My son was born four years ago, just a few weeks after Trump’s inauguration. My life turned both inside-out and upside-down. Inside-out, as I struggled once again with bringing the life inside me into the outer world. Upside-down, as events that would once grab headlines for days, if not weeks, were now coming every few hours. The It’s-Not-a-Muslim-Ban Travel Ban. Michael Flynn. Betsy DeVos. I would put my son down for a nap, fall into a half-sleep for an hour, and then wake up to a new horrible reality of Things that Were Now Possible in the U.S..
I knew there was a reason that when I entered my classroom on the day after the 2016 election that I could barely keep from crying in front of my international students. My heart knew what was coming, even if they didn’t know it yet. I felt somewhere deep in my heart that the life that I had built teaching English and fostering intercultural understanding was now dangerously at risk of disappearing altogether.
It turns out my worry was completely founded and warranted. Because two years later, international student enrollment plummeted where I was teaching, just as it was everywhere else in the United States. I grieved the fact that I needed to seriously reconsider my career choice. It was a path that I pursued tirelessly just to be employed full-time.
Now here we are, four years later. I have left teaching, but I have managed to stay in the field of education. There are things that I miss about teaching (advising students, talking with families, joking before class, sharing snippets of American culture) and things I’m wholeheartedly grateful that I never have to do again (grade essays, sit in a faculty meeting that could have been an email, eat like a wolf at my desk while answering emails, just to name a few).
And miracle of miracles, we are saying good-bye to legitimately the Worst President in American History. I don’t feel that those words are too strong to use. And because I believe in supporting my opinions with reasons, here are just a few:
“They’re rapists. They’re murders. And some, I assume, are good people.” On the campaign trail, 2015
“There were fine people on both sides.” About the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, 2017
Separating children from their parents at the border. 2018.
“I would like you to do us a favor.” Asking the Ukrainian president for non-existent incriminating information about Biden, 2019
“No one saw this coming.” About the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020.
Suggesting that “disinfecting” the lungs by injection may help with treating coronavirus, 2020
There is so, so, so much more.
Before the pandemic, at some point in 2019, I remember talking with friends about how concerned I was about the end of this presidency. I believed that if Trump lost in 2020 and we were following his playbook, he would say the elected was rigged, that voting fraud was rampant, and he would refuse to concede. I really wondered if he would have to be dragged from the White House. We talked about at length about the limitations of what Trump could do to hold onto power. My friends reassured me that the military swears an oath to the Constitution, not to the President.
Some of those words were comforting.
And then January 6th came.
Just. What. The. Fuck.
I’m not exuberant about Biden being sworn into office. I’m hopeful. But honestly, at this point, I’m drained. Not only by the division between Americans that is visible at the national level, but also by the division between Americans in my own community.
One of our neighbors STILL has a yard full of Trump-related campaign signs decorating her lawn. All Lives Matter. Back the Blue. Lock Her Up (a fav from 2016). God Bless America. And then to string the whole mess together in a frightening display of cognitive dissonance, a “patriotic” Christian cross, lit with red, white, and blue lights.
In January, the Trump flags are still flying.
This is deeply unsettling to me.
I drove through a middle-class neighborhood a few weeks ago and everything about it felt familiar and cozy. American flags hung from the porch or next to the mailbox or from the awning of the house.
Then I saw something new.
How can I explain to you how this made me feel? To see this bizarre twist on an American flag, flying as high and next to American flags?
I had a stone in my stomach just looking at it.
I felt disbelief, anger, and frustration.
I felt cold.
What are we? What is the United States when we cannot even agree about which flag deserves to represent what we hold most dear? Are we really so divided that we’re putting aside the flag that brings us together and pledging allegiance to something else?
It’s not just a flag. People fly flags to identify themselves. And if you choose to fly a Blue Lives Matter flag in your front yard–especially when it’s the ONLY flag in your yard–you are making a bold statement about what principles you follow and what values you hold.
