In a comment to Wood's post below, SF blogger Llamaschool expressed an interest in a washer and dryer that plugs into a wall outlet and uses the sink as its water source. Llamaschool clearly hasn't seen our appliances. I would gladly walk down a dozen flights of stairs to reach a real washer/dryer.

When we learned Wood was pregnant, she gave me an order: "no more laundromats. Get me a washer/dryer or find me a new apartment." I pleaded with the landlord to put a proper voltage hookup in the garage and offered to leave the appliances behind after we moved out, but he refused. He suggested an in-apartment sink hookup model.

I didn't choose "Dutch" as my nom de blog because of some affinity for Ronald fucking Reagan. I am ethnically half Dutch and therefore genetically a cheap bastard. In the world of ethnic stereotypes, the Dutch make the Jews look like profligate spendthrift Irishmen. I come from a long line of intolerant tightwads. The Dutch Calvinists who settled the part of Michigan I'm from left the Netherlands because the government was granting rights to Jews and Catholics and their church had grown too liberal. They are perhaps the only immigrant community in North America who left their native land because the government there had grown too tolerant for them. And man, are they cheap.

So instead of doing the right thing, I did the Dutch thing. Instead of going to Sears or Home Depot or something, I scoured craigslist for weeks looking for a used apartment-sized washer/dyer combo for $200 or less. After several weeks of looking, I found one. We had to drive out past the foggy curtain of the outer sunset on a cold night, and when we got there, what did we find? Two sweaty Greek teenagers, one of whom talked like a used car salesman while the other made erotic hand gestures towards a washing machine like one of Barker's beauties on the Price Is Right. The salesman gave me this long-winded story about how they bought the appliances brand new and used them for a couple years but now their mother lives with them and they need bigger ones (as if to pepper the tale with evidence, a sharp mannish-voice barked something at them in Greek from upstairs). We fell for it hook-line-and-sinker, baby, wrote a check and lugged them out to my car.

I should have known it was a scam. Even though it was a Sunday night, somehow my check had already cleared the next morning. Plus, while I technically only know Ancient Greek, I swear at one point the Greeks smiled at each other, nodded towards us and mouthed the word for "suckers." Apparently, these two Greeks have quite a scam going. They pick up ancient, broke-down appliances from the sidewalks and "repair" them. The second time we washed a load, one of the agitator belts snapped. That sounds like a very knowledgeable conclusion, but at the time I was fucking clueless about how a washing machine worked. When I unscrewed the metal back from the machine, I wouldn't have been surprised if there was a little gnome on a stationary bike back there. I was that clueless. So with my traditional DIY spirit (read: cheapness), I set off on an internet journey to learn washing machine repair, or should I say, belt replacement. It was curious, because I didn't need to "replace" a belt at all. The agitators weren't connected with a solid rubber belt like they should have been. The Greeks had "repaired" the machine by using a scrunchy. Yes, they stretched a scrunchy between the knobs on the backs of the agitators and sealed the back of the machine up before they sold it to us. It took six trips to the hardware store, but eventually I was able to find a real belt. It worked fine.

A few weeks later, the dryer stopped working. Another belt problem? You betcha! When I removed the back of the dryer, I learned they had replaced the broken belt that went around the tumbler with a fucking shoelace. Six more trips back and forth to the hardware store, and I was able to repair the dryer. It still works.

Let me put this in perspective. At my job, they somehow charge the clients $285 an hour for what I do. I spent at least eight hours trying to figure out how to fix those damn machines. That's $2280 of my time. It's an interesting thing about the Dutch. We have no concept of the term "opportunity costs." A Dutchman will never do "Wash'n'fold." This is also beyond his comprehension.

During the course of my internet research, I learned that our machine models were last manufactured in 1973. That means they were at least four years older than I am. The interesting thing about these machines is that the wash and spin cycles are performed in different compartments, meaning you have to take your load out of the washing compartment, put it in the spinner, drain the washing compartment, fill it with rinse water, run a rinse cycle, then put the load in the spinner again to spin. It is a very wet process. And I just did seven loads. That's seven wash cycles, seven rinse cycles, and fourteen spin cycles. This is some Laura Ingalls Wilder shit.

