I’m sure my birth doula was not familiar with The Ergs. And she most likely had never heard of The Fest until I brought it up. But she nodded enthusiastically when I told her how my friend Joe Evans III and I held our front row spots for the entire Dork Rock Cork Rod set while about a thousand drunk punks pushed us mightily from behind.
The story was told in answer to her question, “Was there a time in your life when you were under great physical stress and you got through it?” To be honest, my first response was a lacklustre: “Uh, not really.” But then I remembered the Ergs show. Though one night of stubborn punk rock place holding hardly seemed like enough preparation for the experience of birthing a human.
I was right. It wasn’t.
That Ergs show, while amazing, did not at all prepare me for the painful emergency C section that brought me my first kid, nor did it set me up for the thirty-six hours of labour that brought me my second one. The physical consequences of becoming a parent have been one of the most surprising parts of parenthood so far. Healing from pregnancy and childbirth takes longer than I ever expected, and even when all that is over, brand new physical consequences of parenthood appear almost weekly.
I’ve had two children now and don’t plan to have any more. The second one is still very young, which means that my own body is in a weird in-between state. I am still waiting to see what happens to it when it gets further away from the event of birth and the daily slog of nursing. I am not a person who looks upon the physical strains and changes of parenthood with reverence. It may not be an enlightened view, but I actually resent having to think so much about my own body. I don’t pay a lot of attention to it in general and yet here it is, reminding me of its own existence every day, through pain and healing and feeding and glimpses of my now-wider hips in the mirror.
I’m not the only one who isn’t into the let’s-get-physical parenting talk. Here’s a good example. My first child was born via cesarian section, which meant that people wanted to know if my second would be born the same way. What’s the opposite of cesarian birth? Go ahead, ask a few people. You’ll get answers like “a regular birth” or “a natural birth.” You know what the actual answer is? A vaginal birth. Because no birth is regular and all birth is natural. And I really don’t think the people giving those answers believe that my C section was wildly irregular or unnatural. I think most of them are just afraid to say the word “vagina.” For the record, kid number two was born via what other non-vagina-sayers like to abbreviate to VBAC: Vaginal Birth After Cesarian.
I am also not a fan of people telling me to love my body even in its wonky, post partum state because “This is what your body was MADE to do!” They mean well, but fuck them, really. Because my body was made to do whatever I want it to do. And nothing felt particularly triumphant about those days of feeling, as one friend put it, “tore up from the floor up” after the birth of my second kid.
Did you know that having babies also often gives you appendicitis? It’s true. And yes, it happened to me. It seems that when your internal organs get jostled around by the act of growing a kid inside you, infection of your appendix is a whole lot more likely. When I went into the hospital to have my infected, inflamed appendix removed when my first son was only twenty-one weeks old, there were two other ladies on the same floor who were about to have the same surgery for the same reason. I found that out from the chatty nurse who brought me the alarmingly large hospital breast pump so I could “pump and dump” my anesthesia-laced milk while my husband was at home feeding the baby his first dose of formula.
So, if we’re keeping track, that’s one emergency C section, one appendectomy, and one thirty-six hour labour ending in the removal of my baby from, yes, my vagina through the use of forceps by a giant, charming, Egyptian doctor. And we haven’t even discussed the physical ramifications of actually raising children on a daily basis yet.
“Carry two boys!” my older son Milo likes to shout gleefully when I need to bring him and his infant brother down our home’s three flights of stairs. So I tuck the baby into the crook of my right arm and pick up my enormous toddler with my left while I try not to fall down the stairs.
It was a snowy winter in Ottawa this year which means that my stroller was almost useless. I started pulling Milo on a sled when I brought him to preschool. I wore New Baby Joey strapped to my chest in a baby carrier, under my parka, which has a zip-in extension panel to accommodate him. He was named for Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone, but I think more often about his name also being used for baby kangaroos, given that he is almost always attached to me in some carrier or another. He grew fast, so after a few months this walk to preschool in the snow was gruelling. Imagine walking through knee-deep snow with one bowling ball in the front pocket of your hoodie and two more bowling balls on a sled that you’re dragging behind you. I’m surprised no one has marketed some version of this as the next workout craze, because by the time I made it to my destination I was inevitably panting and sweating with the muscles in my arms and thighs burning and screaming.
I am also hungry all the time. Nursing does that to you. I need to eat when the baby needs to eat. I’ve perfected the art of not dropping crumbs or hot tea on his head while he nurses. I can even hold his pudgy bulk along one arm to let him keep feeding while I let the dogs in and out of the backyard or attend to a random toddler crisis. Nursing in weird positions hurts your back, necessitates stretches and yoga poses. So does co-sleeping—which we do because this new baby will sleep for six hours straight if he is beside me in bed—but wakes furiously after an hour in a crib. Despite our king sized bed, I wake up more often than not dangerously close to the edge, clutching at a comforter that doesn’t quite cover my ass, engaging my core strength to keep from toppling over the side of the bed.
Last but not least, there is the lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation is what people usually think about when they consider the physical consequences of parenting. It’s certainly part of the physical exhaustion that occurs, but it is actually more of a drop in the bucket. Some people, like me, get used to waking up multiple times a night fairly easily. Yes, I often feel like my brain is being squeezed by an invisible hand on the inside of my skull, but a cup of something hot and caffeinated can usually cure that. And I honestly feel worse for the people who have to try to have a conversation with me, since my attention span and grasp of simple nouns are pretty much shot.
