Saturday, September 29, 2012

Volume IX: The Village

In Southeast Nigeria, there is a group of indigenous African people called the Igbo.  The Igbo are mostly farmers, living in small towns and villages.  Long before Hillary Clinton adopted the phrase and wrote a book by the same title, the Igbo have used a proverb that says "Ora na azu nwa," the translation of which is that it takes a community and village to raise a child. 

Before I had children, the phrase meant nothing to me - but not because I didn't yet have children, but because no one in my immediate circle did either.  I didn't grow up with younger siblings that I helped raise.  My brothers didn't have children of their own before I had mine.  All of my close friends were childless.  And I didn't grow up babysitting other people's kids.  Essentially, when I had my first child, I knew exactly nothing about them or how to raise them.  I was completely clueless, and so was my husband.  We went into parenthood as the blind leading the blind. 

The day I found out I was pregnant, I was both overjoyed and scared shitless.  I was a 28 year-old woman with a husband, a house, and a career.   I was responsible, not a partier, but yet I nevertheless felt like a kid having a kid.   The pregnancy was rough - I almost miscarried in the first trimester, and despite the fact that I didn't experience any morning sickness until I was pregnant with my second child, I was miserable.  I gained an atrocious amount of weight and never once had that glow I'd read pregnant women were supposed to have.  For all intents and purposes, I was (or at least felt like) a disgusting beast of a woman.   

The last few weeks were particularly horrific.  I was absolutely enormous and a day didn't go by at work that some moron would see me in the break room and say something like "Whoa!  Look at YOU!  You're about to POP."   As the days progressed, I found myself going from responding with, "Yeah, I know," to "Gee, thanks for the tip" to (on a couple of occasions I'm not proud of), "Thanks. Fuck you very much."   I was  seriously unpleasant to be around. Three days before my maternity leave was to begin, I showed up to work in my pajamas.  Literally.   I showed up to work wearing flannel pajama bottoms and an extra large sweatshirt.   No one, not one person said a word to me.  Good thing, too.  I very likely would've stabbed them in the throat with a letter opener.  

Needless to say, I wasn't the picture of grace and dignity.  Two days before going into labor, I developed a rash all over my body.  ALL OVER MY BODY.  My OB/GYN told me I had The PUPPP, and that it sometimes happens to women in the days before giving birth.  He suggested a calamine lotion, so I sent Jess out for calamine lotion.  It did nothing for me other than turn my already disgusting skin pink.  I sent Jess out for something stronger.  He came back with Benadryl cream.  That did absolutely nothing for me.  For the next two days, Jess made a dozen trips to the pharmacy, each time coming back with something new, something supposedly stronger.   But nothing worked.  Without a doubt, it was the worst part of the pregnancy.  I literally cried nonstop for two days straight from the agony of the itching.

And then I went into labor.  

You'd think after the 9 months of the aforementioned pregnancy, giving birth for me would've been the horrific, blood-curdling cherry on top of an already dreadful sundae.  But much to my absolute joy, it was not.  In fact, it was glorious.   My initial labor pains were not nearly as bad as the pain when I almost miscarried, and they took a very distant second to the pain of having a root canal.   Not having the slightest desire to rest on my laurels, I nevertheless elected to get an epidural almost immediately.   I slept soundly for hours as the contractions got stronger and stronger, with me blissfully unaware of any of them.  And then, when it came time to push, I did so for exactly 23 painless minutes and out came by beloved, beautiful Vivian, with ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. 

Enter The Village.

The day after Vivian was born, I got my first visitor (outside my in-laws, of course).  My assistant from work, Jaynee, showed up with a stuffed bear.   I was sitting in my hospital bed frustratingly trying to figure out how to breast feed.  Vivian was crying inconsolably.  She was not latching on and I was convinced (as all new mothers are) that I was starving my child.  Jaynee, who had a child of her own,  told me that I might want to try changing Vivian's diaper first.  I looked up at her and with a panicked look on my face said, "I don't know how."  The nurses had been taking care of doing that for me for the last day and I had absolutely NO IDEA how to change a diaper.  I remember feeling embarrassed in front of this woman, who was 8 years younger than me and who reported to me within the confines of the office, that I did not know how to change a simple diaper.  Jaynee kindly and gently said, "Here, I'll show you."  And she did.  That one small, seemingly insignificant gesture was my first indication that I needed a village - and that I was developing one.

The day I was released from the hospital, I panicked again.   Vivian was still not latching on very well and I was exhausted.  When the nurse came in to tell me that I was being discharged, Jess and I looked at her like she'd lost her mind.  What, just like that?  This woman had no indication whatsoever that either one of us was qualified to care for a baby.  And she was going to just send us home?  With a child?   Alone?  What the hell was wrong with her?  We'd had to go through a series of interviews and home visits just to adopt  our dog from the pound, and this woman was just going to let us just waltz of the hospital out with a human child and a pat on the back?  Are you insane?  Who’s in charge here?  Is there a supervisor we can talk to?

