Published on October 7th, 2015 | by Elisa Albert2
EAVESDROP! An Interview with Heidi Julavits, Emily Gould, and Elisa Albert on a Park Bench in Brooklyn
It was a perfect day right before the fall equinox. Emily Gould had brought us together as part of a panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival. The panel had been painless (even fun!), and we were in high spirits. We sat together after the hand shaking and book signing were done. Emily’s three-month-old son got nursed and passed around. We were theoretically going to talk about writing and writers and careers and whatnot, but wound up cutting the shit immediately in favor of rumination on “good” birth, horrible midwives, the postpartum emotional landscape, mom friends, and, you know, our lives. There was a delightful breeze.
HJ: Can I hold your baby? Is it okay that I haven’t washed my hands?
EG: No, you’re supposed to let them lick subway poles and stuff.
[Heidi takes the baby]
HJ: Oh my god you guys I’m never going to have another baby. He’s so chill. Does he just go with anybody? He doesn’t care?
EG: Noooo, he’s not actually chill. I think he’s just shocked into submission by the sensory overload of the BKBF.
EA: You also just nursed him.
EG: Yeah, that’s true.
HJ: He has amazing, like, blue whites of his eyes. Is that just the purity of babyhood, like no toxins at all are in his system? Look at him! They’re like blue they’re so white. Seriously.
EA: Maybe we should drink his blood.
HJ: I think we should. He’s just a little transfusion pouch, right here.
EG: Well I read in that breastfeeding article that when they nurse they like spit into your nipples and then that tells your body what kind of antibodies to give them…
HJ: Oh my God. [To the baby] Little exchange of fluids to get your message across, right? You got a message?
EA to EG: So do you have some good mom friends? Have you made any? Birth class friends or whatever?
EG: I only just made a mom friend last week. It was big for me.
EA: How’d you do it?
EG: She was standing at the bus stop and she was nursing her baby in a sling and I was wearing him in this like woven thing and we made eye contact. [Murmurs of approval] Then it turned out we have friends in common. I have really high hopes for it. She’s even more of a hippie than I am, we both had homebirths, she’s probably a vegan, she’s some sort of artist/actress, I don’t know. I’ve been looking for someone because, I mean, all the people who have jobs went back to work, you know? And someone else is taking care of their baby during the day. Whereas Keith and I are still mostly taking turns. I mean, not mostly. We’re a hundred percent taking turns.
EG: [to HJ] How did you get so much done with little kids?
HJ: I didn’t!
EG: But you’re like the person everyone points to as an example of how much you can get done and have kids.
HJ: In part I think I have post-childbearing insomnia to thank for that. I had craaaaazy insomnia, even when nobody needed me awake anymore.
EG: Just, like, hyper-vigilance?
HJ: Yes! And it’s never gone away, actually. I have a theory that something got flipped in my body when I had a kid. ‘Cause I never had insomnia before. Now my body wakes up every 3-4 hours. The other day I woke up and kind of wrote a book review at 3 in the morning. I just wake up and I am AWAKE.
EG: That sounds horrible.
HJ: I do think it is like a switch that got flipped. Did you guys have that?
EG: I had total euphoria after he was born for like the first three months. I was so besotted with him and all I could feel was love and compassion and extreme vulnerability. I felt like an unshelled egg. All this empathy for other people, because they were all tiny babies once! Then he started to go longer between feedings, and I just got my period, and now… it’s like gone.
EA: Back to square one.
EG: I have my normal brain again. It’s good in some ways…
HJ: Sad in other ways, right?
EG: I kinda miss having the brain that could not care about bullshit.
EA: But you can’t live in that place. That’s impossible.
EG: I especially could not have done any kind of work. It seemed like work was very unimportant. But now I feel like: I have to do some fucking work! Ambition and drive and envy…
EA: Oh-ho, the envy’s back!
EG: But for three months I really, really didn’t. And I had no desire to work. It was so relaxing and great. I had never taken a break before.
EA: I’m so glad you had that. That’s really nice.
HJ: I know. [to EA] Did you have that?
EA: Ummmm, no, I was really scared in the beginning. I was really freaked out. I just was like really afraid the baby was going to die.
EG: Oh no, oh yeah, that was absolutely part of it. That was there, too.
EA: That raw egg feeling. I’d go out into the world and it would be too much. I’d be at the market, like what the fuck, I can’t be in the world.
EG: I think because he was born at home and I was never apart from him, it was extremely hard for me to leave him for even short periods of time.
