Category Archives: health

Pain, Leavened Only by Discomfort: A Labor Story, Part One

How is it possible almost six weeks have passed and I haven’t chilled you to the bone with my How I Had My Baby story? Well, grab your warmest blanket and a mug of hot chocolate, kidlets, because here we go.

By Labor Day in early September, I was ready. My belly had gotten so big I felt like a house on legs, like in those Russian baba yaga stories. Since I am not the type to sit around knitting baby clothes, I had very little useful to do to occupy myself while I waited.

Thanks to an incredible series of classes with doula and midwife-assistant Shara Frederick and some serious book learnin’, both on the subject of childbirth itself and, more broadly, on the question of what kind of parent I didn’t want to be, I felt reasonably prepared for what was to come. (As part of that intelligence-gathering effort, I reviewed a couple of the Bad Mommy Memoirs I plowed through for Cheek Teeth: Are You My Mother? and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?) I knew it would be difficult, especially for someone with so little experience dealing with enduring pain, but I also knew that putting it off wouldn’t make it any easier. So BRING IT ON, said I.

It was like shouting at the ocean. The baby had her own plan. In accordance with that plan, I found myself a week later still pregnant, still awkward and sore and quite tired of the ten-month gestation process. My “What to Expect” app had run out of even semi-useful tips and had started preparing me to “Start losing the baby weight!” First I need to lose the baby, I growled.

In an effort to lose it — or, more specifically, to loose it — on my due date, Monday, Sept 10, I got a prenatal massage from the fabulous folks at the Providence Day Spa on Atlantic Avenue and then ate a brownie the size of a cinder block.

I’m not sure which was more delicious.

By the time I was done, the contractions were both noticeable and regular,  and the birth team stood ready: Mr. Ben with his catcher’s mitt out, Charrow in a rubber apron and gloves. We expected the early stages of labor to be rather slow-going, since it can often take at least half a day to make significant progress. But again, the baby had her own plans. After just a few hours, the contractions had gotten stronger and closer together enough that Mr. Ben called the midwives and the midwives said head to the birthing center.

CONTRACTIONS. MIDWIVES. BIRTHING CENTER. There’s been an infant cooking in my belly or dangling from my breasts for almost a year now and I still can’t believe this is my life. [/end note]

We gathered the ten bags of stuff we had put aside to bring to the hospital, called a car, and got to Methodist at about 8:00 PM. The pain was still manageable; everyone was excited; it seemed like perhaps the baby could propel herself out that very night and avoid the trauma of having her birthday forever synonymous with national tragedy.We all squeezed hands and waited for the midwife to come in.

There were five women in the midwife practice, and whoever happened to be on call when I went into labor would be my sherpa for this arduous, uncertain journey. Five women, and I really liked four of them. Any one of them would be fine; I wasn’t picky! Just, please, I told Mr. Ben, not Grumpy Gail — she had the bedside manner of a 12-year-old boy.

Naturally, the midwife on call was Grumpy Gail, giving my laboring body a choice to make. Should I keep barreling forward and aim to have the baby on September 10th, or throw the process into reverse and (probably) have the baby on September 11th with one of the others? The decision was made before I was even conscious of what it meant. My labor shuddered to a halt. Grumpy Gail sent us home with instructions to drink some wine, get some sleep, and come back in the morning.

Unfortunately, it turned out, the baby could only be put off for so long. About an hour after I tried to go to bed a contraction woke me with the force of a sledgehammer. It was followed in short order by another contraction, and another, both of which made the contractions of the evening — even the ones that sent me to the birth center — seem like cuddly embraces. There was no going back to sleep; no vineyard on earth had ever made wine strong enough to help me now. But what could we do? If we went back to the birthing center, we would have to put our trust in Grumpy Gail to see us through, and that was why we had left in the first place.

We decided to tough it out until dawn, when we figured the shift change would bring another midwife. What I didn’t fully grasp was that I was also electing to go through what would turn out to be a night of back labor at home without any kind of drugs. Back labor. At home. Drug free.

