Juniper's Birth Story, Part 2

Posted by jdg | Sunday, January 29, 2006 | ,

[For those just tuning in, today was Juniper's first birthday, and instead of telling you about the bloody mary/mimosa brunch party we threw today (i.e. "drinking in front of children" or "Juniper's birthday bash: from noon till naptime, bitches!") we decided to tell Juniper's birth story. This is the second part.]

Click here for part 1 of the Birth Story

[Part 2]

Wood: Where we last left off, Dutch had just gotten me out of bed and and onto the yoga ball for about twenty minutes before my obstetrician arrived for the first time in person. With the OB in the room, Dutch went off to get something to eat. At that point, the nurses had been telling me that I was hardly dilated at all and our spirits were pretty low.

When my OB next checked the dilation while Dutch was gone, I was suddenly up to 5 cm. This was huge progress---just an hour earlier I'd been lingering around a pathetic 1 cm. And, god bless him, Dutch gets complete credit for that---for getting my ass out of the bed, unplugging me from the monitors, and sitting me on that heavenly yoga ball. Moving around aroused me from a state of semi-consciousness and allowed me to take control of my labor the way that I'd read about all those hippies doing. The pain was intense, but I felt more in control and more aware and more physically and psychologically engaged in what was going on.

Right around this time the doctor started the pitocin drip. By the time it started working I probably didn't need it anymore, and I'm pretty sure it just put the whole thing into highspeed overdrive. Dutch came back into the room and could immediately sense that things were different, set in final motion. The OB measured me again right then. "7 centimeters!" Dutch shouted and massaged my shoulders. "Woo-hoo!" The pain had intensified, but the huge visual jump in the contractions on the seismograph almost made up for it. Finally we were seeing progress on the machine. After so many hours of painful contractions that were just below the threshold of what was needed to make anything happen down in my cervix, the contractions spiked into a new section of the chart. It was such a relief to hear Dutch say, "Wow, that was a big one," and to think, goddamn right it was a big one. It was fucking huge. The pain was so intense and the contractions so close together that Dutch never got to eat his sandwich, which he tossed aside with his unused bag of doula tricks. I sat on the edge of the bed and he stood or kneeled facing me. I needed him within inches for the next hour or so.

Soon the OB measured me again and I was at 8 cm. She seemed astonished and said, "You really are gonna do this without drugs!" 6 months earlier when we'd discussed my birth plan and I'd told her that I wanted to avoid an epidural if possible, she'd responded that nearly all of her patients said that, but over 80% chose epidurals once in labor. And I'd appreciated her frankness because I was aware that it was very likely that I'd do the same. Hearing her tell me that I was going to make it without the drugs was incredibly empowering. Dutch had been telling me all day how tough I was, and it did help, especially the way he put it (Goddamn woman you are so fucking tough; Jesus you are one badass pregnant motherfucker; Christ woman you've got balls of steel you are so fucking tough) but for some reason getting the same kind of encouragement from my obstetrician---a woman who realistically didn't expect me to be as tough as I'd wanted to be--helped me unearth whatever reserve of strength I had left.

Pretty soon I had the unavoidable urge to push. I was under strict orders not to push until given the go ahead, but the urge was so strong that I couldn't help it. I even pushed so hard that I involuntarily peed all over the table, drenching the towels underneath me for the second time that day. Dutch called the nurses to tell them that I was pushing, and after my OB checked my dilation one last time, I was given clearance to go for it.

Dutch: Everything in the room was chaos except for Wood, who somehow in the middle of it all had a steady, calm determination and she alone seemed to know what was right. The OB was barking orders at the nurse to get that vacuum suction thing out of the wall and the nurse was yelling back that she didn't have one of the pieces that was necessary and the OB said, "Well, we're going to have to do it without it then." The OB was scrambling to get her scrubs and her gloves and her mask on, and two other nurses appeared out of nowhere with all kinds of medical gewgaws they were readying after snapping their gloves on. The OB said, "we're not ready but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go ahead. If you're ready we'll just have to be ready."

