Wednesday, December 31, 2014

How to Have A Merry Christmas Part Two - Christmases Past

In Part One we talked about keeping Christ at the Center of Christmas.  Well, this wouldn't be the blog with my own name as the title if I didn't talk a little about how I came to not just know this theoretically, but practically. I am Christian of course - Christ had always been a part of Christmas, so it's not like keeping Christ in Christmas has been a revolutionary idea. Rather, as I have journeyed throughout the Christmases of my lives I have increasingly realized that I have consciously needed to focus on Christ during Christmastime, and that just being a religious person did not automatically ensure religious experiences.

I caught my first real glimpse of this ten years ago.  In 2004 I did a fall semester study abroad in Egypt, and after the program ended in early December there was an optional two week add-on, where we spent one week in Jordan and one week in Syria.  That Christmas we had a whie elephant gift exchange with the twenty or so students and our trip leader Dil, and his wife and daughter.  One student had packed a small tree all the way from America and carried it around on our travels for just such an occasion. She pulled it out, and we stacked our little gifts under it. I don't remember what I got, but I do remember giving a complimentary pad of paper, pen, and small sewing kit that a previous hotel had in their rooms. Our hotel had a special Christmas Dinner for us as well (remember it was mainly a Muslim country, so no Christmas was celebrated).

That night we gathered with Dil and his family to sing Christmas carols, like we had some nights of the trip. It was a long tradition in their family that leading up to Christmas atevery night they gathered around and each person picked a Christmas song and then the family sang it. Dil handed out packets of song lyrics, with everything from Here Comes Santa Claus to Silent Night printed on its pages. As a group we sang, our simple melodies carrying the Christmas spirit together in our hotel in the middle of Jordan, so close (yet so far) from where Christ himself was born.  

The next morning my roommate from the study abroad, who had also come on the trip, opened a few presents that she had received from another friend on the study abroad.  For the only time in my life, I opened no presents. I had no gifts I had given or received. I had no family nearby, and while I felt a general friendship with the group I was with, I had no close friends. I was engaged to Avram, but no way to contact him except by email (I sent him a long email later that day). For our activity that day we went to Mount Nebo, and visited the church built on it's top, where Moses looked across the River Jordan, and the Lord told him he would never enter the Promised Land, and he was carried away into heaven.  Dil gained permission for us to enter the nave, and we gathered on the semi circle of bench seats and sang several Christmas songs.  Afterward all the people also visiting the church applauded, thinking we were an official concert.  

And that was Christmas.  

I didn't quite know how to feel. Normally the glow of Christmas that slowly built all December long and culminated in a thoughtful Christmas Eve reading of the Nativity and the joyful of frenzy of gift opening on Christmas morning was all missing.  As we rode the bus up Mount Nebo I felt a little empty, a little like it wasn't Christmas at all.  I also felt, though, that Christmas came just the same, although it came with no presents, no fanfare, no family, no traditional food. I had never been a Grinch, but like him, that year I had the personal experience of Christmas coming without ribbons or tag, packages boxes or bags.  That Christmas laid the invisible seeds where I began to see that Christmas comes, even without all the trappings.  I had always known that Christ was an important part of Christmas, but without the other obfuscations, good, bad and indifferent that being in my normal American life gave me there was nothing else that came Christmas day but the Christ child.

And although I had not depended on the physical and family trapping of Christmas to know that, without all the extras I also saw that I could not depend on others to bring me the true meaning of Christmas wrapped up with a bow, either.  I needed to make room in my life, my schedule, and my heart to prepare for Christ's coming every Christmas - to bring Christ into my home and life every year, or else the flurry of all else could easily cover up that which I always acknowledged to be the most important part of Christmas.  Without that intentional courting of the true Christmas spirit I would always feel a little empty come Christmas Day - something that I had unknowingly observed and could now pinpoint from previous Christmas Days. I had thought at the time this came from the inevitable growing up, from not being a child wherein Christmas seemingly came once in a lifetime, and where filled stockings and wrapped presents provided more magic than one child could conceive of, but that Christmas in Jordan gave me the first glimmerings of this truth - that only through centering on Christ will His Spirit provide the only ful and living Christmas Spirit.

 As Christmases have passed, this has grown, even through the coming of my children, who in turn do provide a renewal of that simple Christmas joy and excitement that comes so naturally to them. 