That, friends, is where our story really gets going. Stay tuned for Part Two!

Here’s a reminder of what we did this for:

Posing in Repose

"Foot" and Mouth Disease

I’ve spent this past week trying to determine which is worse: a mouth full of teeth that can handle food no tougher than avocado, or a disturbance in a region private enough that you don’t want to mention it on a blog. (There can only be one Dooce.) I’ll call it my “foot.”

I played around with the idea of mentioning it anyway, since apparently it’s a relatively common, though disgusting, problem, and one you could probably relate to. Then I saw The Social Network & was reminded, via one of those patented Wise Movie Characters often played by Morgan Freeman, “The Internet is written in ink.” Note: That girl was so smart I couldn’t believe she went to BU!

Ha ha … ha.

I really enjoyed the Social Network, though I’ve enjoyed anything recently that distracted me from my mouth and my “foot.” The list also includes Seasons 2 and 3 of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” sleep, Ethiopian food, homemade applesauce, word games, lying on the couch for hours at a time, a peanut-butter smoothie from Netcar, getting a Diane von Furstenberg dress from a clothing swap, making muffinloaf, and reading recaps of TV shows.

But that’s not to say the film wasn’t quality. Well done, Aaron Sorkin & David Fincher — you made a movie with no surprises in it somehow feel suspenseful and dramatic. Likewise, though almost nothing happens. Here is basically all the action in the film:

  • a bed almost gets lit on fire
  • a student runs through the snow in inappropriate footwear
  • a chimney breaks
  • Asian women are slandered (Jewish guys come off only slightly better)
  • Justin Timberlake does coke with some under-dressed, under-aged girls
  • a more or less unrepentant asshole becomes the youngest billionaire in history.

Still, the momentum of the thing feels inescapable. That’s impressive.

Aaron Sorkin is on record saying he’s not a fan of Facebook. Even if he weren’t, the “Lemon Lyman” episode of “the West Wing” makes his views on Internet social-subcultures pretty clear. The thing is, we don’t need an Aaron Sorkin Facebook page to know an awful lot about Aaron Sorkin. More than most auteurs, he expresses himself through his art.

SEX: Definitely male. His clubhouse door still says, “No girls allowed.”
BIRTHDAY: Whatever makes him old enough to be cranky about kids these days but not so old that he can’t entertain kids these days. Probably early 60s.


HOMETOWN: Somewhere on the East Coast where the Jewish intelligensia reign. Probably New York City suburbs.
POLITICAL VIEWS: Cranky liberal.
RELIGIOUS VIEWS: Culturally & identifiably Jewish, but not observant.

BIO: I like young, smart, arrogant, usually sexist, male outsiders who occasionally get their comeuppance but for the most part get to rise to the top, defeating even super-star bad guys like Jack Nicholson and Republican House sub-committees.


“Lewis, we’ve had Presidents who were beloved who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand ’cause they’re thirsty. They drink the sand ’cause they don’t know the difference.” — President Andrew Shepherd

Joanne Herring: Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?
Charlie Wilson: Well, tradition mostly.

“There is nothing on this earth sexier, believe me, gentlemen, than a woman you have to salute in the morning. Promote ’em all, I say, because this is true – if you haven’t gotten a blow-job from a superior officer, well, you’re just letting the best in life pass you by. ‘Course, my problem is, I’m a colonel, so I guess I’ll just have to keep taking cold showers until they elect some gal president.” — Colonel Nathan Jessup

Flight Attendant: Sir, I’m going to have to ask that you turn off your cellular phone.
Toby: We’re flying in a Lockheed Eagle Series L-1011. Came off the line twenty months ago. Carries a Sim-5 transponder tracking system. And you’re telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?

LIKES AND INTERESTS: Latin, musical theater in general and Gilbert & Sullivan in particular, women named Amy, being the smartest kid in the class, being insolent to authority figures, Yiddish, minutiae, space exploration, using the same clean-cut white actors over and over again, fast talking, big words, grand gestures, speechifying, Maureen Dowd, recreational drug use, and baseball.