That thin blue line on that flag is a clear divider.
The question stands: Who does it divide?
Who is on either side of that line? Is it police on one side? Community on the other? If it is, then I really don’t understand. Because I thought that the jobs of police officers were facilitated by working with the community, not fighting against it.
Or perhaps the flag is finally saying what we’ve all known to be true for a long time. I grew up on Cops. The theme of the show is very hard to miss. Poor people–almost always black–are criminals. Police keep us safe from them. I don’t recall a single episode where a tax evader or embezzler was dragged from his corporate office for defrauding a company for millions. But a coked-out dude running from the police? Every episode.
But we now live in a world where militarizing police departments is common in the U.S., so perhaps I shouldn’t be so shocked that this is where we are, debating on the meaning of flying the Blue Lives Matter flag in your front yard. My reflective self wonders if we are just on a slow slide into a police state. My gloom-and-doom self cries out that we’re already there. But my hopeful self remembers that we are not there. Yet.
Betsy DeVos. The refugee travel ban. The Syrian War. Trump/Bannon. Alternative facts. The war with the press.
It’s just so much that it nearly paralyzes you.
Then part of you thinks, Hey, it will be okay. Things will work out. They always do. Let’s just see what happens.
To that voice in your mind, I say this:
Fight like hell.
Fight for your life.
Fight for the future of this country.
Don’t listen to that voice. Don’t be lulled into thinking that things will take care of themselves.
This country is bleeding. We are bleeding.
It’s true that if we’re healthy, the bleeding will stop on its own. But does it seem like we’re healthy? And if you feel like things are okay, are you blind to the signs that you see from everyone else?
Do you see the pain of others or do you blame them for their pain? Or worse, do you belittle their pain?
Do you realize that you are bleeding? Or will you allow yourself to bleed until you’re too weak to fight anymore?
I’ve been thinking a lot about blood loss in the past few days.
Just a week ago, I suffered from a postpartum hemorrhage.
I was afraid something like this would happen. I even wrote about it in my book, Becoming Mother. Dissatisfied with the difficulty of having an unmedicated labor in a traditional hospital setting, I decided to give birth in a natural birthing center attached to a hospital for my second birth.
Sometimes, people would ask me if I would ever be interested in a home birth.
Here’s what I wrote:
To lose that much blood moves your mind into a place of limbo, caught somewhere between reality and dreams. Awareness and unawareness. The physical and the spiritual. You become light. Hazy. Detached. Almost as if you’re drifting off into sleep.
But it doesn’t feel quite right.
It feels like you’re leaving something behind.
Let me take you into those moments just after it happened to me.
At first, it’s uncontrollable shaking. I’m so, so cold. Nurses cover me with heated blankets upon heated blankets, but still I shake and shake. Then, the weakness. I can barely lift my head from the pillow. The nurses won’t let me walk to the bathroom, so it’s the bedpan for me. Once. Twice. Three times. Four times. With all my strength I push my hips up so the bedpan can slide underneath me.
When they finally let me stand, each of them takes an arm and helps me to my feet. They tell me to look up, not down. They ask me if I’m ready and I say yes.
“Actually, let’s wait on that,” one of them says. “Your lips are blue.”
Then, the fogginess. I can see my husband talking to the nurse, but I don’t immediately understand their words. My understanding is on a several-second delay. The nurse tells me to drink the entire contents of a giant plastic cup of water. I don’t know what to do with it until she puts it in my hands. Using both sight and touch, my thoughts finally click into place. I should drink this.
My husband asks me if I want to eat. I say yes and he hands me the menu. I hold it for a moment, my eyes seeing words that I know are food, but that I don’t understand. Turkey hot shot? What is that? Salmon… is a fish. Salad… Vegetables. Side items are… oh, like fries. Dressings… are for salad.
The menu falls against my face and I doze off.
But when the food arrives, I eat like a mo-fo.
