happy birthday, Halle!

Halcyon Ashley Hogaboom, a birth story

Born at home to mom Agni, dad Ralph, and sibling Phoenix
1:20 AM Wednesday April 7, 2004
8 pounds 7 ounces
21 inches long

April 6th, 9 AM – is it or isn’t it?

A couple hours after I wake up on Tuesday I’m having mild contractions that are only a tiny bit more intense than the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d had throughout the last half of my pregnancy. They are only slightly painful and certainly not too intense. Nevertheless, they are somewhat distracting and never truly subside, coming anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes apart. Ralph senses things are going to go into motion and comes home at noon, starting his two weeks off of work. He calls my mom at about 3 PM and tells her to head up to see us (she leaves about 5 PM). At this point I am hopeful of labor but also feeling somewhat silly at the thought I might be treating everyone to a false alarm. My mom arrives at around 9 PM and she and Ralph start writing down my contractions, calling midwives, and cleaning the house up a bit.

April 6th, 10 PM – the real thing

My mom and I are watching a movie together and my contractions are still coming about 10 minutes apart. I still claim I am unsure if labor is going someplace. But everyone is noticing I pause the movie during each contraction so I can concentrate on getting though it. I’m undecided if I should walk around to get things moving or lie down and rest in between contractions. I’m afraid of another long labor – eighteen hours – like I had with my first child. Suddenly at about 10:30 PM I hop up from the bed and turn off the movie, since contractions have sped up to about four minutes apart. Naturally my mom and Ralph are very excited and go about making phone calls and preparations while I pace the floor and cope with each contraction. It is going quite well but I keep telling myself these are the “easy” contractions and I try not to worry about what’t to come.

Around 10:30 my midwives and my doula start arriving and I am focusing inward in the classic “Laborland” manner. I notice peripherally how efficient and friendly everyone is, setting up the bed, laying out blankets and birth supplies and getting snacks. Everyone is wonderful to me and provides me with water and encouragement between contractions, respectful silence and privacy during. I feel very protected and honored and so it is easy not to be fearful. My doula Elizabeth arrives and strokes my back and speaks softly to me. She puts me nearly to sleep in between contractions. I am feeling so grateful for the love and encouragement I am getting. I know I am coping very well and in fact since I am doing so well I don’t think I am very far along.

April 7th, Midnight – silliest labor quote

Things are intense but I don’t want a check to see how far I’ve dilated. I am somewhat afraid to discover all the work I am doing hasn’t gotten me anywhere. Laura (one of the midwives) suggests I get into the tub. I’d always thought of the tub as what you use as a last resort toward the end of labor so I tell her I can wait. After a few more contractions I decide she’s right. It’s time to get in, and I am hoping for some pain relief. I spend about 40 minutes in the tub with contractions edging up their intensity. Everyone is around me encouraging me and vocalizing though my contractions. Elizabeth holds my hands and breathes with me through the contractions, then puts a cold cloth on my head and neck in between. Everyone helps keep me calm and focused, as does the knowledge I have to take each contraction one at a time. Close to 1 AM I feel the urge to have Ralph hold and kiss me while I rest, and help talk me through contractions (he’s repeating something I read from Birthing From Within: “Labor is hard work, it hurts, and you can do it”). I don’t realize at the time but I am going through transition. After a few contractions I start to feel a little of that, well – grunting urge. Thanks to my study of natural birth, I know it is perfectly okay to vocalize and push a little to help with the pain and I instinctively do so. The midwives clue into what I am doing and are back in the room. Laura says, “Gee Agni, it sounds like you’re pushing!” and I reply (silly!) “I’m not really pushing, it just feels good to bear down a little bit”. These contractions are pretty rough but everyone is helping me so much it is still very manageable.

April 7th, 1:10 AM – OUCH, OUCH, OUCH!

