This is What Happened at 9 Centimeters (The birth story of Olive James, part 2)

Read part one here.


Then came Sunday.

More of the same. The entire day. At first I labored by myself, in as much of an upside-down position as I could manage, while Dave slept in. I wanted to be alone. The bone-against-bone pain of back labor was such that nothing brought relief or even a measure of distraction- not movement, heat, water, or any of the massage techniques we'd learned in class. The only trick in the bag I had was my own mind, which I tried to wrench into a soothing state by playing classical christmas music and picturing the most comforting image I knew- my land in Vermont, covered in a white blanket of sparkling snow. Here's how that actually went down in my chaotic, un-trained, never got the hang of meditation brain-

Think about christmas think about christmas think about christmas oh shit here comes another- fuck fuckfuckfuckfuck. Ow. Fuck. 

Everything about labor had heightened, now that we were on day two. The contractions lasted longer- forty seconds, then fifty, now a minute. They came more frequently, and the knife that stabbed into my lower back was now white hot with invisible, licking flames. These contractions were so powerful that they sent blood seeping down my thighs- gory evidence that things were indeed progressing. 

Just before noon, the baby flipped into the correct position. With one hand I pressed along my belly I felt only the smooth surface of her back, instead of the knot of bony elbows and knees. The next three contractions wrapped around my front, just like the books had described. Able to stand straight up for the first time in days, I ran into the kitchen to tell Dave. Suddenly, the unmedicated labor that stretched ahead of me felt entirely possible.

By the time I made it to the kitchen, however, she'd flipped back. Once again, my sacrum bulged where her forehead bore into me from the inside. 

The day continued as we plodded through the spinning babies series and the miles circuit, Dave shimmying a sheet against my stomach as I crouched on my hands and knees. Evening fell, again, and I felt myself sliding into a state of bewildered despair. When my old friend Stephanie called me from Arkansas, I picked up the phone and burst immediately into tears before I could even say hello. My own hard sobs made me realize that I'd reached the limit of what I could handle without professional help. I hung up and told Dave to summon Roxy. 

Roxy found me in the nursery, lit orange by the glow of a salt lamp and listening to the Boston Camarada sing Oh Holy Night from an iphone speaker. I looked up and managed to say, "I'm an Athiest- I just really love Christmas." And then I started to cry again. 

Contractions were coming faster, three to four minutes apart, and so intense I could only offer a high pitched whimper during the peak. Even the vibration of my own vocal chords seemed to make the pain more intense. Roxy rubbed my back and held my hands but I could only stare through her. At 7:30 she whispered, "Let's go to the birth center now. Even if we have to come back, let's just go in and have a change of pace." 

Roxy knew exactly what she was doing, and she also knew we wouldn't be returning home until I had a baby. Dave threw our bags into the car and spoke with Lisa, the midwife on call. "She wants to know which room you'd like her to prepare," he said, pressing the phone against his shoulder. 

I heard his question and I wanted to answer. I wanted the blue room that randomly had a framed picture of my friend Melody on the wall, a lovely image from when she was giving birth to her little daughter Phoebe. But, rendered completely silent by the contractions, I could only stare through him, rock my head from side to side and wave my arms in front of me like a swimming bear, or frankenstein moving in deep space. He put the phone back to his mouth, "Any room will do." 

We began the fifteen minute drive to the birth center, rolling beneath the train tracks and over the French Broad river. I'd assumed the car ride would be a most unwelcome experience, everyone says that getting to the hospital is the worst part. However, I found myself in a completely new head space. We were off! This was happening! I was desperately glad to leave the last two days behind us, leave our small, dark house which was by now a tangled nest of pillows, blankets on the floor, water glasses on every surface, uneaten bowl of soup congealing on the counter tops. Soon we'd be at the clean, spacious birth center, with its infinity shower and beds made up with cool sheets, under the the maternal, folksy care of the midwife.  

Buoyed by this new state of mind, I found my voice for a moment.  "This pain," I said to Dave, startling him with my normal pitch and volume, "It feels like there is a meat hook on either side of my back, and the hooks are attached to monster trucks, and the trucks are driving in separate directions, pulling me apart." 

Dave glanced at me in the rear view mirror, and I felt the car accelerate as we flew past Penny Cup Coffee and a row of colorful art galleries, finally turning right into the parking lot of the dark, quiet birth center. 