Making Love to an Ice Pack

Here’s a lesson I have now learned that I am sharing with you: Before you are scheduled to have surgery at a place, check that place out. Meet the doctor, if possible. And make sure you’re not going to be outnumbered by people in Ed Hardy shirts.

I arrived at my oral surgeon’s office yesterday at 12:20 for an appointment at 12:30. After two hours of waiting in a crowd that would have been equally comfortable at an OTB parlor, I was finally taken to the back and put in one of a room’s two dentist’s chairs. The other was occupied.

The guy in the other chair and I waited for another half an hour or so as moans came through the walls from other rooms and hygienists walked in and out changing their gloves. Hip hop blasted from a Panasonic boom box on the floor, circa 1991, so retro that it didn’t even have a CD player, only a tape deck and a radio.

At some point I started to shake — a normal enough response to perpetual anticipation, especially when you’re waiting to get all four wisdom teeth out to the soothing sounds of Jay-Z. Hygienists shot me amused looks and talked to each other in Spanish. I tried to calm myself down by silently reciting the Kipling poem “If,” which my dad had me memorize ages ago:

If you can keep your head / when all about you are losing theirs / And blaming it on you / If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you / Yet make allowance for their doubting too / If you can wait and not be tired by waiting —

Then the surgeon and a fleet of hygienists came in to start working on my roommate. They wasted no time: within five minutes, he was gasping and twitching; within ten, he had arched his entire back off the table like Cary Elwes in the Princess Bride when his life is being sucked from him by the Machine.

I’m not a brave person. There’s a reason I carry small, dissolving tablets of Klonopin around with me in my change purse. I don’t like pain, I hide from danger, and I am not even that crazy about excitement. I am CERTAINLY not crazy about watching dental patients reduced to begging for their lives.

Roommate #1 was restored to a sitting position, stuffed with cotton, and released. Then the hygienists ushered in Roommate #2.

If you can dream and not make dreams your master / If you can think and not make thoughts your aim …

You’ve got to be joking, I thought to myself. But the same team went to work, and again I had to watch. There wasn’t so much as a curtain dividing my side of the room from theirs.

The surgeon approached me and I asked to be knocked out. Retroactively, if possible. Wake me up when it’s over.

Sorry, said the surgeon. We don’t do that here. We don’t have the equipment to monitor if your heart stops.

I don’t care if my heart stops, I said, glancing across the room.

He laughed, and then shot me in the mouth from all angles.

If you can meet with triumph and disaster / and treat those two impostors just the same. …

I was left to grow increasingly numb as they finished with Roommate #2. By the time Roommate #3 had come and gone, I was ready to give up. If this were war, I would have been ready to tell them anything — name, rank, serial number, state secrets, battle plans, you name it. I didn’t sign up to be a soldier. I work in a Jewish non-profit, for God’s sake!

But they didn’t want secrets. They wanted my teeth.

They switched me from my chair — where I’d been sitting, by that point, for an hour and a half, feeling much like I had when a film prof put on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in class — to the other chair. The one that had been wiped down three times already.

New York … trilled the voice from the boom box. These streets will make you feel brand new, these lights will inspire you …

Ready? asked the surgeon.

I whimpered, and he went to work.

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew / to serve their turn long after they’re gone / and so hold on til there is nothing in you / except the will that says to them “Hold on.” / If you can fill the unforgiving minute / with 60 seconds worth of distance run …

Thankfully, compared to the agonies of waiting and watching, the pain of the procedure itself was not too bad. I mean, it didn’t feel GOOD — it felt like someone was tearing my teeth from their sockets, which is more or less what was happening. But the surgeon was done in ten minutes. I was stuffed with cotton and returned to a sitting position, given two prescriptions and a pack full of sterile pads, and proclaimed a champ.

Yours is the earth / and everything that’s in it. / And, what is more, you’ll be a man, my son.

In my case, a man who eats lots of applesauce and watches episode after episode of Buffy. But Rudyard helped me through it, for which I am grateful. More, I am grateful to Charrow, who spent her whole afternoon in the dentist’s office and then helped get me home, ignoring all emissions of bloody drool. That is true friendship.

