It’s late September in southeast Alaska and the tops of the mountains are already covered in snow. I hope it’s only been a day or two that they have been, although it’s very possible they’ve been that way for a week and I’ve only just managed to look up at them.
It took about a month for our co-op nursery group to iron out all of its own kinks, as it does and has been doing since long before I’ve been in charge of it. One “kink” was my realizing Ansel wasn’t quite ready as he still naps at this time, which is how I’m able to sit down for an hour before we pick up Imogen.
Any new thing is hard, especially at three, especially something as structured and multifaceted as preschool. As is usually the case, I wasn’t able to prepare my daughter in advance for all of the changes this would bring, not only for her but for all of us, but I suppose that is how learning takes place: on the fly.
A parent is allowed to come with the new preschooler the first time they spend a whole day there, so I did, and I watched her pretty much sail through meeting the Guinea Pig Stumps, dress-up/play time, group story time, snack time, and outside play time. She was ready. And she had so much fun!
Her first day by herself was her third birthday. We opened presents first thing in the morning, and by the time we headed out the door, first me and the baby, then the birthday girl in her rainbow unicorn headband holding her new kitty from Nana, and finally Nana behind her holding 20 ‘worms and dirt’ birthday treat, Imogen was so keyed up she fell headfirst down our stairs.
Thankfully, I was just the right distance in front of her that she didn’t tumble, and, amazingly, she didn’t get hurt at all save her pride, which is what seems to take the most bumps on the road from toddlerdom to preschool kid, the first of many times in life when you’re not little anymore but not really big yet.
A friend was driving by at that time and sang her a little song, and pretty soon she was telling Miss Mary that they were real worms in her treat, and it was all okay. I’d heard that there could be some ‘backsliding,’ but thought we were good… except suddenly she didn’t want to go.
Our nursery room is right down the hall, and after we left her she followed us there, squeezing real tears out of her eyes. I reminded her our group was for the littles… and now she was a big who got to go in all the other rooms, and reminded her that Mary said she could ask her anything, and somehow it worked.
She started walking away from me, back toward the preschool. She sniffled and looked back. There was no one around, so I told her to run. She did.
We lost Alex this week after only having had him eight months, same age Imogen was when we adopted him.
From the beginning he proved himself to be a capable babysitter…
…except he never learned you’re supposed to pretend you were awake the whole time.
Most of the photos in this post are all from the first month or two. I keep thinking about how happy he made all of us, especially her.
Jacob liked to say that he acted like a reincarnated old miner, the way he held down our corner of 12th and Irwin. True to form, he managed to carve out a huge space for himself in a very short time. He leaves a huge hole behind.
This is random, but notice the cat-shredded bar stool in the picture below:
On our last trip to the local supermarket, we hit every aisle. Imogen made me laugh growling at the cats and dogs on the bags of pet food and the Charmin bear. Maybe I should get her out more!
In the checkout line, the guy behind me held two large energy drinks in the same hand. While heaving our purchases onto the belt I for some reason felt the need to explain to him that it was a big shopping trip (“Ya know, ya put it off and ya put it off and then one day ya just gotta do it”); he’s like sure lady, whatever.
Our cashier Paul – who a year ago worked the front desk of the Alaskan Hotel where we’d spent our first two nights in town – rung up our purchases almost patiently. Meanwhile, Imogen had kicked off both boots and wouldn’t take her pacifier, which Mr. Energy Drinks pointed out was lying on the floor.
Outside in the parking lot, I propped the cart against our Subaru jalopy when a voice from a couple of spaces complimented my red coat. I smiled and thanked her but carried on with keeping Imogen from erupting like a volcano. I offered her my keys as a distraction and she chucked them between the painted white lines of the parking lot.
Later, when the house and the baby were quiet, I took a moment to remember the first time I had been in Foodland IGA with her. It was almost exactly a year ago, when we’d been brand-new to Juneau – a time for which I have found myself waxing nostalgic of late just for the simple fact that at that time our lives in Juneau hadn’t really begun: the community was an unknown, giving it a sense of unlimited potential.
We were renting a 600-square-foot cabin about a mile outside of town which was as challenging in as many ways as it might have looked attractive in pictures. I’d carried her to her dad’s new workplace KTOO for this red carpet concert (you can see us in the background at 7:42!), and then could not get her back into the carrier for our walk back to the cabin.
It was getting dark when she started crying inconsolably. I’d forgotten fresh diapers so found myself in the baby aisle of Foodland IGA laying her on my coat on the tiled floor only to discover that she was dry. But I’d shed our winter gear which was heaped in a pile. We moved to a bench by the exit, where we wouldn’t be as much of a navigational hazard for other shoppers, to recombobulate. Imogen fell fast asleep in the process.
I sat almost motionless on the bench with her asleep for about a half an hour. It’s not an exaggeration: every person who walked by us at least smiled, some stopped to have a full conversation.
One lady who’d been observing the situation from her checkout line had even come over and talked to me about how every person had stopped. By the time I was done chatting with her I was ready to try putting Imogen in the carrier again, which was easy this time, and we’d left feeling fully warmed – and welcomed.
A year later it’s the same supermarket. We have a car now; not just a baby carrier. I get into the driver’s seat and, Imogen buckled in and quiet, I look over at the lady two parking spaces over. We make eye contact. Only then does she pull away. Was she waiting for me to regain composure?
Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe it’s a special place. “My” Foodland.
A fisherman was selling spot prawns at the docks and I told Jacob that Imogen and I would go and get some for our dinner that night. He and I had taken her down to Harris Harbor to get shrimp in the spring, so I sort of knew the deal.
She’d dropped her sunglasses into the water that May day, and Jake had hit the dock and scooped them out just before they disappeared from view, eliciting a round of applause (from me, because I’m his biggest cheerleader even though he says I don’t like anyone).
As it would happen on this cold and rainy fall day, Squigs and my walking buddies Erin and Auggie wanted to go for a stroll too, so I suggested we all go down there together to get prawns. Afterward, we all climbed aboard Erin and her partner Chris’ boat to warm up.