In England three years later Avram and I celebrated our first Christmas alone, with 22 month Lydia with us. That year we had so little money that instead of trying to surprise each other and perhaps unintentionally creating a remake of the Gift of the Magi story, we decided to each pick out something we wanted ourselves.  Avram picked out a fleece sweater with Queen's College's (his college at Oxford) seal on it. I picked out the big mortar and pestle I had been coveting for weeks. Lydia received a few gifts, some chosen by us, and some shipped over by Grandparents.  We had asked our families to please just send us some money instead of gifts, because Avram had not yet found a job, and we were living on the ends of our savings we had brought.  We had bought a little five pound prelit fake tree and some wooden ornaments, and had it on the table, along with a little stocking I had knit for Lydia.  We had walked in the woods behind our Yarnton Manor, where Avram's program was based, and had gathered greenery that we hung around our home. We did not even have a camera, as it had accidentally gone with our friends who had visited us before Christmas in a long layover to visit his parents in Dubai.  

That morning was very quiet and dark - we did not even wrap our personal presents, but laid them aside our little tree. We helped Lydia unwrap her few presents and enjoyed that quiet time together in the glow of the Christmas tree without even the impulse to capture this moment forever via a camera.  In that darkness the truth of what I had learned before in Jordan echoed again - Christmas truly cannot be found in trees or presents, not in prosperity or baked goods or even family.  But with all of those so present and loud, it can be hard to remember to focus in on Christ, to notice if I am not doing so.  

Thus, over the years since then I have increasingly realized that in order to keep Christ in Christmas, in order to remember the nativity over all else, however worthy other holiday pursuits may be, I would have to not just be open to it, but make conscious action to bring Him in, to remind myself and my family time and again of who we are celebrating - because the world doesn't care.  The world wants you to buy!  To do!  and then buy some more! Sure, buy because you love others, because you care, for a good cause, because you deserve it, but remember, most of all to buy!  There are so many voices calling for us during this season, and it took two Christmases away from my own culture, in a small cocoon without all the usual trappings to help me better receive the largest gift of all - Christ.

I have not in my own family jettisoned the American Christmas - we are not moving to other countries and only using two foot tall trees if at all - we are not getting rid of gift giving, and we happen to enjoy having friends and family around us. Rather, throughout the years we have tried to work out ways that we can best focus on Christ while still enjoying much of what the American holiday season also has to offer.  We have embraced the manger, but also enjoy watching Rudolph, think Ginger cookies are pretty great, and can eat candy canes without reminding our kids that they represent the shepherd's canes.  We even like beating back the darkness by lighting up our tree and home, and are okay with it being an extended metaphor and not innate symbol that this is Christ. Increasingly, though, we have tried to focus our greatest efforts for ourselves and our children on Christ, and kept the other traditions only when we have felt that they are solid contributions of merryness, beloved traditions from our childhood, family bonding time, and are sources of joy and not stress.  Finding ways to celebrate Christmas that bring Joy and not stress and contention goes for all kinds of Christmas activities, whatever the focus.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How to Have A Merry Christmas, Part One - Keeping Christ in Christmas

Note: I wrote most of this three part series...before Christmas. But due to family visiting and two different bouts of sickness, here it finally is...after Christmas. I know I missed the boat, timing-wise, but hey, we are supposed to think of Christ all year long, right?  Just think of this as an opportunity to reflect on this last Christmas season. 

We talk about the magical feeling of Christmas, and it is a feeling that can be solicited by a Child's gasp of joy for the perfect toy, or by the warm glow of receiving a gift that shows the giver really knew you and what you desired.  It comes in easier surrounded by loving family and caring friends, ushered in by their caring love, tender gifts, happy memories together.  The jolly activities, the beautiful concerts and get togethers emphasize the warmth and love we can feel at Christmas. Christmas is a magical time, filled with wonder, excitement, family and friends, parties and celebrations.  It is also almost always also filled with stress about gift buying, stress about money, stress about gift receiving, clutter, cleaning, decorating and then undecorating, and more, more, more - more lights, more stuff, more things.

