Friday, April 30, 2010

Starlight, day 3

Today I've had the pleasure of working on Starlight, as I've decided to call this piece.  The model's face looks to me like she's gazing up at the Heavens.  I've had fun creating the texture of the chair and beginning on the flooring and putting some color into the background.  I haven't quite figured out what I'll be doing with the background - I'm considering working with a random pattern which would evoke the sense of stars and the heavens.  It'll be fun to figure out (I hope!)
This afternoon we'll be heading to Virginia Beach.  Chris's aunt passed away this week and the funeral is tomorrow.  It'll be good to see his family, though I'm sorry this is the occasion for it.  This is our second funeral in 2 weeks.  I think we're starting to reach a certain age. 
While we're in that area, we're thinking about driving across the Bay Bridge Tunnel to the Eastern Shore to see what there is to see there.  We are thinking a bit about moving there in a couple of years, but since I've never been there, I was thinking it might be a good idea to see what it's like before making that decision!  We're thinking we'll like the quiet and slow lifestyle as well as the preponderance of nature and water.  We just got a kayak and are thinking we'd love to live somewhere where we could go out each day from our front yard.  I have the fantasy of having a studio that looks out over the water and is in the midst of nature.  I crave the silence and solitude sometimes.
Other times, of course, I want people, and the more, the merrier!  It's a bit tricky to balance all that.  I used to be quite the extrovert, but recently I've become more and more introverted to the point where I'd really rather stay home and paint or be with my family than anything else.  Occasionally I'll go out, usually to see 1 or 2 friends, but I really do enjoy my time in the studio painting or just being with Chris and/or the kids.  It's what feeds me most.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Giving a talk about my art in Spanish!

I've been taking a Spanish class for the last 10 weeks.  Our last class is Thursday.  For it, we have to give a presentation about a hobby we have.  The teacher knows I'm an artist so she approached me to ask me to speak about my art.  She asked what I paint.  I told her "desnudos" - nudes.  She blanched.  And asked if I do anything else.  I told her I also paint fruits and the ocean.  She asked if I could bring those in instead.  Sure.  No need to make trouble.  She is a professor at a local university and is worried that she could get in trouble if anyone complained.

The next week I teasingly asked her if I could show the nudes.  She decided to ask the class - all women that night - what they thought.  They laughed and said, "Sure!  Bring the naked guys!"  Generally hilarity ensued.

It's interesting to me that a professor would have to worry about her position if I would show painting of the human body.  What sort of concerns do we have a society?  So frivolous. 

My Spanish isn't all that good yet, but in case you're curious and can read Spanish, here's the talk I plan to give, along with the pictures...

Soy artista. Hace diez años que soy artista. Primero dibuje’ desnudos embarazadas a lápiz. Quise demonstrar que todas las mujeres son bellas, así que son embarazadas!

Después de dibujar a lápiz, aprendía dibujar al pastel, con colores. Me gustan mucho los pasteles. He dibujado muchos dibujos de desnudos masculinos. Tuve una exposición que se llamo “12 Naked Men” . Muchas personas vinieron a la exposición para verlos! Los hombres no tuvieron cabezas porque me importo que no estuvieran retratos. Debían ser solamente pinturas de los cuerpos. Quise ver como sería para hombres si nosotros observar sus cuerpos como los hombres observan todo el tiempo los cuerpos de las mujeres.

Ahora pinto al óleo. Las pinturas son de desnudos femeninos. Son muy grandes. Por eso no las llegué aquí – son demasiado grandes! Pero tengo fotografías en la computadora para mostrarles a Ustedes. Pinto mujeres viejas, jóvenes, gordas, delgadas, bellas, y menos bellas. Para mí, todas son muy bellas y valientes. Quiero demonstrar que todas estamos hermosas. Todos nuestros cuerpos son preciosos, así si somos gordos o cualquiera cosa. En la televisión y en los periódicos, hay muchas, muchas, muchas mujeres que son demasiado delgadas. Ellas deben ser “hermosas”. Nosotras deben parecer como ellas – delgadas, jóvenes, muy altas. Pero no somos como ellas. Tenemos nuestros cuerpos. Nosotras somos también bellas y perfectas. Dibujo pinturas de mujeres normales que son perfectas exactamente como son.

1-Mujer Fresca

 2-embarazada con postura

3-Embarazo ensombrecido


 5- Joe

6- La Gracia


8-El Danzador de 89 anos

9-La Miss con un velo

10-Arrojando la bufanda roja

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boob quake

Apparently a Muslim cleric said that women's indecent dress is causing earthquakes.  A young woman in Indiana decided to put that theory to the test and asked (via Facebook) that women everywhere dress in a scanty fashion on Monday.  Only problem was that there was a 6.9 earthquake in Taiwan that very day.  Oops!  She countered with the argument that there are over 120 earthquakes of that magnitude or greater every year.

What do you think? Did cleavage cause that earthquake in Taiwan??

More info at these links:

Working on a new piece

I'm starting work on a new piece now.  It's a large one - 66"x44".  I tried to make it smaller by cropping part of it and by shrinking the size, but when Chris made me the canvas, I knew right away I'd made a mistake and that it had to be larger.  I don't have a formula for figuring out the size the canvases should be.  I simply look at the photo and visualize how big the final picture should be.  I hold out my hands to the final size then measure my hand span with a measuring tape then determine the second proportion using a calculator. 

The piece I'm beginning is a painting of Valley Haggard.  She and I are collaborating on a show which will be at Randolph Macon College in Ashland, VA in February, 2011.  There will be three other sets of collaborators since the show is about collaboration.

About 6 weeks ago Valley came over to model for me.  We took some time before I photographed her to talk about the process and how she was feeling.  This photo session was a bit different than others I've done because I knew she would be an integral part of the entire process.  She had already decided I'd be able to use her face in the paintings, so it was extremely important to me to make sure the photos were ones that would work as portraits as well as body shots.  I felt different thinking in those terms.  Usually I just take pictures thinking about the composition of the body within the frame.  With Valley, I thought about her entire being since the paintings might become portraits. 

Valley had been nervous about our session and had written about it before coming over.  Her thoughts, feelings, and writings will become part of the exhibition.  We may encorporate them into a book, or into posters to display along with the paintings.  That part of the exhibit is still in flux.

After our session, Valley and I looked through the photos to see which ones appealed to each of us.  I found myself very protective of Valley and wanting to find photographs which showed her beauty as well as possible.  Some of the photos were interesting but more challenging to be with (i.e. showed parts of her which weren't, perhaps, as traditionally beautiful because of how I'd photographed them).  I've chosen not to paint those.  Knowing that Valley will be there during the exhibit and that her face will be showing in some of the pieces makes me want to make them especially beautiful and comfortable for her to be with.