My god, I was finally going to have this baby.

Thought I. 

And I very nearly did.


What I remember most about my night at the birth center was how very quiet it was. The midwife, Lisa, floated into the room every half an hour to check heart tones, saying only the very minimum of words. If anyone spoke between my contractions, I didn't hear them. I had collected quite a little team by that point- Dave, Roxy, a red haired nurse named Bethany, and Jessie, our trainee doula. By then the tail end of a hurricane had landed on Asheville, and with the windows wide open we could hear a drenching rain fall and feel gusts of warm winds sweep through the room. I was very quiet myself, finding only the power to whimper at the height of each pain. 

I also remember that I wriggled out of my clothes within five minutes and never bothered to think about them again. ("Please remind me to pack lots of swim tops-" I'd told Dave a few days before labor started. "I'm much more modest then you might think." Ha.) 

Lisa checked me when I first arrived and found me to be between 4 and 5. After that we all knew I was really on my way, and I spent the first few hours drifting between the shower and the bed. The hot running water brought - nothing. It didn't touch the pain. When the birth tub was filled I climbed gratefully inside, expecting to feel as if I'd climbed into a tub of liquid morphine. And maybe- maybe the slightest tiniest hint of relief- but then again, maybe not. 

Around midnight, I began to feel trapped. During every pain I looked wildly around the room, knowing that nothing inside those walls could take it away, but searching for it anyway. Roxy and Jessie offered me a homeopathic remedy for the panic, peppermint oil for the nausea, and two loving, steady faces to focus on when I thought my head was going to blow off. But eventually, it was not enough. I clambered onto the bed, called out for Lisa, and told her I needed to go to the hospital and get an epidural. 

A knowing look passed between the women. "Alright, sure, you may do that." Said Lisa. "Do you mind if I check you before we go?"

"Go ahead," I said, flopping back on the pillows, feeling myself melt with relief at the very thought of an epidural.  

"There's a reason you feel this way," she said. "You're at an eight. With a bulging bag of water."

I sat up. "Transition? Is this transition?"

"That's right," she assured me. 

"Thank God," I said, shuffled to the ground, and climbed back into the tub. I'd followed the timeless script of laboring women- when we give up and ask for pain relief, we're usually experiencing transition, the toughest part of dilation that comes right before pushing. Since getting to the birth center, I'd progressed quickly and smoothly. Soon I would be pushing this backwards baby right out of me, they'd towel her off, place her on my chest, we'd all cry, snap some pictures, order some food, and go home. 

Thought I. 

But first I had to progress those two final centimeters and then wait to feel the urge to push. I was determined. Roxy and I went into the bathroom. Naked on the toilet sat I, backwards. I fluttered my fingers towards the door, told Dave to stay out. "He doesn't need to see this," I explained, and Roxy nodded and smiled, as if Dave hadn't already seen everything already. 

Between 8 and 9 centimeters there was more blood and more....stuff. Who knows what. An enormous sense of fatigue took ahold of me, and I just wanted to stop. I wanted to hit the pause button and fall asleep. Dave and the doulas were taking turns napping on the bed, and I desperately, desperately desired to pull back the covers and climb in. I felt very sad knowing that I couldn't. I started to feel trapped again. Second by second I watched the hours glide by as I crouched in the birth pool, waiting to feel the urge to push.

But the feeling didn't come. It never came. Eventually the contractions began to space out a little bit, and everyone told me I was "Laboring Down"- meaning my body was getting a little break between reaching ten centimeters and pushing.  

But a small, steady voice inside my head said, "No, you're not." 

Jessie pushed my hair back across my forehead. "This time is a gift," she whispered. 

To which the voice answered, "No it's not."

I picked up my head from the edge of the tub, listening. 

"Your baby is not going to come out." 

This was no divine voice from above. It was purely my intuition, speaking very clearly from the deepest region of my animal brain. Telling me what I'd pretty much known for the past two days. "This labor is wrong. This pain is wrong. Your baby is not going to come out this way."

It had been three hours since Lisa had checked me. Three hours of gut wrenching contractions, of leaking blood and mucus, of head-splitting pain. With every surge, Roxy held my hands and told me to take it lower, to leave my rational brain behind and find footing in my primal senses, to deepen my voice and plant my feet. Instead, I could only cry out higher and higher, rising up on my tip toes, trying to escape by climbing up and out of the pain. 