Kathy convinces me to let her check me and informs me not only am I completely dilated, but that the baby’s head has descended quite a bit. I am completely amazed at this (despite knowing I am feeling the urge to push) and even accuse everyone of just saying that to make me feel better! (I feel a little foolish about this later). During each contraction I am feeling the pain in my hips, all the way to the bone, which my midwives tell me is a sign the baby is moving. Kathy tells me later I comment that it is like a crowbar prying my pelvis apart. Despite the pain I am coping well and in between the contractions I am still calm. I comment that I am not feeling any pressure in my bottom yet and I think to myself this means I have a ways to go. Oops, I speak too soon – with the next contraction I feel the baby AT THE DOOR, so to speak. This takes me by surprise and my labor sounds change from low and powerful to very alarmed and a little screechy. Everyone is talking to me and trying to help me calm down and focus. I am amazed at the pain and pressure and overcome with an almost frantic need to push. I am pushing, pushing, pushing, before I can tune into my midwives telling me to ease off. I do the best I can and manage to ease off a bit and direct my energies more constructively. Despite the pain I am overjoyed to know I am so close and my baby will be here any minute. “I know I will feel so good when I see my baby”, I tell myself and this helps me. Kathy tells me to reach down and feel the head and after an initial hesitation I do, surprised again at how soft and smooth it is. I can feel each part of his head I deliver. It hurts! But I know I am close. The head is out and then I am surprised by the fullness and difficulty of the shoulders, which I do not remember from my first birth.

April 7th, 1:20 AM – Halle is born

With one final push I feel my baby being delivered and I am surprised it is already over. I have been kneeling in the tub and so immediately turn around and Ralph tells me later I am saying, “Give me my baby! I want to hold my baby!” to the midwives who are doing their thing. I have a vision of my child’s long, smooth body floating in the water, the room lit by candlelight in a soft glow. Within seconds she is in my arms and I am crying and Ralph is crying and the whole room is full of a collective soft and surprised murmur. I am holding her to my chest and saying, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!” over and over, feeling so filled with surprise and happiness. She is perfect and so soft and I feel wonderful. I realize I have done it, I have given birth to a healthy baby in my own home, with my own power.

April 7th, early morning – getting to know you

I stay in the water crying and holding my baby for several minutes before I think to take a good look. I hold my child away from my chest and in between squirming legs and the umbilical cord of course, she is perfect. Everything feels perfect! After a few more minutes I am ready to get out of the water and get cleaned up, but I know we have to wait for the placenta. I feel like this takes forever but it probably is only a fifteen minute wait. Another surprising feeling of fullness and then the placenta is delivered. Kathy has to pull the cord a bit and gently massage my tummy to get the whole thing in one piece. My mom is on the phone with my dad and has to pass the phone around so she can cut the cord. I am ready to get out and dry off and nurse my second child.

I am helped out of the tub and into some dry clothes. I am so happy to have so much loving help. I prop myself up on the bed and hold my child to my breast. She latches almost immediately like a pro. I keep asking my husband, “Is this really happening?” because it has gone like a dream and I am so happy. After some time of nursing the midwife eventually takes my baby to the foot of the bed to weigh her and check her limbs and reflexes. Elizabeth brings me food – cheese, bread, apples and oranges. My pulse is checked and found to be high (100) so I am encouraged to drink a huge glass of water (this happened with my first child too). My afterpains are intense, more so than with Phoenix, but I know this to be normal. I breathe through them. Phoenix wakes up and is brought into the room, looking cranky and confused. I kiss my oldest child and introduce them to their sibling; then Ralph takes Phee back to the bedroom to settle them back to sleep.

Kathy checks my bottom out and finds only two tiny tears, no need for sutures. The energy of the house is settling, people are packing things, Elizabeth says goodbye. Laura leaves too and I take a shower with Kathy’s help. She stays long enough to give postpartum instructions and asks me to page her when I can pee. I am a little anxious about this myself, for vague fear of a catheter. Kathy leaves about 3:20 and as her car is pulling out I am able to use the bathroom, feeling now finally that everything is alright.

My husband is looking dead tired. I am wired and unable to sleep. We send my mom off to bed. I hold my child who is still awake! She is drowsy though and wants to snuggle. At about 4:30 AM I finally fall asleep on the bed, Ralph on the couch, holding his newborn. We are awakened just before 7 AM to the joyful sounds of our firstborn running through the house talking excitedly to Grandma. Grandma looks like she really needs a cup of coff

Happy Father's Day, Dad

“wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved”

Today another little piece of my history smoldered and stuttered out. The hardware store I worked at age seventeen closed abruptly. Employees were given notice two days ago. I only found out this evening, a few hours after they shuttered for good.