As these things sometimes go, NOW I’m pretty sure I know what it was – her not-completely-dry cloth diaper against her skin, compounded by the fact that we were out in the cold and the rain was hitting her face – that made Imogen completely lose it as we were walking back to the Flats from the harbor.
At the time, though, for as much of a frame of reference as I had, I felt like I might as well have never done anything, traveled anywhere, met, loved, or birthed anyone: it took fifteen minutes once back inside, for her to warm up and settle down.
Walking back, I’d pried open her icy, red fingers and closed them again around a piece of bread hastily torn off the loaf I’d bought to go with the shrimp: why do I keep her on this island in the rain? Who the hell do I think I am hoisting her on and off of boats in her stroller? Am I even qualified to do this at all?
But it was another mom lesson, or a bunch of them in one, hard because they are meant to be: use disposables for even short-ish outings outside in winter (check), get a stroller with a rain cover when you live in Juneau and walk everywhere everyday (check)… keep moving on at the pace of life.
In April 2017 I go to my dad’s house with the intention of having a look at the gifts from my baby shower that I wasn’t able to take with me the last time I was home.
I am so excited to do this but once there I lie down next to my daughter and text by lamplight the friend still in town who has since moved, and felt so peaceful, but never did go through the stuff.
In 2013 one of my favorite poets visited me at my home in Istanbul, and he shouldn’t have been sick even part of one of his days in Turkey, but he was able to come out and walk around the island and eat fish with us.
Man, that is far away now, but I really had pulled the cot in my room on top of the island right up to the radiator and watched the snow fall while worrying about then-boyfriend Jacob in Donetsk, Ukraine;
and Jacob is the husband who not only got me the ticket to this show, but told me to sneak in a beer which I’d scoffed at but which was the right move: no one is going to take a beer from a mom on her first wedding anniversary.
Who knows where the time goes: by Eva Cassidy as I once knew it, by Richard Thompson… every one-syllable word is weighted: sometimes with just a time, sometimes with just a place, sometimes with both,
like my grandparents arriving at our house on Christmas Eve in the eighties, and twenty years later driving my grandma home through town to look at the lights for the last time.
And now I wear her wedding ring on the hand that’s holding an Alaskan beer in a coozie as I write in my journal at a show, but that’s how we become, by little leaps, and by big bounds.
Imogen Charlotte turns one year old a week from today! At first I was a little peeved at Jake for setting up a Labor Day trip (albeit a mini one) in between Ted’s visit and Mom’s visit, but I decided (not to just roll with but) to try to get excited about it.
Then I started to pack, and, even though we’d only be gone one night (I have said this many times before) we needed everything – clothes for every type of weather, every electronic and its corresponding cord, e.g.) we would need for a week or more.
Somehow, by 7:15 a.m. we’d started the 4 1/2 hour journey to Gustavus, gateway to Glacier Bay National Park. On the ferry, Imogen enjoyed alternating back and forth between saying “hi” to everyone and speed-crawling toward the bolts on the bottom of the benches, which she liked to lick.
In Gustavus we checked into Jan and Ela’s Wild Alaska Inn which I would totally recommend as they and their place are very warm, especially on the rainiest of days (that take a bit of gumption to get out in, I might add).
We did one short trail and tucked in for the night. (Woodstove and cedar-plank salmon.) As it would happen, the next day (today, Tuesday) was gorgeous and after we both finished our work went for more of a proper walk to check out “town.” And I had been thinking (the whole past year, but especially this month) about Imogen’s birth and the anger and hurt I unfortunately still feel toward my midwife who completely phoned it in, but also about the fact that people can be such hypocrites and phonies,
when a car went by with the sticker that looked like one of those stick-figure families, but it was either a snake or a pile of poop, that said “let that shit go” and I had to smile; it was just about the right amount of toughness and truth.
Lovely family staying with us occasioned an outing for Jaco and me last evening, which, as it happens when moving from one far away place to another, and being new parents to boot, was just the eighth we’ve both been away from Squigs, who turned eight months old on Friday.
She has one tooth and has been waking up in the night in some pain, but we frankly don’t have the chance to go out ever so we took Rick and Heather up on their offer to babysit and drove downtown in the rain.
We chose the correct bar (Alaskan of course), and had no sooner sat down with huge black beers and begun to exchange stories of chasing the legacy of Walter Cronkite (as you do when hanging out with journalists) with Rashah when we get the text that she’s ready for us to come home.
We are really trying hard to be good parents, we don’t hover over her unnecessarily, but Rick and Heather weren’t us and she wanted us, and we sped back home, arguing about which way of two ways to go, and were home in less than ten minutes.
And the next thing everybody knew we were listening to that piano version of “The Wheels on the Bus” in her nursery as she drifted back to cozy town, my coat laying on the ground outside her door.
And I know we’ll have to make decisions about her education, and bigger things than that, but last night was about racing home in the rain to a little girl, polar bear jammies and piano tunes, and having never been as happy about anything else in my life.
One of the best things about our new place, a south-facing bay window with a view of the mountains, was almost totally obscured by whatever you call these heavy sliding blind things that, even when open, took up more than half of the window.
But a blank slate is a blank slate and can always be looked at as an opportunity. I took it upon myself to frame those mountains à la full DIY… and it ended up being fun and worth the effort to make curtains.
The 8 feet of PVC ($2.29 each) at the same height on each side mostly give the illusion that the windows are the same size (especially when closed). And those are up there with garment hooks we got at the hardware store, and on little rings with clips (to give the “gathered” effect).
They are lined with queen sheets – I found a new-in-package “used” set of 6 and cut the hems off those, so the curtains are nice and heavy. Now we just need some furniture!
When my friend of almost twenty years and fellow rummage- and estate sale aficionado Kristen Dickenson of Infinitage and Poshmark Infinitage told me that she had some vintage baby girl clothes for me, I had a feeling I was in for a treat.