Running over, under, and throughout all this is the silver thread that reminds us - Christmas doesn't come from a store, and in fact Christmas does mean a little bit more - it means a lot more.  Often we hear that Christmas is not just about getting presents, that it is not about things - instead, it is about giving - giving presents to others.  Or we hear that Christmas is about love, or about family, or occasionally we might hear one voice in the corner of facebook whisper that it is about bringing back the sun and banishing the darkness through rituals like lights and evergreen trees. But these things are not Christmas, as wonderful as they are.  The magical feeling of Christmas is not magic at all - it is the Spiritual witness to our souls of the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

If you are Christian (if not - carry one with banishing the darkness with lights, that's good and historical too), Christmas is about giving, love, and family.  But not just any giving, not just our showing love, not just spending time with our nuclear families.  Christmas is about God sending down his son as the world's greatest, largest gift that ever came in a squirming seven pound (or so) swaddled bundle.  A baby who not only showed the everyday miracle that our gaining a physical body is, or a yearly reminder that every baby comes, 

Not in entire forgetfulness, 
And not utter nakedness, 
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home.
- Wordsworth

This baby grew up to be our Savior, or Redeemer, who saved us from a fallen word so that we may live with God again.  Our Christmas directly leads to Easter. The true bone deep thrill in our chest and hope in our hearts does not come from gifts or family, not even from earthly love. It comes from God, and from Christ, it comes from knowing that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Like the Primary Song says, "how could the Father show the world of love and tenderness? He sent his son, a newborn babe, with peace and holiness."

Christmas is about family - about our eternal family, about all of God's children, about His love for us, for this world, for all his Creations.  When we give, we echo Heavenly Father's gift. When we love others, we echo His love. When we learn love for all mankind as our family, we love our family like he loves His family - like he loves us. Just like anyone with Children reading this will echo me in saying that truly our kids could give us no better gift this Christmas or any Christmas than truly loving each other and treating each other well. Heavenly Father truly wants us to give the gift of kindness, of giving, of helping to those around us far more than he wants us to simply talk about Christ or Christmas, as great as those things are.

Being happy throughout Christmas truly is not just a product of what gifts we are able to give, what gifts we receive, who we spend Christmas with, whether we even have family or close friends to spend Christmas with at all.  It is not about the size of our trees, the merryness of our situations.  Mary and Joseph celebrated the first Christmas semi out-doors, basically homeless in a transitional move, spending a while in Bethlehem only to move to Egypt, and then eventually up to Nazareth.  Christ got presents, yes, but not on Christmas itself, and when the wise men brought them, Mary and Joseph probably sold the Gold, Frankinsence and Myrrh to move to Egypt, or help out their meagre finances - after all, Christ grew up in humble circumstances, and he needed food and shelter more than Gold.

Keeping Christ, God's love and mercy, and the coming of our Lord and Savior in mind throughout Christmastime might not change our physical circumstances, but it can change our hearts, and give us a Merry Christmas where ever we are, whether surrounded by family, or alone among strangers.

Christmas time is one of traditions - it is not a simple holiday, but rather a celebration that engulfs an entire month, 1/12 of our ever repeating year.  I believe there is room to celebrate Christ, to celebrate His birth and life and meaning while also including the gift giving, the family and cultural traditions, and even especially the innate need for us to conquer darkness at this darkest time of year - for the lights, for the trees, for the holly and for the gaiety.

Despite the length of the Christmas season that stretches before a child gazing longingly at an Advent calendar on the eve of December 1st, we all know that Christmastime becomes the busiest time of the year.  Although we may have the theoretical priorities of Christ at Christmas, if we do not intentionally carve out ways to remember and be like Christ at Christmas all too soon it will be December 25th and we will be sick to our stomachs from too much candy eaten in the morning, trying to track down that one missing small toy piece inevitably thrown away in the bags of discarded Christmas packaging, and trying to help our kids work their presents or watch a movie, and all too soon Christmas has come and gone another year, and we wonder why we feel a fall of disappointment, a fleeting feeling of an opportunity missed.  Quite frankly we will all probably imbibe too much candy Christmas morning anyway, and I have no way to prevent us from throwing away pieces of puzzles or key components to complicated toys.

Throught this short series what I can comment on is what our family has done to keep Christ in Christmas - what our traditions, new and old, were for the holidays this year and how we worked on incorporating the silver thread of Christ and remembering the nativity without exiling Santa, Nutcrackers, Christmas Trees or Pagan (we like pagan) lights to the curb.

Given that I am not publishing this until after Christmas, you not only get to hear our grand plans, but also how it all went down, including the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that I spent 99% of the time in bed for. But who needs perfect plans anyway - it's always more interesting to hear about the messy realities of life, and don't worry, part three will be full of those.