The hardware store was my second-ever job. But more relevantly I worked there alongside my father, who served there much of my life.

Working with him was such an incredible joy.

My dad loved his job and he was good at his job. His customers esteemed him too. Especially the women, because he was helpful, professional, kind, tall, and courteous. Later I’d found out so many men don’t live up.

So sure I learned about plumbing and electrical stuff and how to make keys and what kinds of creepy chemicals and solvents did what, and how a pressure cooker worked and some basics of automotive care. Yeah. But more than that, I learned something truly valuable. I learned how important it was not to squander my working hours, if at all possible. I learned to place my self-respect over a paycheck if at all possible and I mean if at all possible, and over status and over what other people’s expectations were – or what I guessed they might be.

Being raised female, I’d been told a hundred ways by a thousand people that I needed to make everyone happy before I could even think about my needs. So that was set against me. But I learned something different, in working with my father. I don’t remember a single speech or lecture. I remember his example. It somehow shone through a lot of life’s dross.

That’s how I learned how to love a job – and to respect myself at a job. That’s how I learned to love a good man, and I suppose in part how I ended up finding a good man.

So today it hurt a little to know I couldn’t walk through the aisles one last time, to bring my sons along and just tell them a little about it, before taking them out to coffee. See I know those aisles would smell the same as twenty-five years ago, in the low golden light the place always seemed to hold. Fertilizer and rubber and the little drawers of precious lamp switches and chains, and a bleachy squeak and most the things you need for your home and if you couldn’t find those things, Dave could tell you where else to look.

It hurt a little to know that a bit more of my father is gone, that I too have diminished. Yet again! Another one of life’s grubby little robberies.

But, shit. I don’t connect with self-pity when it goes up in smoke, if it’s stolen, dies out or fades away. That’s life! Like – it’s all going to burn, right? There is no posterity, some day it will all be annihilated, and it has often seemed a great and silly game that so many want to pretend otherwise. Who doesn’t know this? Damn. I find comfort in that absurdity, that groundlessness.

Another thing I learned at my father’s hand: my Buddhist practice.

So I just grieve. It’s simpler. I’ll miss the store – terribly, of course. Like I miss my family home, like I miss my grandparents’ home, like I miss all those things lost to me. Like I miss my father.

But see: I had them. I held these things, I moved through these rooms and that sun fell on my face. I will always be grateful for this golden dust in my veins, shaking it in my tingling fingertips. I can still feel that life. I won’t lose that gratitude. That, I treasure and hold as mine.

And I honor loss. That’s why I write about it here.

But I’m not sure I’d enjoy things as much as I do, if I felt entitled to them staying exactly the way I want them, for exactly as long as I demand.


Happy Father's Day, Dad a

the bright spot of our lives

The atmosphere at the club is chaotic; there’s a Halloween potluck and dance assembling. Friends flit in and out and talk, smoking or vaping outside and loudly laughing; the energy is high. Flirtations – eyes casting about at one another. Parcels of hot food unwrapped and placed on the tables. It’s cold and crisp outside and warm and convivial indoors. I love seeing people in costume – some of them rag-tag or incomprehensible, others quite developed. You discover a little more about your friends when you see them in their glad rags.

and is the heart of youth so light /
its step so firm, its eye so bright

Phoenix graduates with their Associate of Arts degree from Grays Harbor, with Honors, on Friday June 22nd.

They are the youngest graduate from Grays Harbor College, and the youngest inductee into the Beta Iota Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa.

Ralph and I are kind of a mess about it all. It seemed to happen so fast. I mean – it did happen fast. They are such a young person and so incredibly strong.

And first, a personal entreaty.

Phoenix got into college at age thirteen. We couldn’t get funding for that first year. I looked everywhere. They were too young for any financial aid or scholarship and we were told (erroneously as it turned out) they would not be eligible for state-sponsored dual-enrollment.

