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Emma’s Birth: Taking My Cues from the Ethiopians

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Emma’s Birth 1

My next door neighbors at Tabor Absorption Center, Israel, 1994. The grandma, of blessed memory, used to cover one nostril and blow her nose directly onto the linoleum floor with astounding nonchalance. Of perhaps greater relevance, the mom (seated) permanently changed my view of childbirth.

When it came time to deliver, my Ethiopian neighbors used to squat, yelp, yelp some more, and pop out those little babies. Then and only then would they call for an ambulance. At least, that’s what Benny the security guard told me, and he should know. He witnessed it five times.

Eight years later, the scenery had changed. Benny the security guard was now my husband and the view out our window was no longer the hills of Upper Nazareth but the sloped embankment of some not-so-scenic El tracks in southeast Evanston.

It was our turn now. Benny and I were ready to procreate. At least, we’d successfully deceived ourselves into thinking we were ready. And we remembered our former neighbors.

If Ethiopian women could squat, yelp and deliver -- why should I subject myself to the Western world of obstetrics-gynecology, in all its induced, episiotomied, caesarian section glory? Hadn’t I successfully turned a roundoff, back handspring, back flip the summer before fifth grade?  Hadn’t I, at age 28, ridden my bike 500 miles in five days with only modest butt-chafing? Hadn’t I mastered Pilates teasers and other abdominal torture? My body was made for this.

That’s what I told myself.  But the truth is, part of me longed for a nice silent, sterile C-section.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but skinny girls hate their bodies, too. You know those kids in the gym locker room who changed their clothes without giving anyone a glimpse of their underwear? That was me. I won the Silent Camper award at overnight camp (where, it goes without saying, I showered during off-hours). I wore XL shirts on my 120 lb. frame from age 12 to 21, simply as a distraction. (No, I didn’t think I was fat – just ugly.) I walked around my entire junior year with my right hand plastered to the side of my face in an attempt to hide three small moles (as if, that didn’t draw attention). I even sneezed silently.

So the thought of making loud, guttural noises up and down a maternity ward – with my ass hanging out – held no appeal.

Here’s how I got over it.

Not one for secrets, surprises, or superstition, I told pretty much everyone I was pregnant within days of conception and then got busy preparing myself. The first person I told, on the train approximately 46 minutes after watching that little blue line appear on the pregnancy test, gave me the name of his midwife.

Debi Lesnick, CNM. To Debi, I was never merely a uterus, an inconvenience, or an imminent complication. I was a person – a wise, strong, capable person on an extraordinary journey – and I felt cared for. So much so that I kept her business card in my wallet and bedside drawer for the next five years.

Debi told us about a class in Andersonville taught by Mary Sommers. For six consecutive weeks, Benny (the security guard turned husband turned doula) and I learned the ins and outs of natural childbirth. He learned how to apply counter pressure, both on my back during a contraction and to any doctor pushing pitocin. You need to know enough to know what’s right for you at any given moment. 

So I had my team – Debi, Mary, Benny. And I had my inspiration – the Ethiopian women of Tabor Absorption Center.

But sisters, I’m not going to lie to you. Squat, yelp and deliver, my ass. My former neighbors were clearly not having their first babies, sunny-side up, weighing in at 8.3 lbs. It hurt like bloody hell.

After 13 hours of back labor, uninhibited nudity and bodily fluids (because really – who gives a fuck when it comes down to it), one bite of purple popsicle in the labor tub, 90 minutes of pushing, and plenty – believe me, plenty – of loud guttural noises, Emma Sigal was born with her hand plastered to the side of her face. And Benny, the proud abba, cut the cord.

While I took pride in my Pilates teasers, flips, and marathon bike rides, nothing compared to childbirth. I had grown a person from scratch.

Emma is now six; her sister just turned five. And with two little girls watching, I try to send the right messages about beauty, about bodies, about strength. It’s hard to begrudge your barely B cups after they’ve nourished two kids to toddlerhood. What’s a few stretch marks, when you know why you stretched? Diapers trump vanity, contractions give you strength.

Not that I’d deny that at 2:41 this morning, my daughter woke me up to cover her and on my way back to bed, I ducked into the bathroom to get rid of a few pesky chin hairs.

The sad thing is, Emma – at just six – already engages in a daily battle to straighten her bouncy curls. Some days, she complains about her unibrow and moles and rounded belly. They’re beauty marks, I tell her. Your body is just right, I tell her. Look how fast you run.

Emma's Birth 2

Dana and Emma, making noise.

Three days after Emma was born, I wrote a poem in my journal. We’ll call it hormone-induced, if you don’t mind.