It was perfectly obvious to me that if I had to relax and soften my body and brain in order to reach complete dilation, it was never going to happen. Again, I lifted my head from the tub, looked calmly around the room and announced, "I need to go to the hospital now. She is not going to come out this way."

Once again, I allowed Lisa to check me. "Nine and change." 

Not many people would insist on leaving the birth center and beginning the grueling transport to the hospital when they are less than one centimeter away from completion. But I knew, with absolute and utmost confidence, that I needed to go. Three hours is a long time for a body to get between 8 and 9, but certainly not unheard of. My labor hadn't stalled, contractions were still strong (I'll say!) and steady. I was so close. But I knew she wasn't coming. 

If I hadn't been completely, 100% confident that I needed to go, I would never have made it through the next hour. Putting on clothes, then shoes, gripping the wall with one contraction after another as my birth team gathered our belongings and Lisa called the hospital to begin the transfer, staggering out to the car- that was a grueling time. The contractions became double peaked around this point, meaning two waves of pain slammed into my body before a break. I crawled into the car on all fours, hugging the empty car seat as Dave white-knuckled it down empty, rain-slick streets and into the labyrinth of the hospital parking garage, the doulas and Lisa in tow. 

Leaving Dave to gather our bags, I staggered across the parking lot towards the white and red glow of the hospital. Something had switched inside my head, and I was entirely focused on my one goal,  my one purpose in the entire universe: find pain relief. Find it now. Do whatever it takes. My exhausted and addled brain gave zero thoughts to actually having a baby. My intuitive voice, having gotten me where I needed to be, was silent. I was now a zombie, an addict, a hunter. To the woman at the front desk, the orderly who led me to my room, the person with the clipboard full of papers to sign, I bore my eyes into their and whispered, "Help me." 

The nurse, the lab tech, another orderly, whoever it was poking my arm with a needle over and over to get a bolus of fluids started: "Help me. Help me. Help me."

And then, after it was clear that despite my begging, I'd still have to wait the normal amount of time to get an epidural (I needed to absorb the whole bag of fluid first, for one thing, and sign all the papers, and wait to be assigned a nurse, and wait for the anesthesiologist to arrive) I started to whisper, "God has to help me." (At this point, I didn't bother informing those around me that I was actually an atheist.)

I just needed the pain to go away. And then I could go home and put this whole thing behind me. 


The Arduous Case of the Backwards Baby (The birth story of Olive James, Part 1)

Note: I never intended to write Olive's birth story in numerous installments, but a few things have come to my attention in the last two weeks. One, trying to write one great big coherent spell-checked post is impossible with a newborn. Can't be done. Two, my labor was really, really long. And three, I actually want to remember every moment, for my own sake, so I'm including in these posts a level of detail I'd normally never inflict on you. 


Finally, after nine long months (do not let them tell you it goes by fast, it doesn't, it didn't) the end of September arrived, bringing with it a litany of disaster across the country; fires on the left and flooding on the right, sunken cities, swallowed islands, (more) gun violence, political disgrace after political disgrace after political disgrace. The mountains of Western North Carolina where I live remained peaceful and dry, not so much as a power outage to disrupt the sweltering autumn days- and still I managed to feel terribly sorry for myself.   

As it turns out, my capacity for self-pity at nine months pregnant toes the line between pathetic and impressive. To my credit, I was overdue with a pregnancy that at 32 weeks had become inexplicably painful and nearly debilitating. At that point I'd had to take medical leave from my job and put a hold on my photography business, which to my astonishment had been doing quite well since spring. Now, days past my due date, I felt bored and depressed, worn out from the non-stop pain, miserable from the waiting. 

At 41 weeks exactly, I went in to the birth center for a non-stress test. Reading the graph as it inched out of the machine, the midwife, Lisa, raised her eyebrows. "You're having consistent contractions every few minutes, did you know that?" I shrugged. I'd been experiencing Braxton Hicks for weeks, and for the past few nights had experienced a cramping back pain which always disappeared by morning. Nothing ever came of those sensations, and today did not feel any different. Still, Lisa was optimistic. "We might have a baby tonight!" She announced cheerfully, unhooking the monitors.  But I knew better. 