And during the last few spin cycles, I could tell that the spinner motor is on its last leg. I am not fucking with that shit.

I can't wait for the day when we buy a nice house that has room and hookups for a nice new set of appliances, and I can post an ad on craigslist: "Almost new washer/dryer combo, great for small apartments." $175.

A dutchman understands depreciation value.

The best doula ever!

Posted by Wood | Wednesday, July 27, 2005 | , ,

Dutch didn't really make it clear that we were FIRED by our doula. I mean, pretty much. Here's what happened:

Like Dutch said, I met with the doula first. From the beginning he wasn't really into it, but hey, I was the one with a baby in my belly that had to come out somehow, and that meant that I got to call the shots.

I talked to the doula on the phone a couple of times, and then I had her come over one night when Dutch was conveniently working late. And she was great. Really, really great. We had an awesome conversation and she listened to me talk about my pregnancy in the way that I wanted my OB to listen, but had yet to realize just does not happen with OBs (yes, I should have hired a midwife. next time). She asked questions, she offered advice, and she gave me book suggestions. And, to this day, despite the falling out that was to come, I still owe her big time for the book suggestions. She nudged me towards Ina May Gaskin, and for that alone, she rocks.

She showed me her bag of tricks. Her adorable hipster-thrift-store-purchased bag of tricks (oh how I coveted that slightly faded, just garish enough print, and those well-worn leathery handles). Her bag of tricks did include aromatherapy and tennis ball socks, and I was SO INTO IT. Right on, sister, I thought. I sniffed her little bottles, I felt her home-made massage tools, I examined her sticks of honey, and I nodded my head and made approving noises. I concluded that she was exactly what I needed and I told her so. I also warned her that Dutch wasn't completely on board yet, but that I was working on it, and that he just needed time. She understood, she told me to call her.

About a month later my belly had finally grown big enough that Dutch was forced to recognize that I was the shot-caller, and he started to tow the party line on the doula. He said he understood, he said he wanted to be supportive, and he was ready to meet with her. He said he was still afraid that I was trying to replace him, and I assured him that he was ridiculous but encouraged him to talk with her about his feelings. He said he would. And even though Dutch can be a pretty standoff-ish guy, he was pretty cool about the doula at this point. More than cool -- he was open. And as you might have guessed, openness is a rare state for Dutch.

The doula came over, and it was like Dutch said it was. AWKWARD. It was horrible -- an unbelievable, staggering sort of awkward, where you assume that the next thing out of your mouth will finally break the ice, but it never does, and it just gets worse. I was waiting for the doula to sort of take over; I mean, this is what she does, she works with couples, so I guess I expected her to have questions or thoughts or at least lead the discussion. But she stonewalled, and instead we had strange conversations where she was sort of suggesting that we start all over (leave my OB, get a midwife; leave the hospital, go to the birthing center) and we were like, Hell-ooooo? This baby is due in 2 months, and if we got a midwife and went to a birthing center, why would we need you?

But the worst was when Dutch said: "I mean, I just don't think a birth center in the mission is for us." And while he was just being honest, the way he said "mission" conveyed some of the disdain he holds for the mission that he explained in his post. And the doula just sat there in silence and made no response. I don't know if she picked up on his anti-mission-ness and was personally insulted, or if she was just annoyed that we didn't want to do what she thought we should, but either way, I could tell she just wasn't that into us.

She called the next day to break it off. She asked me if I wanted her to suggest another doula, but I told her it was okay. We only had two months to go, so I gave up on my dream of having a doula.

And, having elbowed the doula out of the way, Dutch stepped up to the task and read "The Birth Partner" cover to cover. He prepared his own bag of tricks (including some aromatherapy and tennis balls), and he repeatedly told everyone how he was going to be the best doula ever. Once I tried to explain to him that he was the father and that was way better, but then I gave up because it was just so damn cute to hear him say it.