With other models, I'm aware that my focus is on finding the most compelling,  interesting piece.  If their face isn't involved then I don't worry about whether the image is conventionally beautiful because no one will associate it with the person herself.  I think the images do tend to be beautiful because that is part of what makes them compelling to me, but my process at arriving at those choices has been different. 

This new piece shows Valley sitting in my red chair with a book beside her.  Her face is tilted up and she is looking at some far away place.  Her toes are on the floor, pushing away from it.   She looks very young.  Chris finds it archetypal.

Today I worked on painting the chair.  I'm getting the background finished in before I start on the figure so I can play off the colors in the chair and on the wall within the figure.  I love painting that red chair with its knobbly texture and contrasting lights and darks as the sunlight strikes it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Painting Analytically

I worked on a new piece yesterday.  I had started it on Monday then got most of the way done yesterday.  I don't have a name for her yet.  Any ideas? 
It was lovely using different colors for the skin than I usually use.  Her skin tones are so rich and gorgeous.  It was quite a pleasure moving into purples and alizaron crimson and Quinacridone red and violet, mixing in some viridian green and ultramarine blue for the shadows. 
I also enjoyed crafting her hand.  It's so important to the piece because it tells so much about her.  It is so expressive.  I've learned that the trick to painting hands to to simply think about values and shapes.  What I mean by that is - I don't think, "OK, now I'm painting a finger, and here's a wrist."  Instead, my thought process considers the color and value (light or darkness) and shape I'm trying to paint.  So where he fingers connect to her hand, I was thinking about using some purple and some red mixed with a bit of white, darker on the left, lighter on the right, blending into lighter as the peak descends. Then a kite-shaped area intersected by a curved line which is probably a vein or artery.  The line is dark on one side, lighter on the other.  If you break the whole into such small pieces so analytically, it's possible to paint anything, whether from a photograph or from life.  It just doesn't work as well for me for something that isn't right in front of me.

I think people who paint from their head have a different gift/skill/talent than I have.  I am able to copy things I see very well.  I am not able to draw the female figure well without looking at it.  I simply don't have that gift.  I don't see the interconnectedness of the bones, muscles, sinews, etc.  But I do see the kite intersecting with the curve and all the different kites coming together at a point where there's a curved protrusion.  My mind is very analytical.  I guess that's why I'm good at math and languages AND art.  My art is done analytically.  I'm thankful that the kind of art I like to do is aligned with the kind of art I am capable of doing!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Home Birth vs Hospital Birth

When I was writing about the birth of my third child, Dylan, I became so thankful that I had been at home instead of in the hospital.  I imagine if I had gone into the hospital after having the stomach flu, they would have felt it necessary to intervene in many ways.  They wouldn't have let me eat or drink - that's standard procedure - I might have been able to suck on ice cubes.  (They're concerned if they have to do a C-section that I might vomit and choke in my own vomit, so they keep stomachs empty.)  At home I was able to drink when I was thirsty and I ate a little bit of chicken noodle soup.  I think they might have given me fluids so I wouldn't be so dehydrated.  So I would have been tied to the bed with IV fluids as well as with the fetal monitor.  Nancy used a low-tech "horn" she put on my belly to listen to the heartbeat.  She also had a stethoscope. 

In the hospital I probably wouldn't have been able to walk around or belly dance or sit on the toilet to labor.  I might have had to use a bedpan for the diarrhea.  I would have been perceived as a patient, not a woman doing something quite natural (albeit in a weakened state from the stomach flu).  Nancy knew I'd been sick, but to her I was a powerful woman giving birth - of course that was the normal thing to do.  The flu was tertiary, if that. 

I know hospitals have made progress since 1992.  Doulas attend many births to help women be able to follow their birth plans.  They run interference with the powers-that-be when necessary/possible.  I know that must make a difference.

But still the rate of cesarean sections is 33%.  In 1992 it was a whopping 23%, and that felt awful.  It has increase almost 50% by then.  What that says to me is that birth is becoming ever more medicalized.  It is more convenient to have a C-section - it can be planned.  The time frame is limited.  Everything can be sterile and mostly controlled.  Those are positives.

To me, though, C-sections disempower the woman and the birth process.  Women who have them once usually are told they have to have them again.  Their recovery time is long and arduous, making it harder for them to bond with their babies because of their limited mobility and sore abdomens.  The doctor is in control.  The woman can't see the birth process.  She is anaethesized and can't feel what is going on.

For me, realizing I could cope with the intense feelings of labor was empowering as heck!  Things shifted in me after I gave birth, especially after Laura's birth at home.  I felt like the most powerful woman on Earth!  I could do anything if I could give birth to a 9 lb baby at home with no drugs!  My body became my ally rather than just something to carry  me from place to place.  It was very, very powerful.

I ache for women whose doctors tell them they have to have a C-section at such-and-such a time on such-and-such a day, women who don't know the power they have in their bodies to bring another being into existence without interference. 

I hope that doctors become more acculturated towards the naturalness of birth and become more able to support women in making empowering choices for themselves.  I believe it could shift our society towards a gentler better world.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Birth #3: at home 2

The joys of having children were sufficiently great for us to decide to have a third child when Laura was about 2 1/2.  Once I found out I was pregnant again, I called up Nancy, the midwife, to make an appointment to see her.  Having the time with her was one of the huge plusses of being pregnant.  She was such a great person to spend time with.  I always felt so good after our appointments.

The pregnancy progressed well with few issues except for exhaustion.  I was working a lot of hours tutoring as well as taking care of Andrew and Laura, so by the time I got home from work, I was usually quite tired.  I didn't have the self awareness or confidence to take the time to rest each day.  Instead I internalized my husband's admonitions to just get over it and get on with what I needed to do.  So I dragged myself into the kitchen to cook a meal, took care of the kids, and otherwise functioned as best I could.  It wasn't the best time in my marriage because my husband and I couldn't seem to find empathy for each other.  I was exhausted and couldn't allow myself to rest despite his judgments.  I thought I should be able to work and keep a clean house and be a perfect mother and a great wife, all while still nursing my daughter and growing another baby.  If I had it to do over again, I hope I would be clearer about what my needs were and do what I needed to do to take care of myself.  It was a hard time.  I remember telling Nancy I felt like I wasn't focused on this baby the way I had been on the other two because I was so overwhelmed.  She assured me that he/she was growing well and flourishing and that when he/she was born, he/she would get all the love and attention he/she needed then.  In the meantime, I could trust that he/she was well taken care of.  What a gift that was to be able to let go of my expectations that I be a perfect mother to the unborn baby too. 

Of course whenever I had a quiet moment, especially before going to sleep, I would take time to commune with the baby's spirit, but those moments weren't as frequent as they had been with the other two.  Still, time progressed, and I prepared for labor.