All that day, a Friday, the contractions continued. They were benign and painless until evening when, as I lay elaborately pillow-propped on the couch watching Better Call Saul, I felt the tightening travel to my lower back and take on a sharper edge. As the hours past, things became so lively and active that, in my naivety, I urged Dave to go to sleep. "I might be waking you up pretty soon!" I sang. 

When I sank into bed that night, every rhythmic pain made me feel hopeful. 

Then came Saturday. Saturday I woke up and the cramping in my back did not melt away with the morning. Delighted that things seemed to finally be moving in the right direction, I waited patiently for the sensations to reach around into my abdomen and evolve into intense period cramps, as I'd been promised in books and birth class.

Instead, the pain intensified, becoming a knife splitting my sacrum in two. The contractions were coming every five minutes, and as the morning progressed, I realized with a sudden jolt of despair that the pain was never going to shift to the front: I was in the midst of full on back labor. This sorry situation meant the baby was posterior, the back of her head grinding against my tailbone, a sub-optimal position that causes long and excruciatingly painful labors. 

Armed with this new understanding, I hit the deck. I remained on my hands and knees for hours, determined to remain as inverted as possible until this baby corkscrewed into a better position. The prospect of an unmedicated labor with a posterior baby did not thrill me. Regular labor could be shitty enough- I had no interest in the double-down, super deluxe variety. 

The day progressed, as days do, the sun wheeling from one end of the sky to the other. Shut in the house with my eyes closed, rocking back and forth on the floor, I never noticed the outside world. I spent the long hours plodding through the Miles Circuit- a series of positions and exercises meant to help babies spin into an ideal position. I did that stupid miles circuit forever, with no results. Every few minutes I'd feel the pressure closing in from both hips, shoot up my back for thirty or forty seconds, reach a white hot crescendo, and then disappear. If I were to sketch out the trajectory of the sensations, they would look nothing like the "peaceful yet powerful" "ocean waves" we'd been taught to "surf". No such lovely imagery came to mind. 

Instead, geometric patterns of color flashed behind my closed eyes at the peak of each quick but brutal contraction. I pictured a carnival game, the type where the player raises a hammer and slams it down hard, sending a beam of neon lights shooting up a pole, higher and higher in  accordance with the strength of the blow. An explosion of pain, a burst of light growing brighter and brighter, then gone.  

By the time evening fell on Saturday, I felt utterly bewildered. Would these contractions ever come faster or last longer? Were they progressing things along at all? How long could this go on for? The last question was the most pressing. The pain was not yet unbearable, but certainly nothing I could sleep through. When - if - this ever evolved into active labor, how could I face it if I was already this exhausted? Surely my uterus would give up, or explode. 

We wound up at the birth center that night, not to give birth but to solicit (beg) help from Melissa, the midwife on call. With one hand on my belly, she quickly confirmed that the baby was entirely posterior. Inside the quiet, mostly dark room with the double bed and the soothing sketches of trees on the wall,  she led us through a series of exercises that were above and beyond the Miles Circuit- at one point I was actually, truly standing on my head. For over an hour, I grimaced and tried to breathe while both Melissa and Dave used all four hands to prop me up in different positions. Afterwards, we could feel a little more of the baby's back against my belly instead of the usual knot of knees and feet. We'd managed to convince her to rotate about a quarter turn. 

Melissa released us back into the night with a prescription for pain medicine to help me sleep. Surely I would wake up in active labor, and I'd need the rest. Back home, I followed her meticulous advice and drew a bath, drank a double dose of magnesium, and rocked back and forth in the tub, shaking from head to toe. (Adrenaline, apparently. Who knew?) As soon as David walked in the bathroom door with the orange bottles of rattling pills, I lunged for him. 

Roxy and Olive

Roxy and Olive

Roxy, my birth doula, came over as soon as I was ready for bed, already slightly stoned from the (glorious) pills I took. Try as I did to hold off on calling her until active labor, I'd broken down and begged Dave to invite her over to tuck me in. (One tends to....revert a bit in labor.) Even in the most mundane of circumstances, Roxy looks just the slightest bit like a shimmering mirage. She is very beautiful. When she swept into my room that night, I reached for her hand and nestled towards her in bed, feeling instantly more safe and relaxed. She smoothed my hair and cooed, and then I did a strange thing. I had not spoken a complete sentence in hours, but now I spoke. I told her a whole story.

I told Roxy how I'd been lost in the mountains overnight when I was fifteen, in the dead of winter. I explained how cold we were, how close to death, and how at one point I had to resort to crawling up the snowy trail on my hands and knees. 