We put the whole first year on credit. It was the only way we could do it. It is my hope that we can apply graduation gift funds to this balance – a hulking debt that still lurks out there amassing interest. Like (almost) all college graduates, Phoenix has future plans and at age sixteen, Ralph and I are the primary resource to help them with their next steps. We would like to pay off this first year college debt so we can meaningfully contribute to our child’s future. If you see fit to make any graduation gift to our family, we will be so grateful. You can earmark any funds if you’d like them for Phoenix’s discretion only; there is also an option to purchase an item from their wishlist.

If you cannot contribute, please do sign Phoenix’s guestbook with any congratulations, wisdom, or advice you’d like to share.

Because I’m a writer, I have to say more. I’ll keep this as brief as I can.

To this very moment I still haven’t fully processed what my child has accomplished. There were so many quarters I was simply aghast at the work Phoenix had to do. The effort was massive, and at times my child seemed miserable. I spoke with grown men who were reduced to tears, dropping out of courses my then-13 year old stuck through. I watched my child drag themselves out of bed early to get to class; I watched them leave off evening activities so they could get enough sleep. Phoenix has a near-perfect attendance record for their eight quarters’ worth of college, which is something I respect deeply as I saw what it took. Their attendance was better than I ever accomplished at university – and they graduate with a higher GPA than either parent (and hey, we weren’t slouches either!).

Phoenix got through their degree being the youngest in their class. Every class. Phoenix got through college while transitioning. I can’t overstate how alienating these experiences could be at times. We received such a tremendous amount of support on social media, and I could never fully describe how deeply meaningful that has been to me. But on campus things weren’t easy. Phee’s adult deportment masked just how young they were – which suited them just fine, but meant they didn’t get the outreach every academically-advanced outlier should receive. It is my tremendous desire that if any of my friends or blog readers have children who go to college (very) early, or trans children who come out in their teens, that I can in any way be a resource or a supportive party. These unique aspects to Phee’s college experience were more impactful than I anticipated and they have forever changed my perception of “differentness” significantly.

I can never fully convey my gratitude, to my friends all around the world and to my little community. I want to tell you that without your love and support I would have faltered and let my child down; with your support, I was able to hold them up. With your support, I could watch them struggle and succeed and know my role. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

You have blessed our family.

41

sitting backstage / someone’s plus one

41
In a few hours I turn 41. Of note: my mother brought me over a large floral arrangement today, along with a deep chocolate cake and three small houseplants each set in a simple copper tureen. Ralph and the children have been out on secret errands, happily procuring gifts. I am grateful to be loved so dearly by my little family.

I’ve spent the last two days practicing yoga, caring for family errands, volunteering, and doing those little business admin bits like invoicing and recording receipts and ordering and collating patterns. It is cold – cold in my studio, cold outside. Emerging from the bedroom this morning I find my husband stepping inside after the dog’s morning walk; Ralph is so cold he looks almost shocked. I pour him hot coffee and convince him to come to bed, where I hold him close. I steel myself as he slides his cold hands up my shirt, against the smooth skin over my ribs. The only one who’s touched me like this for two decades.

I’ve tried to stop judging myself how much it hurts my children are growing, are so independent. Every day they seek me out and hold me, and I am grateful for that. Every day they share with me. They can even be coerced to go on errands and I can always buy them a tea latte or lunch. What may be less obvious to my readers, unless you’ve been with me a long time indeed, is that at one time and for many years their company, their needs and laughter and tears and their words and smells and their hair against my cheek, always the sweetest straw-smelling against my skin, this was my world for fifteen plus years and even though things are as they should be I am bereft. For Ralph life is much as before; he’s had their lifetime away at his job, to come home in the evenings. For the children they have the security of their parents, as they rush off and bury themselves in work and play of their own.

All my life I remember people pityingly speaking of women who were too invested in their children, as if this were some mark of a pathetic, cramped nature, of an unimaginative woman to allow such a thing. One secret I have discovered: you can have a full life, you can have all these interests and a gorgeous career and a wonderful marriage and good friends and a meaningful avocation and a spiritual walk and a self-care regimen: and it can still hurt so damn much when your kids grow up.

 

 

mint, turmeric, saffron, cardamon, ginger, garlic…

Today when I wake I know I’m going to do my yoga, drink my coffee. Hem a linen dress with a blind stitch. Press the dress and hang it up, to deliver to a client in a couple days. Wait for my children to wake and then take them out to pizza.