The box from Winona, MN revealed a carefully curated collection of 100% cotton, Made in USA, original Carter’s and Sears baby outfits, bloomers that fit over cloth diapers… let’s just say it’s gonna be a good summer baby clothes-wise.
So without any further ado let us begin the first official baby fashion show of 2017 starring Imogen. First we have a white cotton peasant shirt embroidered with tiny red snowflakes (label below). This shirt is especially good for pulling up over one’s head.
Next we have four sets (button-down shirts with matching leak-proof bloomers), the first and third of which are homemade, the second Carter’s, last Sears. The first (below) is unbelievably soft and I really hope it still fits come Alaskan “summer.”
Wrapped my sewing machine in Jacob’s and my auxiliary coats, packed Imogen’s new stuffed animals around it, shipped it to Juneau in a Rubbermaid, and after channeling my 7th grade Home Ec teacher Mrs. Goode here I am on this side of one baby dress and a couple of Celtic knot turbans! (Interested in these because Imogen’s name is Celtic in origin!)
Mom actually sent me this fabric AND THE PATTERN which she had saved over forty years. With great appreciation I got to work, and must say I love the final product, especially the big bows on the shoulders and thickness of the fabric for this particular dress. (Didn’t get it on her yet – waiting for spring – but here it is with the pattern and hanging in her closet.)
For my second project, I wanted to make a few baby turbans and Celtic headbands I had seen on Pinterest – there are some sweet tutorials if you are also looking for a my-baby-is-asleep-at-bedtime activity. For this one just had to convince Jake to sacrifice a couple of old, soft (well-loved) t-shirts and wa-la! Baby headbands.
Finally (for now), our family is featured backup dancing in this video featuring Marian Call and Laura Zahasky at 7:40. And it’s a good show too!
In Istanbul I didn’t see the play “Faust” in Turkish, though it was always one of those stories with which I felt I “ought” to be familiar; “The Bodyguard” was playing when we lived in West Germany but only in German, a language I didn’t have the chance, at thirty-eight, to learn:
when I heard the Perseverance Theatre was going to show “They Don’t Talk Back”, I knew that – yes, even though we had a five month old daughter and didn’t know anyone else in the town to watch her, and probably wouldn’t leave her with anyone that long yet anyway – we’d find a way to go.
She attended a concert in Holland in utero, and we did take her to a comedy show when she was a month old (cramped venue, but Ted and Christina were visiting and we wanted to do stuff) and even ended up on one of the comics’ Twitter feeds, but how we’d do a play with her had us stumped.
First, we thought we’d just go to separate shows – Jake would go Thursday, I’d catch the Sunday matinee – but as he works long hours during the week, the weekend is our time together and that was how we wanted to spend it. A special matinee on Saturday was announced and we got tickets.
Despite leaving over an hour early we still walked into the darkened theater a bit late. Jacob had reserved seats near the door and I was happy to see there was another woman with a tiny baby sitting in the next row. Imogen was sound asleep in her car seat.
When she woke up halfway through the first act in the cozy theater, I simply got her out of her seat and moved her to my lap. She liked the drums and dancing; she seemed to be actually following the lead actress’s monologue… the one thing she didn’t quite understand is that you have to be quiet.
We think she liked the energy of the play and that is why she started cooing, but at any rate I ended up first standing in the back, and then sitting just outside the theater on a comfy couch for the second act so Imogen could coo without distracting art patrons.
The woman setting up coffee and snacks, and running the theatre, asked Imogen’s name, and when I also mentioned her nickname (Squigs), the woman painted a lovely picture of Imogen being on a talk show someday, divulging her early nickname to chuckles from the crowd.
When Jacob came out with our things, I told him he should stay in and watch, and that we were content to have seen as much as we had, the woman told me that I should come back the next day and catch the second act. I thought this very kind of her and decided to do just that.
At this point you may be wondering what the big deal is about this post: “okay, you went to a play with/without your baby, got it,” but if you’ve ever moved to a new city and/or shared a tiny space with just your husband and baby, you have an idea what is was like to attend a play by yourself.
It took about thirty seconds for me to get completely lost (in the good sense) in the play. A “coming-of-age” story and so much more about a (Native) Tlingit family, a mother who lost a daughter; weather, music: I felt at once a part of my new community, as if it showed itself just to me.
When I left, the woman who’d told me to come back told me she was so glad I had made it (seriously, why did she even care?), and (I realized after I got into the car how much I meant what) I said, “I can’t imagine if I hadn’t.” Then, she said, “your daughter is precious.”
Cloth diapering IS as easy as they say, you DO save (quite a bit) of money, and you don’t feel terrible the way you do when you throw away a disposable. Some people even like the way they look and that they become softer and more absorbent with each wash.
When I was doing my research I couldn’t believe all of the options (and how much people had to say about them!) so in an attempt to counterbalance all of that business I’m just going to say what has worked for me and hope it clears it up for someone else.
Before my daughter was born I used Amazon girt cards I was given at my shower and ordered two packages of Newborn size prefolds (about $40 for 12 diapers). After I had her about a month I ordered two more packages of prefolds, this time in Regular size.
In five months I’ve essentially been given four packages (96) prefolds, three All-In-Ones (Mom), and nine covers (three new from Mom, six hand-me-downs from friends). I’ve bought five packages (about 150) disposable diapers, one of which remains unopened.
I was advised to buy two dozen and not to skip the Newborn size: I’m glad I followed this as my daughter weighed 7.9 at birth and was in the Newborn size her first two and a half months. I couldn’t have put bigger ones on her at that time.
With two dozen diapers, you can pretty safely say you will be adding an extra load of laundry every three days. You wash them on hot with a pre-rinse, and an extra rinse afterwards. You don’t need to use a lot of detergent, and you don’t use fabric softener.
Another thing I love is that the more you use these, the softer and more absorbent they become. I dried mine on the line or on the radiators when we lived in Germany but now in Juneau I toss them in the dryer – where there is obviously less advance planning required.
As it happened, we made our almost 5,000 mile move from Germany to Alaska right at the time Imogen outgrew her baby diapers, so we used the disposables while we were traveling in December and busted out her Regular sized prefolds once we got to our cabin in Juneau.