"It's just like right now. I had no choice but to crawl that night- crawl or die. And now this is the same. I have to get through this. I have no choice. I'm just crawling."

Cringe worthy is how I can describe that melodrama, but at that moment, in that far away place my mind had floated off to, the comparison not only made sense, it also brought me comfort. I even lifted my arms up and moved them in a swimming motion in front of me during each contraction, the way a bear might crawl if it were lopsided or inebriated. I would repeat that heady motion many times throughout the next few days of labor. 

That's right. Days. 

The very first moments in the life of Olive James

Note- Olive James Coogan-Clarke arrived safely and happily, but not speedily. Even after skimming off the more arbitrary details, my marathon labor (an endeavor that spanned from home to birth center to hospital room to operating room over a period of three days) is not going to fit into one post. Nor would I have the ability to write it out in one stretch, not in the time afforded to me in the slim hours of her naps, hours which are punctuated by me dashing to her side every other ninety seconds to ensure she has not died of- what, exactly? Too much air? A house squirrel stealing to her bedside and nipping away her breath? Her little neck snapping under the weight of her enormous, roly-poly head? 

You know what, that last one doesn't sound so improbable. Excuse me for a second-

Alright. Let's start at the end (also the beginning)- the very first moments in the life of Olive James.


At 3:28pm on Monday, October 9th, a surgeon slices me from hip bone to hip bone, then reaches down into my body and pulls out an 8lbs 6oz baby whose head has evidently been replaced by the roundest, smoothest, most radiant wheel of cheese from any cellar in any farmhouse across New England. 

They hold the baby up and over the blue curtain, still tethered by her blue chord, so the cheese wheel can take her first look at her mom and dad. Dad immediately melts into a pool of love and delirium on the operating room floor, requiring a nurse's assistant to gather him up in a glass vial and reform him. The top half of mom bangs away on the table with shivers so severe that any inhabiting spirits are accidentally exorcised away,  and she speaks her first word in the brand new world that she shares with her dinner-plate-faced daughter:  "ICE CHIP?" 

Then the baby is whisked away into a corner, dad scoots off to stick his pointer finger into her small, outstretched hand, and observe the warming and drying proceedings. Mom turns her face towards the doula, Roxy, repeats these words: "ICE CHIP?"- then heaves, gags, and begins to vomit.  

From inside her nest of towels and syringe bulbs and glinting silver instruments, at the center of a still-swarming team of baby professionals, the cheese wheel remains quiet, blinks her gigantic blue eyes, and adopts an expression of utter bemusement. 


The first trimester : an insane trick of the brain


Just the other day I saw an image of a Southeastern landscape in mid-winter. Absent was the refreshing tang of snow, there was only a snarl of bare tree limbs against an equally bare grey sky, dead grass the color of straw covering the ground. Seeing it brought a rush of nausea starting in the center of my body, where my core used to be, and rushing up through the top of my head. I looked away. The sight of bare trees makes me sick. 

I was about six weeks pregnant when the nausea set in. It was early February. We'd survived the women's march in DC, and the inauguration. The four pound creature who flails around inside me all day long and hosts nightly basketball tournaments for herself, the yet to be born mystery girl we now call Ollie, was then just the size of a gnat. 

I'd been feeling fine since learning she was on her way- better than fine, actually, as my very first pregnancy symptom was a complete lack of the cyclical chronic body pain I'd experienced for the past 18 months. I'd completely deluded myself into thinking that I'd skirt pass the first trimester without a drop of morning sickness or an ounce of fatigue. After all, what could pregnancy dole out that Lyme hadn't already punished me with? With my extensive understanding of bone broth and selenium, etc, who on earth was better nourished than I? A number of the wholistic pregnancy and preconception books I'd read thoroughly had all but assured me that women who follow a specific regiment of diet and supplements will entirely avoid the uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy- even the pain of labor. This is because natural, tapped-in women (like me) are just a littlest bit wiser, healthier, and overall better than everyone else. 


The sickness hit at 6 weeks, just like normal, and lasted till week 12. Just six weeks, but in first-trimester adjusted time that equals about 25 months. Time slowed down, time began to crawl, some evenings around 7pm time came to a revolting stop all together. It was a sickness that I'd never experienced, an all consuming nausea coupled with a hunger that I could only describe, at the time, as desperate.

