My baby made me go deaf

Sort of.

Who me? But I’m so cute and innocent.

I have been losing my hearing for the past few years, but when pregnant with Felix, my hearing loss became acute. A few weeks after he was born, I finally got the diagnosis I had been suspecting, that I had otosclerosis, a progressive hearing loss disorder that is accelerated by pregnancy. (Just one of the many super-strange things that pregnancy can do to a body!) It’s a genetic condition, and my maternal uncle also has it, so I’d suspected this was the reason for losing my hearing at a relatively young age. The good news is that I’m a candidate for surgery to correct this loss (by getting some new faux tiny ear bones, how chic), and I hope to schedule that sooner rather than later.

Overall, the experience of gradually going deaf has created space for all kinds of new observations.

Masking has been a real trial for my new handicap. The pandemic is inconvenient to many of us in many different ways, but the constant need to mask in social situations has been a real drag for me. I have to ask everyone to repeat themselves multiple times. I can’t watch their mouths to guess at the words they might be making. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Related to this frustration is an increased social anxiety. I’ve always been introverted, but losing my hearing has made me want to avoid casual interactions with people. With masks and my gradual hearing loss, I miss so much in conversation, and I feel ashamed and irritated. I try to disclose my deafness, but people often don’t turn the volume up vocally. It’s terrible to admit, but I feel happy when a cashier doesn’t try to make small talk, for instance, but bags my groceries in silence. It’s more peaceful that way.

Accordingly, I pretend a lot of the time now. I pretend like I heard the punchline to a joke. I pretend like I understood the question. It’s not efficient—I should just ask people to repeat themselves. But I hate having to always do that. So I just look at them vacantly and nod and try to mirror whatever facial expression they’re making. Ah, she’s grimacing; I should express concern. OK, he is smiling; I should smile and nod too.

I have a harder time hearing men, because of the lower tones of their voice (especially men speaking quietly). Guion jokes that this is just an expression of my feminism: refusing to ever listen to the patriarchy.

I suppose this is a small PSA more than anything. If I seem ruder to you than normal, know that it’s not intentional. I probably just didn’t hear you. I hope I will be able to hear you again soon. In the meantime, feel free to shout.

Deciding to stay

At home, we are well, if slightly insane.

The boys are growing up fast! We potty-trained Moses about a month ago, and Felix is showing off by holding his head up and smiling nonstop. I feel a little frayed at the edges, and I want a gold medal every morning that I get us all out the door without forgetting anything. But we are happy. We genuinely are.

Every evening, I feel immensely grateful for Guion and what an incredible teammate he is. We both have to be operating at full capacity to make it through the week, and even though we’re wiped out when 7 p.m. rolls around, we are able to find a great deal of joy in the domestic furor.

Moses is understandably obsessed with Guion and follows him around like a little disciple, as they complete “mushroom chores” (Guion has taken up the serious science of growing mushrooms indoors) or scooter to the park or play “dead fish” at bath time. They are very cute together.

Halloween costume

Meanwhile, I get to hang out with Felix, who is a happy little lovebug, even though he has had a snotty nose for about two months solid (what’s up, daycare life). He is a real charmer, even though he barely gets any attention. Second kids! What neglected little sweeties.

I put him in a hoodie and now he’s ready to go off to college.

Part of the aforementioned insanity is that we’re undergoing a big renovation on our little old house, and we are moving out in January for the work to begin.

This is a project that we’ve dreamed about for years, and it’s still hard to believe that it’s actually happening.

We bought this little house in a historic neighborhood near downtown and have developed a lasting, affectionate bond with it—even though it has asbestos siding, shabby concrete (see above) and its layout makes no sense whatsoever (e.g., nicest bathroom is in the basement, where there is no bedroom).

There was a time when it seemed simplest to buy a bigger, more sensible house out in the country. We toured a handful of homes for sale with our real estate agent and spent every spare minute scouring listings. But nothing felt quite right. We kept comparing every home we saw to our shabby 1959 house. I’m sure our agent thought we were nuts. Our exact house crops up all over Charlottesville. Whoever built it cranked out hundreds of these basic, square 1950s minimalist homes and put them up everywhere across town. They’re small and straightforward and sturdy. They’re a dime a dozen. (In an amusing twist of fate, the architect we chose for this design actually lives in our same house, too.) Our house is everywhere. It’s decidedly not special, architecturally. But it was ours, and so it has continued to feel special to us.

