Thursday, January 1, 2015

Soshi

Another referral. Another homeless lady. Another not-too-sure-what-just-hit-him father-to-be who is deciding if this is something he can try to do or just another hit-and-run accident that he can run from. Like right now. Another baby on the way. Drama, drama, and more drama. Not an ideal way to start a family, but it appears to be more and more common. At least here in Minnesota, and I suspect elsewhere, too. How many young men and women end up being adults by default only? Thrown to destiny without a lot of thought going into the process? Is this pre-ordained? Is it all supposed to be so random? My philosopher-self wonders about such things. Then they puzzle how come life has become so complicated. I would wager they either grow up real fast, give up the kid stuff and take responsibility, probably much like their own parents did, or else they cling to the kid stuff, try to make a go of it in spite of all the odds stacked against them, and fall further and further down the rabbit hole with few resources on board to get them out of it and back on a path that even resembles normal.
We meet and talk about birth plans and housing options, where to get maternity clothes cheaply or free, and her relationship with her parents and whether they can help out at all. Baby will take a back seat in most of this. The priorities right now are finding a safe place to stay that will allow her to bring her baby back after she is born, and after that, connecting with the services that will help her find more permanent housing and childcare so that she can finish school. The services are all out there, but I have found that it takes an advanced degree in law to wade through the system and the myriad hoops that are in place. I often wonder while I attempt to help someone with the paperwork if there isn’t someone sitting at a big oak desk somewhere at the top of some government building whose sole job is to calculate how to make the process as intimidating and impossible as possible in order to discourage the vast mass of humanity living below the poverty level from accessing their services and overwhelming the system which has already experienced their own budget cuts for the year. They have to keep a ceiling on the hordes that might otherwise stampede the system should it prove not such an obstacle course. A certain portion of those applying will give up frustrated and rather join the ranks of the homeless than sift through the unintelligible verbiage, submission deadlines, and required unobtainable accompanying paperwork. Even I don’t have records from my first job 45 years ago.
What I have seen in the past decade only confirms my hunch: that the welfare system does not make it easy to get help—on purpose. I bet they even have a pie chart with the statistics on how many people give up at each step or point of application. Put another wrench in the works come the next fiscal year and they can manage to (barely) run the department with the same number of social workers as they had the year before without having to cough up any more money. Won’t the governor love them then? That is how we end up having families living in tents under the Mendota Bridge in the middle of winter in St. Paul. With their baby. We brought them to a Catholic Worker house where they stayed for a week before disappearing again, determined to avoid child protection services at all costs.
Soshi was born in the Middle East and came to Minnesota as a child when her family immigrated. She went through the public school system and like many children of immigrant parents, rejected the “old ways” of doing things and adopted the status quo of their new country. In her case, Soshi rejected all of the “old ways” en masse, including her family’s religion and values. The proscribed women’s dress code was the first thing to go once she reached high school, traded in for skinny jeans and designer T-shirts. She liberated her hair next, throwing away the entire drawer of color-coordinated hijab. Dating was forbidden in the old country, instead parents arranged marriages for their children with like-minded friends and relatives from their own strata in society. What Soshi couldn’t get away with out in the open, she found alternative ways of accomplishing.
I have watched Soshi’s generation over the past twenty years as they assimilate into their new country. Many have the attitude, “Now that we are in an educated country, we can throw out the superstitions and make this a new time. All the things that were forbidden before and are allowed here, well, we don’t see the Americans suffering for doing these things.” And before long, drinking, birth control, movies—the list is endless—all the forbidden fruits of this new land find a way in and a whole culture feels it is being threatened. This occurs over and over again with each culture, every wave of new immigrants coming in contact with a more modern, opposing culture that puts their very existence at risk. My own grandparents went to their graves shaking their heads, watching their own children and then us grandchildren embracing a world they would and could never understand. My wise old father told me before he died, “Just remember, you can’t live their lives for them” when my own teenagers were writing their own declarations of independence.