So the Bug's due date came, my contractions started, and we were all ready. Dutch was an amazing partner -- far better than I would have ever thought my husband, the guy who comforted me during my morning sickness by reminding me that I was the one who wanted to be pregnant, could be. It was because of him that I finally took off the stupid oxygen mask and moved around the room even though I didn't think I could do it. It was because he kept telling me how "fucking tough" I was that I didn't cave in the 17th time the nurse asked me if I was sure that I didn't want an epidural? how about narcotics? a little morphine? And it was because of him that the whole thing went so damn smoothly -- without a hitch, stitch, or regret. I wouldn't have changed a thing. I did have the best doula ever.

a post against slavery

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, July 27, 2005 | ,

I thought I would never have to see the doula again.

I have been boycotting the San Francisco neighborhood known as "the mission" for almost a year now, vowing never to venture south of 14th street and east of Noe. The Mission is the gentrified hipster neighborhood full of artist chicks with carrie-donovan glasses and yoga mats, panhandling Mexican troubadours, and "dive bars" crammed with Judds on the prowl every Friday and Saturday night. The Mission is the juddliest neighborhood because, just as most San Franciscans can't fathom living anywhere else in the country, most Mission-dwellers cannot imagine living anywhere else in the city. It's just like the Marina in that way. Instead of Marina chicks you have Judds and artists. I haven't made up my mind about which is worse.

The woman who was our doula for a few weeks lives there, so I figured I would never have to see her. I was wrong.

Let me back up. Back before Juniper was born, Wood was sure she wanted a doula to assist during the birth. All the books said doulas were such a great help. I think she just like the sound of the word. Doula. Doula. Sounds so peaceful, right? Helpful. Knowledgeable. A little hippie-dippy maybe. Knowing my predilection for all things ancient and Greek, Wood told me that it was an ancient Greek word for "female assistant." I was like, no, sorry, it means slave. Doula is the ancient Greek word for slave.

So Wood really wanted one of these slaves. I didn't. I pictured the doula as an annoyance, an interloper, wafting aromatherapy bottles in Wood's face and talking about chakras and chanting over the placenta. The birth slaves in the videos we watched in our birthing classes certainly did not shake this idea from my head. They were all fifty-year old lesbians with gray marine-corps hair and wood-beaded necklaces and flowery muumuus. One of them was wearing one of those little stiff caps with an African print on it. I looked at my wife as if she was nuts. "You want one of those in the birthing room with us?" Sure, if we were Ina May Gaskin types having Tantric sex and reading books by Deepak Chopra and listening to "world music" I could picture inviting someone like that into our home for a home birth in the sacred porcelain claw-foot bathtub, and I wouldn't have blinked when she showed up on our doorstep with a boombox blasting Enya and a selection of vegan snacks. But that's not who we are. It's chicks like that that drove us away from the Rainbow Grocery co-op forever by rudely elbowing us to get at the last carob-coconut squares. Having already been driven away from Whole Foods by the Judds and yuppies, where could we shop? What choice was there for two reasonable people who wanted to have a natural hospital birth? Wood was convinced she had to have a slave in the hospital room to hold back the anesthesiologists and clogged-foot nurses clutching hypodermics and IV bags and stop her OB from slicing into her and pulling the baby out so she could make a dinner appointment on time. At first I indulged her.

Wood smartly kept me out of the process of interviewing slaves. I didn't want to have anything to do with them, and I let her know I wasn't happy about it. I wasn't just my new-agey hippie prejudice that made me feel this way, it was my honest feeling that we didn't need a stranger in the room with us. That this was something we could do, just the two of us. I told Wood there wasn't anything a doula could do that I couldn't do. I bought and read "The Birth Partner" and declared myself the doula. Still, Wood searched on.

Wood conspired with the doula for several weeks over the telephone before I was allowed to meet her. "I really, really like her," Wood said. They had met for coffee. She had shown Wood her bag of tricks, full of patchouli-smelling gewgaws and oils. Wood said she was going to hire her. I braced myself for the inevitable. We were hiring a slave. Wood nervously scheduled a time for the doula to meet me. I came home from work that day wearing a suit, and slumped into a chair across our living room from her after weakly shaking her hand.