We kept coming back to our home, flawed and cramped though it may be, and realized that we wanted to keep investing in it—even though we could have bought a perfectly laid-out, respectable home 20 minutes out of town for a good deal less. We love our neighborhood and the community we’ve developed here over the past eight years. We love being able to both walk to work and church and the library and the post office. We practically live at the city park that backs up behind our block. We turned a bare-bones lawn into a flourishing (if rambling) garden. We welcomed both of our sons into the world in our tiny living room. We want to stay and continue to make it ours.

After five years of thinking about what we wanted to do and paying for two different sets of architectural plans with two different architects, we’ve at last landed the design and are forging ahead. We are so thrilled to be partnering with a really excellent builder who has been holding our hands every step of the way. I feel fluttery and anxious and overwhelmed and overjoyed, and I’ve been studying interior design like it’s my part-time job. (Watch out: I’ve developed opinions about things.)

All this to say, after months of silence, I may endeavor to write in here a bit more often, to keep track of the project, if only for my own sake. It seems like a crazy year in the life of our family that may be worth remembering.

Another home birth story

Guion, Moses, and I are very pleased to welcome the newest member of our family: Felix. He arrived at 6:44 a.m. on Saturday, July 31, in the following fashion.

We went to bed early on Friday and tried to wind down. I wasn’t feeling like anything was happening and was feeling frustrated. Even though Friday was his official due date, I was very tired of being heavily pregnant at the end of July and hopeful that we would have another timely boy (Moses arrived the day after his due date). Aside from very regular Braxton-Hicks contractions, nothing else seemed to be happening.

As we read in bed, we suddenly discovered an apropos moment of “meta-confluence,” the made-up term that Guion and I use to refer to a strange reference or resonance found in two different works of art or media. Guion was reading W.G. Sebald’s novel The Rings of Saturn, and I was reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s new history of the Sackler dynasty, Empire of Pain. Within a page of each other, Sebald referenced St. Felix, and Keefe mentioned that Arthur Sackler named his second son Arthur Felix. Guion looked at me and said, “It’s a sign. He’s coming tonight.” I still didn’t believe him, but I wanted it to be true.

I was very restless in bed, so Guion went upstairs to sleep in the guest room. Even though I’d closed my eyes for an hour or so, I woke up around 11 just wired. I was wide awake and full of energy. I even had the completely illogical and completely out-of-character thought that I should just get up and go for a run (at midnight, 9 months pregnant). It was around then that contractions started to feel a little painful and crampy and I got up and started preparing the house for a birth. I started timing them a bit myself and then walked upstairs and told Guion to wake up; things might be happening for real.

Even still, I was in denial. My contractions were coming about two minutes apart and picking up in intensity, and I was still telling myself that maybe this wasn’t the real thing. When I called our midwife to give her an update around 2:30 a.m., I asked her if maybe I was just in prodromal labor. She just started quietly laughing at me on the phone. “Prodromal labor, that’s a good one,” she said. “No, this is real.” Within an hour, our same birth team for Moses had assembled: Kelly, our fantastic midwife; Sara, her marvelous assistant midwife; and Meredith, our God-given, extremely gracious doula.

I spent the early part of labor standing and bouncing on the birth ball in the kitchen. Pacing the kitchen and gripping the counter was comforting to me. I was trying to meditate on the famous image of the Hokusai painting of the wave, which I had just seen the night before at my parents’ Airbnb. Visualizing the contractions as riding that precise wave was partially helpful. Guion and Meredith rubbed my back and pressed my hips and encouraged me through each intensifying contraction.

From there, I moved into the living room, where the birth tub had been set up, and this provided some welcome distraction and relief for a time. I wasn’t able to stay in one place for long, though, and soon moved back and forth from there to the bathroom to our bed. In contrast with Moses’s birth, which was frankly a traumatic fog (even though an ultimately positive experience), I felt so much more lucid this time around. I knew what to expect, and I knew it would get harder before it got easier, but I wasn’t as frightened.

