of the wind and accepted my body… and “GASP!” I don’t remember the test advertising sound effects but when the second line appeared almost instantly, it seemed to come with a “thwonk” or a “boom.”

I did not move from the toilet seat for forty five minutes, yoga pants still shoved down to my ankles, hand holding the debris of my breezy fertility. This was supposed to be a year long journey of life and love. But apparently my womb happens to share characteristics with the plot of land nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates River. I called my mom, I stared at the wall, I saw my breezy life blow out the window not in a gentle lilt of air, but in tempest gust.

Everything had changed. Oh my God, maybe I did just want a cute puppy.

So could I say surprised? I knew what happened when you mixed the boy stuff with the girl stuff, but quite frankly I was surprised. And weirdly ashamed. I felt like a Duggar getting pregnant before my first anniversary, like someone who naively thought the “pull-out” method worked 100 percent of the time or heard some other myth about birth control. “Surprised” was also a relative of the unfortunate sub-category, “accident” that usually lands kids in therapy (but seriously, everyone should be seeing a therapist anyway).

If I said “surprised,” I could take away my agency. I could take away my responsibility and the fact that I’d gotten mad at Drew when he wasn’t sure if he was ready. I could take away the moments holding up baby sleepers next to Drew’s 6’4″  tube sock body in Target and act like the universe caught me by surprise.

But I didn’t want to be in the trying camp either. I didn’t want to offend my friends who had been truly trying for so long. I hated my story because it seemed so stupid. I couldn’t really use the word “oops,” but I wanted to. My breezy fertility story sounded better in my head than when relayed to the Eastern European doctor administering my blood test.

“So do you want the baby?” He asked me the question as a formality.

And the worst part was, I didn’t know.


IMG_1291As I write through these posts, I’m continually reminded how complicated and sensitive pregnancy and fertility can be. By sharing my point of view, I by no means want to generalize or make light of other people’s experiences.

If anything, I hope to remind us all how specific and unique everyone’s story is. I want to create space for laughter and moments of honesty, but also want to encourage one another to be more careful and attentive in the way we approach these issues. For example, asking a woman if she is “trying” to get pregnant or pressuring young couples with questions about the start of their family may cause significant hurt. Lets keep listening in and paying attention to one another!

A Very Revealing Baby Story: A Blueberry

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Do you remember all those “story” shows that used to air on TLC in the morning? My favorite was always Wedding Story, but in a pinch, I’d settle for Baby Story. The show always mildly freaked me out, especially the sounds coming out of women sitting in birthing tubs or splayed on hospital beds. The dads were usually cops or firemen, and most of the couples had east coast accents.

Throughout my life, I’ve been exposed to all different baby stories, especially once I got that positive symbol on my own pee stick. I’ve been writing down thoughts throughout my own pregnancy, and most don’t match up with the cutesy language we often ascribe to pregnancy and babies. Many have commented that I share more on my blog then most people share with their closest friends, to which I say, you can only imagine what I divulge to my closest friends…


When people tell evangelical conversion narratives, they usually tell the story in several parts. There’s the first time you say the sinner’s prayer, kneeling by your bedside in your toddling years. You are led by your mother and the images of the cross from the Sunday school flannel graph.

Then, there are the subsequent renewals at summer camps and youth retreats, decisions to keep walking in the light despite a year or so of forgetting one owned a Bible and playing MASH with friends instead of leading them down the Romans Road.

I spent the majority of my childhood mothering American Girl Dolls in elaborate historically themed games of pretend. As early as second grade, I carefully discerned the names for each of the five kids Nolan Kelly and I would have. But despite these initial moments of maternal fervor, by my early twenties, I had growing doubts about my early commitments to produce and multiply.

imageI’m not exactly sure what triggered my fall from reproductive grace. It wasn’t the promise of repeating my mom’s days long labors or even the weekend spent in 8th grade with the mechanical “Baby Think it Over” designed to keep me abstinent.

Somehow after college, I decided I was in no rush to bring a child into this world. I weighed the ethics of creating life when my child might live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where California no longer existed and the oceans all felt like hot tubs at the Fairfield Inn. With time, alternate roads to family grew into passions and deep convictions.

Why make life when so many around already needed temporary and permanent homes?  I would mother in a different way; I would mother to reunite children with their family of origin, I would mother those who had no family, whether old widows at church or thirteen year olds stranded somewhere in the DCFS system. These convictions remain very strong for me and my husband and remain a part of our hopes for our family.

But one day, I found something out that nearly knocked me off my feet with the utter and amazing cuteness: a blueberry.

At seven weeks, a fetus is the size of a blueberry. A BLUEBERRY! For whatever reason this tiny blue fact re-set my biological clock in a way that startled my roommate at the time; she must have sensed that I was headed down the road to motherhood with the fire of a new convert.