I cannot imagine she would be a fan of these photos, but her proud mommy posts them regardless with so much love…
So there you have it, my journey thus far with cloth diapering… I am pleased as punch with this decision and my DH is on board as well… he calls it “diaper origami” when I fold her diaper but he actually does just fine.
At the beginning I was very overwhelmed, as I said… there are so many different kinds, so much of everything… I hope this helps someone. If anyone has a question please ask! I leave you with another picture of our sweet girl being changed in the back of a car…
Rain and sleet this week have been fairly legitimate reasons for not going stomping around in the woods, and the week before that I did go out there and get my “bearings:” while there were moments I enjoyed (getting a feel for the downtown area, e.g.) I’d say I thought about bears roughly 80% of the time.
My husband can no longer hide his exasperation on the topic: we spent the first several nights in the cabin after the girl was asleep discussing, again (we’ve been on the topic since Germany) what to do if you see a bear (“Hey, Bear! Get outta here!”) and stand your ground, and what not to do (run).
That said, the phrase “bluff charge” will not leave my brain. “You will never feel more alive,” my husband said (as when you stand your ground to a bear that is bluff charging you); I feel quite dim panicking about it after electing to move to a cabin in the woods in Alaska with my baby daughter who I don’t let out of my sight when I use the bathroom.
Now, while bears are an actual fear because they can be quite unpredictable, and they should always be given their space (even if you couldn’t help not giving them their space because you didn’t know they were there), it occurs to me that “bear” could be a metaphor of all of the things in the world from which I cannot protect her.
When I walked past riot police in Istanbul I would get that throat-constricting fear based also on being caught in the middle of an unpredictable situation, but actually we never know what is going to happen, and yet I know that we’re safer here than so many other places. No one is attacking anyone in Juneau; its politics are within my realm of understanding.
Having turned in before 10 pm on NYE, we were among the first ones up for breakfast on New Year’s Day, our second day in town. At the cafe we found, the waitress got down right in her face and complimented Imogen’s eyes. Even more awesomely, a lady at the next table offered to hold her while Jacob and I scarfed down our eggs. We let her.
I like watching our daughter look to the tops of the trees when we go for walks, and see along with her the way the mountains all around us turn pink at sunset. (Mostly-) imagined threats aren’t nearly big enough to cause these things to crash down anyway, new mom. Unless you wanna talk about avalanches.
We did quite a bit of traveling around in Imogen’s fourth month: San Francisco to O’Hare to Oshkosh; back to O’Hare, to Cabo San Lucas and Todos Santos, and back to Cabo; back to San Francisco, to Petaluma and all over West (Sonoma) County; finally, to Juneau (where we are now).
Jessica and Nick were lovely hosts and it was a thrill to see their beautiful place Casa Real take shape before our eyes. Jess has an eye for design, and has assured us that the best is yet to come; if kerosene lamps and piping hot tamales are your thing, you’d believe her, too.
Our first morning in Todos Santos we headed for Las Palmas, a beach 20 mins. from Nick & Jess’s… you’ll just have to trust me that there were waves that were exciting without being scary, blue sky, warm sand and all the other lovely earthy beach-y things… because all I see is
and (last but not least)
It was our first family vacation, and while at times I questioned my own sanity trucking her around all over hell, Imogen liked the warmth, the sound of the waves, and her Grandpa Dusty’s long stories. I think she had the best time of all of us!
We finally made it to Juneau the early morning hours of the last day of the year. Had a ‘soft landing’ at The Alaskan Hotel and Bar , and then worked on getting our cabin set up. I’ll post more pictures of the cabin soon – it is a beautiful place for our first place here in Juneau.
Have you ever been on a flight in which an ordinary passenger made an announcement? I felt like standing up and telling everyone within earshot that it was my 3.5 month-old daughter’s fifth flight; holding her up in her tiger suit for everyone to see (I didn’t do this).
Imogen arrived at the Cabo San Lucas airport in her sea-green layered-lace onesie (Aunt Jenny) with sand still stuck to her, but I’d fed her (in the 4 Runner while Jaco and Jess got us burritos) and changed her (on the front seat), so she was fine through the check-in counter, security, and Jaco and my celebratory Pacificos.
Our flight ended up being delayed an hour and a half, during which time they changed our gate twice. At the first gate her dad bounced her over to Duty Free, and at the second gate she slept in her car seat until it was almost time to board at which time we swapped out her onesie for her flying tiger suit (Grandpa Jim).
On the plane she sat on my lap, fell asleep in her dad’s arms and on the seat between us, hardly cried at all, even as she was rubbing her ears on the bumpy descent, and not at all when we found out we’d also be waiting an extra 35 minutes on the tarmac before ‘deplaning.’
Her dad took her (‘baby tiger coming through’) and we were up and outta there (not a peep), through passport control, baggage claim, back into her car seat, meeting Dusty and Mary, into another 4 Runner, and out of the parking garage, where she was laughing with me,
and then fell asleep again while we accidentally exited into the city, and she made it all the way back to Petaluma without a meltdown, and then I fed her, and we gave her a bath, and put clean clothes on her… and left her on a bed covered in laundry with the light on, for everyone to see and play with, and went to eat a salad,
…at which time she started crying, hysterically, because I’d kept her up too late, and she’d held it together through *another* international flight with three hours of driving and three hours of waiting besides, and she’d had it, and she’d needed me to put her to bed and turn the light off, and I hadn’t held up my end of the bargain
but she taught me a lesson, and I turned the light off and put a heavy soft blanket on her, and thanked her for teaching it to me, but she was already asleep.
We’ve been keeping up our habit of going for long walks along the Rhine and trying to soak it all in since we’re out of here in less than three weeks, bound for Alaska via California and some travels in between.
Halloween was Imogen’s first official holiday. She wore her kitty suit most of the week and spent the night listening to Michael Jackson and watching the jack-o-lanterns.
Her parents never knew they could love her this much and can’t wait to introduce her to the rest of her family.