Trajectory of a Weekend (and a Face)

I went down to DC for this:

And returned first thing the next morning to this:

Poor Mr. Ben finally got a break from work at some point over the weekend and he celebrated with a bike ride to Far Rockaway with a couple of friends. He made it all the way to the middle of nowhere, then flew off his bike, landed on his face, and had to be taken to a hospital.

When you have head trauma necessitating reconstructive surgery, you do not want to be in Brooklyn (“Shocking Video Shows Brooklyn Hospital’s Neglect as Patient Dies in Emergency Room”) in July (“A recent study found that more patients die of medical mistakes in the month of July than any other month”). Especially not on a Federal Holiday.

In many respects, Mr. Ben was very lucky. Our two friends who were with him acted as surrogate parents, amping up their concern to the level of Shirley MacClaine in Terms of Endearment as necessary, while the army surgeon called in by the hospital stitched Mr. Ben’s face back together. He didn’t lose any teeth or break anything except his nose.

Poor nose! It already had a Bert-ish sort of thing going on. In fact we ARE Bert & Ernie:



I mean, right? Even the initials match up.

Anyway, Mr. Ben / Bert will be recovering at our apartment for the next few days. If, like Mr. Collins, you would like to condole with him, he is there, receiving guests, flowers, and ideas for what his nose should look like once the plastic surgeon is done with it.

A quick assignment

1) Take a look at this picture.

2) Read the accompanying short article.

3) Then read the comments. Yes, I know, there are over 300 of them. Here’s a handy trick I learned in college: Pay attention to what comes first and last and skim what’s in between. Or, to get straight to the point, relax your eye to see only the word “health/y.”

Whoa, right? Who knew it mattered that women who are paid to look a particular way are “healthy” — and also that we all agree about what that word means? Maybe I’m sensitive to this issue because I’ve been so recently immersed in the randomness of cancer. My father was far less healthy than my uncle and he died three years older. From farther away, their deaths are indistinguishable, despite one’s purported health and the other’s neglect.

Another example comes courtesy of Jezebel: Carrie Fisher, who, as she puts it, used to be “pretty” and isn’t anymore. Of course, when she was bikini-ready, she was on ten kinds of drugs, and she’s now fat because of psychiatric treatments that keep her moderately sane. (“This is my medication overweight. I barely eat anything and I wind up looking like I’ve been combing the city for donuts.”)

All of which is to say: Health is not as easy to read as we assume it is from a person’s physique.

Okay, I hear you saying, rolling your eyes. But these people are exceptions! Or, as my friend Jenn put it, “The AMA would disagree with you.”

I’m sure it would. But that doesn’t make the AMA right. Jenn and I went on to discuss the issue:

me: these things are averages, not destinies. in any event, i don’t think a woman’s health has any impact on her ability to model clothes. skinny or fat, i think the only question is Does she look good? and Do the clothes appear to advantage on her body?

Jennifer: I agree. Also, i’ve seen enough runway shows to confidently say that size zero models still have cellulite

me: … thank you, honey.

My favorite comment, which I think takes the health fixation to its natural extreme, says, without any apparent irony, “Models ideally would be women who ate right, exercised regularly and managed their stress.”

ROLE MODELS, ideally, should eat right, exercise regularly, and manage their stress. MODELS should show up, look purty, date Leonardo diCaprio, and be of whatever size works for them professionally. Models are more than billboards. But they are less than superheroes. I don’t care if Kate Moss has a coke habit the same way that I don’t care if politicians get their kicks from necrophilia (though I draw the line at screwing with socks on).

Diabetes! Heart disease! OBESITY EPIDEMIC! I’m just saying it so you don’t have to. But feel free to say anything else.


Can stress make you clumsier? In the last couple days, I’ve dropped things, stumbled, spilled water on a friend, cut myself in a very sensitive region, and nearly gotten hit by a car. The worst incident came at the end of my second interview yesterday. I bid farewell to the nice crowd of people who had been quizzing me, then strode gracefully through the lobby and straight into a glass door.