I will start with a narrative through my own Christmases past and how this led me to a better understand of the importance of keeping Christ as the center of my Christmas as part two. Then, like Scrooge, we will move to Christmas Present and talk the nuts and bolts of Christmas traditions for part three. Don't worry, I promise to skip Christmas Future, because I never liked Ghost stories anyway.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Camera (ab)use

We're getting a new camera (on Christmas Eve - thank you overworked mail people).  It's a good thing, because shouting for joy when Avram comes home isn't enough for Guinevere: one day she threw the camera for joy when he came home, and now it won't focus.

Not Modern Art

 But after sorting through our most recent batch of pictures I don't feel bad anyway - our camera struggled with focusing after years of (ab)use, and so unless you used a flash it mostly looked like this

Athena, still cute in a bad picture 

Not quite in focus, the colors a little off.  So the only option left for pictures in focus was the flash
 Uncle Luke, wherein he is like our camera and also being abused by Guinevere

Sadly, though, this means there has been very little photographic evidence of our Christmas merriment.  However, just so you know - we do have a tree.  It only took us five days to go from buying it, actually getting it in the house, the kids trying to get out the ornaments and decorate it on their own, to Avram and I finally decorating it.  And our camera bit the dust in the middle of all this, so we don't even have a picture of our tree in all its glory.

But our kids are cute enough, that I guess I will keep them anyway. One morning before school they set up Santa's sleigh and reindeer.

Hopefully there will be newer, better pictures coming your way soon.  And since we are upgrading to our first DSLR, of course that means the pictures (and therefore our life) will be sharper, more in focus, brighter and better.  Or, at least I would like to believe so.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Athena Luthien's Birth Story, Part Two

At long last (does three weeks count as soonish?) here is the sequel to Athena's Birth Story.  Catch up on the first half here.

As we made our way out to the car, I had a contraction while leaning up against the gold Honda Odyssey.  As it rolled over and through me, I prayed over those people and causes that I had thought up beforehand as intentions.

Intentions?  Causes? Praying during labor?  Let me explain.  No, it's too much, let me summarize.

My sister a year previous had told me about a blog called Carrots for Michaelmas - a Catholic "bookish mama" as she called herself. I checked out the blog, read some posts, checked out some links, and suddenly I was reading a bunch of Catholic bloggers.  I never really comment, feeling awkward somehow that I am outside of their very tight online community. But I can honestly say that reading about other women follow their Catholic faith has taught me a lot about myself, my following of my faith, and what religion even is.  I learned about Natural Family Planning (NFP), the religious version of Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).  It changed my heart and my soul about birth control. I can honestly say Athena would not be here if not for them (well, maybe....I did get pregnant with Enoch while I had an IUD, so perhaps I can't honestly say anything about my ability to prevent or achieve pregnancy).  I found advice and solidarity in larger families with small children. Among the blogs I read are Conversion Diary, Catholic All Year, House UnseenTime Flies When You're Having Babies (her husband is in grad school - she had three girls and a boy in that order - it's like my life, only with more wine and coffee), and Fountains of Home.

Being Catholic mamas, they also talk about labor.  As I read about Kendra from Catholic All Year offering up her labor pains for other's intentions, as I read about many of them using many different circumstances in life as a time or place for praying for others, I became intrigued by the thought of turning labor, that is often only seen as something to be suffered through, into something that I could use to spur me to pray for others. Not that somehow I can transfer the amount of pain or effort I expend into "points" that God can then apply on someone else's blessings account. Rather, somethings do not go out, except through fasting and prayer. Sometimes prayers aren't enough, and let me tell you, if labor cannot exceed fasting in terms of effort, then I don't know what would.  As well, when we suffer with others in mind, above and beyond ourselves, we can let go of the pain, the hurt, the relentless suffering and (while not escaping it - in natural labor there is no escape) embrace the pain, embrace the suffering and through all of this offer it up to God, offer it up to my child, who without my birthing her cannot gain a physical body - the necessary next step in our progression through life.  During my labor with Enoch, when I saw the cross during my labor, for the first time in all of my births I thought of Christ, and what Christ gave for us all. I thought of Gethsemane, and knowing that Christ suffered more than mortal may gave me strength - gave me courage because if he had done such a great thing, then I could proceed in my small (yet mighty and difficult) thing of one labor.  This experience helped me especially understand where they were coming from in bringing in religious intentions into labor.