Another difference with this labor and Moses’s was the fact that this time, I experienced much longer periods of rest between contractions. This alarmed me some, as I worried I was regressing or not bringing Felix out into the world in the right way. But the rest was very welcome at the same time.

I continued moving around the house and felt that things were intensifying. I focused on changing the register of my yells, which had been so high-pitched with Moses, and trying to send them down and bring Felix out. I would still resort to high screams from time to time and have to correct myself repeatedly, but I think some of the more primal yells began to become effective. Guion remarked afterward, “You tapped into something… wild.” I remember feeling so grateful that my parents had taken Moses to sleep at their Airbnb that night, just as a trial run, because I definitely would have woken him up with my “vocalizations.”

I returned to the tub for a few pushes but felt like I couldn’t stay there; I needed a stronger, more stable position, and I felt like standing. I got out of the tub and told Guion I wanted to stand and push. With my arms wrapped around his neck and shoulders, I pushed and, praise God, Felix’s head came out. At this moment, I heard him start to cry, and the birth team all started laughing. I couldn’t see it, of course, but they said he was swiveling his head around like The Exorcist, looking around and wailing, before the rest of his body was out. In another blessed push or two, he was out. Sara caught him and handed him to me and guided us to the sofa, where we rested and marveled.

This time around, I felt so much more joy and relief and accomplishment, due in large part to the fact that Felix took about six hours (and only about 45 minutes of pushing), compared with 23 hours with Moses and nearly 5.5 hours of pushing. Felix was a whole pound bigger than his brother, clocking in at 8 lbs., 10 oz., and yet the birth and recovery have already been so much smoother. Power of the body being ready the second time around, I suppose!

We’re so grateful for another positive, affirming, and empowering home birth experience and for the incredible support of our midwives and doula. Moses is mildly interested in his new baby brother and adapting well to the new environment, thanks to a lot of help from my parents this week. (He seems to be much more excited about the present that “Felix” got him: a tool set.)

We’re resting well at home and enjoying figuring out what the two-boy life looks like, filled with gratitude and that still-familiar mixture of exhaustion and awe.

Baby bunnies

Baby Rabbits
Source: Flickr, user craiglambert

I remember searching for and finding handfuls of baby bunnies in freshly dug warrens in the Blaker’s back yard. Their house backed up to ours and we shared a fence line. Mrs. Blaker was a rather inattentive woman. She yelled a lot at her mean kid, smoked constantly, even when she was pregnant. But on a whim one day, she bought a few rabbits from a pet store.

She let the rabbits roam free in her back yard without food or cages or attention. After a few months,  as the old cliche would tell you, there were dozens of rabbits. They had become more or less feral. They started digging complex tunnels through the yard, where they would give birth to their plentiful young, finding shelter from the weather and the hawks. They ran around in their self-made, fenced-in village, completely unchecked.

When the Blakers were gone during the day, we would climb over the fence and go searching for the rabbits. I like to think that we kept them from becoming completely feral, because we handled them so often. We’d sneak them baby carrots and celery from home. We would gently and carefully retrieve the adorable, fluffy babies from the warrens, sticking our skinny arms down dark, animal-made tunnels, feeling gently for a warm ball of velvety fur. Miraculously, we never got bit. We’d sit back there and cradle these bunnies for hours. It was a paradise for an animal-crazy child like myself.

One of the Holland lop does gave birth to a beautiful litter of white and dusky brown babies. At this time, Mrs. Blaker finally realized she had a rabbit problem on her hands and started advertising free bunnies to the neighborhood children. We convinced our parents to let us get one. It was our first real family pet, because fish and finches don’t inspire too much affection; kids want something fuzzy to love. Mrs. Blaker invited a bunch of us little girls in the neighborhood to come play with the bunnies, probably to tempt us with them while our parents were unaware. Our bratty friends, Jennifer and Allison, started physically fighting over a pretty chocolate-colored bunny, grabbing at it like it was a doll, and snapped its legs. It died the next day.

We were mortified and swore we’d never play with them again. The next morning, we quickly picked out a sweet white-and-brown male from the litter. We named him Spencer (maybe because I’d been reading a kid’s version of The Faerie Queen? I don’t know) and told all of our friends that Jennifer and Allison were never allowed to hold him. I felt a great sense of pride that we had rescued him from his quasi-feral, neglectful situation. Dad built Spencer a big bunny mansion, a two-story hutch that sat against the fence. When we let him out, he would run against the fence with his still plentiful relatives. He once got bit in the face by his uncle and his little velvet nose was forever split in two.