My husband feeds me bits of burgers, fries, carrot cake, cheesecake, salad, juice, more juice, water, soda, salmon, broccoli, pizza, waffles, sausage, fruit cups, and more. I eat it all and with each bite, a breath of life comes back to me. My mind opens and clears. Voices make more sense.
I feel myself coming back.
The next day is deceptively good. The happiness of new life and the excitement of going home overshadow how hard it is to walk and move from one place to another. I tell myself that I’m already doing better than after my first birth. Look at you move! I praise myself. I didn’t tear this time, so I can sit (mostly) comfortably.
I continue to eat and eat and eat. Chicken, kale smoothies, lamb, mushrooms, baked potatoes covered in butter and salt, granola bars, bananas, apples, thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spoons of peanut butter straight from the jar.
It makes sense later on, this hunger. For fun, I check my Fitbit stats during labor. Look at this.
I know what you’re thinking. The peak must have been during the pushing phase.
You. Are. Wrong.
That period of peak heart rate happened when I started to hemorrhage. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped more and more blood to keep delivering oxygen to the tissues and cells that were under attack.
It began after I delivered the placenta. My midwife noticed the bleeding wasn’t slowing. She massaged my uterus. A nurse gave me a shot of Pitocin in my right thigh. Another nurse was prodding my left arm, trying to get an IV started as my tiny veins rolled and rolled. I apologized to her as she stuck me and dug and dug and dug for the vein. Stick after stick.
When the Pitocin didn’t work, the midwife gave me Cytotec.
But I kept bleeding.
The nurse finally got my IV threaded. Pitocin and fluids entered my veins.
But warm blood kept flowing out of me.
If you’re cringing in pain, don’t. All that bleeding was completely painless. My body sent me no signals that I should fear it.
What my body did feel were all the people trying to save me. The nurses, poking and prodding me with needles and IVs. The midwife grinding and massaging my uterus to help it contract. It was those who were working to keep me here that I protested against. My body didn’t understand that those pains were signals of my salvation.
I asked my midwife how much I had lost so far.
“500 ccs is what we usually want to see… You’re probably at 1,000 right now.”
And I kept bleeding.
More uterine massage. I groaned. I moaned. I looked for my baby, but I couldn’t see him. I heard my husband talking and figured that he was the one holding the baby.
I must assure you that I wasn’t afraid when any of this was happening.
I just had a baby.
I had climbed the highest mountain I had ever attempted in my life and I had pulled both of us up by fingernails of sheer will and grit. This birth was nothing like my first, which had been a thirty-six hour humbling of body and soul that felt more like spiritual possession.
No, this birth was a struggle. From beginning to end. This birth was a seemingly impossible task that required me to engage and confront over and over again. (Don’t worry: I will write more about this later.)
So as I lay there on the bed, painlessly bleeding life out of me, I was not afraid.
What I was feeling was relief. Peace. Profound gratitude. Love. All covered with the surprise that I had just given birth to a boy.
Then, finally, the drug that works: methergine.
The seriousness of what had happened to me did not fully set in until the next day. My husband told me that he could tell from the expressions on the nurses’ faces that the situation was getting tense. That we were probably only minutes from a true emergency.
But hey, I had come through and I was fine. Right?
All’s well that ends well. Time to move on and forget about the whole thing.
After all, I had another hurdle to overcome: establishing breastfeeding.
But just like the last time, inverted nipples and poor milk production have their way with me. Every few hours, I try something new. In the beginning, I use a nipple shield while my husband drops formula from a syringe onto the shield to encourage our baby to not get frustrated and continue to feed. Sometimes, my husband feeds him with a bottle while I pump. Sometimes, I just pump between feedings. Then, I try to get him to latch without the shield.
I don’t realize it at first, but I’ve started to lag behind in my eating and resting.
It’s not something I do on purpose. It happens naturally as my mind focuses on what we can try next to continue breastfeeding.