So as I leaned my head against the van I prayed - not fully formed prayers, of course - I prayed for those I knew who were struggling. As Avram drove us through the dark streets of Columbus, I prayed for those I knew who are not able to have children. As each contraction washed over me, starting high up in the Uterus and moving inexorably down, opening a path for little Athena to come earthside, I prayed for others, for myself, for my baby.

We arrived at the hospital and slowly made our way through the parking garage, waited at the doors for them to be unlocked, and then slowly made our way down the everlasting hallway and to the elevators. Remembering my labor is feels like a paradox. I know in reality that we arrived at the hospital sometime around four am.  We arrived at the actual reception desk at 4:18 exactly (no, I wasn't watching the clock, why do you ask?).  And yet in my mind every moment moved ever so slowly. The entire spinning of the world slowed until all the universe walked some steps, paused as a universe engulfing contraction pulsed through us, around us.  We paused, audibly breathed out the pain, prayed, envision Athena, and then the contraction faded away, its energy spent.  Since my labors start hard, go fast, and end hard (but fast), there was no real gaining in intensity, or feeling of progress, just each contraction, each endless moment in time.

Finally we made it to the reception desk, where between contraction I typed in my social, and signed my life away.  There may be other birth stories that talk about the glories and beauty of labor, and they are there. the receptionist led us back, I cannot lie - a part of me, even after four successful natural labors, had a moment of longing for something to come and take this all away. For a magic button (an epidural?) to just seep the pain and effort away.  (For why I do not use epidurals, you can read Elisheva's birth story, although be warned, it is actually a novel masquerading as a blog post. I bet you are shocked). Although a part of me knew that, like every labor I have endured, this one would also come to an end, and not even with a long wait. But perhaps because I have also had to endure it four times, this fifth time still saw me impossibly dreaming of another shortcut or way out.

We were settled into the triage room at 4:25 (the large red digital clock on the wall made it very easy to ignore the passage of time and never keep track of it like a desperate laboring woman keeping track of the minutes of her travail, or anything). The nurse checked me, and I was at a 5. My midwife, blessed Pat, came within a few minutes, and as I asked her to start setting up the birth pool as soon as possible, and to not wait until I was out of triage because I know they take a long time to fill up, and I have quick labors, and I really wanted to have a water birth, and to labor in water, and so please, please go start filling it right now. It is all vague in my mind now, but someone (the nurse?) told me they were not allowing water births anymore, and I believe that Pat asked that the nurses not tell anyone coming in that, because they would be so disappointed at the sudden shock, since this had only been finally decided the night before when at 6:00 pm she had gotten the call.  Pat apologized for answering her phone to me, and that I could not have a water birth.  Perhaps they could tell I was having the shock - I had birthed Enoch in a Jacuzzi Tub, but I wanted a real water birth, where the baby was born completely underwater and I had more of the buoyancy of water to support me.  And although I cared more about laboring in water than this, and I could still do that, this sudden departure from my birth plan shook me.

And yet I could not stop and discuss it, or process the information. The contractions came, and in order to not succumb to one I had to keep riding it, keeping relaxing during it.  It was like the first time I went to the Ocean, when I was twelve and my family visited California. We spent one day at the beach, and I, lover of all things oceanic, went right in to the water.  Where the force of the waves knocked me over.  Knocked me under.  And I came up spluttering the briney water, got my feet under me - and the next wave did the same thing again.  I eventually learned to relax at the wave hit me, to let the force of the incoming water buoy me up so that as the crest of the wave hit my body I was cresting with it, and not trying to dig my heels into the sad and meet it by force, but rather by submission.  I did learn the trick, but by this point I was waterlogged enough that I escaped to the sand, where I spent most of the day that was left building sand castles and collected shells.

Except that there is no escaping from the waves, and I knew if I derailed too much, I would fall underneath the tide of contractions and so I receded from the information, and just focused on relaxing, on riding the wave of every contraction.  Water labor to me was as for many women getting the epidural is, and so I just focused on that, instead of the hoped for water birth as well. I have realized that although I am not a hypnobirther that I do achieve a state during labor where all my energy is going to relaxing through each contraction, and where I feel almost in my own state of mind.  Interrupting this would mean crashing through the water to the sea floor.  Hypnosis?  Maybe, I don't know.