My dear friends in my women's group held a Blessing Way for me.  What that is is a ceremony we've crafted from bits and pieces of ritual from here and there.  It's different each time, but the primary components include sharing and celebrating the baby's impending arrival.  One of the women made a wreath of flowers for my hair and another washed my feet with herbs then rubbed them with blue cornmeal to signify preparation for walking the sacred path of childbirth.  We had a birthday cake (though since I wasn't eating sugar at the time, it was a beautiful belly-shaped loaf of bread instead!).  Each woman had a candle which she lit and put into the bread as she said a wish for the baby, much like the fairy godmothers in Sleeping Beauty (but all these wishes were good ones!).  They wrote the wishes down on a card so they'd be preserved for posterity.  Then came the talking, a time for sharing the wisdom they had accumulated in their experiences.  We shared about other births, about our hopes and fears, our good wishes for this child's life.  One of my friends was an accomplished belly dancer.  She explained that belly dancing used to be something women did among themselves, especially during childbirth because the gyrations were perfect for quelling the pain of childbirth and helping the body accomodate the contractions more easefully.  She then danced for us so I could see how it looked. 

All during the pregnancy, I had been reading affirmations about giving birth.  A friend had given me a book she had made with them in it.  Examples:  I birth my baby like billions of women before me.  The pain is my power.  All is well.  This baby knows the exact right time to be birthed.  I have since made many of these books to pass on to other women for their pregnancies.  Mine was so important and helpful to me.

On March 24, 1992, two friends of ours who had been living in Germany came to visit us for a couple of days.  They had had the stomach flu but said they were over it so kept to their schedule and came on for a visit.  It was lovely to see them as they're terrific, interesting people with whom I love to talk and visit.  Unfortunately, though, I caught their bug.  The night of the 25th, my husband was called to work in the middle of the night.  A few hours later I woke up with a very queasy stomach and ended up needing to vomit.  (I can feel sympathetic nausea as I write this all these years later!)  I got up and leaned over the toilet.  It was actually very difficult to do, given the fact that my belly was as large as it could get.  It was a big hindrance in that situation.  Martin, one of our guests, was so kind.  He came upstairs and helped me clean up and get back to bed.  I fell back into a fitful sleep.  But was back up several more times.  My husband still wasn't home, though it was 3 or 4.  I guess he eventually came home but left for work again at 6:30.  Though our friends were leaving at 10, I tried to stay in bed a little bit longer to recover a bit from being so sick.  At 9:30, I dragged myself downstairs to say goodbye.  Our au pair had gotten the other two kids up and was keeping them occupied.  It was clear to her how I was feeling.  After our friends left, it quickly became apparent to me that I was having contractions.  At least I thought that was what it was.  I prayed it wasn't more nausea.  I called Nancy who suggested I take a bath.  If it was labor, that would either slow things down or speed them up.  Rita, our au pair, drew me a bath.  It definitely sped things up.  I called my husband and told him what was happening.  He asked if I wanted him to come home.  I told him it might be a good idea if he wanted to be there for the birth.  He got home shortly afterwards and found me still in the tub.  Mom came to get Rita and Andrew and Laura since things were starting to happen quickly.  My husband and I talked about a possible name for the baby.  We hadn't been able to decide before.  We decided on Dylan (as in the poet, Dylan Thomas, and the musician Bob Dylan) for a first name if he was a boy.  The middle name was harder.  Because we're both such intellectuals, we wanted something cool for a middle name, so we came up with Raphael, after the painter.  If the baby were a girl, her name would be Sophie Elizabeth, simply because we liked how it sounded.

I called Nancy to let her know how things were going.  She was at another birth and wasn't sure how quickly she'd be able to be there, so she suggested I call my friend Mary from my women's group who was studying to be a midwife and who had attended many births before.  Mary came right over.  In the meantime, I threw up a couple more times, and now diarrhea was kicking in.  Try that on for size - labor pains, intestinal pains, needing to throw up, and needing to have diarrhea.  I didn't know which end should be where.  I was intensely miserable.  And worried about trying to give birth in such a weakened state.  I was feeling somewhat panicked.

When Mary got there she suggested I lie down on the sofa.  She talked me through a visualization and meditation which really calmed me down and helped me gather my resources.  I decided to let that gentle repose be a perfect substitute for a full night's sleep.  The contractions continued, but more gently, and I was able to sleep for almost an hour.  Nancy arrived around that time.  She examined me and asked me if I wanted to keep things slow or let them get going.  I gathered myself and said, "Let's go.  I'm ready."  I got up and walked around the den then spent some time on the toilet again - apparently that's a really good place for me to labor!  Transition began then.  I went into the den where I was planning to give birth.  Standing, I leaned on Nancy's shoulders while my husband held my belly up from behind.  I gyrated my hips in a belly dance circle.  The contraction came on, I moved my hips around with it, it dissapated like magic.  The movements truly ameloriated the pain to the point where it was manageable.  My affirmation was "This is the most intense feeling I have ever experienced.  It is opening my cervix so I can birth my baby."  Rather than focus on the pain, per se, I focused on the effect it was having, making it more bearable and positive. 

I wanted to squat and give birth as I had with Laura, but I simply wasn't strong enough because of the stomach flu I'd been dealing with, so I sat on a mattress on the floor and leaned against our sturdy mustard-colored arm chair.  My husband was behind me, Nancy in front of me, Mary on the sofa next to me taking pictures.  I felt exhausted and weak but I knew I had the power to birth my baby.  The pushing contractions came over me.  I let them wash over me and through me.  The baby's head crowned.  His head came out.  He was as purple as a concord grape.  It was startling to see how darkly blue he was.  Nancy checked the chord.  I can't remember if it was around his neck or not, but if it was, she removed it.  The baby was in that position for several minutes, part way in, part way out.  I rested as best I could, euphoric, exhausted.  Then the last contraction came, and our son Dylan arrived in the world!  Nancy said what a beautiful girl she was, but my husband and I noticed that actually he was a beautiful boy!  I think she was at a hard angle to see!  Nancy assured us, because he had been so blue, "He was never not OK.  He was never not OK."  Those words have echoed through my head 100's of times since then.  I was thankful for her reassurance, though I'm not sure how anxious I had felt.  Her words turned it into goodness.

This picture is called Thirty Seconds Old.  I drew it from the photograph Mary took at that moment.

Dylan took a few minutes to begin nursing but quickly got the hang of it.  His sucks helped my uterus expel the placenta easily then Nancy sewed me up - I'd torn a bit again. 

I chose not to take an herb bath this time because I didn't want to leave the baby - that had been hard with Laura - so I watched as Nancy weighed and measured Dylan.  He weighed 9 lb.  He was born at 5:00 PM, about 9 hours after I'd woken up to start the day.

