FIND YOUR CENTER

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I’m sitting in a circle with my husband and six other couples, in a softly lit room with hummus and lentil chips perched invitingly in the corner. At the head of the circle sits our leader, an earthy woman in jeans and two loose pigtails rolled into buns. We’re going around the circle introducing ourselves, sharing how far along we are and at least one interesting fact about ourselves.

“This is our first child,” says one of the expectant mothers. “And we’re having a boy!”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,”  says our leader. “So you’ve already done your anatomy check with the ultrasound, then?”

“Well, no,” says the husband, he and his wife exchanging a knowing glance, “but we met his soul already. It was in a tantric spiritual ceremony.”

Welcome to my birthing class.

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Ever since before Ross and I got pregnant, we knew it was going to be either birthing center or home birth. In this way, we are card-carrying Austinites: one screening of The Business of Being Born, and boom, done – no hospital for us. Not that Hollywood depictions of birth in the hospital looked all that appealing anyway, but The Business of Being Born viewers are a self-selecting group, so in many ways it preaches to the choir. I am a member of that choir, as well as – when it comes to the pain associated with all-natural, drug-free birth – hugely naive.

But am I hardcore enough to birth at home? Nope. I liked the idea of being whisked away to another location, where a whole staff was on-hand to take care of me. Plus, I am easily seduced by interiors, and between our house and the birthing center, the birthing center — with its chiffon curtains, satin throw pillows and general atmosphere of Enya — totally wins.

“It is like a spa,” says Fabiana, a Brazilian beauty friend of mine who also gave birth there. “Bed, shower, huge whirlpool. I am almost positive -” she leaned in with a conspiratorial whisper – “they keep champagne in the refrigerator.”

Which sounded like my kind of place. After my first visit, I broke up with my old obstetrician with all the sensitivity of a cheerleader dumping her original prom date for the quarterback, and threw myself at the birthing center’s mercy.

“Records release form? No problem!” I sang to the birthing center receptionist. “Where do I sign? Can you get me in for a visit next week? Does that mean you have room for me to give birth here in May? Yes? You need a deposit? How much? Here’s a check!”

It was all very whirlwind, but fortunately, I think this is going to be a good fit. This was all the more affirmed at our first birthing class last week, which at the birthing center is called “centering class.” It’s where you meet other couples giving birth around the same time as you, and talk about things with the midwives like nutrition, financial planning, etc. But this is not just any centering class – this is a centering class in Austin, as the following conversation attests.

“Does anyone have any recommendations for allergies?” one of the expectant mothers, a bubbly engineer in glasses and a bob, piped up.

“You could try honey? From local bees?” suggested one of the husbands.

“There’s a natural serum at People’s Pharmacy that is soooo helpful,” added a mom, seated in lotus.

“Often, allergies are a reaction to a larger toxic issue in your body,” someone said. We all nodded in solemn agreement.

What was not suggested, however, was Zyrtec. Not once did anyone say, “just get yourself a steroid shot, yo.” Ross leaned down and whispered, “heh — only in Austin would the very first recommendation be the local honey thing,” then immediately raised his head back up to share a special gut-healing dietary method with the group.

I looked around at all the local honey acolytes and beamed. Hello, my people.

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Next time in centering class, I’m going to ask about the phenomenon of “baby brain,” which at first I regarded as an infantilizing insult, and am now convinced is scientific fact. Science is also convinced it’s scientific fact. It’s been coming up lately because my own brain is basically divided into two creative halves, the movement part and the writing part, and as aerial gets f-g impossible slightly challenging, writing has taken over. I’ve been pitching story ideas right and left, wrote a cover story here, am starting a podcast here – but not without herculean effort. It’s like the words aren’t blocked, exactly, but chugging along like a wheezing, beat-up Pinto. Rather than fingers flying lithely across the keyboard, it’s more like fists clubbing the keyboard, me banging away at various keys until logical sentences start to appear.

But the one arena in which I don’t feel like Lennie and the rabbits? The kitchen.

Everybody is shocked: my husband, my friends, even myself. Once a champion of reheated veggie burgers rolled into a tortilla (“it’s a tofu taco, you guys”), I now research actual recipes online, and buy things like lamb and cooking sherry. At times, my efforts are punctuated by brief moments of panic, as the Pregnancy Industrial Complex would like to convince you that even common household comestibles are fraught with peril. “Sure, go ahead and enjoy that coffee!” they seem to say, “IF YOU WANT A HORRIBLE AND TRAGIC MISCARRIAGE.”

The funny thing is though, right from the very beginning, I’ve always had this fundamental belief that our girl was going to be alright. Which didn’t stop me from crying at the anatomy ultrasound, when we checked for all her fingers and toes and happily discovered that all parts were in working order. But way before the kicks, which happen all day long now, I sensed she was going to be a badass. A tougher cookie than I ever was.

We meet her in May.