A BLUEBERRY IS SO TINY!
The blueberry made me reconsider the error of my anti-pregnancy ways. I felt something in me take on the form of a runner on a starting block, poised, reaching and stretching their limbs back with potential energy. I gave into all my primal instincts to reproduce and continue on my species.

I wanted a berry-sized baby in my uterus, a little raspberry with a zooming heartbeat or perhaps a blackberry with the sockets where his daddy’s eyes would eventually grow in.

At times when mothers would talk about mastitis or when I would conceptualize the idea of my cervix dilating to ten centimeters,  I considered settling for a cute puppy. Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew a little Spot or Fido wouldn’t suffice. Also, our landlord allows babies but not pets.

Lest you are worried that I altered the course of my entire life based on the one week produce comparison for the gestational size of a baby, I will reassure you that there were other things that led me to desiring a little one. Books, conversations, hours of Call of the Midwife, marrying Drew, a new phase of life…17591258878_fb64defe8d

But I will also admit that some of the change seemed supernatural, a shifting of the wind, an opening of something deep inside of me, primal and maternal. I was curious about me and babies and starting to long for a little one of our own. My body and mind began to prepare and wonder and dream of our own little blueberry…


Tune in next time to hear about the positive pregnancy test and the weird culture around “trying to get pregnant.”

*Me and Blueberry photos courtesy of a fun photo shoot before the launch of my blog with the super talented Peter Dean Thompson. Check out his amazing work! I’m so excited to finally share these photos almost two years later… woof.

You are Here Stories: When I Was Your Age, We Went to the Bank

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On Saturdays, we went to the bank with dad.

The Regency Savings Bank of Geneva, IL welcomed its patrons with platters covered in white paper doilies, piled high with a variety of butter cookies. Dad would fill one of the provided styrofoam cups with coffee from the percolator.

We started coming with Dad when I was a toddler, an era when my memories blur one into the other. In those early days, my older sister and I waited at the Playschool picnic table, laid out with coloring books and crayons. At this point any of our collected coins got plopped into Piggy Banks on our dressers. Soon enough we started to trail Dad to the bank counter, to watch the magic.

The tellers counted the cash onto the counter like tarot cards, experts at slipping paper across paper. They moved through their tasks without looking: stamping, signing, unlocking, typing on the number pad on the computer, and printing receipts by feeding a machine with a small slip of paper that got pulled into the machine to be stamped with account balances…

Read the rest over at You are Here Stories (One of my favorite places on the internet).

 

 

*Photo Courtesy of Maria Rui on Flickr

You are Here Stories: She Will Grow On Laughter

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When my mother was pregnant with my older sister, she was a visiting nurse. She drove around Aurora, Illinois in her blue Plymouth Horizon, stopping at the Dairy Queen drive through on the way home from work. She’d slurp banana milk shakes while listening to the instrumental theme from St. Elmo’s Fire.

While pregnant with me, she chased around my toddling sister. She exercised weekly at a local Christian workout class called “Believercise.” That is, until mom lunged too far, causing significant bleeding; the doctor ordered at least a week of bedrest. She had to pee in a bucket, another reason she’s the best mom of all time. In her third trimester, she survived summer days by scarfing down dripping slices of watermelon, a fruit I still consider to be one of my favorites.

There’s something sacred and terrifying about the way babies go wherever their mothers go. They eat the same foods, hear the same noises, and even pump the same blood. They can benefit or be harmed from the womb they inhabit, which is why pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat Subway or drink cocktails. Now that I’m pregnant, I worry my tiny has been anchored to a sinking ship.

You see, I’m not the best at being pregnant…

Read the rest over at You are Here Stories!

You are Here Stories: While We’re Renting

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Old houses have a way of making themselves dirty, they crumble pieces of rusty radiators and cracking tile grout. My husband and I rent a place like this. In beams of sunlight, I can track fuzzy dust trails intertwined with all kinds of hairs and particles from disintegrating flooring. Clumps cling to the baseboards and slip under doorways, blown by invisible air currents.

After living here for well over a year, certain quirks get my particular attention. I can get quite distracted by the kitchen flooring, a 1980s white linoleum that turns mop heads and rags black, even on the tenth scrub. The dirt captured by its textured surface has been sealed in by grease and time, yielding just enough to fool me into thinking I’ve made progress by attacking it on hands and knees.

Under the cabinets, the edge of the linoleum curls up, a page of history begging to be turned. Splattered, brown grime creeps up in the crevice between the base of the cabinets and the well-worn flooring. This inevitably sends me into panic, a deep heaving, sweaty fear of mold and the other things that lurk in nooks and crannies…


Read the rest over at You are Here Stories. I’m so excited to be working with this amazing community all this year as a fellow! Click around their sight to read delightful place based writing!