My mother, ever prescient, called about 15 minutes after Dylan was born and asked when she could come over and bring the kids to meet their brother.  We asked for a couple of hours so we could get settled in.  I was still so tired and not feeling great nausea-wise, so it was helpful to be able to rest for a brief time first.  We got settled in up in our bedroom, then Mom brought the kids.  We have a wonderful photograph of the kids climbing onto the bed to meet their brother.  They're full of joy and anticipation.  There's another photo of them sitting on either side of me.  I'm nursing Dylan and reading a book to the other two.  I remember loving the moment, even as I felt stretched a bit beyond my ability to satisfy all their needs. 

The next few days were tough.  My husband got the stomach flu as I was recovering from it, then the kids, then our au pair.  I guess the good part about it was that we took it very easy, resting most of the time, allowing ourselves to recover slowly and gently.  It was a lovely time.  Friends again brought meals, and Rita was a huge help.  It truly does take a village to raise a family!

Life with three remained busy and hectic, but Dylan was a fantastic addition to our family.  With him, we became complete.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Birth #2: at home

In 1989 I found out I was pregnant again.  I immediately began talking to my friends who had had home births to find out how to go about having one.  I was happy with the birthing experience I'd had in the hospital, but in the meantime I'd become aware that there were other options which could work better for me and my family. 

At that time (and I believe still today), there was only one midwife in town who would attend home births.  She has a physician back up (she must by law) and is allowed to attend births in hospitals, but her primary practice is with women giving birth at home.

I went for my first check up with the Nurse Practitioner in the doctor's practice - standard procedure so she could screen me to make sure I was a good candidate for a  home birth - i.e. healthy, not high risk, aware of what was involved, etc.  The next month I met Nancy, the midwife.  I liked her immediately.  She was calm, sensitive, no-nonsense but very caring and kind.  She examined me thoroughly and explained to me what she was doing and what was going on in my body.  She gave me plenty of time to ask questions and to express any concerns I might be having.  I felt completely cared for and heard and safe.  She made sure that everything was going well physically - that's one of the things that makes home births so low risk - the midwives really know their patients and screen them for problems thoroughly each time they see them.  They won't allow the women to try to give birth at home if there is the slightest hint of a potential problem.  Of course, emergencies arise at times, and that is a risk that one takes when having a home birth.  I decided it was worth the risk.  I felt very confident that things would go well.  It was a gut feeling.  I was right.

On August 31, 1989, I woke up feeling good.  It was a beautiful, clear, cool day - quite the anomoly in Richmond, VA at the end of August!  I began feeling contractions fairly early so called Nancy to let her know.  She suggested I call her again when it got more intense  and I wanted her to come over.  I dressed in a very loose blue dress with nothing underneath.  I walked around the house then went out into the yard.  I sat on the porch steps in the backyard and meditated on the shadows sifting across the grass as the branches of the tree blew gently in the breeze.  My husband cut a fresh rose from our garden and brought it to me.  I contemplated the bud opening and imagined my cervix opening like the bud.  I felt the contractions, but I didn't perceive them as pain.  Instead they were simply helping my body do what it needed to do to help me bring my child into the world. 

The contractions began to get stronger so we called Nancy again and told her it might be a good idea for her to come over.  It was around 10:30, I think.  My mother had come over to get Andrew so he could have fun while we were otherwise engaged.  Nancy examined me when she got there and found I was at about 6 cm, shortly before transition when it gets very intense.  Because I'd been able to walk around and move as I wanted to the whole time, I hadn't felt more than mild discomfort at any point.  I felt an urge to sit on the toilet.  Since I was in my own home, that was what I did.  Nancy and my husband sat with me as I blew air out and let the contractions flow through me.  I imagined the rose opening up.  Nancy lightly ran her hands over my legs in a motion that was oddly helpful.  She told me I was getting close and asked if I wanted to give birth there.  I said no.  I had an image of giving birth squatting in the bedroom upstairs so we made our way up there, inbetween contractions (not on a guerney in the middle of a contraction like the previous time).  It was wonderful not having any pain medication this time.  I was able to use the time between contractions to relax and rest and calm myself to prepare for the next contraction.  I evoked the images I'd visualized for so many months to help me stay calm and peaceful.  I breathed deeply.  I moaned softly.

Once upstairs, I sat on the edge of the mattress on the floor.  When a contraction would come, I would squat and lean into Nancy - she must be very strong to have been able to take my weight.  I was at the pushing stage. I roared with power as I pushed.  The wave subsided.  I rested.  Nancy had me touch the baby's head as it was beginning to crown.  Another one.  I squatted and pushed into the pressure pushing into me.  Nancy reached in and widened my opening so I wouldn't tear very much.  I pushed again.  I tore some.  I roared somemore. The baby's head rushed out along with the rest of her body.  I pulled her out of me.  I was the first human being to touch her.  (12:16 PM) I lay back into the pillows and gazed into her eyes for what felt like eternity.  She latched onto my breast almost right away and nursed for at least a half an hour.  In the meantime, Nancy sewed me up and rubbed arnica and goldenseal on my vaginal tissues so I wouldn't be so sore.  (It worked - I felt fantastic as soon as 2 days later!  Quite a difference from the first time when the doctor told me he would sew me up nice and tight so my husband wouldn't even be able to tell I'd had a kid!  That made it hurt each time we made love for the three years between babies.  Not a holistic way to go.  But I digress...)  We had opted not to have the baby, Laura Anne, get shots or eye drops or any of the invasive things babies normally get in the hospital.  The only medical intervention we did was for me to get an antibody shot.  I am Rh negative, and I needed to get a shot in case Laura was Rh positive so I wouldn't build up antibodies against Rh positive blood - if I were to get pregnant again, that would cause issues with the next baby whose blood my body would try to reject. 

Nancy drew a bath for me with a potful of wonderful herbs in it to help my body mend quickly.  I didn't want to let Laura go, but I went downstairs to take a bath and left the baby with her daddy so he could love on her like crazy.  That was when Nancy put her into a canvas sling and weighed her: 9 lb. 11 oz.  She was pretty darn big!  Laura began to cry and was difficult to soothe.  I got out of the tub and went back upstairs.  A short time after I got settled in, Mom and Andrew came bursting in the door to see the new arrival, bringing flowers they'd picked and arranged in a sweet vase.  Andrew came over to me and peeked in at Laura.  He was very sweet with her.  I don't remember his ever being jealous.

A couple of hours later, a friend came by and brought us some beef stew and Grands rolls that her husband had made for us.  It was the best food I'd ever eaten!  Made with so much love, so hearty, just perfect.  Friends brought us a series of meals for the next week or two so we could concentrate on just being with Laura and acclimating her to life with us. 