Then comes the Dreadful Day Four Postpartum. The day when my body starts to register the absence of my placenta, which just days ago was flooding my body with estrogen and progesterone. But now, like a baby rooting for nourishment, my body cries out for that hormonal lifeline that is no longer there and will never return.
This is when the shit hits the fan for me.
At first, I’m doing okay. Marveling that I’m not the sobbing, crying mess that I was with my daughter. After my first birth, I would be tearful and weepy all day long. But it’s different this time. I tear up every now and then, but I’m mostly composed and collected. Is it because of some different hormonal cocktail that I’m experiencing because I had a boy instead of a girl?
But at the end of the Day Four Postpartum, I’ve decided to stop breastfeeding. I climb the stairs to where my baby boy is sleeping in the bouncer, and I have to stop to catch my breath. My Fitbit reads 116, 115, 117, 114, a fat-burning heartrate. I hold onto the walls and allow my breathing to slow.
Then I see his face and it’s over.
The crying starts. The choking sobs build and I don’t make an effort to push them down. I close the door and let it out. All of it. I let all of the thoughts surface. All of the memories of when I stopped breastfeeding my daughter come forth, as clear as the day they happened three years ago. I let them come and talk to me. I let every doubt and fear and reassurance express its voice.
I don’t deny myself the right to feel any of it.
These are my emotions and I’ve learned that I need to let them out.
One voice says:
You shouldn’t give up yet. We have so much breastfeeding stuff! Pillows and the pump, nursing pads and bottles, lanolin lotion and nipple shields. Your milk is coming in this time. Give it a chance!
Another voice says:
You did all you could. It’s okay. You know he’s going to be fine. You know it. And fuck anyone who even subtly holds this over your head. They don’t understand.
But the loudest voice of all says:
Sharon, seriously. You cannot do this again. Your body cannot go through that hell again. This is the last baby you will give birth to and hold and care for. Don’t you dare rob yourself of the joy of enjoying your child.
That final voice is right. I know it.
But, God, it still hurts.
I call for Doug and he holds me while I cry. But now the afterbirth pains have skyrocketed because of the weeping and I’m moaning in pain. Doug leaves for a moment and I’m in the bathroom, feeling a tiny stream of blood falling from me. And when I stand, a golf ball sized clot falls into my hand.
That blob of jet black jelly now stains my skin blood red.
I call for Doug.
But it gets better.
The next day, I’m relieved that the weaning has begun.
But then the tiredness has returned. At the baby’s first doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician comments that I look really pale.
In the car on the way home, I review my hospital bloodwork that was drawn on the day after the birth by accessing my on-line records. My hemoglobin and hemocrit are way down. I read a brochure about life after a postpartum hemorrhage and I understand that I need to take this more seriously.
I need iron. I need to eat and eat and eat. And rest and rest and rest.
So I do. Eating and resting is what I do.
After I make breakfast, I’m completely spent. So I eat and sleep. Then I rise and I shower. I sleep again. I get up and eat lunch. I rest on the couch and talk with my mother. I sleep some more. I eat a huge snack and I sleep again. I let my friends bring food and I eat and eat more. I sleep.
I do not do the dishes.
I do not do laundry or even pick up my clothes.
I don’t take out the garbage or get the mail.
I forget about any plans to go on a walk anytime soon.
Instead, I conserve and gather my strength.
Every time I eat, I feel life coming back into me. I feel my body swallowing life whole and absorbing it.
I feel reconnected. I feel my mind hook into awareness and reality.
I start to crawl back to the living.
This is what I want you to understand about blood loss: it doesn’t just get better on its own.
You have to know that you are not okay. But to know that you’re not okay, you have to rely on more than just your instinct to respond to pain.
Bleeding is painless. It’s the wound that hurts. It’s the attempts to stop the bleeding that hurt. And once the bleeding is over, you can still be slaughtered by it if you don’t equip yourself with enough armor for the battle. If you spend too much of your energy preoccupied with things that don’t ultimately matter, you have halfway lost that battle. And once you realize that you are too weak to fight, it will be too late.