She was cute. Young, at least. A hipster. No muumuu. No wood-beaded necklace. No African print stiff cap. Maybe this won't be that bad, I thought. I looked at her business card M____ C_______, "mother, doula, knitter, artist," it said. Oh crap.

It was the most awkward conversation ever. As Wood and I tried to articulate what we wanted from the birth experience, she just sat there, nodding. But nothing we said seemed to be having an impact. "You should try to change from the hospital to the Sage Femme Birth Center in the mission," she said. "It's run by midwives. It's much more supportive." I tried to tell her my insurance might not cover that, and she said many insurance plans cover it. We told her we wanted to have the birth in the safety of a hospital, and she told us that Sage Femme has a relationship with San Francisco General in case of an emergency. San Francisco General? That's where junkies go to die! Does she consider that a selling point? I'm sure Sage Femme is a great place to squeeze out a kid but at the time Wood and I weren't ready for that. We were nervous first-time parents. Maybe next time, we said. She looked peeved. I realized she was judging us. Worse, she was condemning our choices. Fucking Mission hipster. The conversation only got worse. I was trying to be honest, and it was my understanding that a doula's first responsibility was to be understanding and tolerant of the choices of the family she would be working with. Not this one. Her $700 fee did not include tolerance or understanding, but damn did she have some aromatherapy bottles and a tennis ball in a sock that felt great when rubbed across a pregnant woman's spine! Well, I already had a sock and I could find a tennis ball in the bushes outside the courts in Golden Gate park.

What good is a slave if she doesn't listen to you?

Wood was uneasy about the meeting. She didn't like the way it had gone down. She didn't like how judgmental and awkward the doula had been. The next day, the doula called her. "I really don't think I should work with you and your husband," she said. What a relief.

If there is a fundamental difference between Wood and I, it is tolerance. Wood is open to things, like astrology, that I have no patience for. I got kicked out of the psychic fair that they have in the county fair building in golden gate park once for making nasty faces at the tarot card readers while Wood and the Leggy Swede had their auras cleansed. I hate that fakey new-agey spiritualist tripe. I mean, I despise it equally with all those other wacky religions out there (you know: Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Judaism, Scientology). I think the doula knew I would call her out on all her bullshit and like any snake-oil salesman, she turned tail and ran once suspicion was aroused. Wood knew it was all bullshit too, but Wood is a much better person than I am. She is far more tolerant of bullshit, even entertained by it. But Wood was also scared. She wanted a voice in the room that had gone through birth before. She wanted somebody in the room who could be strong, and she didn't know yet if she could trust me to be that person. The 20th century has been such a dark age of obstetric philosophy. I wholeheartedly believe that Ina May Gaskin and others in the midwifery/natural childbirth movement have the right idea, 100 percent. But I am troubled at the overall stranglehold these new-agey archfeminist muumuu types have over the movement. I think all the Enya and aromatherapy and meditation are a barrier to changing birthing policy across the social spectrum. If this shit is continued to be viewed as "wacky" or "weird" it is going to be much harder to convince the medical establishment to change, let alone convince your average Southern Belle scheduling her epidural. So peace to all midwifes and doulas who handle their shit with the professionalism their job deserves. Safe, natural birth shouldn't just be the province of nutbuckets.

Wood and I were alone for 95 percent of the birthing process. We left home for the hospital almost eight hours after the contractions started. My hands never left her. I helped her fight the urge to succumb to a nurse's offer of narcotics. She didn't have an epidural. She didn't use any pain relieving drugs. It was painful as hell for her. Juniper came out in two pushes. I did my best to fill the role she saw a doula filling, but even more I filled the role I myself wanted to fill. I was her birth partner. We had relied on each other for nine years at that point, and I was not going to let her down. I was going to do everything that she needed from me, and more. I do not think I could have been that person if a doula had been in the room, acting assured and relevant, pushing me to the sidelines, a stranger there in our way during the most poignant moment of our lives.

So when I saw the doula the other day, eating in a cafe outside her blessed Mission District with her kids and husband, I looked at her and kissed Juniper's head and thought: "We didn't need you after all."