Pain and Birth and 2000 Meters

My freshman year in college, a former rower stopped by our boathouse following the birth of her first child. At that point in my life, and in the lives of all the women I rowed with, a 2000 meter race was the most intense pain any of us had experienced. We were quite certain nothing could top it, though some workouts and erg tests came close. So of course our first question as we huddled around her: “Was it as painful as a 2000 meter sprint?” I’ll admit I was pretty sure she was going to say no.

She replied it was much worse.

Worse?! You could just see the fear on everyone’s face, the quick dashing of plans for children in that very moment.

In the years that followed I carried that information with me, along with memories of rowing pain. There were times in some races where I was quite certain I would die, right there, on the spot, and fall out of the boat. I remember thinking, “I guess I’ll keep rowing because everyone else is still going, and I don’t want to let them down and if I die, I’ll just die. And then I’ll be done rowing.” And that thought seemed pleasant.

Tufts Crew

Over the ensuing years I’ve done physically grueling things: hikes, weight training, intense spin classes, swims in a rough ocean, even a marathon. Nothing comes close to the pain of rowing. Nothing.

So when I got pregnant with Ollie I knew I wanted a natural childbirth with no epidural. After all these years, I’d be able to see how something could possibly be more painful that rowing! Because Ollie was overdue, I was induced and I managed 13 hours on Pitocin, all through the night, in agony, before I succumbed (in tears) to an epidural. Ollie was born two hours later.

With Minna I was determined to avoid that situation, and worked with a midwife throughout my pregnancy and planned for a home birth. I labored in my living room, watching the Giants vs Cowboys, then paced, breathing and counting. The counting’s a holdover from rowing, when we’d do “10s” for power, or technique, and you’d just do ten strokes to focus on pulling ahead of another boat. I do 10s when I run, or whenever I face a physical challenge. I count through the pain.

Jason filled the birthing tub and after a few hours I decided to get in. Instantly the contractions slowed and the water felt fantastic. The midwife had arrived and the three of us actually just hung out and chatted, and I’d pause to do some deep breaths when a contraction arrived. Since Ollie’s birth had taken so long, I assumed I had hours to go in the tub when suddenly I felt the baby and needed to push. I gave two excruciating pushes. My midwife checked the progress.

“Do you think it’s five more pushes?” I asked her, hopefully.

“Oh I’d say two, maybe three.” she replied.

My heart leapt!

“Well I can do five!” I said, in some kind of crazy counting birthing delirium.

I didn’t need to. Minna popped out after two.

In my list of pain, it currently stands:

1. Minna crowning. Intense but very brief.
2. Ollie labor on Pitocin. Hours of long immobilizing agony.
3. Crew race of 2000 meters. Intense. Horrific. Still the worst concentrated seven-to-eight minutes of my life.

Way way down that list, everything else.

In rowing we used to always throw around the saying, “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” I get to look at my two great kids every day. In a box in the closet is my gold medal from the 1992 New England Rowing Championships. If it wouldn’t be weird to wear it around, I probably would.

Food shopping with Ollie

Somewhat proven theory: Including kids in the food process creates good eaters. I often take Ollie to the supermarket with me and I let him pick out all kinds of things to buy. Last week he really wanted to get something from the fish counter, and he picked New Zealand cockles. I broke my “keep it local” rule because when your kid asks for cockles, how can you say no?

When dinner rolled around, I made a linguine with tomato sauce, olives, and capers and cooked the cockles in the sauce. Ollie had fun eating them out of the shell at the table, using one shell to pluck the meat out of another, just like when we eat mussels. He was pretty excited to eat them.

I also include him in the cooking as much as possible, so that he’s part of the whole process. Does this make him a better eater? Hard to say with my limited data set (my daughter eats anything, like she’d eat a raw piece of liver off the floor if you let her). But I do know that including him in the shopping gets us eating things even I wouldn’t think of buying (like cockles!) and broadens the palate of our entire family.

On oversized baby hairs

I keep a list of things I want to write about on this site because I’ve had lots of ideas lately but not always the time to write the whole post. I recently came across this note to myself: “Babies so hairy length of body hair programmed for adult scale human.” I don’t recall what prompted this thought, maybe I discovered a giant hair on Minna? I guess it makes sense but really it’s not seeming like something I feel like writing a whole lot more about. So if you have a baby and find him or her covered in long hair, just think about how that hair follicle is designed to grow a grown-up sized hair, and that some day it will seem normal.