My water broke around 2 p.m. Sunday, September 11, 2016, on a beautiful fall day about 100 yards from the top of Drachenfels, a hill that was formed by rising magma that could not break through to the surface, but cooled and became solid underneath.
I called my midwife Heike to let her know, and Jacob and I excitedly began the stomp down. Something was finally happening with the baby we’d been waiting to meet since January! I felt completely ready for whatever was going to come our way.
Regular contractions started about 5 p.m., an hour after we’d made it back to our apartment in Bonn from Konigswinter on the tram: they’d been between five and six minutes apart for the duration of one episode of The Wire.
The midwife came by and was able to determine I was 3.5 centimeters dilated. As we’d discussed, this was probably too soon to go to our Geburtshaus (aka birth center) so she went home to wait and I spent the next phase in the shower, Jacob holding the wand to my lower back. By 9 p.m. we were ready, and I showed up at the Geburtshaus at 7.5 centimeters.
Continued “rushing” all night, Jacob breathing with me through every one, kissing me, giving the kind of support I’d read about in my books. Eight hours later, at 5 a.m., I was 9.5 cm dilated, and Imogen’s head was down in my pelvis as it had been for months, but she wasn’t positioned in such a way that would allow for any descent, much less a smooth descent, down the birth canal.
It was suggested that we lie down and take a rest: another midwife would be in in the (later) morning and the best way to proceed would be decided upon her arrival. The contractions continued through this “rest” (nodding off while Jacob spooned me and waking up every three minutes with a contaction/anxiety/fatigue cocktail).
Christiane showed up over an hour later and confirmed the fact that the baby was stuck in my pelvis and that my contractions evidently weren’t powerful enough to bring her down. It was during this confirmation I did my one push.
We tried different positions, I was given an enema, Jacob and I went outside for a walk (that was interesting). When I quite literally couldn’t do anything anymore, Jacob convinced Heike that we needed to lie down again. Christiane, the other midwife, seemed to have vanished into thin air.
Heike hooked me up to the fetal heartbeat monitor in my bed and told me that another midwife would be coming to fill in for her because she was so tired. I understood the tiredness and thanked her for her help but could not believe she was leaving us at that particular moment, two first-time parents sweating it out in a bed.
Another contraction woke me up and I saw my my baby’s heartbeat, which had never once dropped below 120 in nine months of doctor appointments, at just 39. Just then the midwife Barbara showed up and essentially played cleanup crew: called the university hospital to tell them we were on our way, asked Jacob to gather our things,
helped me into the bathroom as my bladder had been too full for me to make it there on my own, which was a big part of the problem, I’d find out upon catheterization (read: instant relief) at the hospital, and then into her own car, drove us to the hospital, almost got broadsided on the way, debriefed our new team who induced me to try to establish lost regularity of contractions, which didn’t work.
It was explained to me that since Imogen’s water had broken now close to 24 hours prior, there was a high risk of infection for us both. Her heartbeat was up at this point, but irregular. Keeping my eye on the heartbeat monitor, I decided to get on all fours and try to regulate my own contractions. A 20-something nurse put my hair in a bun and applied cold cloths to my neck.
A doctor came in and explained the head thing again. Jacob asked if we could have a few minutes to discuss what I already knew: that they were recommending a C-section. Another doctor came in to “assess the situation,” which she told me the next day they commonly refer to as “oh fuck what do we do now” slash “come with us if you want to live.”
From the moment you are sliced until you meet your baby takes about one minute, I am told. I am given something to now stop the contractions. I am put into a gown and a green shower cap. They try to take my necklace, a gift from my best friend Jenny which has Imogen’s name and Jacob and my wedding date on it, off, but they can’t untangle it fast enough and leave it.
I am wheeled in my hospital bed to the “theater,” everyone seeming familiar with the word in this context but me, made to switch beds, given an epidural while in the midst of a contraction, which does nothing (luckily). I can remember being polite and trying to make small talk even in this situation and thinking at least the theater was cooler than any of the other rooms (I was getting too hot, I was told later) — I am such an optimistic person.
I thought of my baby and my husband the whole time. I remember Jacob yelling at the anesthesiologist and then in the next breath calmly telling me that he believed the Caesarean was named after Julius Caesar — a “fact” I learned later was actually not true but I think he was just trying to give me something on which to focus.
Jacob says of this experience it was as though I died and came back to life. If that is indeed the case, it was worth it for who was waiting for me at the hospital in Bonn.
Sept. 13, 2016 5:04 pm (To Imogen: these were the first 24 hours of your life)
You were brought to me in a yellow towel. You looked very familiar. I was only able to glance at you because I was dealing with the pain of the doctors rearranging my insides, but I felt your warm weight in this towel that felt as though it had dried in the sun.
The doctor brought you back after having checked you out and laid you on my left shoulder. I tried to focus on you but kept feeling like I was going to knock you onto the floor — I couldn’t be still because the doctors were STILL rummaging around inside me.
They asked your dad to take you and leave when they finally put me under general anaesthesia. On his way out they said congratulations to him while they were, as he put it, elbow deep in my gore. Thanks, he replied, not looking at them.
The next thing I knew I was being wheeled back into the room where you and dad were waiting. He told you a little bit about what to expect from the world during that time it had just been the two of you.
For the next couple of hours doctors paraded in and out explaining things. Your dad, being your dad, listened carefully to every single thing they said and asked all of the important and pertinent questions.
There was no family room available at the hospital that night, so dad had to go back to our apartment in Bonn on the bus. He told me later that he got some takeout from a little place next to our apartment.
Your head was a bit misshapen from ramming it against my pelvis and your right eye still had some opening to do, but you nursed like you had been doing so your whole life and promptly turned yourself a different color.
Your dad rode his bike back in the morning with a bunny for you. You didn’t cry until that afternoon. When you did cry, another midwife said it could be because your first memory (your birth) was not such a nice one.
As your mom, I figure I have the next 18 years to the rest of my life to improve upon it.