Pat went and started the water (in the room with the most water pressure, she said.  Oh, I loved her).  The nurse kept checking the computer read outs of my contractions, and finally Pat convinced her that they should move me, although they were still missing one 'needed' readout (do you want to have the baby here? Pat asked).

At 5:00, per the large red clock I was not looking at, they had me climb out of bed and wheeled me down the hall, the very same hall I walked while in labor with Guinevere.  This time I thought of how we were whizzing down the same space I had laboriously walked before.  Then a contraction hit, and the discomfort of sitting up made it feel more uncomfortable, harder to relax to. I looked forward to my room, which we arrived in at 5:05 (those large red, completely ignorable clocks were ubiquitous).  I stood out of the wheelchair and felt another contraction coming, so I leaned over a convenient table and rotated my hips while vocalizing at the same frequency as the contraction.  (Yes, this may sound weird - but if you are ever in labor, I suggest you try it.)  This contraction also felt a little harder, but once again I was in a strange position, since my preferred way of laboring is through reclining and relaxing, or best of all through relaxing in water.

They were filling the pool right next to me, with about six or eight inches in it.  As the contraction ebbed away, and I heard the nurse asking if they should still have me get back in bed and get the last needed readout (hence why I spent a half hour in triage, and not fifteen minutes, in retrospect, although I was not capable of thinking such things in the moment), I ignored her, and Pat both, who was reassuring her that they did not need it.  As fast as a women mid labor can I stripped off the hospital gown and the straps used for gaining the computer read-outs off my belly, and then jumped (in my mind - probably more like waddled to everyone else) into the pool at 5:05 am.  I was ready for the relief, the comparative ease of water labor.

I could not get comfortable, and I complained about it. Avram held the hose over my back to try and ease my discomfort.  I rolled from one side to another, but there was just not very much water in there.  Pat asked if they could put a hep lock in. I said, "No." She asked if I meant no, never, or no, not right then. I said no, and Avram interpreted, "She means, no, not right now, but in a little bit when she has settled in, then you can give her one."  And that right there is why Avram will have to attend every labor I ever had, because of course, that was exactly what I meant. Then I had a contraction, and it was hard, it was intense, it was long - and I was pushing.  I yelled out that I was pushing, and as soon as the contraction eased Pat had her apprentice Bree check to see how far I was dilated.

I am very much a fan of helping midwife apprentices learn their trade - with Elisheva's birth it was actually the apprentice who delivered me, while the midwife sat right next to her, directing her.  I did not mind Bree checking me, and given the same opportunity, I would let her again. But...that was also the longest check for dilation in the history of womankind while you are in labor and that is all. She finally determined I was at a 9 1/2 with a cervical lip, and Pat suggested that getting out of the pool would help remove that so I could fully dilate.

With the help of Avram and Bree I slowly climbed back out of the pool - a mere five minutes later at 5:10 (I have no idea how in the middle of all this I managed to even catch a glimpse of the clock, but my theory is because it is the brightest thing in the room, and about five feet (or six inches) tall).  They had laid out a path of towels for me to walk on to the bed, which was just a few feet away.  I walked on, two steps, and then another contraction hit - another pushing contraction. Although I was upheld by Avram and Bree, I could not walk, I could not even stand. I sank to my knees, all ability of riding through a contraction lost as I then sank to the floor, kneeling on my knees with my forehead on the ground, in perhaps the oldest submission of all.

I vaguely heard Bree talking with Pat about me moving, or not, I heard people doing things behind, around me. I did not notice, but just vocalized to the point of screaming through the never-ending pushing contraction, my forehead on the cool, ground - a counterpoint to the fiery heat (pain?) everywhere else.  I yelled about the pressure, and Pat miraculously did something.  And then, and then...she came.  At 5:14 am, two hours and around fifteen minutes after my very first contraction, Athena entered the world. She was squalling (perfect!) and the Pat wanted to hand her up to me, but I was still kneeling on the floor. We finally managed an underhand pass, and I brought Athena up to my front, where I held her.  The midwives helped me stand up with Athena, and then get into bed.

Athena in her first couple of minutes of birth.  Notice that she is actually on a couple of towels on the floor.

After all, it was a good thing that I couldn't have a water birth - I am not sure birthing in eight inches of water would have been that great, anyway.