I found my voice.
I found my heart.
I found my strength.
When I had you.

Someday I’ll tell her about the Ethiopians. And electrolysis.

8 Questions for Jennifer Rottner, Blago survivor, coffee lover and daddy’s girl

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Jennifer Rottner

20 something Rogers Park resident Jennifer Rottner contacted Oy!Chicago about a month ago to suggest we profile her father, Deputy Chief Chicago Police Officer Bruce Rottner, for A JYSK. We think he’s a really cool dad and you’ll be reading more about him in the coming weeks. (Jennifer will be writing a tribute to him for our Father’s Day issue.) But we quickly realized that the real Jew You Should Know is Jennifer!

Jennifer is the scheduling & advance coordinator for the Governor of Illinois, which means she’s responsible for planning the logistics behind all of his public events. Jennifer has been at the job for three years, and if you’re familiar with the goings-on of the governor’s office, and haven’t been living under a rock, you’d know that means she worked for former Governor turned indicted politician and reality show wannabe Rod Blagojevich. Jennifer survived the transition and now happily works for Governor Quinn.

Jennifer describes herself as a gym obsessed foodie who enjoys staying home “watching murder-mystery documentaries on MSNBC or TruTV” just as much as she enjoys girls’ night out. She sports several kabbalah related tattoos and has a penchant for target practice. So if you’re super close to your family, always carry two blackberries and consider yourself a “rebel Jew,” then Jennifer Rottner is a Jew you should know!

1. What is your favorite blog or website?
I read CNN.com religiously every morning, followed by Dlisted.com (my all-time favorite celeb blog). I am just as interested in President Obama’s nomination for the Supreme Court as I am about which pop star was arrested in the last 24 hours. I like to think it keeps me balanced.

2. If time and money were limitless, where would you travel?
Everywhere! I love to travel and although I’ve been to a handful of amazing places, I am far from being “well traveled”. I’ve never been to Europe or South America, so those are a top priority. I’d also love to spend some time in South Africa and Australia.

3. If a movie was made about your life, who would play you?
Although I’m clearly not blonde, I’d say Kate Hudson. She is funny, quirky, and witty and a few of my friends say we have similar mannerisms and even look alike at times. I think she’s beautiful, so if they say so, I may as well agree!

4. If you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, famous or not, who would they be? Where would you eat or what would you serve?
First, I’d say John F. Kennedy. I am oddly fascinated by the Kennedy family, especially the assassination of JFK (and the conspiracy behind it…I have my own theory). Then I’d say my grandmother, because she was my best friend and one of the most kind-hearted, warm, intelligent and loving people I have ever known. Ideally, I’d like to go to Rockit, because I could eat their turkey burger and truffle fries on a daily basis…but my grandmother would probably insist on cooking, so I’d say we’d eat potato pancakes and chocolate bundt cake at her house!

5. What’s your idea of the perfect day?
It would be 78 degrees, sunny and no humidity. I’d wake up around 9am, head to the gym for an hour and then get the biggest cup of coffee Intellegentsia has to offer. I’d spend the day doing all the things I can never get done during the week (maybe throw in a mani/pedi for good measure). Then I’d meet my girls for a drink, before meeting my boyfriend at Table 52 for macaroni and cheese and Hummingbird Cake.

6. What do you love about what you do?
I love that my job has allowed me to meet and interact with some truly incredible people. I met Sgt. Daniel Casara two years ago at an event with the Governor, a solider who served in Iraq and was critically injured after his armored carrier rolled over an IED. He now dedicates himself to helping other veterans coming back from the war recover and get back to their everyday lives. I met Donna Marquez about a month ago at another event the Governor attended. Her brother Donald, a Chicago Police Officer, was killed in the line of duty in 2002. As a result, her family helped to open the Donald J. Marquez C School in his memory, which not only offers law enforcement classes but was also honored with one of 31 Gold LEED certifications in the country.

Those are just a few of the people I’ve encountered doing this job and there are so many others who have touched me and stay with me everyday…making me feel very fortunate to do the work that I do.

7. What job would you have had if not the one you have now?
I would have loved to do something in fashion. Working as a stylist or as a fashion editor for a magazine, I just love everything about the industry. This could explain my slight shopping addiction…

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago?
I’d say the Lox & Bagel Shoot. My father is very involved in the Shomrim Society (fraternal organization of Jewish Law Enforcement Officers in Chicago). Every April, they host an event called the Lox & Bagel Shoot at the Chicago Police Academy, which is a brunch, followed by a shooting competition. I don’t think anything is more Jewish or Chicago than eating lox and bagels at the Chicago Police Academy while testing out your skills at the range!

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