Giving birth to Laura the way I did, at home, without drugs, was the most empowering experience of my life.  I was completely conscious of what I was doing.  I had made clear choices about what I wanted and, thankfully, fate cooperated, and I was able to give birth at home with my husband and the midwife there, with complete privacy and freedom to do whatever felt natural and right to me.  There were no unnecessary interventions and Laura was born into a beautiful room in her own home.  We didn't have to be uprooted to go home.  We were home.  We were cared for wonderfully by Nancy and then by friends and family who made sure we were well taken care of. 

That birth changed my feelings about my body too.  When birthing Andrew, I hadn't felt like I was in charge.  The birth was done to me as much as I did it.  There were so many things involved I couldn't control.  With Laura's birth, I was in charge.  Not that I was in control - it would be foolhardy to suggest anyone is in control in a birth - but I was empowered to birth my baby the way millions of women before me had done.  I knew I could do it.  By myself.  Nancy supported me.  My husband was wonderfully present.  But I gave birth.

It's the way it should be.

I hope that women are beginning to take back their power in giving birth.  It is one of our fundamental rights, and it is a gift we give ourselves and especially our children to bring them into the world in this way.

My brother just sent me a message with his memories of Laura's birth.  It's fun to see it from another perspective.

And right after the birth, Mom called me in my classroom at Benedictine High School, where I was teaching a German lesson on the first day of the academic year. I had just started off speaking German to this beginners' class, drawing my family tree on the board and talking about my family. "And this is my sister," I said in German. Then I made a gesture with my hands to indicate a big belly and said she was pregnant. One of the 9th graders - who is now one of Obama's bodyguards - tried to interpret, "She's fat?"

Then the phone rang. They (WE!) thought it was eerie when the news came that Laura Anne, 9 lbs. 7 oz., had just been born. Three of the students in that class were on my soccer team, which had its first practice that afternoon. Between school and practice, I went to see Susan and Laura and got the necessary information (though I still don't understand why people don't ask, "How cute is she?" They always ask, "How much did she weigh?")

As we ran our laps around the soccer field, one of them - who is now a Registered Nurse! - started chanting, "Laura Ann, 9 pounds, 7 ounces" and everyone joined in.

Two months later, the day the Berlin Wall fell, Susan was celebrating her 30th birthday. I used that event as an opportunity to have the German students learn how to write a birthday card, which we then gave Laura Anne's mother. On it you could see: Paul DeTrana, 147 lbs., Brian Lambert, 132 lbs., David Dart, 97 lbs. Or did we translate everything into kilograms for her?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nursing my boy!

We moved to Richmond when my son was 4 weeks old.  When my mother came to Ohio to meet her grandson, she happened to mention that if we wanted to live with her while my husband went back to school, that would be OK.  I guess that planted a seed, and we moved in with her the day before Richmond's biggest snowfall of the year (16 inches) and a couple of days before VCU's semester started.  I immediately reached out to try to find friends and community.  I was blessed to find La Leche League, a support group for breastfeeding women and their babies.  I had become an ardent nurser and would pull out my breast whenever and wherever my son needed to nurse.  I think that might have been uncomfortable at times for others, but I was not atuned to their discomfort.  I was atuned to my baby and his needs.  I was also a bit strident about a woman's right to feed her baby in public the way nature intended him to be fed.

My favorite nursing story occurred at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.  My husband and I had driven up there with Andrew to see the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit shortly after she died.  I love her sumptuous paintings of flowers especially.  Her colors and forms are exquisite.  As I was slowly perusing the exhibit, Andrew, who was about a year old at the time, became restless and started indicating that he wanted to nurse.  I cradled him in my arms, pulled up my shirt, began to nurse him, and went on looking at the art.  When I was in front of her gigantic cloud painting, I heard a couple of women beside me speaking in German.  Since I speak fluent German, I perked up - I always love talking to people in other languages!  What they said made my stomach leap - "Schau das mal an, was die Frau da macht!  So eine Frechheit!"  (Look at what that woman is doing!  It's so rude!)  I looked over at them and saw they meant me, so I said, in German, of course, "Naja, dafuer koennen wir alle die Kunst in Ruhe anschauen."  (Yes, well, and because of that we can all look at the art in peace.)  They gawked at me then turned away quickly and made their way out of the gallery as fast as they could.  I felt happy that I'd been able to defend my right to nurse in public. 

It wasn't all that common to nurse in 1987, and there certainly weren't provisions made for it in public places.  There weren't even changing tables in the bathrooms.  I remember changing Andrew's diaper at the table at a restaurant once.  The woman I was with, who had not yet had children, was a bit appalled, but I think it was better than using the bathroom floor - gross! 

Being in La Leche League was one of the best things that could have happened to me.  The women in the group were very conscious parents and thought a lot about the best way to bring up their kids.  It was so helpful to have people to talk to about issues I was having and to find out whether it was something to worry about or not.  It was also quite empowering to learn more about birthing alternatives.  The next time I was pregnant, I made quite a different choice from the one I'd made the first time around...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Memories of Birthing in a Hospital

I got some very exciting news yesterday!  My brother and his wifel who live in Germany, had their third child, Julia April.  It sounds like Bianca is a powerful birther, and the birth went off without a hitch.  My brother said that his wife doesn't react much to pain, so the birth seemed very easy (to him, at least, and to me on the phone 3000 miles away!)

My joy over their new baby led me to remember giving birth to my children.  I have three birth children, two sons and a daughter, and a stepson.  My first child was born in a hospital in Sandusky, Ohio with a DO attending.  (DO's are slightly more progressive than ObGyn's in general.)  The other two were born at home here in Richmond.  I conceived my first son in Vienna, Austria and went through 5 months of my pregnancy there.  It was very different from being pregnant in the US.  When I first went to the doctor, I was given a Mutter-Kind Pass - a mother-child pass - in which to record all my pregnancy information.  It was wonderful and so logical to have one place to keep all the information and for the doctors to be able to look at to follow my progress.  I orginally planned to stay in Austria after I had my son, but my husband at the time was working on a book (and not earning money), so I would have had to have continued to work, and he wouldn't have been able to continue writing, so we came back to the good ol' US of A where he could work as well.  Ultimately I think it was a good choice, but I missed the perks of having a child in Europe.  For example, my brother OR his wife can take off a full year with 2/3's pay then another 2 years without pay (but still with health insurance paid) with the guarantee that he/she will get his/her job back when he/she returns.  In addition, they get Kindergeld, a stipend for each child they have.  The population in Germany is shrinking, so the government subsidizes people having children.  Pretty good deal, huh?!

