Every day I fail to meet my kids’ expectations, sometimes in big ways, but usually in small ways. I put their snack on the wrong plate. I slice the sandwich that was supposed remain whole. Someone gets the smaller cookie, and it’s not fair.
Every day, I remind them, “You get what you get and…”
I’m just as likely to be met with tears as I am a smile and a “… you don’t get upset!”
* * *
My heart hammers against my chest. The churning in my stomach is not heartburn, but a sudden rage I never expected to feel toward my soft-spoken midwife. I’ve gotten what I’ve gotten, and I want to punch her in her unassuming, paraben-free face.
I never loved my midwife, but I didn’t need a best friend. I needed an experienced homebirth midwife to monitor my pregnancy and deliver my baby safely. Sabine came highly recommended. Her prenatal appointments ran on time. She wasn’t a talker, but there wasn’t a whole lot to say, this being my second pregnancy.
I’m at my 32-week prenatal visit when she mentions Vitamin K.
“Vitamin K… ” I trail off, trying to remember what this is and whether we need it, but like so many of the details from my first pregnancy, it’s hazy.
“Babies born in hospitals typically get a Vitamin K shot, as all babies are born with a Vitamin K deficiency, which self-corrects within the first eight days of life, typically. In rare cases, without supplemental Vitamin K, babies hemorrhage, as Vitamin K is a clotting factor,” she explains.
I’m sitting cross-legged on Sabine’s futon, with a scratchy beige throw pillow wedged under my elbow. I take a swig of water from my Nalgene bottle.
“I think we should go for it. Especially if it’s a boy, in which case we are planning to circumcise at eight days. I wouldn’t want to take any chances with excessive bleeding.”
I’m actually sure it’s a boy, despite having decided not to find out the sex in advance of the birth. I absently screw the cap back on my Nalgene. Daylight begins to fade as the mountains tip up to meet the bottom of the early springtime sun.
Sabine’s voice erases the silence, and suddenly I am shaking. Though her words blend into one grating noise, her message is clear: Your decision to mutilate your unborn child’s genitals is abhorrent to me.
“…and it’s really dangerous. Do you know how many babies die from botched circumcisions?”
The concern in Sabine’s eyes is genuine, but I still have to fight the urge to throw the beige pillow at her head.
“Two hundred, last year.”
I wonder where she gets her data.
“It’s especially dangerous if you put them in disposable diapers,” she continues. “One family didn’t have any clue how much blood their baby lost because the diaper absorbed so much of it, and it was too late by the time they realized.”
I want to tell her we’ll be using cloth diapers, so she needn’t worry.
I want to scream, “How dare you judge me?” but my mouth won’t form the words.
“Here,” says Sabine, as she thrusts a DVD toward me. On it is scrawled in blue Sharpie, “Penn and Teller.”
I’ve seen (and shared) the Penn and Teller PSA for vaccinations in my Facebook feed. I know it’s two clever guys explaining the horrors of circumcision in a way that’s only going to make me feel bad about my decision – a decision my husband and I have weighed carefully, a family decision that does not concern my midwife.
“Watch this before your next appointment, okay?”
“Sure,” I say, with a plastic smile. I want to get in my car and crush the DVD between my tires and the pavement.
“You get what you get and…” This is what I get, and I’m upset.
Later, I tell my husband, my mom, my friends, anyone who will listen, how insensitive and judgmental my midwife is. This doesn’t make me feel as good as I think it should. There’s no point in being upset, but I can’t stop wishing that conversation had never happened.
I debate talking to Sabine. I imagine saying, “We need to talk,” after she’s pressed her cold, metal fetoscope against my belly and let me listen to the heartbeat, checked the baby’s position, and measured my fundal height.
Sitting myself back up on her futon, I’d explain how I feel: that circumcision is indeed safe, that this custom is part of my religion, that this is a decision my husband and I have not come to lightly, and that I don’t appreciate her attempt to convince me otherwise.
Then, she’d explain how she feels: that genital mutilation is just plain wrong, that we’d never dream of doing this to our daughters, and that she’s simply advocating for an innocent baby.
Would we agree to disagree, burn incense to clear the bad juju, and share a cup of herbal tea? Unlikely.
More likely: Our relationship would weaken further, leaving me even less comfortable with the person I am trusting to guide me safely through one of the most intimate, primal experiences of my life. Or worse, the tension would escalate to the point where I excused myself from her care or she dismissed me as her client, leaving me under the care of no one at all.
At my next visit, I hand her the DVD and say thanks without meeting her eyes. I don’t tell her I pored over the literature on Vitamin K and discussed the question of whether to give the injection with our pediatrician. I don’t tell her how much her unfavorable view of me and my decision has shaken my faith in her, and specifically her recommendation to administer Vitamin K orally, if at all, versus via an injection. I don’t tell her I’m not sure if I trust her. I have no choice but to be an optimist this late in my pregnancy.
I go home and laugh hysterically with my husband over her instructions to bathe our baby with filtered water, to purchase only onesies made of organic, unbleached cotton, to make sure the crib mattress is not synthetic. Clearly these are the directives of a woman who has never had a baby of her own.
Sabine didn’t laugh when I told her the crib mattress had most likely off-gassed all the chemicals on our first child.
When I go into labor, Sabine shows up, as planned. She’s still not my favorite, but she’s calm and confident. Mostly, though, she’s quiet. When I tell her it hurts, she just whispers, “This baby is coming soon.” Otherwise, she simply sits, watching, waiting, never speaking, except to tell me to stand up so she can help maneuver the baby out.
Much to our surprise and delight, our second child is a girl. Before Sabine leaves our house, she throws all the towels and sheets in the wash. I say I’m not hungry, but she fixes me scrambled eggs and buttery toast, and sits by my bed to make sure I eat at least some of it.
I’ll never love her but I can’t hate her, either. I know she cares. I know she was trying to do the right thing.
* * *
Isn’t life just is a series of little hurts, disappointments, and rejections, interspersed with joy and surprises? It starts from the time we are small. My girls’ frontal lobes are tiny, their emotions huge. The perfect sandwiches they hope for, the flowered plates they prefer, the bigger cookie – they matter. I know they do. But I also know that these big emotions will pass. They always do.