Right now, I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.
Right now, I’m fighting to bring myself back to independence. Part of it is because I didn’t appreciate my own condition. Part of it is because I neglected to understand my own limitations. That instead of pouring energy into nursing, I should have been strictly eating and resting.
Right now, I fight for myself and for my son and we are slowly winning. I look down at his face.
And I think, we are going to be okay.
But not because things naturally become okay.
Far from it.
We will be okay because I’m recognizing and engaging this weakness and tiredness. I’m conquering it with food, food, more food, and rest.
I am not sitting back and assuming that my body will naturally take care of itself.
This is a struggle.
The same is true of our country. If we sit back and assume that our county will be okay because God blesses the USA and screw everyone else in the world, we are in for destruction.
Things don’t naturally become okay. We need to work for it.
But when I read the news, do you know what I see?
That’s right. Hope.
I see so many of you fighting. Protesting. Calling our senators and representatives. Even my husband now has Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown on his speed dial and is planning a group meeting to sit down to talk with our U.S. House representative.
Many of you are responding to the pain of watching your rights and freedoms threatened. The right for every child to access good public education. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The right for every American to have health care.
These battles are good and just.
But we need to vigilantly search for the ways that we are painlessly bleeding.
Where is our attention and what are we missing?
Men, do you fight for women’s equal pay?
White Americans, do you speak out against racial profiling?
Cis-gender Americans, do you squash the laughter when someone points at a transgender person?
U.S. citizens, do you fight to create a welcoming environment for those who are fleeing war and systematic killings on par with the Holocaust?
Christians, do you seek to understand your Muslim brothers and sisters? Or do you paint them all with the same broad brush of suspicion?
Which wounds do we not feel or see yet?
When you can’t see your own wounds, you need to be willing to hear when others tell you that you need help.
Because we need you. We cannot afford to blind ourselves from the truth of what is happening.
Because we are fighting for this future.
We are fighting for this planet because, in the end, this is what we truly leave behind for our children and grandchildren.
We are fighting against insatiable greed for power and the deceit that feeds it.
We are fighting because we see ourselves in those who are fleeing war and displacement and fear.
We are fighting because we understand that it’s not such a crazy reality to imagine that we could be the ones who are fleeing next.
We are fighting for the future.
This world still smells like everything I hate
But I’m learning to love, ’til that’s just not the case
And all my friends, they feel the same way too
We look inside the mirror, and all we see is you.
The water’s still rushing and the blood is still gushing
In this episode, “When It Comes to Politics, Family Matters,” Vedantam discusses linguist George Lakoff’s exploration of family metaphors in American political discussions.
He identifies two major camps in which Americans fall in regard to how they talk about what they want in a political candidate.
Camp A: The Strict Father
“…the job of the father is not just to support and protect the family but also, with respect to children, to teach them right from wrong so they have the right moral views.”
This struck me, especially after seeing this clip from Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, in which correspondents interview Trump supporters about why Trump is so appealing to them.
Pay attention around 4:09.
Trump is going to be daddy. And whether you like it or not, you have to listen to daddy. And if you don’t, you get the belt.
As Lakoff points out in his analysis, families are the first place where we learn about rules and governance. For some people, this strict parenting model is what resonates the most with them because it’s the model that they grew up with. But more important, they believe that it is effective in governance (i.e., raising children). As a result, they’re more likely to seek out models of Strict Parents in presidential candidates.
They’re more likely to take hard stances and showcasing power to other countries as a means of keeping the country safe.
They’re more likely to decry efforts to expand government assistance and entitlements to citizens.
They’re more likely to champion strength, self-reliance, and independence.
They’re more likely to see the world as a big, scary place from which we need the protection of our fathers and their strong guidance so that we can survive in this world.
And then there’s the other side.
Camp B: The Nurturant Parent
“…feel their job is to empathize with their child, to know what their child needs, and to have open two-way discussions with their child.”