Until that day my only experience with labor was what I had seen on television, mostly sit-coms. Sure I'd heard the woman scream in pain while her husband, doctor, or Ross yelled at her to push, but as a day of real labor---my wife's labor---stretched on what shocked me most was how much stamina and endurance it demands. On television the pain seemed acute, the laboring mother rolling in her hospital bed with something like indigestion waiting until the time comes to push, and on television that's where it looks like the real pain starts sharp and violent. I had read enough to know that the pain is chronic, and that it is strong through the entire labor. But I didn't realize how strong until I saw my wife's face in every contraction, even at the very beginning, or when the psychological toll was even worse: when she was told after her intake that despite nine hours of pain no actual progress had been made. I knew this woman; in nine years I had seen her in every type of pain. And I had never seen her like this.

I suppose that chronic, stretched-out pain would make abysmal television. So it's probably better that I didn't tape every contraction or stick the camera in Wood's face while she vomited. I would have liked a photo, though, for posterity, a photo of those hours that preceded the pushing. From far away maybe, a little blurry, my face up against hers and my arms holding her how she asked me to. See, I don't know how it looked, I just remember how it felt, imbued with this awesome responsibility, alone in that room with her, so in love with her, swearing and cursing because it was just the two of us and it didn't matter what anybody heard. The pushing, though, I understand why that makes good television, although even that is sanitized behind virgin-white sheets held aloft to hide the genitals of actresses wearing two-hours' worth of professional makeup and hair. When it came time to push, Wood laid back on the bed and gripped the rails and she was lost to me. You could tell she was in some other place, somewhere distant and dark and we were just disembodied voices hovering around her body. She just waited for us to tell her to push, and she did, she pushed with everything she had and she looked almost ecstatic with the pushing. She could not get enough of it. My wife is not one to take things passively if she can help it. This was finally doing something. This was getting something done.

She pushed through one contraction, which receded, and the doctor asked me if I wanted to look: the head was partly out. Ribbons of blood had jettisoned from my wife's vagina. Streaks of it stained the OB's arms and the sheets and beads of blood sat quivering on the chrome of the stirrups. My baby's head was halfway out of the bulging inner labia and my baby's hair was matted and black and there was so much of it.

"She's got black hair!" I shouted excitedly up at Wood, who grunted with exhaustion. "I can see her hair," I repeated. "She has so much, and it's black!"

"Do you want to touch the head?" the OB asked me, and with that permission I reached out for it, running my fingers along the pulsating piece of foreign flesh stuck inside my wife.

It felt like a rotted apple, the soft pulpy kind you come across in the moist earth of an orchard in September, under trees pregnant with fruit in those days before the cold air will turn them naked and frightened. I was concerned that my fingers would leave their mark in the bloody scalp and that unhinged pangeic skull, and I drew them back, and shortly after that the next contraction started. Everyone shouted for Wood to push, and she did, her body stiffening and the latex gloves were cupped right there under her cascading gore, ready to catch the upset little creature trapped between two worlds, shoved out by fate from everything it had known till then, that amphibian world inside Wood. Her face, my first glimpse of her, twisted around by the latex hands to fit the shoulders through, and then the whole body came, as if freed from its ballasts it slid out spotted with meconium and blood, followed by the blue tether of her umbilical cord. And then she was held in the two upraised palms of the doctor's hands.

They took her to the side to make her breathe. I stood there and I didn't know what to do. In front of me lay my bloodied wife, wounded and exhilarated, abandoned by the OB who clamped and cut Juniper's cord at midway and then turned to Wood to work on passing the placenta. They hustled Juniper away to suck the meconium from her lungs. The blood on my own hands was already drying. And then the nurses were calling me to cut the cord closer to the belly. I looked at Wood after all those hours at her side and asked her permission to leave her, to go to where our child lay naked and screaming.