Spencer was the best pet. We liked to think he played hide-and-seek with us. He playfully chased us around the yard. He never bit us, which was incredible, considering how we (especially Grace) tortured that poor bunny. Grace liked to smuggle him inside and put him in doll’s clothes, zip him up in purses and swing him around. He was always good-natured. He lived for many years until one winter, we found his still, frozen body on the ground floor of the hutch. I remember wondering if we had failed him, if we should have let him live inside, if we didn’t love him enough. I imagine these thoughts, a specter of Spencer, will always resurface when any animal of mine dies.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Spencer and to my god-bunnies in the United Kingdom, Indy and Felix.

Monday Snax

This weekend has been a whirlwind, as we are house/dog-sitting for friends, and because we bought this:

Our new car

So. Yes. It is a lot of fun. Driving to work this morning was actually very exciting. Lots happening! Guion also got the part-time job he wanted at the Wine Guild, so we are thrilled about that. I’m still feeling a bit blurry and hazy from the weekend, so here are some Snax with a lot of caffeine:

A Night with Nettles. Grace took some photos of Nettles‘ recent concert at the Tea Bazaar. A very good show. (Grace’s other photos from the family trip to town can be seen here. For all the Baby Charlie fans out there, there are some amazing shots of him.) If you’re in town, come see Nettles on Friday night at JohnSarahJohn. They’ll be performing for an art opening by Matt Kleberg. (Como Say What?)

Yet More Charts That Should Go with Debt Discussions. Yes, the economy is tanking again, but we should cut down on the griping. See exhibit 1: Americans pay some of the lowest taxes of any developed country. (The Atlantic Monthly)

God’s Blog. God wrote a blog post and is subsequently subjected to all of the crazies on the Interwebs. Not even God can catch a break from those virulent commenters… (The New Yorker)

Wellness Wednesday: Yoga and Why It’s OK to Suck at It. Nina, who is so sweet, makes me feel better about being terrible at yoga. I should start practicing again. (Naturally Nina)

Mariachi Band Serenades a Beluga Whale. This is all over the Cool Lady blogosphere, but I will join them in adding my delight over this clip. It will make you happy. I promise. (Door Sixteen)

Felix’s Felicis. Natalie got a bunny, named him Felix, and broke my heart. I want a bunny! Not as much as I want a dog, but almost! I think Felix and Frances should meet and fall desperately in love. (Peregrinations of NJM)

The Last Thylacine. This is one of the strangest-looking animals I’ve ever seen. It’s a marsupial, but it looks so much like a proto-canid. Those stripes! Sad that it’s extinct. (How to Be a Retronaut)

How to Achieve Uncluttered Without Going Bare, Cold, or Minimal. Such clear and salient advice for people like me, who will be living in small spaces for a while longer. Highly recommended for renters like us who don’t want to live in a place that still looks like your college dorm. (The Small Notebook)

The Filming of Breathless. Guion is a huge Godard fan and this is one of the first of his films that I saw. It’s magnificent and these behind-the-scenes photos are really enchanting. (A Cup of Jo)

Document: Woolf’s Letter to a Young Poet. Virginia Woolf writes a brief review and encouragement to her nephew on his poetry. (The Paris Review)

In Which Vladimir Nabokov Navigates Hell for Lolita. Yes, the protagonist is very icky, but I think it’s one of the greatest novels of all time. Even Nabokov had a hard time convincing people of this, though, as you can see from his letters about the book, compiled here. (This Recording)

To Go-To Snacks of Literary Greats. A series of cute illustrations of what the big writers liked to eat while writing. I don’t think Michael Pollan can be called “a literary great,” but it is interesting that he likes to drink his tea in a glass. I remember seeing that on Food, Inc. and wondering about it. (Mod Cloth blog)

Good News for Wombs: U.S. Paves Way for Free Birth Control Everywhere. All I can say is: It’s about damn time. Look at you, America. Finally catching up with the rest of the developed world! (Good)