Eating well and working less

Great “A Food Manifesto for the Future” from Mark Bittman containing some concrete suggestions to improve the food supply and with it, the health, of Americans. But I really liked comment #2: I can’t imagine how Americans can possibly eat well until they are working less hours. I’ve been meaning to write about this for ages and am so glad to see someone else raise this issue. In all the discussion of obesity and diabetes, no one seems to mention how much time it takes to cook good food, and how hard that is when both parents are working and commuting long distances. I easily spend ninety minutes a day cooking for my family. Nearly every day. I’m lucky to have the time to do it.

That said I did read recently that Americans watch an average of thirty-four hours of TV a week. If that’s true then clearly there’s some wiggle room in the day for proper cooking, right?

Bad Influence Mom

A little back story: in the early nineties, when I was in college, I went on a ski trip to Colorado. We have relatives who live out there and at the time of our visit, a young cousin was training as a ski jumper. We went over to the practice hill to watch him. He wasn’t doing anything like the 90 or 120 meter hills you see in the Olympics, just 20 meters.

It looked like fun, and I wanted to try. I built up from the 5 meter hill to the 10, then 15 and finished with one jump off the 20 meter hill. The measurement denotes the inrun, or how far you go straight before launching off the end into the air. 20 meters, more than 60 feet, was pretty scary and after I landed I decided I’d had enough ski jumping. Still it was great fun. When I got back to school and told my rowing teammates about it, they were very upset. I could have gotten hurt! I could have been out for the entire spring racing season! Etc. etc. None of that had occurred to me, of course. It just seemed really cool to go off the jumps and fly (a very little) in the air.

The present day, Ollie’s getting pretty good at skiing, and he likes to find jumps. So this past weekend I’d find little lips and ridges on the trails and tell him to follow me. One had a backside of ice, which I only realized after I skidded across it. Ollie slid and fell. Another apparently was too big for him, because my mom saw him approach and then decide against it, even after I’d gone off. But there were plenty that were great for him, and he got a little air and the thrill of jumping.

Maybe I’m reckless and dumb. Maybe I should be more cautious. Maybe I could have gotten hurt going off the 20 meter ski jump at Winter Park and ruined the spring racing season for myself and my crew. But I guess I don’t think that way. And more importantly, I don’t want to think that way. I don’t want to be the kind of Mom that’s always worried, saying “don’t do that!” The stereotype is the mom has the common sense and it’s the dad that’s pushing the kid to do the crazy stunts. Maybe it’s some weird rebel/feminist thing I’ve got, but I want to be the bad influence mom. In the best way possible, of course.

Here’s Ollie going off a jump at Mad River on Sunday:

I couldn’t be prouder!

Grandma’s Silver


For a long time I’ve been trying to use the good stuff, trying to enjoy the nice things I have rather than save them for some far off “better” time when they’d be appropriate. I learned this lesson the hard way after saving a vintage bottle of Champagne for too long. It was spoiled when I finally opened it for a special occasion. Thing is, drinking that Champagne makes the occasion special, not the other way around.

When my grandmother died, my mother gave me her silverware. When I think of eating at her house, even when I was very little, I do not think of this silverware. I think of some stainless flatware that sat in the kitchen drawer next to the sink. I don’t ever recall seeing this silver, and why would I? It was the good stuff, stored out of sight, wrapped carefully in soft flannel to protect it from scratches, tarnish, and ultimately, use.

I’m sure she used it. Sadly, I’ll never be able to ask her when, or hear stories about it. But after I got it and looked through it all, marveling at the shape of the soup spoon, and the weight of the fork, I packed up my stainless. And I filled our drawer with the beautiful silverware: the little butter knives and the salad forks with funny cuts in the tines.

We now use the silverware every day, for every meal. We wash it by hand, we take care of it. But we use it. And whenever I hold it, I think of her.

On Manhattan Fashion

At least since last winter, if not before, I’ve observed a trend I like to call “Arctic Extreme!!!” People dressing like New York City is some vast frozen tundra, wearing huge Sorel boots rated to -60°F, donning 800 fill power down jackets, covering their heads in fur hats donned by Russian czars. I observed this and chuckled, especially when it was 35° and sunny.

Well who’s laughing now, with New York buried under 60″ of snow so far this winter? With an ice storm underway, and paralyzing amounts of slush and snow blocking the streets, making foot passage nearly impossible? Last year, if I’d seen someone mushing with their dogs down an avenue I’d laugh. Today I’d think, “Huh, not a bad idea. Where do you get sled dogs in the City though??”

Ollie’s camera use

Jason’s got a nice little write-up about Ollie’s digital camera use. Of course when he writes “we” gave him the camera, and “we” set-up the Flickr account, and “we” hooked up the Eye-Fi card, dear reader, you can insert “Meg”, for accuracy’s sake. It’s been a great little present for him and I’ve also been enjoying another way to experience his world.