"Can I go to her?" I asked. "Of course," she said. "Go."

Wood: I don't remember much of that. I remember pushing. I remember the thrill of finally being able to do something productive. I remember Dutch touching our baby's head and looking excited and scared. I remember that my OB asked me if I wanted to touch her, and I remember refusing, not wanting to delay her birth a second longer and not really wanting to stop and think about how she was half in and half out, not really in either place.

And then I remember feeling very, very relieved once she was born. She was okay, and even though she wasn't placed immediately on my stomach the way I'd wanted because they had to make sure she didn't have any meconium in her lungs, I could tell by the way the room felt and the way that people were talking that she was okay, and I was relieved. A few moments later they brought her to me and I could finally see and touch the little creature who'd been inside of me for so long. And of course -- the pain was over immediately. And that was a huge relief.

I won't dare to put into words how that moment felt. Anyone who has held their child for the first time knows how it feels, and no amount of imagination can quite capture the gravity of the moment.

With all of the books I'd read about childbirth, there was nothing I was unprepared for, yet still, the labor and birth was nothing like I'd expected. I think of all the ways it can happen: in elevators, in taxi-cabs, at home, on hippie farms. I think of women who have caesareans that didn't want them, of other women whose babies are rushed off to the NICU, and others still whose babies come to them from other wombs, other countries. Like any experience in parenthood, it is different for everyone, and yet there are things that bind us together. That feeling of first holding your child is one of them.

Dutch: I think of my father at my birth, I think of his father at his birth, and the generations of men for whom all of this was forbidden or for whom it would have been out of custom to particpate in this way. This all happened somewhere else. Like a TV show or a movie, they got to pass out cigars, pace in the waiting room. They got to see their baby through the glass in a nursery. All silent climax and a denouement of pointing and handshakes.

Wood: My grandmother gave birth to eight children under general anesthesia, waking up to find her children already taken from her body, cleaned, and wrapped in blankets. I think of my mother who labored for 2 days without my father, eventually giving birth to me and spending several nights in the hospital alone.

I know there are people out there who believe births shouldn't happen in hospitals, who scorn "unnecessary" use of expensive interventions. When I was pregnant, I was one of those people. I was terrified to give birth in a hospital, and I didn't trust the medical profession or my doctors. I wanted a doula because I felt I needed another woman in the room to help me counteract the toxic hospital culture.

Hospital culture today, though, is at least nothing like what our parents and grandparents experienced. My grandmother and mother were denied support from their partners during labor. Their only company and support came from hovering nurses and overworked doctors. Dutch's grandmother, before she died last fall, told us how her sister, a nurse, managed to be in the room with her during Dutch's mother's birth in 1950. Even 86-years old and weakened by a heart attack, you could tell from her story how much that meant to her, having someone there she loved to help her through. That is how it should be. Hospitals are no place to face your fate alone.

When Juniper was born, I was never without Dutch. The pain was mine, but we went through the experience together, and it made facing the pain without intervention possible for me. Every experience is different, but one thing we have to be thankful about even in today's hospital culture is that if we are lucky enough to have someone as a birth partner, that person can be there for us for as long as they want to be. Most hospitals today even put cots in the rooms so that fathers can stay over night, as Dutch did, though he preferred to snuggle up in the tiny bed with newborn Juniper and I for most of the night.

Biology dictates that labor is a woman's burden. No man will ever know it. But society only needs to follow biology so far, and even though for thousands of years childbirthing---and childrearing---have been the province of women, that no longer has to be the case. Dutch was my partner in the room because he is my partner in life, and he has been my partner in raising this little baby to the beautiful little one year old girl who can walk and say words and look at us with understanding in her eyes.