This may have been exacerbated by the fact that I began the endeavor about 15 pounds beneath my ideal body weight. Maybe not, maybe that's just how it is. I have nothing to compare it with. All I know is that every day was a battle against the mind-blowing nausea that could only be cured by eating copious amounts of one thing- one specific thing and that thing only.

Figuring out that acceptable food and where to find it was like playing unsettling game of slots. In my imagination I'd pull the lever and watch as the spinning icons arranged themselves: Italian food? No, spin it again. Sandwich? No- GOD no. Chicken? I'm going to throw up, I can feel the contents in my stomach start to rise, I have to figure this out- soup? Yes- Yes that's it! What kind of soup? Minestrone? NO! Pho? Yes! From where? Wild Ginger? NO! The tea house up the street- that's it! 

Then I'd grab my jacket and a book and drive as fast as safety would permit to the tea house, where I'd place a hand firmly over my mouth and try not to look desperate or deranged as I waited for the soup to arrive in front of me on the table, neatly arranged next to the iced tea and the side plate of lime slices.

Most of the time I could enjoy the allowable food only once, and then it would be off limits- inconceivable, really- for the remainder of the six weeks. Other dishes I could eat into oblivion.  I devoured the aforementioned Pho 13 times in two weeks. Upon hearing this, Dave, who had been out of town, sank down into chair in the kitchen, rested his head in his hands and said, "That's like...two hundred dollars of soup." 

The secret food was the key to the day. If I correctly identified it in my head was able to locate and consume it in a timely fashion, I'd buy myself a few hours of feeling somewhat normal. Those were the good days, the pockets of relief. When the craving was more slippery to identify, was beyond my ability to locate within the city limits, required more effort to create than either David or myself had to give, or hit in the middle of the night when the food world was asleep-those were dark times. 

Even beyond my own physical complaints, those were dark times. The new president was appointing his cabinet members - Betsty Devos, who believes that schools should be stocked with guns to prevent Grizzly attacks, was now in charge of American public schools, climate change denier Scott Pruitt is the head of the EPA. A white haired lady in my gerrymandering action group who knit her way through every meeting and constantly swayed back and forth in a manner I found oddly soothing described listening to the news every day as a fresh horror. "What fresh horror awaits me tomorrow?" She asked, rocking in her seat. "That's what I want to know."

That's the very question I found myself waking up to every day, my first thought of the day. I suppose I should have been thrilled out of my mind that I was pregnant at all, I'd been terrified that the absurd amount of medications I'd swallowed the past year would have left me sterilized. But the gnat-embryo was nothing to me at the moment but a hazy potential of an imagination baby, nothing but a constellation of nausea and fatigue and soreness. The news headlines were the absolute opposite: hard, happening, real.

I suppose they had the fatigue and nausea in common. 

I never actually threw up. I wonder if that would have been better in a way. Instead the nausea swelled and took up epic proportions, reaching no conclusion, finding no retched relief. It wasn't only smells that set me off, although that was an insane trick of the brain. The world was a carnival of unfortunate and eerily specific smells. (One day David walked in the house and I stopped in my tracks, halfway to the door to greet him. "Why does it smell suddenly like someone ate a lot of meat in a hurry, then had a hard work out at the gym?" I asked, a full on accusation.  "....Accurate," he said, feebly, setting down his bag on the living room table. I wonder if, before walking in the door every evening after the work day he'd ask himself, "What fresh horror....") 

Certain sounds brought on the nausea, the spinning all-consuming sense of ill-ease. There was a certain early-morning bird call. I grew to detest it. Then I detested all birds and the racket they made. Colors and shapes did the same thing- the faintly orange straw-like grass that covered the mountainsides, the tangle of bare branches against the winter sky. How had I never noticed before how sickening these sights were?!

The only solution, then, was to avoid as much stimulation as possible. I put myself to bed by 6pm. Eyes lightly closed, fan on, an episode of Pod Save America playing if it were a Monday or Thursday. This is when time began to slouch. Making it out of the first trimester was looking more and more impossible as the minutes crawled by, a slow cockroach marching down an endless hallway. I had to change something. I had to go back in time and change the election outcome. I had to transport myself to Antarctica, where there was nothing but clean whiteness, freezing air and no smells.