So, it was no surprise that her parents disapproved when she brought home American boyfriends. The lectures and warnings went unheeded. Like me, when I was her age, I did what I wanted, ignoring my parents’ wisdom and threats alike. And like me, Soshi became pregnant at 16.
We met at the shelter every week to hash out the list of needs and priorities. One by one we ticked off the items on the list and life started having a pattern and not feeling completely random. We applied for programs that could offer her housing, child care, and a high school diploma. We hit the thrift stores on senior discount days (I am a senior) and found enough items that could pass as maternity clothes. We collected used baby clothes and even found time to enjoy a trip to the mall together.
Christmas was quickly approaching and several churches asked our group of doulas if they couldn’t gift some of our moms this year. We wrote down their sizes and wishes and submitted them anonymously. That was an interesting discussion.
Me: “Well, there is this church that wants to buy gifts for some of our moms. Can you tell me anything you’d like to ask for?”
Soshi: “What I want more than anything in the whole world is a Princess Tiana blanket for my baby girl.”
Did I hear her right? Is she 18 going on 12 or what? OK, I think I get this. She is still a teenager, and she wants what all the other girls have, or something like that.
Me: “What is that?”
Soshi: “Well, she is Disney’s first Black princess and I just love her!”
Me: “OK. Do you need a crib or maybe a snow suit for the baby? Or do you have a flannel nightie for yourself?”
Soshi: “Yeah, but I really want anything with Princess Tiana on it.”
Me: “OK. I will see what I can do.”
So I called all of the fabric stores within a 50-mile radius and found out that the Disney designer fabric is not even out online yet. I will have to call back in a week. Which I did, and found out that I could get it in a fleece for under $10. Now Princess Tiana was on the top of my wish list too! Yikes!
The next order of business was a belly cast. We scheduled it for the following week when I could get the room to ourselves where we do them. She was tickled with the results. It is one way of zeroing back in on baby, which is what this is supposed to be all about anyway. Between our modern, materialistic society’s expectations for our babies to have all the latest designer clothes and equipment and our unspoken wish to keep up with the Jones’, we forget the most elementary, basic, amazing, truly awesome fact that we have created a living baby! who most likely never existed before, and will now soon grace the earth with its being on an unforeseen day and hour. It will be the most important event at that moment in the entire cosmos! And yet most of the world will slog on with their mundane consumeristic lives.
When we were barely at 34 weeks Soshi called me one night after midnight. She was having contractions. We met at the hospital and watched as the monitors confirmed our worst fear: she was indeed going into preterm labor. Babies’ lungs are not mature enough yet to survive without a respirator which often cause adverse side effects. This was just too risky for our liking. We really wanted to keep this baby in as long as possible. The doctors suggested some IV medicines which miraculously worked to slow the contractions. By morning they were gone. This pattern was to repeat itself every two or three days until her due date. The meds continued to postpone a premature birth until week 40. Then we got no rushes or contractions. Week 41 was approaching and this baby was making no attempt whatsoever to be born. Neither of us could believe it when the doctors scheduled an induction. For this baby?
So we settled in to a birthing suite on the appointed day. We were excited that finally we were going to meet her baby. I teased that she was going to be just as stubborn as her mama. My own mother had once tried to curse me in a similar way: “I hope your kids are just as obedient as you were!” (To tell the truth, they were, and more!)
The OB tried one medication after another over the next 12 hours. Nothing worked. No contractions. We rested then for a few hours, me in a lounge chair and Soshi zonked out in bed. Six hours later she woke up to mild but regular rushes. Yay! At one point Soshi asked about pain meds and started on an IV medication. It didn’t do anything at all. I wasn’t surprised since the earlier doses also had not worked to induce labor for her.
At one point Soshi’s boyfriend, her baby’s father arrived, followed by one of his home boys. I realized immediately that Dad’s eyes were red, that he smelled of something stronger than 7Up and headed right for the lounge chair without even asking her how she was doing before flopping down in it and closing his eyes. The Homie sat in the only other chair in the room and commenced to nervously tap out a percussion piece on the bedside table with both hands.
So we breathed, and walked up and down the halls, stopping during the rushes and then walking some more. Finally she wanted to go back to bed and rest a bit. The Homie had gone home by now and Daddy was sawing wood, passed out on the futon in the corner where the nurse had brought it in during the night.