Birthing in a hospital was fine.  I didn't know all that much about possible alternatives, so it seemed awesome - after all, look at the results - a fantastic baby boy!  It was a bit bothersome to have been tied down to the bed by the fetal monitor most of every hour, but I didn't know better.  At one point I felt a strong urge to sit on the toilet and labor there, but I felt too embarrassed to do so in case someone saw me on the toilet.   Another time I was screaming as I was going through transition.  My husband was in the room but no one else.  It was scary.  The pain was very intense, so I screamed.  A nurse came rushing in and shushed me, telling me I would upset the other patients.  A little bit later, in the middle of a contraction, several people lifted me over onto a guerney to take me into the delivery room.  I did not use nice language to let them know how I felt about that!  Once there, I had to wait 2 hours to push until another woman had her baby.  The darvon (twilight sleep) meds they gave me "to take the edge off" put me to sleep between contractions only to rip me into awareness when the contraction crested, leaving me almost panicked by the pain with no time to prepare for it peacefully.  The medicine wore off as I got to the point of pushing, so those two hours in the delivery room were quite intense. 

But all of that paled in comparison to seeing Andrew's head begin to crown in the mirror at the foot of the bed.  The doctor had me touch him, then he handed him to me as he was born and I brought him up on to my chest.  I felt the Spirit of God in the room as Andrew was born.  Pure spirit.  Pure love with a force I hadn't even known existed.  As I entered the realm of motherhood in that instant, I was transformed by a force as old as the Universe and more fierce than a raging hurricane.  I have loved unconditionally since that moment and will forever more.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Comments about shaving are coming fast and furious!

Several people felt moved to share their stories about shaving their legs, etc.  Feel free to send your stories and I'll publish them here as well, if you'd like me to.  I'm fascinated to hear different people's experiences.  Each of these women is between 45-55.  I'd love to hear from younger women and older to know your experiences - are they different?  Do you feel societal pressure to shave different body parts?  Is it limited to your legs and under your arms or is it also your pubic area?  (If you're new to reading this blog, you might be interested in reading the entry from Feb 15, 2010 about landing strips and the pressure one young woman feels about shaving her pubic hair.)


Susan -- I started shaving in 9th grade and quit for the winter during my freshman year at college, then sophomore spring decided not to resume. Even now every spring when I first wear shorts I have a funny moment, like when you stick your toe in a cold lake.

[My daughter] Margaret started shaving when she went to middle school but quickly got disgusted and gave it up. In eighth grade a classmate who was trying to set up a conflict with her said, "Hey Margaret, why don't you shave your legs? Is it against your religion?" Margaret, secure soul that she is, reported this with genuine amusement.

I remember when my younger sister's first long-term boyfriend used to harass her about not shaving her legs above the knees. He railed at her for for being so "BOHEMIAN!" I'm not sure she even knew what that meant, but it surely wasn't a good thing. It used to piss me off to no end that he did that to her.

Luckily, our mom never pushed us to shave above the knees because we really didn't need to. It actually shocked me that the dork even noticed, much less ridiculed my sister for it. I wish I knew what she did back then, but I can't swear that she didn't cave to his abuse. .

(as for me, a razor has to this day never strayed above the kneecap on my legs) :)

i'm a lucky one . . . never really had to shave my legs at all . . . but the pit hair is another matter . . . my mother was mortified when in my 20's i decided to go all liberal on her and not shave . . . we would sit together around the pool at my apartment complex and she would stare at my armpits while we tried to converse . . . now my daughter has picked up that mantle . . . she has begged me to PLEASE shave the pits this summer, please, please, please . . . must be a generational thing, eh?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

working on Joyful, Joyful

This week I've had the pleasure of working on Joyful, Joyful, the second painting I've done of this beautiful 90-year-old woman.  This piece is particularly inspiring to paint because of the expression on her face.  May I feel so wonderful when I'm going on 90-years of age!
I've used a different technique in painting this piece.  In the past I haven't paid attention to the type of paint I've used - transparent or opaque.  I've just mixed them according to hue (color), not paying attention to whether they are transparent or not.  This time I categorized my paints specifically according to their transparency and chose to paint only with transparent paints with the exception of white.  I used Flake White rather than my normal Titanium White.  Flake White contains lead and is the white the Old Masters used because it was available.  It has different characteristics than the newer whites.  The most distinctive one I find is that it dries in the jar really quickly so it's hard as heck to get out.  I don't particularly like it, but I'm giving it a try to see what I can learn from using it. 

What I'm liking about this process is that I'm building up the paint in many layers, and no layers is having a huge impact, but each is contributing to the whole in subtle ways.  For example, in this close up of her left side, you can see that she has long lovely wrinkles in her skin as well as some moles.  The light strikes her skin luminously.  It's been a real pleasure to build up the light and incorporate the lines and makes bit by bit.  It takes a light deft touch rather than heavy-handedness and allows me to treat her skin like parchment.  I'm using heavy brushes sometimes and grinding the paint in - not the light touch I just wrote about - but it's good for getting uneven patches of light and dark.  They look natural.  Her legs are a good example of this.  They have a lot of color in them, many variations and modulations.  Using a natural bristle brush I have been able to apply paint strongly, but because it's transparent, no single layer has dominated the passage.  Rather each has built upon the previous one.
I'm going to let the paint that is on the canvas dry for a few days now.  I noticed last night that I was simply smearing off the paint that was already on there when I went to add more.  Not a good thing!  So I'm going to begin on a new canvas today and get back to this one in a week or so once it dries.

FYI, this is the other painting I did of the same woman.  It is 6'x3' approximately.  The new piece is 48"x30" or something like that.  Just about life size where the other one is larger than life size.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hair trauma

Now that we've talked about pubic, armpit, and leg hair, it's time to consider the hair on women's heads!

When I was a pre-teen, I had hair almost down to my waist.  It was one of my prize possessions.  I loved it.  I watched Cher on TV and loved the way she would flick her hair back with her pinkies so I tried to emulate that gesture.  I tried parting my hair in the middle as well, but that didn't look so good, so I went back to parting it on the side.

When I was 13, I was signed up to to go the Cotillion - a fancy dance at the country club that all children of a certain social class went to to learn the social graces.  Here in Richmond those include dancing lessons, but in Norfolk at that time, they were simply a series of dances without the niceties.  My mom invited the son of a friend of hers to accompany me to it.  This was a guy I'd had a crush on since I was 3.  He'd given me a tea set for my 3rd birthday, and I'd loved him ever since - hey, I'm easy!  He was really cute too! 

A few weeks before the dance, Mom and I went to the fabric store where she bought me some green and blue plaid material with a slightly shiny finish to it.  She made me a lovely high-waisted long dress with ruffles at the shoulders.  I felt quite special (if awkward and gawky).  Mom told me all I needed was to trim my hair and I'd be set.  I wasn't interested in trimming my hair - I loved the way it was - but a friend of hers was over at the house and said she would do it for me if I wanted her to.  I was hesitant but ultimately agreed.  We went outside so we wouldn't get hair in the house.  Marty took the sheers and began to trim.  I asked her to only cut one inch.  She promised to not cut anymore.  A few minutes later, I saw Mom out of the corner of my eye motioning "More, more!" to Marty, asking her to cut 4-5 inches off.  Marty complied.  I was so angry, I was fit to be tied.  I picked up my cut hair off the ground and thrust it out at Mom - THIS is one inch?????  I didn't have the wherewithal to get angry at Marty because she was an adult, but I was livid.  I didn't talk to Marty for another 2 years, and I certainly didn't trust her as far as I could throw her after that.

