A Family Portrait

(Column 42 – Published November 30 in the Warroad Pioneer)

Something cozy and altogether familiar has slowly glued itself together these last nine months. It’s been a literal gestation period of new beginnings and trial and error, held together in part by the magic threads this Angle life allows and even nurtures.

We’re a funny looking family, at least from my old perspective that attached value to beliefs systems and applied judgement to every step whether inside or outside of those beliefs.

No, we don’t follow the “rules,” and we keep on keeping on despite the lack of encouragement from anyone looking in from the outside. The thing is, I just don’t need the approval and the praise anymore, and the rest of my little family, well, I don’t believe they ever did. I guess it’s me that’s growing up and growing into my newly thickened Angle skin. What’s really been forming in utereo these past many months is a new perspective that finally and unapologetically allows us to be exactly as we are.

Tundra came to us by way of trailered boat. Early this spring, an Angle couple drove up from down south, opened their cabin, and then two days later, took the cover off their boat in preparation for launch. There, half-wild and starving, were two baby kittens. We surmise that the mother gave birth in the boat and wasn’t quite able to move her whole of her litter before travel time. Messages quickly went out to the locals and the kittens, both calico, were quickly claimed. Ours arrived home scared and weak. She was almost too tiny and we weren’t prepared, but we did our best and she ate like a wolf. Still does. Having lived her life until then in a boat, she often prefers the hard floor of the bathtub, a towel or a damp bath matt over the litter box, and that has been a headache. But she amuses us and was so very tolerant when a three-year old carried her by the neck or confined her to a doll stroller, and she loves me with a ferocity that includes headbutts for attention and instant drooling when I scratch behind her ears. Several weeks after her arrival, after we’d played with every name imaginable, I watched her waddle away from her food dish, her full, nearly distended belly swaying from side to side. “She is rotund!” I laughed to Tony. And that is how Tundra was born to our family.

Gypsy arrived the previous fall. I spent a whole drive to town one morning mulling over the raising of a cat. It had been two years since my old cat died, and I knew I wanted Iris to grow up with one. We still lived at my parents’ then, Tony and I were separated, and frankly, I just wanted the comforts of a pet. When I arrived in town that morning, the first person I spoke with whipped out her phone to show me pictures of their sweet ragdoll kitty. I was cooing at the photos almost tearfully when she told me there was another kitten left in the litter. I said yes in less than a heartbeat, knowing full well the universe had just granted a longing. Even after the cat pooped in the middle of their bed on a handmade quilt, my parents were very gracious about it all, mostly because it only took two-year old Iris about 3.5 seconds to fall in love. Every day for five days I asked the kitten her name, and finally, when she was fully bought in to the idea of her new family, she told me. And that is how Gypsy was born to our family.

I took the first pregnancy test out at the old cedar pile on the sawmill road. Tony and I were gathering logs for our tree fort, a pet project for a mild spring during the ice breakup of 2012. I already believed I was pregnant, of course, but when the test confirmed it, I spent the rest of the day aglow in a secret that would only ever be just mine for that smidgeon of time. I’ll remember those flush feelings of hope, expectation and abiding love for the rest of my days.

Two weeks later, Tony and I went to the clinic in Roseau to get an official test and start the process of insurance and prenatal care and all that rigmarole. When the nurse told us the test was negative and that I was definitely not pregnant, we were both stunned. I don’t think we said a word as we stumbled our way out of there as quickly as we could. I wept the whole drive home. Like a good little medical consumer, I didn’t question their authority, and I spent the rest of that spring and summer behaving as if I were not pregnant, and by that I mean drinking, cliff jumping and rope swings, late nights and poor nutrition. By fall, I felt decidedly off. But with pregnancy the farthest thing from my mind I was dismayed at gaining weight and curious but somewhat grateful that my tolerance for alcohol had disappeared. Convinced that there was a cancer growing inside of me, I went back to the clinic. Nope, not cancer, just a five-month old fetus.

And so, I had a very short pregnancy, but I made the most of it throwing myself into research and health nut mode. I chose the same doctor who had caught Tony’s other girls as they entered the world for that very reason and because she was female and located conveniently in Warroad. At the end of January 2013, I went into labor late on a Sunday, and I again kept it to myself. I laid awake the whole night happily present with the pains and sensations. The wintery drive on The Angle’s rough roads was very uncomfortable that next morning, but I was excited and ready, or so I thought. By Tuesday afternoon, when I was still only dilated not even 2 centimeters, my not-so-carefully chosen doctor screamed her impatience at me, “This is CRAZY!” She was missing work and revenue waiting on me, after all. Of course, in my sleep-deprived, drug-free state, I heard her say “YOU are crazy!” I caved and listened to the fear-peddling, agreeing to a Cesarean mostly because I just wanted to sleep. And because my whole support system – Tony, my mom, my doula, and the rotation of nurses had all about had it.

It should have been one of those peaceful hippie births, where I walked the fields for five days dilating slowly and easily. And then, squatting against a tree, as the first women did of old, I would have caught my child myself. But instead, I walked the cold and sterile hallways of a hospital with an impatient doctor breathing down my neck.

They sliced me open, pulled out the baby and when I heard her cry, I cried as well. “Mama’s here, little one. Mama’s here.” To this day, that is what comes out of my mouth when she is hurt or upset. “Mama’s here, my love, my little one.”

And that is how Iris was born to our family.

Everything has been fine since and I’m slowly getting over my attachment to the idea of a perfect birth.

There is more, as there always is, but this column is already too long. Next week… the births of Tony and Kellie.

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