If those things were not to be, then I'd have to get a job. I had a job, of course, but I worked from home, and home housed my cast-iron skillets, and they smelled terribly, as if the ghost of every bit of meat they'd ever roasted were coming back to haunt me. If that wasn't bad enough, I was lonely. I needed a job with co-workers who would break me out of stupor of political podcasts and white noise machines. Something that required me to get out of bed, put on clothes and leave the house.

Around week ten, I sat up in bed. I had an idea. 

The Bad Decision

A couple of months back I flew out to Nebraska on what turned out to be a rather ill-fated journey. It was a work trip, and I'd been really looking forward to writing about a different landscape and breaking out a few new adjectives (in case you're wondering, the Blue Ridge Mountains here in Asheville are: rippling, lush, panoramic, soaring, and, well- blue.) But it turns out I was in such crippling pain the whole time I was exploring the Great Plains I nearly lost my mind, just as the many mail-order pioneer brides that had come before me. 

That's right, friends, I still have fracking Lyme disease. I've gotten used to being in constant pain, as it's been well over a year now. The fact that we as humans are this adaptable is both a a terrible curse, and the only reason I haven't put myself into a forever sleep inside a snowbank. It's easier to exist in peace when you can't imagine what normal feels like any more, but there's also less motivation to try and get better. What's better? 

The trip to Nebraska was particularly haunting, as I'd just reached a milestone in my ubiquitous, longwinded, nebulous and, always, agonizingly expensive 'treatment.' We'd just managed to destroy all 13 species of mycoplasma I'd been suffering from- the stealthiest of all the stealth bacteria. Cause for celebration, because mycoplasma can cause such inconveniences as repeated miscarriage, but also tricky, as they create the biofilm where the Borrelia bacteria can live inside of you forever, cozy and protected from whatever onslaught of antibiotics you throw at them.

Not heard of biofilm? You've seen it. It's essentially a slime colony of bacteria, nature's lowest, basest, most repulsive level of life. Biofilm covers your teeth in the morning and sends you dashing out of bed to the toothbrush. It's the ring of discoloration that accumulates inside the toilet bowl, the one you'd rather die ignoring then face it and live. That's what I have clinging to my organs and vessels and bone. That's where the still-living-after-all-this-time pockets of Borrelia live like seniors in a Florida retirement community, totally insulated, playing bridge, enjoying Holiday potlucks. Swapping genetic information.  

At least, that's how things were until the day I successfully destroyed my 13 species of mycoplasma, the biofilm dissolved, a swarm of living lyme was released into my bloodstream, homeless and vengeful, and I blithely hopped on a plane to America's heartland, all excited about seeing the Oregon Trail in person.  

I'm catching us up a bit over a series of blog posts. The story continues soon. 

Bloggers, Instagrammers and Everyone with a Platform: Here is How We Return To Documenting Normal Life Again

Dear bloggers, instagrammers, and anyone with a social media profile,

Photo by Margaret Anderson 

Photo by Margaret Anderson 

Boy, we've had it rough since the election, haven't we? Is it just me, or does it feel like an awkward time to be in the business of writing about life- big, fun, beautiful, messy life?! Ever since the lucid, waking nightmare that was Tuesday night, getting back to business as usual (in my case, posts about mountains, Lyme Disease and my dog) feels tricky! Because a big, bad thing happened! So, with all of us in mind, I decided to break the ice and write a post about how in the world we can return to filtering and documenting our happy (sometimes!) and messy (so messy!) sometimes funny, mostly precious, warm and wonderful lives:

We don't. 

We can't get back to our normal lives because our lives are not normal any more. The appointment of an Alt Right leader as Whitehouse Chief Strategist is not normal. Having as a president-elect be the only world leader who claims that global warming is a hoax is not normal. Talk of forcing Muslim Americans to register, the same way that Jews were required to register during world war II Germany is not normal. 

And we as writers and photographers and bloggers, we cannot be the ones to normalize it. 

The administration that is going to lead our country starting January 21st have made it clear to us that they don't need to bother 'normalizing' their proposed policies by softening their language or mincing their words. They were elected on a platform or blatant fear-mongering, divisiveness, bigotry and hate speak. They are not appealing to us- they never have been. They realize that over half the country will disagree with them fundamentally. They're not depending on us to outright support them- they never needed our support. But they are depending on us to ignore them. To make it easy for them.