It’s my oldest’s sixteenth birthday.

In the evening we travel to an event, the LGBTQ+ safe space, a crafting night. I bring embroidery supplies and work on a small project. Many other young people are there. Beeps doesn’t always fit in; they are friendly, intelligent, and well-spoken but they have a preternatural calm and a presence that others find intimidating. I am not nearly as calm as Beeps but I know what it’s like to be considered intimidating. People assume you don’t need the kind of care, the kind of asking-after. They assume you don’t need them to walk over and say Hello.

But someone does walk over and sit with us and we do handwork and we talk. I am embroidering a little goth skull for a friend in Tennessee. Deep deep deep purple, and a silvery-blue, and a lavender. Cotton floss.

And when I get home I will be making chick’n biryani, because I know (even though I haven’t made it before), it will be loved by my children. Earlier in the day I spent the last 19 dollars to my name this week on the supplies – well 12 dollars on the vegetables and herbs as I had to spend seven on medicine for my mother, who called from her house and asked. I have gas in my car and dried beans and rice at home and a day or two to hopefully get paid by a client and so I’m cheerful enough.

Home and my partner has chopped up the herbs and spices and peeled the potatoes. This is what I love – alchemy, he and I together. I have the confidence the dish will taste perfect – and it does.

My children lay on me when they can – on the couch, in my bed before I sleep. They still need so much attention; they still crave touch. It can be comedic; if either child sees Ralph and I embrace, they move into the middle. They’ve done this since they were very little and they do it now. I am pleased because I am a special person in their hearts; they also need these kinds of things from their father but from no one else, do they trust like this. I am so glad every day we get to earn their trust again, and again.

We have a special birthday cake and a few gifts, lined up for Sunday when my mother comes over. I ordered a cake in a cheerful blue; I will make another special meal. Another trip around the sun, for my glorious firstborn!

Änderungen

Yesterday my eldest child had their first shot of testosterone, administered by a long needle with a physician’s expertise. In two weeks we’ll return and I will watch my child learn to do this by themselves.

I am not nearly as nervous about testosterone as I was even a year ago, when I had just started educating myself more seriously about being a parent to a trans child. In some ways those early days were a little dream-like; I have a very close friend who is trans and had cheerfully thought that would be my most intimate experience – and I was grateful to be included in her life, and in her journey. When Beeps came out about thirteen months ago I am sad to say I did not realize just how much this would change our lives. It hasn’t all gone as expected, at all. We’ve had disappointments (unsupportive family with poor behaviors), elation (supportive family with awesome behaviors), a lot of great support (thank Jeebus for the internetz), and a huge learning curve. To this day, as much as I’ve read and studied, I haven’t seen anyone as eloquent, well-educated, and kind as my own child on the topic of gender issues. There’s a career in it for them if they so choose.

This child has been noticeably happier since the week dawned when they’d get their first shot; time will tell, but of course as has been my experience these sixteen years of parenting, it really is okay to trust our children. Watching my child bloom into joy, (more) affection, and a great deal more playfulness, has been both wonderful and a bit sobering. It is so easy, when a child is “well-behaved” intelligent, and (seems to be) doing so well, to ignore things rather than pay them heed. Important things.

I forgot to tell you but I am determined, by the way, on a new New Year resolution: to stop criticizing myself. It might seem entirely silly or perhaps even a vague or even unattainable goal but I absolutely know it’s important, and it’s possible. I have been practicing simply moving away from those thoughts that are repetitive criticism (or even obsessive criticism), simply stopping them. This is, I am surprised to find, entirely possible to do. Not that many years ago, I couldn’t have succeeded, and sadly I doubt I would have had an awareness of how self-critical I was. I am finding compassion to be as much a daily, nuanced, complex and fruitful practice as my daily yoga. This gives me a tremendous sense of optimism and gladness – joy, even.

Ralph and Beeps are in their last quarter of German together; “Du hast Hausaufgaben?” my husband asks our child, from the hallway through bathroom door. For their part, Phoenix has been tutoring me a bit. Today while they swept the kitchen floor they sat me down and lectured me on numbers, and how to count according to the German language. I laughed and repeated the word for “fifty-five” several times and Phoenix praised my pronunciation and my handle on their numeric system, although I felt I barely had a grasp on it all.