The main things I focused on getting were a rocking chair (secondhand from IKEA), a STICK (ground scored from the nature preserve by our house while walking), and (not pictured – yet) a sheepskin rug (scoured the Internet for this and eventually found one sold by Polish farmers at the flohmarkt in Bonn).
I know, ‘how lame to update your blog while on your honeymoon,’ but I’d like to remind you that I am already pregnant (28 weeks today, as a matter of fact), and the end of a travel day plus Jake not needing/wanting his laptop equals the time is right for my first post!
We left Bonn about 8 am for Berlin where we caught the train to Gdańsk, Poland. I only slept from about 1 am to 5 am the night before but Jake didn’t sleep at all so this is what the majority of our 11-hour train journey looked like to the casual observer:
We were able to find our place just fine, went out for some mushroom and cabbage pierogies (me; Jake went with ‘Gdańsk guinea fowl’ which was actually chicken) and after checking out the town square and getting some stuff for breakfast (and pistachio ice cream) climbed into a bathtub surrounded by candles.
The next day after checking out a pretty cool ship we found a really beautiful restaurant where I ordered trout and Jake was just in general really excited.
Our next destination after Gdańsk was Kaliningrad which was just about 120 km away, but we’d heard it might take a bit longer at the Polish-Russian border which turned out to be true in our case.
Our driver was gruff but patient and we were able to get a walk to the old part of the city in before it got dark, after which time we lit all the tea lights again and watched the Tetris documentary The Ecstasy of Order we’d been saving for Russia.
After breakfast we walked to an aquarium/submarine museum which was pretty fun, then an art cafe Jake had read about, and then an art/history of Kaliningrad museum.
After all of that walking my city dogs were barking and we got Sushi Love for the second night in a row, watched Silicon Valley and ‘chillaxed’ (even though I hate that word and all made up words).
Now we find ourselves in the Curonian Spit, just an hour away from Kaliningrad but right on the Baltic Sea! Let’s see what happens…
Tomorrow will be a week since our beautiful courthouse wedding and reception at Dad’s. We are still processing everything that’s happened, but we do realize how lucky we are for all of the help from our families and friends that day and leading up to it. Here are some of my favorite shots of our reception!
Tomorrow will be a week since our beautiful courthouse wedding and reception at Dad’s. We are still processing everything that’s happened, but we do realize how lucky we are for all of the help from our families and friends that day and leading up to it. Here are some of my favorite shots of our decor and the courthouse.
Left Bonn at 4 am for our 10:30 flight to Pisa from Frankfurt. It wasn’t too bad getting up at 2:30 am but after lunching in Pisa and our train to Casciana (3 pm) we had about a 5 km uphill walk to our countryside B & B. It was worth it, though – stunning, quintessentially ‘Italian’ views, good lighting in the room. (There was other good stuff too but those were the highlights.) Worked for awhile and fell asleep to rain on the skylights.
Our first morning after cappucinnos and bruschetta we got a ride into Casciana where we were gonna soak in a thermal bath but were told pregnant women weren’t allowed! Had fun instead picking out stuff for Ted’s birthday and goind for lunch – I got a ‘bianca & verde’ pizza on crust Jaco correctly referred to as a big saltine (which incidentally I’ve wanted and haven’t been able to find.) Jaco had seafood calzone with octopus.
Feeling rested after our second night at the B & B outside Casciana, we left to go back to Pisa and then caught a train to Livorno – where we met our overnight (MOBY) ferry to Sardinia. Was happy we’d booked seats in advance – we were using it as our accommodation that night – as we were able to turn the lights down and stretch out in our own ‘zone’ – being halfway through my first trimester I took advantage of being able to sleep anytime, anywhere.
Left our second B & B after a nice Valentine’s Day full of sunshine, walking, gelato, and Cheers. The next leg of travel entailed train from Olbia to Sassari and Sassari to Alghero, and a bus from Alghero to Bosa, with Bosa being the next destination. For Valentine’s dinner I had clam spaghetti because it has been looking really good to me (I know preggo mamas aren’t supposed to eat shellfish but I was okay) and Jaco had a steak.
And just because I feel like it here are a few incidental Valentine’s Day deep thoughts by Jame: single life, while fun (albeit not mutually exclusive) ‘heart-lonely;’ something I miss – past (static) childhood; something I don’t miss; grandmother’s house now with pictures of me from 1996; miss people who are gone, don’t miss people who are still here but act gone.
Our guide Antonio picked us up after our stay at the Bosa B & B, took us to the supermarket, and then drove us to his house in Porto Alabe, which was so close to the ocean we could hear it when we were lying in bed at night even with the windows closed. Found a path which led to a four-hour seaside walk to a tower: the view from the top – and from the ‘pill-boxes’ along the way – quite spectacular.
I was staying at a flat in Uskudar, Istanbul when two Syrian flatmates arrived with whom I became great friends and stayed in touch.
When I heard the friend whose story I am about to share was going to take one of the sea-crossing journeys from Turkey to Europe I was less than thrilled with a world that would put someone in this predicament.
But he assured all of us who asked that he would be fine, so we had to believe that.
The situation is terrible, and it doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon, but my friend is fine, and about month ago he sent me a forty-page document detailing the whole story of his journey.
Having read (as we all have) so many “ripple-effect” refugee stories (I talk about this elsewhere on this blog), it was almost calming for me to read a first-hand account. Mostly I feel really happy for my friend that he made it to somewhere he wants to be.
Please read (and share!) this story written by my friend: the more people who can understand the “refugee crisis” as it affects the whole world, the better.
Jamie Lynn Buehner, December 12, 2015
This story by itself is literally nothing compared to the suffering of other people (refugees or others…not only Syrians) around the world. Actually there is no suffering in this story.
The reason I’ve written it is just to share it with anyone who is interested, and to give a hint about the stories of other people I met on the road. Another aim maybe is to provide you with an example (even though this example is not really “hardcore”) of how crossing the borders illegally as a refugee works in case you have no idea.