Sounds like I had a lot of emotion around my hair...

That seems to be the case for lots of people.  I found an article in the Daily Mail (and English paper) which says:
Men find long, wavy locks the sexiest hair style on a woman, according to a new poll...
Long hair is traditionally strongly linked to femininity which we're sure is the reason that almost half of men have singled out this long, thick, wavy hair as their number one sexiest style.
Despite men choosing long, natural looking wavy hair as their top style, most women would have to create this style using styling tools as not many are naturally blessed with these lovely locks.

Men prefer Gwyneth Paltrow's mid-length straight style to Victoria Beckham's pixie crop....

Men also appeared to have a strong preference for shiny hair - with 72% billing it as sexy over hair without gloss.

Karen Moore added: "While men strongly favour the soft, natural, touchable styles over smarter, groomed looks, little do they know that these long luscious curls and straight sleek styles are often the ones which take the most effort to achieve...
Girls should also take note when styling their do, not to overdo the styling products as 79 per cent of guys admitted to loving running their fingers through ladies' locks.

This could explain why half of guys also said they like girls who wear their hair down rather than in a smart up-do.

The poll also discovered that 80 per cent of blokes reckon you can tell a lot about a girl from her hair style, but 18 per cent admitted they rarely notice if a girl changes her locks.

And a quarter would never be brave enough to give an honest opinion of a new hairstyle.

The comments to this article were even more interesting than the article, in my opinion.  People came down strongly of both sides of the issue.  For example:

I've been growing my hair down to my waist since I was 10 and I still love it and my b/f also loves my long hair. He loves playing with it. I use the frizzease range to control it, as I have naturally frizzy and curly chestnut brown hair. The amount of compliments I've had about how it has mainly been about how lucky I am to have it, which without blowing my own trumpet proves it is rare nowadays.
- Liz, Bursledon, Southampton,, 10/12/2008 16:23

I'm off to have the shortest haircut I can get without going bald. Any woman who wears her hair to please men has a lot to learn. She might attract a certain kind of man with her tresses but she'll probably end up wishing she hadn't.
- Mary, Leicestershire England, 10/12/2008 16:21

Women who cut their hair short are either lazy and don't want to take care of it or have bad hair. My hair is long, not too long but long enough to show off my fantastic locks. I have always had wonderful hair and everybody, including men, always make remarks on how beautiful it looks. Some people are lucky, some people are not, I guess....
- Melissa, Putney, London, UK, 10/12/2008 16:21

It's a shame to generalize men in one large group. My husband actually prefers my hair shorter, and if it is longer he likes it pulled up.
I did, however, date a man in the past that told me outright: "Don't cut your hair any shorter." He was also a raging sexist stuck in the 1950s and was intimidated by a strong woman.
Ladies, keep your hair the way you want.
- Sara, Texas, USA, 10/12/2008 15:53

My darlin' husband has a thing for long hair too.  And to keep things fair, I have to admit that I have a thing about his hair too... When we met, his hair was normal length, perhaps heading towards needing a cut.  One day about two weeks after we met, he showed up at my house with what I call a concentration camp cut.  I was stunned by how short it was!  I didn't find it appealing at all.  He's intensely good-looking, but this cut just didn't work for me.  He said he goes to the barber about every 6-8 weeks and gets his head almost shaved - it's easy that way.  Yikes!  Since then he has had me cut it.  I leave a lot more length on it, but he still prefers the 6-8 week cuts, so now his hair gets shaggier than I like it, and I ask him pretty frequently if he would like me to cut it.  And his eyebrow hairs - his are springy, and he enjoys playing with them when he's thinking, twisting and twirling them.  We haven't quite figured out a happy balance with all that.

Then there's his stuff about MY hair... When I cut my hair shortly before our wedding, it wasn't a deal-breaker, but Chris had some strong feelings about it.  I love having my hair short.  I like how it looks.  I feel cute and pert and athletic and strong and sexy and artsy - yes, all of that when I have a good cut!  I had a hairdresser who was such an artist - I could go in to him and tell him I wanted to look vivacious and fit, for example.  He'd cut it; I'd go back to work and people would use those exact words to compliment me on my hair - he was amazing!  But he's moved out of town and I haven't found anyone to replace him yet.  At any rate, Chris has had such strong feelings about my hair that lately I've been trying to grow it out for him.  My feminist side rages against the idiocy of growing my hair long for my husband when I like it short, but it really seems to matter to him.  Can't I just do this one small thing for the man I love so much?  For the last 6 months I've let it grow.  Every day I've caught sight of myself in the mirror and have felt less than because it doesn't look good.  It's messy.  It's unkempt.  What will people think?  It looks like s**t.  I feel like s**t.  But I'm the artist who preaches about Women's Body Image - I should love everything about myself, right?  That should include my hair, no matter how it looks.  Right.

One day recently Chris was running his fingers through my hair and complimenting me on how beautiful I looked.  I burst out, "I dont' feel beautiful!  I feel like shit!  I hate my hair like this.  It looks like shit!  I'm glad you like it, but I hate it.  I feel like shit!"  We were both stunned.  Chris pulled back abruptly like I'd hit him.  After a moment he quietly said, "You don't have to have your hair anyway for me.  It's fine.  Do whatever you want."  I felt awful for my outburst.  I wouldn't hurt Chris for anything, nor he me.  It did help me become very aware, however, of just how strongly I felt about it.  I decided I should probably get my hair cut if I felt that strongly about it.

Yesterday I was driving home from the art supply store and passed a salon which I know has a very good reputation.  I decided to go in and see if they had any appointments available.  They did.  Brittney took me into the salon and asked me how I wanted my hair.  I told her I wanted it short, but she would have to keep it as long as she could.  Confusing, huh?  I told her about my dilemma with Chris - that he likes it long, but I have to have the feeling that it looks good.  She did a great job trying to satisfy both of us.  In the end, she gave me about 3 different cuts as she tried to leave it long but give me a style I could feel good about.  It was a tough job!  When I got home, Chris came down to greet me.  He hugged me and ran his fingers through my hair then pulled away and looked at me quizzically, "Did you do something to your hair?  It looks really lovely."  I smiled and said I'd gotten it cut.  I felt better.  He liked it.  I no longer feel like shit.  My hair looks pretty good.  It isn't horribly short, and this time it won't grow out into a mullet like it was doing before.  So maybe, just maybe, it'll be possible for me to have long enough hair AND not feel like shit! 