Also: happy vegan anniversary to me (yesterday)! 

A wonderful, rich life, if the rain still pisses down and all that. Hell, it’s January. We got a ways to go.

Phoenix

stained-glass

Phoenix's 1st Dance
I had my nostril pierced yesterday. I hadn’t had a stud in my nose since age nineteen – almost twenty years.

My intense fear of needles kept me away. And yet, last night – while shopping for my daughter’s ear-piercing – I knew it was time. And while the rest of my family went to find a shop that would accommodate our thirteen year old child, I stepped into the back of another shop, sat on a clinical-looking table, and waited, my mind and body going into that fear-space. Resting as calmly as I could.

The needle drives in and I breathe out slowly. When the shock and adrenaline pass I say: “I put this off a long time.”

“Everything happens for a reason,” the piercer tells me now, in a mild tone, as she’s setting the jewelry – a stud so small that my husband and mother fail to notice it when they see me next. She is a small, gnome like woman with sleepy eyes and full cheeks – beautiful, placid, and to my way of thinking – incredible. I know I would have a very hard time driving a needle into someone else’s body.

And now, her simple words – “everything happens for a reason” – maybe said offhand even, somehow strike me as profound.

Our family has had so many changes these last few weeks. Life is not happening too fast, precisely, but life is definitely carrying me along the current. I am not steering – I am guiding our little vessel as best I can. The wind chaps my cheeks and I am not always sure what’s around the bend. I’m finding a beauty in every little thing. A fierce, out-of-breath wave of feeling in my breast.

My little silver stud installed, I step into the night street and travel a few doors down and wait for my daughter. This tattoo parlor is a little dirtier; a large television plays a reality television show. I wait for my daughter, only feeling a slight pang of envy that my husband gets to attend her as her earrings are set.

And my daughter – well.

She is ethereal, amazing. She is my very heart.

Tonight she attended her first dance. I spent all the time and all the money I could. I wanted to do it right. She will never not-remember her evening.

Phoenix's 1st Dance

14th Anniversary

“no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company – than a good marriage”

14th Anniversary

Today marked our fourteenth wedding anniversary. And it was a beautiful, lush day, as September often is here.  It’s also a busy time of year – and busier than typical, for us.

I had wondered – as it became obvious our house-buy and move would be right on top of both “the first day of school” (irrelevant, as homeschoolers) and our anniversary – if our day would get swallowed up. Would we be too tired, or angry with one another, or embroiled in detail, to spend a few hours in appreciation? (No.) Would we make time to gift one another (Yes!) Would we have a lovely evening together (Yes!).

Dinner was lovely – but the drive, and the beach view, were sublime. I am fortunate to live in an absolutely beautiful, remote, idyllic corner of the world. I don’t regret it, not for a moment.

And here’s hoping for many, many more years together as a couple.

14th Anniversary

Phee Turns 13

a daughter; a blessing / an ocean; a storm

Phee Turns 13

I am the mother to a teenager as of today. As of today, I only have one child who’s still a child, still a tween. One child who sleeps in the home, who creeps in my bed. Another who has set her foot on the twisted and dark path, through the forest.

As of today, I don’t have two children gamboling under foot. Today I watched a father who did, who had a little one. Those days are gone, they slipped through my fingers. I enjoyed every moment, every bit, but that doesn’t mean I was ready to see them go.

Today, I have a daughter who is a young woman. Never again will her fields contain childhood until the day, perhaps, she stoops to catch up children of her own.

Today is auspicious indeed. It marks that blossoming of hope, that cause for celebration: a child who’s survived childhood. Intact, with a lot of fierce love blooming in her chest, with a lot of laughter.

My daughter is my hope, my strength, my roots but then she is the green shoot out of the wet earth. She is my strength and grows tall like a tree. She is a fierce prickly thorn in a rose and she is the sunset when its impossible beauty takes your breath away. She is stronger, kinder, more intelligent, less spoiled than I and than anyone I know. She is my heart.

She is my heart!

Phee Turns 13

Phee Turns 13

Phee Turns 13