On July 24 of this year I am scheduled to get a tattoo. A big one. When I thought about what I wanted to do to commemorate my impending fortieth birthday, this was what came to mind, partly because I’d been thinking about it for years but never had a decent excuse to do it. But also because, I’ve realized, this is my way of doing something to my body that is just for me, after using this body to do so much stuff for other people. I know that sounds cheesy, but I don’t know how else to put it. Remember, my brain is low on nouns.
The tattoo will cover my upper arm and I am not afraid of the pain. That whole aforementioned thirty-six hour labour thing made me laugh at the idea of needles in my flesh for a few hours. The finished piece will include my sons’ initials. Because, despite all this complaining and despite the nights when I burst into frustrated tears because I just fell asleep twenty minutes ago and my muscles are screaming and why the hell are you awake AGAIN? I really, really love my kids. They are worth what I am going through even though there won’t ever be a “thank you, mom” that can erase these days of physical and mental struggle. But there will be love and, like that love, a tattoo on my arm that will last for-fucking-ever.
The Punk Parenthood Questionnaire
A few months ago I put out a call for punk parents to interview for this column. A mutual friend suggested Hillary Harvey right away. She more than fit the bill. It’s not just that her son’s name is Iggy (though that’s pretty damn cool); it’s also that she has an interesting, personal take on parenthood. She does her own thing and gives her kids the freedom to do the same, without getting lost in any kind of dogmatic parenting philosophy. And besides all that, she takes really amazing photos of her kids, which never hurts to give a clear impression of someone’s quirky family life.
Jennifer: Hey! Who are you?
Hillary: Hi, I’m Hillary Harvey, and I live in the city of Kingston in New York’s HudsonValley. I’m not sure which is which when it comes to what I do for a job and artistic endeavors; it all kind of melds. I’m a people/lifestyle photographer and a writer. So I do private photography commissions, and I’m the Kids & Family Editor at the Hudson Valley-based arts and lifestyle magazine, Chronogram, where I write a weekly Daily Dose for the website (www.chronogram.com/blogs/DailyDose) and a monthly column for the print mag (http://www.chronogram.com/). In my spare time, I like to catalog my family and our adventures on Instagram.
Jennifer: Who are your kids?
Hillary: Zoe Frances is twelve and a burgeoning Broadway star! I don’t know where she got those pipes, but I like ‘em! She also has this deeply compassionate and patient nature that I totally envy. Sabine Aisling is turning six this summer and probably the coolest cat I know. She has so much sass and is way smarter than me that it’s almost impossible to parent her, but I completely respect her for it and know she’s going to kick the world’s ass someday, just like she does mine. Iggy is three and a total lover. We are wrapped around each other’s fingers, and I hope it stays that way forever. They’re all gorgeous and witty and my own personal muses put on the Earth to make me so very inspired and happy.
Jennifer: How does your background in the punk/underground scene affect your parenting?
Hillary: I’ve always been really drawn to political music that expanded my sensibilities and opened my mind in some way. I really learned through the lyrics and the lifestyle of the punk scene to be less afraid of life and all the social mores, and it taught me to have a deeper respect and compassion for the world. I think this all informs my parenting because I try to keep it real and not get bogged down in expectations. Parenting, especially parenting littles, is like running marathon on top of marathon, and I’ve been living with someone under the age of five for the past twelve years (with a one-year sabbatical). It’s so ceaseless, and I have to be vigilant about constantly rethinking what I’m doing. It’s easy to becomeoverwhelmed and shut down, so I try to be intentional with everything. I don’t have a lot of time or energy, so I can only buy into the stuff that I love and that makes me feel whole.
Jennifer: What quality of yours do you most hope to pass on to your kid(s)?
Hillary: I hope that my kids will cultivate within themselves the ability to let go and to always grow, even when it’s challenging and you think you suck. My husband and I both always want to be good, honest people, and I hope our kids will also always strive for what’s right and respond to other people with understanding.
Jennifer: What music are you most excited that your kids are into?
Hillary: Zoe is into musical theater, like 24/7, which has not ever been my cup of tea. But I’m so excited that she has something that makes her feel passionately. That’s what music is really about for me, developing a sense of belonging to something bigger in that moment that the music is happening.
With the littler guys, I secretly hope they’ll start a rock band. They’re really into moshing right now and have some killer moves, so maybe they’ll go hardcore, which would also make me proud.
Jennifer: Describe the last time your kids made you laugh really hard.
Hillary: Parenting is so overwhelming in so many ways that if I didn’t laugh, I would yell. And I think the kids get that. So they all seem to love making me laugh. It’s also a bit cultural. On my side of the family, we’re New York Jews and, for us, it’s always about being witty. On the other side, they’re Irish Catholic, and that’s all about word play. So the kids have learned to chase the laugh and the art of sarcasm early. Whether it’s the way they repeat sayings slightly off or wonder where Batman puts his band-aids, I just love the things that occur to them as they get to know the world.
And of course, when you live with little kids, your sense of humor sort of regresses, so I do think farts are totally hilarious. Iggy likes to wake me up singing just the word “fart” to the tune of “Deck the Halls.” They crack me up literally every day. I started this thing I call, “Overheard at my house” on my Facebook page to sort of scrapbook all their funnies and the insane things that come out of my mouth and from my husband as we parent them. It amuses me, and it keeps it real.