Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving 2012 and being a doula

Our family has started a tradition in recent years. We invite all of our single, stray, pilgrim souls, travelers and friends and acquaintances who would otherwise not have a place to go for Thanksgiving. Last year we were 15 people. Whoever is able is asked to bring a dish. A potluck Thanksgiving. I didn’t assign anyone what to bring, knowing we could possibly end up with 8 desserts (I wouldn’t mind that) or three or more different salads. But I didn’t want to make this any more stressful than it had to be. I wanted it to be fun and just plain spontaneous. It was.

I still had two ladies who were due soon. If either one went into labor, I had plan B all ready. My husband would follow my step-by-step written (and typed) instructions and put the turkey in the oven at the designated time. It was on the top shelf of the refrigerator already prepared and sitting in its roaster pan. Then my daughter Ruth would be alerted and she would come over earlier than she otherwise would have and help him with the rest of the preparations. I had actually set the table the night before and started preparing the food ahead too. Potatoes were peeled, the gelled cranberry-orange relish was made, lettuce was washed, wine chilling in the 'fridge and the fall Indian corn, wheat stalk and dried hot pepper centerpiece was all made and in place.

The year before I had planned out the whole day for myself, getting up early to clean the turkey at 6 a.m. and have it in the oven by 7 thinking it would need close to 6 hours for an 18 pound turkey. And, according to the old adage from Robert Burns' poem “To a Mouse” which he penned in 1786, and which is of course is the source for the title of John Steinback’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men, “the best laid schemes of mice and men….” who should decide to arrive barely two hours into cooking that turkey but a baby who wasn’t due for more than 2 more weeks?

Needless to say, I shut off the oven, made room for the roaster in the fridge, showered and dressed, popped the turkey into the ‘fridge and called a cab which got me to the birthing center at the same time as the excited couple. The midwife drove up minutes later, unlocked the door and turned up the heat and we had a baby after about 4 hours. My family wasn’t planning to eat until later that evening, so I offered to stay and do the postpartum shift and discharged them in time to catch up to my family, who had all pitched in and got dinner on the table in plenty of time. Back at the birthing center, the family’s relatives showed up right after the birth with a cooked turkey and all the trimmings, took charge of our little kitchen and laid out a spectacular feast. The whole place smelled exquisite! I was handed a full plate along with the new parents who ate theirs in bed with their new baby lying between them, peacefully sleeping. So rather than miss Thanksgiving, I enjoyed it twice that year!

Although I am now an avowed vegan, my husband David had long ago forsworn his brief sojourn into vegetarianism while a novice Trappist monk in Iowa in the 1970s. Brother Gilbert, who was brother cook at the time created a novel alternative that year for the community’s Thanksgiving Day meal. He sculpted an amazingly realistic-looking turkey out of a tuna and breadcrumb mixture that he baked and garnished with all the traditional trimmings. David had asked the question (that ultimately made it apparent during that year that he did not, in fact, have a monastic vocation) why they couldn’t instead have turkey in the shape of a tuna? There is a newer alternative now to the yearly slaughter of the country’s turkeys: Tofurky is the brand name of an American vegetarian turkey replacement (also known as a meat analogue) made from a blend of wheat protein and organic tofu and spices. I have not tried it yet.

So this year I felt that I was ready for any eventuality, though everything went off without a hitch and no babies arrived that day, either. It was definitely a unique spread. Our Moroccan friend Jaafar brought an eggplant dip and spinach hors d’oeuvres. Our master scuba-diving Indian friend Lorna brought sausage-stuffed date canap├ęs. Her girlfriend brought an arugula and mandarin orange salad. I could have feasted on that one alone, and the list goes on. Aane brought roasted herb-y yams and Hannah brought pies. Someone else brought a wild rice pilaf dish. It was beautiful. 

One friend brought along another friend of hers whom I had not met before. She was a lively addition to the already eclectic conglomerate. I was fascinated by her description of her work as an Oriental practitioner. We hit it off immediately and sat together when the food was served. Now before I tell her story, I need to regress to a decade earlier when we had 5 teenagers at home all at the same time. They had grown up with all the unpredictability of living as the family of a midwife, the interrupted birthday parties, having to be mousy-quiet in the morning because mama is sleeping after working all night, and so on.

I need to preface this too with the fact that I love my work and assumed everyone else on the planet was as enthusiastic as I was about the miracle of birth. So at dinner I would often recount the events of the night before in all their uncensored glory. And the kids would object. I tried to remember that some were more squeamish than others and diluted the events considerably, but at dinner one night, the kids said that they had come to a united decision: I could no longer spoil their supper night after night. The new rule was: NO BODILY FLUIDS AT THE TABLE. None. At all. Ever. They made me promise. I did. 
So back to my new friend/Oriental practitioner/dinner companion. She had heard that we had gone to The Farm in Tennessee in order to have our twins naturally with Ina May Gaskin back in 1982. We could not find anyone in Minnesota who would agree to a natural twin birth back then. She was asking about the birth, how big each baby was, and so on. So I told her that Isaac came first and was 7 pounds, 15 ounces and 6 minutes later Ruth was born weighing 7 pounds and 7 ounces. I explained that the two placentas looked like one, fused together with two separate sacks and weighed in at over 5 additional pounds. At this she blurted out, “That placenta must have been HUGE!” and before I could hush her I heard an audible gag from across the table and looked over to see Hannah glowering at me, David shaking his head and Ruth rolling her eyes. Sorry guys, it wasn’t me!

The rule still holds, even to this day. I am often reminded to stifle it until after the meal if I forget and proceed to tell them about the latest birth when we get together. The other night the phone rang and I jumped up to answer it. A first-time mom was calling asking how she would know if she was in labor, so I asked about any rushes (contractions,) water bag leaking perhaps and then asked, “do you think you have lost your mucus plug yet?” I knew I had failed to take the phone out of range when I heard a chorus of groans from the table and one of them saying, “Geez, Mom!”

So, next week will be Thanksgiving once again. It looks like we will have all the ethnic orphans again this year. I have four clients in their 8th or 9th month just now. We will see what happens this year.

With special thanks for these babies by Anne Geddes.

Stay Tuned: This and other stories will be appearing in my upcoming book, Call The Doula! a diary© by Stephanie Sorensen.

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