Can it be that we can both be happy with my hair?  and evolutionary perrogatives can be satisfied as well?  Time will tell...

What a silly thing to have such strong feelings about...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Choosing to shave - or not!

Thank you very much to my anonymous follower who sent a link to an article in the New York times from yesterday.  It's about hairy women and the response to them in the media.  Apparently the comic Mo'Nique doesn't shave her legs and has been getting flack for it lately now that's she's better known across color lines.

The article explores the question of whether its OK to choose NOT to shave ones legs and underarms.  The sense I get from the article is that the public would prefer that their stars DO shave.  Here's a quote from the article about Mo'Nique:
On Web sites like, people posted comments like “I have to HURL now ... Disgusting is an understatement.” It would seem that a collective ewww rang out nationwide, one designed to make every ’tween girl snap to attention and realize that leg hair is not allowed.
I'm confused about what it is about hair on the legs that would make a person want to vomit. 

For me, personally, I remember the pressure to shave very well.  I didn't develop all that quickly.  I was 13 or 14 and wasn't feeling the need for a bra or any other form of restraint.  I did not want to mature.  I was very happy being a child, thank you very much, and didn't feel any desire whatsoever to enter the complicated realm of adulthood.  I knew a good thing when I was living it.

Unfortunately, my mother had different concerns.  She told me at one point that I needed to start wearing a bra.  I was mortified.  I'd already been feeling embarassed in gym class because other girls had bras and I didn't, but my mortification about maturing trumped that embarrassment by a long shot.

Oh God, the horrors of the gym locker room!  That takes me back - the stench of unwashed gym uniforms (I think I managed to go 4 months without washing mine.  That felt like an achievement at the time, but in retrospect, ewwww!  I do remember how it felt sliding on as the mildew wiped against my skin.  Always slightly moist, always stinking.  How did it not disintigrate over the course of the semester?) I remember the misery of having to undress in front of all the popular girls who were chatting animatedly with their best friends about parties they'd been to while they stripped off their gym suits and put on the school uniforms that fit them pertly and made them look cute.   I remember trying to slide by unnoticed to the showers where I would stand miserably in the dinky spray for as brief a moment as possible until I could slither back to my locker at the opposite side of the locker room where I would throw on my clothes as fast as possible before anyone could catch a glimpse  of my body with the belly I just knew everyone would be staring at.  Usually I'd try to get away without taking a shower.  It was just too painful.   I remember the hatred I felt for my body - there was no way I could prance around proudly, feeling great in my body.  After all, I was the girl who got chosen last for any and every team in gym class.  I was as uncoordinated as it got.  I winced when the ball came at me in dodge ball - but not well enough so I got hit almost every time.  No way would I catch it.  My best friend Kathy Walls was a big-boned girl with lots of body confidence.  She went skating all the time.  When the ball would come at her, she would stand firmly in its path and take it with a big Umph! as it resounded into her arms.  I was in awe.

So the bra question was mortifying.

Then there was the time when I was in the car going somewhere with my mom and younger brother and sister.  Mom chose that time to tell me I needed to start shaving my underarms because it was embarrassing to have hair under them.  I didn't even know I had hair there.  I certainly didn't look.  As an adult, friends of mine have described to me how they, as burgeoning teens, examined their bodies in  minute detail to see each and every sign of maturation, proud of each hair growing in a new place, excited about zits that meant their hormones were starting to rage, thrilled when bumps began to grow on their formerly flat chests.  I, on the other hand, had no clue.  I didn't know what was supposed to be happening, and I had virtually  no awareness that anything was happening except for those excruciating times when my mother pointed it out to me.

When she said I had to start shaving, I asked her why.  She said I had to because only the whores in Italy didn't shave.  It was just what a woman had to do.  I didn't know what a whore was, but I got the point - if I didn't shave, I'd be a whore, and that must be really bad based on the way Mom said it.

Actually, in Europe, no one shaved - they still don't in general - it was really only the whores who did shave, but my mom was doing her best.  She was trying to help me acculturate so I wouldn't be such a misfit in the teenage society I was growing up in.  She just wanted me to fit in.  I got the message.  But I still didn't start shaving.

That didn't begin until after Christmas that year.  Each Christmas I would wake up earlier than my younger siblings and rush downstairs to examine the loot.  Up until that year, Santa Claus hadn't wrapped our gifts.  Instead they were arranged artfully in front of the fireplace.  They always looked so beautiful, I almost didn't want to disturb them.  This year when I came down, I was disappointed to see that they were all wrapped, and, worst of all, they were the same presents that had been under the tree for weeks - and which, of course, I'd already opened most of!  So I waited impatiently for the rest of the family to come down.  We took the presents into the living room to open in front of everyone.  I was glad to see there were at least 2 or 3 presents I hadn't opened before so I'd have something I didn't already know about!  I chose an enticing-looking medium-sized gift to open.  It was a lime green razor.  Oh my god.  I flushed with embarrassment to receive such a personal item.  It was like opening up a present with maxipads in it.  That just wasn't something we did in our family. We did not talk about or acknowledge bodily functions.  And now I had just gotten a RAZOR.  I mumbled my thanks and shoved it under the pile of wrapping paper as quickly as I could before my brother or sister - or even worse, my dad - saw it. 

When I got it upstairs to the bedroom my sister and I shared, I hid it in the bottom of my drawer where I hoped she would never see it.  It took me months to take it out and even look at it.  I think I finally unwrapped it when I was going to boarding school without my family.  Once there, I believe I began shaving, though I admit I don't really remember.  The rest of that black hole of embarrassment has thankfully faded into oblivion, leaving only the tortuous tines of the initial forked comments impaled in my tender sensitive psyche.

So reading the New York Times article yesterday made me cheer for Mo'Nique and her boldness to do what she chooses.  I would have been well-served by a society where I had a choice to do what I wanted to and didn't feel pressured to do something just so I wouldn't be considered a whore.  Growing up is so damned confusing!!

When my daugher was 12 or 13, she asked me about shaving her legs.  Apparently her friends were starting to so she was feeling some pressure to do so.  I asked her what she thought.  She is blond so the hair on her legs doesn't particularly show.  It's just a lovely soft fuzz.  I explained that once she began shaving it, it would grow back pricklier and darker so she might thereafter feel more pressure to continue shaving.  We talked about it for a while and I think she decided not to shave yet.  A few months later she decided it was time, and I think she felt OK about her decision.  She is now a student at a college where I would guess more of the students do NOT shave than do.  I'm glad they feel they have a choice.  It's not that I think women shaving their legs and underarms and pubic hair is a bad thing - but I DO think that feeling like you have no choice IS a bad thing.  I don't like the pressure to conform or to do something just because others do. 

And I'll fight for my and my daughter's and other women's right to choose for themselves!