The nurse asked if they could check her and shocked us by announcing that she was 7 centimeters! We were going places now. Soshi again asked for more IV meds but I explained that she seemed to be nearing the end of the first stage and that they would hesitate to give her anything that might make the baby sleepy, and we probably didn’t have time to get the meds and have them wear off before her baby would come. The last thing you want is a sleepy baby at birth, drugged so much that he might forget to breathe and need resuscitating. She asked the nurse anyway, if she could have something—an epidural, anything—but the nurse repeated what I had just told her. I told Soshi that I was confident she could do this and that the nurse was going to get the anesthesiologist to discuss an epidural, but that if she continued to dilate quickly she could be holding her baby soon.
So we breathed, and tried groaning low cow-like sounds, tried the tub again, then the birth ball, and before she could be checked again, started pushing. The nurse became a bit panicky at this and called the doctor who I realized had been sound asleep in the doctor’s lounge. She gowned up and sat down at the foot of the bed on an exam stool and promptly closed her eyes. I took that as my cue that I would be directing her breathing and pushing which we had pretty well down pat by now. As the nurse tucked sterile sheets around and under her, Soshi asked the nurse to please try again and wake up lover boy who was still snoring to beat the band in the corner of the room. She tried her best, calling his name, yelling at him to wake up, even bumping his sneakers with her clogs several times. We didn’t get even a glint of recognition from him. He was out cold.
Five minutes later, Soshi again asked me to try to wake him up. I knelt by the body on the floor stretched out on the futon and pushing the dreadlocks out of the way, called his name. Nothing. I patted his cheeks with both hands, sort of like the old Laurel and Hardy films did it, and got nothing. I patted harder, slapping him by now, incredulous that even that didn’t wake him up. Damn it, you. Wake up! Nothing. I gave up and went back to the head of the bed.
On the next push her baby’s head was born (and the doctor opened her eyes in time to check for a cord around the baby’s neck.) Soshi reached out as the doctor passed her beautiful big baby girl to her. The nurse brought over blankets to cover her with. I was amazed and pointed out to Soshi that her baby was already lifting up her head and rooting.
Soshi was crying and kissing her baby, telling her how much she loved her, and then begging me to try to wake up what’s-his-name again. I was giving him plenty of my own names by now: Turkey, Turd, Looser, Toad, SOB. So I knelt down again by the futon and slapped him a bit. I was afraid I’d get punched if I did it any harder, so I stopped. I grabbed his shirt collar in both hands and hauled him up to a sitting position. His cargo pants had migrated down to his knees while he slept. I yelled in his ear, “Hey, dude! Wake UP! I want you to see your baby!” That worked. He shook his head, blinking a few times, and I said, “You have to see this amazing super Mama here” to which he replied as he stood up, towering over me, “Oh, there really aren’t any super mamas, only super Papas!” (I gagged.)
He walked over to the bed and took his daughter as Soshi handed her to him. He sheepishly smiled at me and the nurse, gave back the baby to Soshi, and headed for the door as he scooched up his pants and took out a pack of cigarettes from his leather jacket pocket. Then he was gone.
When I went back to the hospital the next day they were busy packing up and getting ready to be discharged. “Meat head” as I was referring to him--to myself only, of course--was hauling suitcases, knapsacks, and IT’S A GIRL! balloons out to Soshi’s car. She had driven herself to the hospital the day before. She handed me baby Fayga as she put her coat on. Dad came back to the room at that point. I thought to myself, “It’s either now or never.” I had been awake most of the night wondering what I could say to this guy. Could I say anything that might, possibly turn him around? What future would Soshi and Fayga have with him? Was there any hope at all?
So I tried. I was still holding baby who was snuggling into my shoulder. I loved this baby. I love all of my babies. And I had fallen in love with Soshi, too. I saw so many similarities in her that I could see in myself at her age. I cleared my throat.
“Can I talk to you guys?” I ventured.
“Sure” she said. He looked up.
“I am not your doula now. More like a grandma, really. I love this baby, and I love Soshi. I really care about what happens now. I don’t want your baby growing up without a dad. I don’t want her to have a totally absent father. You have one more chance. Are you listening?”
I got a grunt from him as he stood there, rather petrified, with his eyes wide open, wider than I had ever seen them.
“Look”, I said. “You have one year to turn this around, OK? No more dope, no more drinking. You need to clean up your s&@#! You need to get a job. This is it. You have a family now. Do you get it?” 

He nodded. This was not what he expected. I meant it, though. Every word of it. I tucked Fayga into her car seat and hugged Soshi good bye as he slinked out of the room. I have added them to my prayer list. My oldest daughter was shocked that I had even attempted The Talk. She said I was lucky I didn’t get a broken nose out it. That had not occurred to me as a possibility. If only they could live happily ever after now, like Princess Tiana and her Prince Charming.

Stay Tuned! This and other stories will be available in my book, Ma Doula coming out in May 2015!

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