Those who find this parenting style more appealing are more likely to seek out presidential candidates who practice humility and find value in dialogue and negotiations with other countries.
They’re more likely to emphasize the importance of government programs that provide financial help to citizens.
They’re more likely to see the world as a place where kindness and goodness can be found everywhere.
They’re more likely to encourage our children to not be scared of difference, but rather seek to understand it.
As Vedantam points out, many of us grew up in families where both of these parenting styles were at play. Sometimes, our parents were the strict authoritarians who told us No means no and Get to bed this instant! At other times, our parents asked us What’s wrong? and asked us how they could help us.
What determines our orientation is how we judge the effectiveness of each model.
If we think that The Strict Parent doesn’t usually have a place in our families, we’re more likely to cling to the Democrat side.
If we think that The Nurturant Parent doesn’t usually have a place in our families, we’re more likely to cling to the Republican Side.
But most of us lie somewhere in the middle.
Most of us see the value in both. Especially if we are parents.
We’ve experienced those moments when our children need strict leadership. But we’ve also found ourselves in moments when our children needed compassion and acceptance.
I love Vedantam’s observation that,
The nation is in the middle of a parenting dispute.
I will add on to Vedantam’s observation and argue that we are so divided and polarized on so many issues because we’ve lost our respect for the opposing parenting style.
We want to pretend that we only need The Strict Parent. That he’s going to be the one to solve all of our problems because he’s strong, knows a lot, and will protect us from all the “bad guys.”
We want to pretend that we only need The Nurturant Parent. That she’s going to be the one listen to what we need, to make sure that no one lacks needed care, and to help us keep the peace around the world.
In this great American parenting dispute, we have name-called each other and pointed fingers and blamed each other. Then, we feel utterly mystified at why the other side can’t see the world in the way that we do. What we don’t understand is that,
The idea that we have alternative worldviews is not part of our discourse.
Vedantam is right.
The truth is much harder. What fuels our inflexible certainty isn’t stupidity or callousness: It’s love.
That is where I find my comfort in this bizarre, soul-crushing election season.
That even though I so passionately disagree with supporters of the other side, I find comfort in the fact that their intentions and decision-making are driven–just like me–by love.
Love: Because we all want what is best for our country.
We just disagree about “best” means.
And that’s okay.
If we love our country and truly want what’s best for it, then I think we might get through this.
But… is that true this year?
Are Trump supporters simply seeking out a candidate who is a Strict Parent?
Or is there another stronger force at work?
I think that’s it.
That’s what is so difficult about this election.
Usually, I disagree passionately with the other side’s policies about what is best for our country. I’ve felt that the political discourse was becoming increasingly divisive and polarized. I’ve felt that we were starting to demonize each other and create assumptions about each other’s intentions.
But not until this year did I feel like the political discourse was full of hatred.
During previous elections, I could see the opposing side’s good intentions because the debates focused on the issues instead of personal attacks. Although plenty of personal attacks were made on the sidelines, the official political debates stayed civil. I could force myself to open up and see that even if we disagreed about how to help our country, both candidates showed their sincere desire to improve the country.
But this year, Trump has told us that…
Mexicans are rapists and drug smugglers.
Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen.
Muslims should be banned from entering the United States.
We shouldn’t accept Syrian women and children refugees. Because they could be terrorists.
Prisoners of war aren’t good soldiers.
Veterans who suffer from PTSD aren’t strong.
A good tactic to fight ISIS is to “bomb the shit out of them.”
It’s normal for men to talk about grabbing women’s genitals without consent.
Political opponents should be jailed after elections. (Can I just say, this is truly, truly shocking and one of the most anti-American statements yet.)
The 19th amendment should be repealed so women can’t vote (This one is courtesy of Trump supporters).
And this is just a sampling.
Typically, election years are full of hyperbole, generalization, and oversimplification. We’re used to those.
But this year, Donald Trump surrounds us with racism. Sexism. Xenophobia.