“Oh!” gasped the three women nearby. “Are you okay?”

I was, luckily. Nothing was broken: not my nose, not the glass. I did however leave a perfect kiss on the door, as though I’d planted it there on purpose.

In general I am not a klutz, because I am neurotic about not hurting myself. Even when I kid, I just sort of knew: Do this, and you could die; and as you don’t want to die ere you become a famous writer, leave ice skating / roller coasters / black diamond slopes to the masses of future unknowns (or future deads). The closest I’ve come to a broken anything is when I twisted my ankle before my debut as Tzeitel in my 7th grade production of Fiddler on the Roof.

My mom took me to the ER, where a nervous young doctor fussed over me for a while and then finally took an x-ray. Several minutes later, he tracked me down in the waiting room and said, “I’m sorry, I messed up. Can we try again?”

The second time was also a flop, and he looked more pale as he asked for a third go-round. But when he came out the last time, he looked like he had just seen the Ghost of Christmas Future and it had told him his fate was to end up a dentist. He gestured for me to follow him to a corner a discreet distance from everyone else.

“You’re not pregnant, are you?” he asked the thirteen-year-old me.

“Um, no,” I said, wondering what the hell the x-ray had shown.

“Phew!” he said, the color flooding back to his cheeks. “Because we would have killed the baby.”

Speaking of both clumsiness and inept professionals, the Daily News reports that an Arkansas state senator named Hedren has made an art of putting his foot in his mouth. First he called Chuck Shumer “that Jew.” Now he’s trying to make things right in the most hilarious way possible:

Defending himself again to the Arkansas News, Hendren went further, saying he didn’t know why the words “that Jew” came out of his mouth. He added that there is a Jewish person he admires — Jesus. He’s also partial to Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Things Anemia Has Driven Me To

1) Toasted Oatmeal Flakes from Trader Joe’s. Man they’re good! I gave them up when Mr. Ben and I moved to Park Slope; we joined the Co-op, which is the closest I’ll ever get to being part of Skull & Bones, and I started buying Puffins instead.

Puffins, though lovely, have no iron, while TOF are whoa-fortified. And delicious.

2) Avoiding sharp objects.

3) Femme pride. There’s something dainty and sweet about being anemic, like having consumption. Maybe it’ll make me sexier!

The doctor was testing me for something else entirely, but I was in exemplary shape except for being low on the red blood cells. This struck me as funny, as though he had said, “The government is doing great, except that the President has just been shot.” I mean, aren’t red blood cells rather the whole point? Aren’t they what blood is made of? I don’t remember too much from what I learned in high schools, except words like Hemoglobin and Platelets, but I’m pretty sure …

Anyway, if I’m wrong, please don’t correct me. I may be too delicate to handle it.

The new Gray Album!

It really is too bad. Once upon a time, I liked Christian Bale. Newsies, anyone? (“Santa Fe? Are you there? Do you swear you won’t forget me? If I found you would you let me come and stay … I ain’t getting any younger and before my dying day, I want space! Not just air! Let ’em laugh in my face, I don’t care! Save a place … I’ll be there … in Santa Fe.” This is from memory, folks.)

He’s the cutest singing street-urchin this side of Aladdin but he wins out in a head-to-head because Aladdin chooses a chick with a waist the size of my wrist, whereas Jack “Cowboy” Kelly marries into a nice Jewish family.

Not to mention the brilliant American Psycho where he almost kills Reese Witherspoon.

Look at that picture and tell me you’re not cheering him on.

I hope he bounces back from this, in short. Russell Crowe and Jude Law, both once-loved, pretty decent actors currently in the doghouse, don’t seem to have redeemed themselves yet for their public sins (throwing a phone and bonking the nanny, respectively, in case your memory needs jogging). Are we more forgiving of idiot women? Britney Spears does stupid shit all the time and still goes platinum, and let’s not even get started on Lilo.

Follow up / unrelated question: If medicine is expired, do you take more because it’s weaker or less because it’s poison?