EG: Like the first time I went to the end of the block alone, I cried. It was intolerable that he might suffer somehow without me. He hadn’t ever been further than the next room. But now it’s fine.
HJ: Yeah, like, got my period, back in action.
EA: You emailed me and said it was a good birth.
EG: Yeah. Like your definition of a “Good Birth”
HJ to EA: What’s your definition of a good birth?
EA: A birth that can be remembered without…
EA: Yeah. A birth that can be looked at and talked about and remembered with pride and a general sense of wellbeing and wholeness and joy. Not a birth that can never be mentioned again, that has to be shrouded in shame or sorrow or silence.
EG: Yeah, that nobody made you feel bad.
EA: Yeah, that nobody fucked with you. So the experience was what it was, but nobody added to it in a negative way. [turns to HJ] You and I had the same midwife.
HJ: [gasps] Did we now!
EA: Yuuuup. And that was kind of fucked up! For me.
HJ: What was your experience? Can I hear about it?
EA: Um, well, it was that she didn’t show up!
HJ: Oh, she didn’t show up for mine either.
EA: I know! I read your essay about it!
HJ: She doesn’t seem to feel much compunction to show up for second babies. Like in retrospect it seemed abundantly clear that that’s how she felt, but prior to having it happen, I guess I wasn’t reading the very clear signs she was giving me…
EA: Why would you!? I mean: the word midwife is supposed to mean something.
HJ: But I have to confess that I wasn’t that sad she wasn’t there… Maybe you felt this way too…
EA: No. Because it was my first baby. So I was like, PLEASE.
HJ: That is messed up. Did you guys get any pushback from your families about homebirth?
EA: A little. They just had to be educated.
EG: A tiny bit.
HJ: Anyway, she had another birth in Brooklyn—
EG: A cooler birth?
HJ: A cooler birth! I wasn’t cool enough for her. And I wasn’t far enough along for her. And I was altogether not an interesting enough project for her. So she didn’t charge us for the birth because she wasn’t there, and I thought we could save money by not having a doula, because I thought I did this once already, I know how it works. So it was a free birth!
EA: Did you spend that money on therapy instead?
EG’s HUSBAND: [horrified] Who cut the cord!?
HJ: Ben did. He’s the one who should be pissed. I was in labor-land. She left him high and dry. He kept calling her. And we are just like too polite, like we don’t want to inconvenience people we’re paying…
[EG’s baby starts fussing]
HJ: The baby’s like, you did what? You’re not responsible enough to be holding me! Anyway, she basically walked in the door and caught the baby.
EA: What. Ever.
HJ: I wanna hear about your experience.
EA: We lived a block away from here. We were just around that corner.
HJ: Okay, and? And? Do you feel like you didn’t have a good birth the way you define good birth?
EA: Yeah, I had a doula, and she was super nice, but we kept calling the midwife and the midwife was like sounds fine, early labor, whatever. He was posterior, though, so I was in agony and we didn’t know why, so I was like how could this not be active labor, you know? What the fuck? It would have been nice if she had been there to help, explain, comfort, encourage, interpret, whatever. And then she didn’t show up and didn’t show up and didn’t show up and I was like “if this is early labor I am FUCKED”, and finally we called her, they held the phone up to my ear and she was all cavalier. She was like yeah, keep on keepin’ on, and I was like no no no you NEED TO COME NOW, and I remember her heaving this oh so weary sigh, like she couldn’t be bothered.
HJ: She went to the Korean spa when I went into labor.
EG: In Flushing?
HJ: No, the one in Jersey.
EG’s husband: She wanted to be even further away.
HJ: [impersonating the midwife] Yeah, I can’t really get there ‘cause I’d have to cross the GW and there’s always a lot of traffic…
EA: I just remember that sigh. Like “Aw, fuck, really? Another one of these bitches?” Three hours later she shows up.
HJ & EG: [GASP]
EA: Three hours after I was like please please please come here now.
HJ: Oh no.
EA: It was rough.
HJ: Okay, when this is off, I’m going to tell you the worst story.
[And it was indeed a terrible story. Then we hugged and said we should hang out again soon. The next day it was fall.]
[Email Elisa confidentially at firstname.lastname@example.org if you live in NYC and need to make sure you don’t accidentally hire the Midwife Who Actually Cannot Be Bothered To Attend You In Birth]
Feature image: “Brooklyn Rooftop” by Michael Tapp, flickr/creative commons