They're hoping that we just return to our lives and pretend this is not happening, or be too exhausted or scared to speak up, to get out of their way and shut up and return to what we find safe, and comfortable, and soothing. 

Here is exactly what that would look like:

Rape culture just claimed a major win, and while that bothers me, I never took a women's studies class, so I wouldn't be very articulate, or very profound, so I'm going to leave that up to the feminist scholars and instead, I'm going to write about the camping trip I took last week.

A wave of hate crimes is washing over this country, shattering our society, causing my friends and I to feel scared when we leave the house to pick up groceries. How would I ever address something like that on my blog, or in an instagram picture? Instead, I'm going to write a particularly cozy piece about the holidays so we can all enjoy a few moments of comfort, we certainly need it.

I do not agree with the idea that we should rip apart families by deporting millions of people, but what you have to understand is, I'm a brand-rep, and I've been told to keep it neutral, because it's the holidays, and we have to sell these T-shirts. Or baby slings. Or moccasins. Or whatever. 

My blog is small, and personal, and could not possibly have any sway on the way others think. So I get a pass on this one. 

Or, let's get real here-

I worked for years building up my platform,  my readers, and this is my job, so I'm not going to 'out' myself as having any persuasions or opinions that could lose me a portion of those followers.  

Alright, so what- are we all supposed to go back to school and study political science and become experts in the field? Are we supposed to ignore our own lives because they're just not important any more? If I post a picture of my cute dog, am I enabling conversion therapy for gay people?  

Nah. Listen. Our individual lives are just as important as they were a week ago. Our cute dogs are probably even more important than they've ever been before. (Shout out to my dog, Hometeam, for absorbing with her fur a thousand tears that I've cried this week.) It's just that we have to learn to do both. Let's dissolve the label we've assigned- this blog is about babies, this one's about climbing, crafts, economics, religion, tips on decluttering the household- No.

We are all writing, in our own way, about the our current world and how we make sense and find meaning in that world. Period. And, for the majority of Americans anyway, our current world just blew up. 

It might be awkward at first. Let it be awkward. "And that concludes my photo essay about my toddler's winter wardrobe, and by the way, the idea of dismantling our national parks really bums me out because I really want to take said toddler to Yosemite, wearing the little fur jacket you saw in photo #4." 

Maybe it's your tagline : thanks for reading, everyone, love you all, Melina (who fervently believes that abortion should be kept safe and legal.)

Do we have to be so vocal every damn post? Nah. Will I? Nah. Here and there. When an issue of particular relevance to us comes to the forefront. Maybe when we feel particularly lost and outraged (as I do, every time I learn something new about Steve Bannon and the Breitbart News Channel, whose Headlines have read "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy" and "Bill Kristol, Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew." I don't know, just doesn't sit right with me.)  

Do we need to be addressing our outrage on every post and picture for the next four years? Of course not. We'd implode. We'd lose our minds, and what good would that do? But we have to be willing to try and strike a balance, even if it does feel awkward, or your hands get clammy, or you have to run to delete it the first three times. Courage accumulates gradually, like snow. 

Let's make it totally normal for regular people like you and me to have an opinion and to talk about it on our blogs and our instagram feeds. That should feel right. And while we're at it, let's have faith in the people who follow us that they won't instantly leave us, that they may actually be interested in what we have to say and appreciate the opportunity to engage with us on that deeper level.  

And finally, for those of you thinking: my blog is my own, and I can write or not write whatever I damn well want. Well, you're right. That's certainly what I shouted at the screen a few years ago when The Wilder Coast made its first appearance on the internet hate site Get Off My Internets. This is mine, haters, I can write whatever the hell I want to. 

As long as you're not being silent because you don't think you have any influence- you do.

As long as you are not backing down because you aren't an expert, or particularly well worded- you don't have to be.

Or because you're not unbiased- we're all biased. 

As long as you're not silent because you're scared of losing followers because what has happened and what is about to - potentially- happen, is a far cry more important than the number of people who look at your Instagram photos. I'm sorry. But you know it is. 

As long as you fully understand the ramifications of looking away because it's uncomfortable, or because it hasn't effected you personally yet. History has told what happens when we do that. 

I'm calling on you. 

Much Love,

(Who really, totally depends on affordable health care that does not discriminate against pre-existing conditions.)

(And, since we're doing taglines, is still, yes still, slowly, steadily, and with great purpose, moving through her thank you letter list!)