How does one navigate in a closed-minded world full of rules and regulations that take on a life of their own when one has chosen to live outside the box?
Outside the Birth Box
Since I became a parent, my life has been a journey of exploration and discovery into unknown territory. I gave birth to my first child in 1997, desiring a natural birth. Yet, I had grown up in a culture where birth was portrayed as an evil experience requiring strong pain medication. Just watch any sitcom or movie from the 1980s and 1990s where there is a scene involving a woman in labor. I also knew nothing about breastfeeding. My mother had been discouraged from breastfeeding by her doctor in 1966 when she was pregnant with my sister, her first child. She was also given sodium pentothal during labor in 1966 and again in 1969 when I was born. Because I have always been a reader and researcher, I had discovered that having a natural birth and breastfeeding my baby was the best thing that I could do for my child.
And then my child was born, after being induced and then the inevitable epidural after a full day of increasing levels of pitocin. We survived the hospital experience and the early difficult days of breastfeeding. When my baby boy was 3 weeks old, I made a decision that would forever have an impact on his life and mine. I attended my first La Leche League meeting. La Leche League is an organization that provides mother to mother breastfeeding support, encouragement, information. I was introduced to the world of attachment parenting and got to observe nursing mothers with babies and children of varied ages. It was a new world for me.
Flash forward, 4 years later, I attended Bradley Childbirth classes before the birth of my second child who was born by nurse midwives in the most baby friendly hospital in my area and my daughter never left my side during our short 24 hour hospital stay. I signed several waivers at the hospital to prevent standard procedures that my baby did not need. And seven years later, my third came into the world in my quiet, dimly lit kitchen assisted by a Professional Midwife and her assistant. And because he was born at home, we had to provide proof that I was pregnant and drive downtown to file papers to get his birth certificate and file for his social security number. And if we had not done that, would he then not be really here? Born in my kitchen in North Carolina, but not a US Citizen.
Life Outside the Typical American Diet
Our diet has also evolved over the years. Granted, I grew up eating two veggies, one green, for dinner, fresh fruit and limited sweets. My mother is 100% Italian and she cooked in way that looks very much like what is now called “The Mediterranean Diet”. My husband and I decided to stop eating red meat about the time that our first child was born. He wanted to lower his cholesterol and felt it was a healthier way to eat. Over time, we eventually eliminated all meat but fish from our diet. Later, I learned I was eating too much soy and way too much processed soy. I added poultry back into my diet but we continued to eat many vegetarian meals. I learned more about the importance of whole foods and over time greatly reduced the number of processed foods in our diet. My diet changed once again when I learned my cholesterol was low and possibly too low to become pregnant and so I began to purchase grass-fed beef from a known source, yet my husband continued to avoid red meat most of the time. When my oldest was about 8, he decided to become a vegetarian, not surprising because he grew up eating very little meat.
Life in a smaller, simpler box
When I became a parent, I was the sole breadwinner for our family. After two years, we took a leap of faith and I reduced my hours to part-time and switched jobs to one with more flexible hours that allowed me to do my paperwork from home. Our income was nearly cut in half that year for the second time in our married life. The first being when my husband quit his full time job, encouraged to do so by me, to pursue growing his business that he had begun a year earlier. We could write a book on living on less and building savings before you have children. Yet, most people have no clue about our simplified life and can not fathom how we live on the income we have had over the past 11 years. I want to ask those people who live in large houses with perfectly manicured lawns, why do you live in such a large house and maintain a beautiful yard when you are never there to enjoy where you live?
The un-boxed life
As I give these descriptions of aspects of my life that are outside the norm or average way of living in America, I realize that it only shows a glimpse of how very different from society my life has become. We live in a world but we are not of the world. We drive cars that we purchased used and are now fully paid for; our house is over 40 years old; we have a gravel driveway; we have basic cable television- about 25 channels; I make my own water keifer and nettles infusion and make smoothies adding green vegetables, fruit and coconut milk. My first two children nursed until natural weaning- it was well past the toddler years- and I can give you a long list of health benefits for nursing past two years of age. At my first La Leche League Meeting, I swore I would never nurse my child past the age of one. We homeschool our children or more accurately, unschool, but I prefer to say we learn through living. My husband and I have shared child care responsibilities over the years and often have worked alternating hours so the other could be with our children. Why would you give birth to children and then send them to someone else to raise them? Why would you give someone else the joy of watching your children grow and explore the world?