“Refugee” is the last thing I am, unless you would like to consider me a “Cultural Refugee” who escaped the limitations of a society still confined by rules of bygone and pre-WWII eras, to seek refuge in less “totalitarian” societies.
At the end of this file, you will find my analysis of the situation and my personal opinion.
Chapter One: Into Smyrna
I took my time saying goodbye to Istanbul before heading to Izmir, because the road to deliverance starts from there (and from Bodrum [Turkey] for others). A friend of mine was waiting for me there after his first attempt to reach the Hellenic [Greek] shores had failed because of the wavy sea.
I arrived in Izmir feeling free of many things, because I had to let go of almost everything and the “luxury” life in Istanbul. Left is some clothes and money in my backpack, my laptop, clarinet, university diplomas, and the money to cover the journey, all of which I left with my trusted flatmate at my Istanbul house.
I arrived in Izmir at 5:00 o’clock in the morning, I called my journey companion, so he came to meet me at Basmane Square, the epicenter where all the “Tra”s meet each other- the “Tra”ffickers and the “Tra”velers. However, my trip was already planned with the same “Mediator” that my companion in this journey relied on.
It was a rainy night, so my journey-companion (I’ll call him Hadikun) had slept at some house rented by 20 Syrian guys for 150 TL per day…but that day we didn’t sleep – we just stayed awake walking from street to street all day.
Mediators are people who mediate between the Travelers and the Traffickers, but they are mistakenly sometimes also called Traffickers (the real Traffickers are hidden behind the scenes).
Our mediator was a real human being (not a money eating creature) – he was a decent person that circumstances led to do such a thing. Unlike most of the Mediators, he is a man of his word, really caring, and he always gave us extra info about Izmir and the best things to do to spend our time fluently until the commencement of our journey.
There were no more cheap hotel rooms left in the city, so we had to sleep in the
central park called “Kultur Parki” for three days, waiting for our lucky day.
In Kultur Parki, two worlds collided: a world of happiness and cheerful events and activities, since it was the main park of Izmir, a city full of beauty and life; and a world of misery – hundreds of Syrians and refugees from other nationalities waiting for the moment.
Hadikun, myself, and another guy whom I shall call “Wallow,” who has a very interesting story, joined the participants in the latter of the two worlds.
Wallow began receiving his lot of this war by serving in the Republican Guard for two years, which he then deserted to join the Free Army. His experience with the RG was positive as he told me – he didn’t feel any discrimination against him as a Sunni Muslim, although the majority of the officers were Alawites (another Muslim sect).
However, he wanted to join the “revolution” to be on the side of his family in the city of Homs, which was officially the birthplace of the Syrian War (for some it’s the “capital of the revolution,” for others it’s the “birthplace of terrorism”). After Wallow fought with the FSA for a while, he started to feel disappointed.
He’d expected a dogmatic revolution, but what he saw was chaos, division, and corruption. For example, in some cases they would ask for backup from other groups, but those groups wouldn’t respond, or would say things like “solve your problems on your own.”
Wallow started to reach the conclusion that needed to get out of the mess as soon as possible, so he found himself a way to Turkey, where he worked for about a year and a half in hard conditions – 12 hours a day in a textile factory, while he lived in a common dormitory with other guys.
He aimed to go Europe and start all over – it was the only possibility to leave the chaos behind, at least until the end of the war.
Joining us in the park were two other guys from Damascus who’d arrived a few days earlier with plans and hopes for their kids and their future. Damascus is a relatively safe city except for some rocket attacks from time to time, but the rest of the country is just hopeless. Everything is madly expensive, there are electricity and water outages, depression…you name it.
Ramez and Tarek, 40-year-old engineers, were shocked at their new reality of sleeping in the park under the rain in a strange city, preparing for an unexpected journey to hunt better lives for their families.
They kept repeating “If someone had told me 4 years ago that I’d be going through this someday, I wouldn’t have believed it.” They hadn’t wanted to leave Damascus, where they’d had acceptable lives before the war – but they didn’t want their children to grow up in a climate of scarcity, despair, and depression.
During our stay in the park we heard different stories: some were running away from the regime; others from ISIS and different militant groups; still others just trying to see the light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel.
The First Attempt
We receive a call from our gentle Mediator telling us to prepare ourselves, because our trip starts today at 24:00 o’clock [midnight]. He comes to us to the park at 23:00, sits down with us, and we have a nice chat. He tells us about his life in Damascus, where he used to have a jewelry shop.
He had a wide knowledge about everything in life, except maybe that life would throw him into this fate. He was different from the mainstream Syrian culture in the way he that he talked, dressed, and gestured: this was very comforting to me.
When the time came, he told us to follow him to a taxi nearby. We walked through the park hoping it would be our last walk (at least before we get a passport from another country, and come back to Turkey as visitors).
We arrived at a bus stop, and suddenly we heard someone calling us from the other side while trying to make as little noise as much as possible so as not to draw attention.
“Which one of you is the Mediator?” he shouted silently. Our Mediator flew to him and had a 10 seconds talk with the night shouter. After a while came another group of five women and two children, obviously Kurds. After another while, two taxis appeared to take us to the “gathering point.”
The driver took us to a remote place about 45 minutes from the city. It was pitch dark, we could see only the light of the stars, and the light of a cigarette about ten meters from us. As we approached the “light,” we heard a voice saying vague words. Then when we reached that phantom, he showed us the way to the group through the black forest.
It was a group of other phantoms – for whom we were new phantoms also – so all the phantoms waited together in silence for the “moment:” the moment the guy with the cigarette would show us the way.
After enjoying the magical dual absence of sounds and lights, an Izmir-ish version of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” the main ghost told everyone to move on – except us. He told me, Hadikun, Wallow, Tarek and Ramez to wait aside, because there was a mistake, and our attempt should be tomorrow, not today.
After accepting this destiny, we said “at least we enjoyed some hope under the starry night,” and waited in the woods for the taxi to take us back to the city.
The black car, which was actually yellow, came after 20 minutes, the place coloring everything in shades of black and dark blue. We hit the road back to Izmir and received a reassuring call from our Mediator telling us that this was a mistake of the Trafficker, and we shall try again tomorrow.