"You'll be fine," the kind nurse said. ”Just don't forget to ask for help when you need it.  You'll. Be. Just. Fine."

And of course, we were.  Thanks to The Village. 

The Mayor, President, and CEO of The Village (aka my best friend in the whole entire world, Cristina), moved to California when Vivian was two months old.  By then, I'd mastered breast feeding (thanks to another member of The Village) and Jess and I had the diaper-changing thing down to a science.  Still, Vivian was not sleeping well and I was dog-ass tired.   Cristina swooped in and, despite the fact that she too had little experience with babies, helped me by holding Vivian when I needed to take a shower, rocking her when I didn't have the strength to do it myslef, and giving me the cold hard truth that Vivian was not going to die from letting her cry every now and then. 

By this time, The Village was growing rapidly.  My parents, neither of whom lived in California, had visited to help out in the first few weeks.  My mother and sister in law were ever present and helpful.   Neighbors brought food, and friends visited.  Even Piñata, our beloved basset hound, became a member, despite being usurped from her role as Number One, demanding less walks, cuddling next to me when I was feeling down.  By the time we celebrated Vivian's first birthday, Jess and I had a handle on things - in huge part, thanks to The Village.

Three years later, I got pregnant with my second child.  This pregnancy was much easier, despite the morning sickness I suffered through for 6 months.   I'd lost all the weight from my first pregnancy and was hell bent on this one not turning me into a blob.  I bought really cute maternity clothes, allowed myself to visit my hair stylist every 6 weeks, and glory of all glories, did not get The PUPPP.

At the time my son Jesse was born, our very close friend Kevin was living in the apartment on the side of our house.  Over the prior year, he and Vivian had become very close.  He adored her and was a supremely important member of The Village.   The morning I went into labor, I was awakened by the telltale signs of early labor.  I got up and went into Vivian's room, where she was sound asleep on her queen-sized bed.   I lay down next to her, knowing that this was it, that our family was about to increase by 1/4th.  Just then, my water broke and I knew it was time to go.  It was still very early, about 6:00 AM.  I woke Jess up and knocked on Kevin's door.  Our game plan was that if I went into labor before our nanny showed up, Kevin would stay with Vivian until she did.   Kevin emerged from his apartment, groggy, barley awake and stumbled into Vivian's room.  He plopped down on the bed, asleep again before his head hit the pillow (and yes, right smack on top of my amniotic fluid).    I called the CEO and told her it was show time. 

Several once again joyful and painless hours later (God bless the inventors of the epidural), with Jess holding up my left leg, and Cristina holding up my right, our beautiful Jesse was born. 

This time, my first visitor was Jess's business partner, Ken.  God love him for being the first, but Ken showed up not the next day, but within hours of me giving birth.  I was lying in my bed, not feeling too great down there despite the fact that the epidural had not entirely worn off.  I desperately needed to pee.  At that point, after having given birth in a teaching hospital where half a dozen people come and go and see you in all your glory, all modesty was gone and I let Ken help me to the bathroom.  As I stood up and started walking, my legs collapsed underneath me, but Ken was there.  He held me up and helped me all the way to the potty.  I'm sure it was quite a sight - a 60+ year old man practically carrying this bleeding, unstable 32 year old woman to the bathroom.   And while in hindsight I cringe at the image (it's embarrassing now, but wasn't at the time), I realize that members of The Village come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes help you with things that under different circumstances, would seem absolutely inconceivable.

Present Day

Vivian is now 10 and Jesse is 7.  The Village is abundantly full with people who love our children deeply.  Cristina, John, Vanessa, Maureen, Gerber, Tony, Greg, Dad are just a handful of people whom we could not have done this without.   Cristina has helped Vivian with her math homework and has shown up to every one of her horse shows to coach her and lend support.    John has shown Jesse how to drum and has taught Vivian everything he knows about the constellations.  Gerber and Tony have helped Jess build, take apart and rebuild Jesse's quarter midget car.   Vanessa and Maureen have showered the kids with love and affection, and have made themselves available time after time to babysit. Greg will undoubtedly be the one to teach our kids urban disaster survival skills.  Dad has stayed with Vivian and Jesse for 10 days so Jess and I could go to Honduras, and he taught them how to make the perfect omelet.  I could go on and on and on for days on end about everything these wonderful people- and so many more - have done for us - for our kids.   Thank you, Village.

Paying it Forward

Last week, the CEO went into labor at 11:30 at night.  Jess was out of town, so I called John (who for all intents and purposes is Second in Command of The Village) and repeated to him the same words I said to Cristina years ago:   “It’s show time.”

Within 20 minutes, John was at my house to stay with the kids so I could go to the hospital.  12 hours later, my godson, Jack was born and Cristina began building her own Village.  And I fully intend to become her Mayor, President and CEO. 


  1. What a very delightful post, E - really touching. :)