I got to hold Athena until the cord stopped pulsating and beyond, and then Avram cut the cord - he is never really sure why they want him to, but they always have him do it.  I nursed her.  Athena was Pat's 1000 delivery, and so I put on a real shirt instead of the hospital gown they had put on me after the birth.  I had known Pat was nearing her 1000th birth - at the midwive's office they had put up a sign a couple of months before that was counting down the births. And then a week before my due date, two weeks before Athena came, the sign listed 999. I hoped Athena would come early, and get to be her 1,000th. But no baby came (see previous story). And there were three other midwives as well, so my chance of even getting Pat was not great anyway.  But, it turned out that was a very strange two weeks for deliveries for Pat - one woman had an emergency c-section (which doesn't count). Another first timer got to the hospital and then before Pat could get there (which she came immediately) had her baby.  And mostly no one was going into labor at all during her shifts.

During the middle of the night when I went into labor Pat had woken up, seen the clock, and thought that there went another shift without her thousandth baby, since her shift only went to 7:00 am.  And then I called a few hours later, and two hours past that we were getting ready to take a picture of Pat and I and Athena.

Pat and her thousandth birth!

In less exciting moments, my bleeding was off, and with the anemia I had during the pregnancy, they had to give me a bag of pitocin. After five babies I had finally had a labor where I managed not to get a heperan lock for the epidural that never came - and then after Athena they had to give me one anyway, and it felt like one, long continuous (but lower level) contraction for as long as the Pitocin dripped.  But even all that could not dampen how wonderful it was to not be in labor any more, to have Athena here, she whom I had known was coming (not just any baby, but Athena, a girl, a real person who had always existed as herself through eternity), and now she was really here with me.

I feel really great about the labor. My last three labors have had the transition moment where I have felt that I could not do it, but perhaps because I was moving rooms during transition, I did not have had a transition moment of giving up at all.  Of course, it was my shortest labor, and I felt very focused during it, which helped as well.  I love natural labors, but I admit that I am not a good poster child for them, because they are so short, so although they are intense, I cannot truly understand what it is like to have a long and intense labor, or even a long and easier labor.  Enoch was my favorite labor, until I had Athena, and now hers was my favorite.  I take that as a good sign - that I keep feeling better about my labors.  I am too the point where by far I would rather have another labor (ten more labors!) than have morning sickness.  Too bad I can't figure out how to overcome that....

As far as my worries about having Athena in the same hospital as Guinevere - it really wasn't a problem at all. Having a supportive midwife who showed up almost as fast as I did (instead of fifteen minutes before delivery) made all the difference. Otherwise if she had taken her time, I almost certainly would have delivered Athena in the triage room with a nurse catching the baby.  So it goes to show it is who your care is as much as the hospital you use.  So for those in the Columbus Area, the OSU midwife group is who to go with!

We gave her the middle name of Luthien because Avram really wanted to have a Tolkien name.  He loves Tolkien - when we lived in England we even tried, and eventually found, Tolkien's grave. On Tokien's Grave is his name, and then underneath in the same size font, "Beren." On his wife Edith's grave it has her name, and then underneath, "Luthien."  Tolkien called his wife Luthien, and himself Beren, after the mythology he created in the Silmarillion. In it, Luthien is an immortal elven maiden, daughter to a powerful elven king. Beren is a mortal, a man who sees Luthien dancing in a glade, and loves her immediately.  Her hair is dark as the shadows of twilight, and her eyes were gray as the starlit evening (Athena's hair is dark, and her eyes may yet be gray - I keep hoping).  Her father forbids her from marrying Beren, but he finally consents that they may marry if they capture the silmarils - the elven jewels that held the light of creation - from Morgoth's iron crown (Morgoth is Sauron's boss, and in the story Luthien even roughs Sauron up).  They manage to do so, and marry, but Luthien must pick mortality and death to be with Beren. She does so, losing her immortality and elvish nature so that she may be with the man she loves, although he is far below her.

The fact that Tolkien called his wife Luthien, and himself Beren tells you much about how he felt about his wife, and what he felt she had given up when she chose him. (I believe his son references this in her conversion to Catholicism when she married him).

So, Athena gained the name Luthien, in honor of Luthien in the Silmarillion, as well as the living 'Luthien,' Tolkien's wife.

And here she is (You can tell she is thrilled to enter this world, too).