The fact that he called us at five o’clock in the morning, and stayed with us on the phone all the time, was really significant for us. The man almost doesn’t sleep just to serve his clients. He never complains; he always answers any call. Is that an Übermensch?
“Anyway, it’s just another day of forced Tourism in Izmir,” we thought to ourselves and went on sleeping on our green or brown beds in the park.
The second attempt
I spent my day exploring the beauty of Izmir. I really like the city, especially the seafront – an amazing meeting between the hills, the dark blue waters, and the Greek islands in the distance. I took a nap on the green grass by the sea, enjoying the sounds of the city and the sound of the islands, which I could hear through the visible distance.
Here comes the night again, and with it another hope. The same scenario repeated: the 5 of us with the Mediator gathering at 23:00 in the park; again to a Taxi (but this time with no guy shouting from the other side).
As we were moving through the park, I saw what I considered a “good sign,” a familiar melody in the form of a Tango piece by Carlos Gardel called “Yo no se que me han hecho tus ojos.”
The new part this time is that we were taken to a car wash away from the city – no forest, no starry night. When we reached this car wash, a guy welcomed us and told us to get quickly into a closed trailer without wheels or anything, used as a storage room.
There were already 5 people there, and as time went by, new taxis with new “five peoples” came over and over again. The trailer was full, so we waited for the next step. The Turkish guy from the car wash got in again, counted us, and then told us to stand by for the car that would take us to the “start point.”
The next ten minutes we would be the worst and most dangerous part of the whole trip, at least for me. A mini-van with no windows came, and we were asked to get in fast. How could a car like this with no windows have enough room for 47 people? Everybody was asking, but we got in because we had no other choice.
Inside this moving casket, our freedom of movement was limited to a four centimeter perimeter. But I had a flash of relief, for there were constellations of small bright holes, which looked like the stars from last night, in the ceiling, and they provided us with the air we needed to breathe.
During the dangerous, crazy-speed ride, which lasted two and a half hours, we felt that any time this car could turn upside down and fly to heaven instead of taking us to the start point. At last the car started to move slowly on what seemed to be an off-road path and stopped there as we expected: finally we could breathe fresh air again!
When the Turkish guy began to show us the way through an olive field, and asked us to run after him as fast as possible, everyone forced their legs to run because they couldn’t fly. After ten minutes of running we reached the shore, where two guys were pumping the boat and mounting the motor on it. We started pumping our vests.
When the boat was ready, the Turkish guy asked “Kapitan nerede (where is the Captain)?” We all looked at each other searching for the Captain and were shocked that we had no pre-appointed Captain, because usually on these journeys the Captain is chosen in advance, and he pays no money: here no Captain was chosen, and everybody had paid.
Two guys volunteered to be Captains, and the Turkish guy teaches them the basics. They learn fast and everyone is on board – a small boat supposed to carry no more than 20 People is now loaded with 47. Luckily the water was extremely calm that day – the strongest wave was ten centimeters high.
The Turkish guys took my number to keep in touch with us, and it seemed that this sea journey is much safer than the mini-van ride. We hit the sea, nothing interesting happens, everything goes as expected and planned, and I receive calls from the Turkish guy every ten-fifteen minutes to check if everything is going fine.
The real surprise was that the Turkish Coast Guard didn’t appear to try to stop us like they did with everyone else – even some guys with us on the boat had some advice about how to avoid the Coast Guard they’d gained experience from their previous attempts.
Why should we care? It was a good surprise. We headed forward to the Greek waters with no sign of the Turkish Coast Guard, or any high waves.
LIVE from Mecidiyekoy, propped up on four pillows, typing by the light of a soft desk lamp, my fan dutifully oscillating, it seems as though I have become lucky once again, but it didn’t always seem like this, not even always today.
I woke up at ten after having stayed up until dawn (why?), to a message from a woman whose flat I’d inquired about at the beginning of that would-be sleepless night. She would be waiting for me in the morning.
Now seems like as good a time as any to mention that one entire wall is windows, and that these windows have floor-to-ceiling sheer white curtains (I love curtains).
There is an amazing paper lamp on the hanging light fixture (it’s square), molding all around the edges of the ceiling, and, in a quite curious aspect, a beveled-glass wall with a BUILT-IN AQUARIUM.
I forget how it was hard to get here: how thirsty I was, that I waited for hours.
What about tomorrow, next week, etc.? Nobody knows. Right now soft light and CURTAINS and fan, and that is all, all I need.
What remains unknown about the aspects of my being here in Mali create a sum far greater than what is—for this very reason I wanted to stay far away, and it’s also exactly why I came: the depths, and the power, of my unknowing feel at once languid, restless, and still.
As was the case the last time I made the journey to West Africa from London, the beloved friends with whom I traveled have gone, having returned to their lives, to their jobs, to their families, and to their commitments. Unlike that time nine years ago in which I followed my friends’ lead, and returned home to my bed to dream, I have decided to travel on.
“It’s not a big deal,” I say to myself in the mirror. But then my travelling companion (who is exactly my age) and I lie in our tent and geek out—“We’re in Bamako—stressing especially the first syllable so that it has the momentum to carry the other two, and because that’s her name: Bamako, my newest city.
It took seventeen hours to get here from Tamba (and that was on a good bus!): when we rolled in at four a.m. we barely had enough energy to argue with our cab driver. As these things happen, at the end of all of the darkness/mosquitoes there is light, and now we are rooftop camping, third night strong, our auberge complete with a giant tortoise and three watchdogs.
It’s tough to say where we’ll go from here. It seems rational that a greater level of understanding of this place must be reached before further decisions can be made, but the more I learn (i.e., overhear in my limited understanding of French and guarded, broken English), the less viable and realistic this seems.
This said, my sense of wonder continues to grow at an exponential rate, helped along in no small part by the very sense of discomfort, and, yes, at times, impossibility, in which I currently dwell.
And I don’t think I could put a price on that, and I would be remiss to name a price that could take it all away.