When life puts you in a box
And then, my husband, Don, had a heart attack, May 4, 2011, Cuatro De Mayo. We had to survive in the system. I was grateful to the hospital and all the people we came in contact with from the medics who arrived at our home and continue to be grateful. Yet, after my husband was in the hospital over a week and we were looking to his coming home, I found myself feeling alone and lost. Don was on continuous cardiac monitors for the entire 12 days he was in the hospital and only the last few days was he up walking around, his unit only. He could not leave his unit. Yet, they sent him home, unmonitored and with only a home health nurse who came 3 days per week and because I insisted on that. I even had to call the home health company once we got home because somehow the hospital failed to inform the home health company that he had been discharged from the hospital. Luckily, I had worked in home health care and knew what to do.
I was ashamed to cry while I was in the hospital room with him. I quickly wiped tears from my face when a nurse came into his room. Why is that? Reality did not look anything like Gray’s Anatomy. I saw him briefly in the emergency room before they wheeled him up to the “Cath Lab”. And then I was led to an empty waiting area where we sat, me, my children and my good friend, for over 2 hours wondering what was happening and wondering whether Don would live. A nurse finally came by to inform us that things were going well and if they continued to go well, he would be moved to the CCU and someone would come get us. She had thought it would be about 30 minutes,and then an hour past and my fear intensified that something was wrong. Thank goodness for my friend who was not in shock and knew to call the front desk and asked if he had been moved to CCU ~which he had. There were no doctors holding your hand and standing by as you grieved and felt the emotions of the trauma you were going through- especially for me, the family, the wife of the man who had the heart attack. They treated my husband and took good care of him. Yet, his heart attack happened to more than him, it affected his entire family, his wife and three children- aged 13, 9 and 2.
It was a traumatic experience for all of us and in some ways more so for us than Don because he has little to no memory of the initial events. No memory at all from the time he went unconscious on our living room couch until he was awake in the CCU. At home, when he was having increasing pain in his mid back and his neck, it never occurred to him that he might be having a heart attack. I knew and my 13-year-old son did too. And those early days in the CCU are very blurred and foggy in my husband’s memory. Somehow we survived and even became closer as a family those 12 days Don was in the hospital. And then the bigger challenge, his coming home and continuing to recover in a home with three young children. And now, 4 months later, here we are. Our life greatly altered on some levels and in other ways it looks as it did before. Life will never be the same, experience changes you, changes your perspective. My children never again will have the full childhood innocence of feeling like your parents will live forever. Watching your father have a massive heart attack and cardiac arrest is not a typical experience for a child of 2, 9 or even 13. The hospital staff kept saying that many 50-year-old men have heart attacks but what they failed to see was not many 50-year-old men have a 2-year-old child. I personally did not grow up seeing family members have a heart attack in their 50s or any age really, other than my uncle who just two years prior to my husband’s heart attack, suffered a dissecting aorta at the age of 47.
Re-negotiating life and moving out of the box
We continue to navigate in the healthcare system and now the financial assistance system in our county and state. I have come to realize that part of my angst comes from living a life outside the box yet needing these systems that exist in our culture. Systems we were never a part of before or not to the extent that we are now. They want to put us back in the box but there is not a box that fits us.
Navigating in this world, in the American culture of this millennium, while pursing life from a spiritual perspective is not a task for wimps. I have learned that I do well under pressure and that I am a survivor in a crisis. Adrenaline is addictive but one can not continue to live with high levels of adrenaline running through your system. Sometimes, the more difficult part of life is not the early trauma, but the getting back to regular life part, when the flood of support and assistance tapers off and when you are faced with the complexities of life and the new challenge of helping a loved one with a new medical condition to recover and live again.
Over time, aspects become easier but other factors emerge as stressful and challenging. It is a process, a continual process of recovery. I do not know how long the process lasts nor how long the intensity remains, yet here I am 4 months later, still feeling strong feelings as I recount and relive the experience. It has been a roller coaster of ups and downs occurring within a life already full of uneven terrain. I have moved closer to and further away from my spiritual side throughout the process. I have grown stronger, and more in tune with my spiritual self through my writing. When I do not write, I often fall away from my true self and have found myself sitting in the bottom of a lonely box. Sometimes , I get up out of the box and other times, I need to just sit alone in the bottom of the box. I see now that I am a strong woman, even when I am sitting in the bottom of the box.
It takes strength to live in this world and each challenge makes you stronger unless you choose to stop and not move forward. Unless you become permanently and completely dysfunctional and unable to care for yourself in any manner, you do become stronger. The decisions you make and the life that follows are a matter of your perspective but know that you do become stronger, you become more of who you choose to be.