Dutch: You can't really write about this without sounding trite or precious. But it is true that there is nothing that any man can do to match the beauty of what he sees the day his baby is born. No artist has ever bested it, as far as I can tell. The feeling you have at the end of that long process goes well beyond pride. Yes, I was proud of Wood: more proud than I have ever been of anything, I was proud to know that woman was my wife. But beyond pride I was in awe of her, so beautiful and vulnerable and Jesus, what a tough motherfucking chick too.

All of that stuff Wood wrote above, about me being in there; It's not about me. It should never be. But I am just so glad I was in there, to see it. This story belongs to her, but by virtue of being there I get to do some of the telling. Of course, there's nothing unique or special about any of this. As Wood suggests, this is how things are done now. Men are allowed to witness it; they are allowed to support and participate. Anyone who's gone through it knows, knows how you thought you loved your wife as much as you possibly could, that is until you see her go through all this (however it is she goes through it) and you realize that well of love is deeper than you thought, bottomless even. And in the end you get a little creature that you're responsible for, and all that love you're feeling for your wife, suddenly you realize you've got even more of it inside you, enough to fill the whole room.

And even from there, it grows so fast you can hardly believe it.

Juniper's Birth Story, Part 1

Posted by jdg | Sunday, January 29, 2006 | ,

Note: Today is Juniper's First Birthday; while we celebrate, we wanted to share her birth story. We're writing this together, in the tag-team spirit of our blog, and we'll probably finish the story tonight or tomorrow.

Dutch: I had planned to videotape Juniper's entire labor, the whole process. When it came time to sit and look at the footage I did take on January 29, 2005, there wasn't much. The first scene on the DV tape is Wood sitting in the rocking chair in our living room watching The Wizard of Oz, sucking on a fruity popsicle; the camera stays on her smiling while she talks. Her water has just broken, she says. While she smiles and talks to the camera a palpable wave of pain breaks in her eyes, which clench shut as her whole face buckles before the camera turns off and I rush to hold her through it.

In the next scene we are in the intake room at the hospital; Wood has vomited all over the floor and she is sitting back in a hospital bed, like a postcoital demimonde in a photograph by van der Elsken, her face first recovering from and then anticipating pain. She raises her arms, her hands clutching each other behind her head like a POW after surrender. My quivering voice is heard off-camera, describing what this valiant wife has gone through the past nine hours, words of encouragement veiled as narrative drowned suddenly when the next contraction hits, and the cameras shuts off again as I again rush to her side.

The next scene on the DV tape is full of the sound of screaming. A nurse in blue scrubs rushes across the frame, away into the corner of the room, and the camera tilts and falls on Wood's face again, calm now, and tired but infused also with sparkling adreneline. "She's born," I say, and then my wife looks back at me and smiles, "yeah."

That long shot is followed by hours of frenzied footage of a chirping creature, blinking at the hospital flourescents with her tiny black eyes, poked and prodded, measured and weighed.

It is a strange memorialization of an even stranger day. As film it lacks drama. It lacks tension. It is all climax and denouement. There is no exposition, no complication, no conflict, no progression. Only pain and then no pain. In that way it is nothing like the day itself, which was all pain and confusion.

But the hours missing from the footage were hours that mattered, I do not want them lost in memory or eclipsed by the joy this child has brought us. I couldn't film those moments, hunched over my wife in our last hours as lovers and not parents, my head up against hers on a hospital bed while the pain dragged across an endless graphed page next to us, her body a seismic force unto itself, concave with pain, filled. I stood there empty, wishing I could take it from her. I understood why ancient men had written of this as punishment from God, as if to appease their overwhelming guilt. Nurses slithered in and out of the little room in their Danskos offering the constant temptation of a needle in the spine, and for hours the doctor announced no progress in dilation, finally ordering pitocin, while the woman in the bed writhed in a sea of wires and tubes and sank deeper into some place where I could not follow her.

Wood: On the morning of her due date I woke up at 3:11 in the morning, recording the time in my head before I even figured out that the contractions had started. I laid in bed silently, surprised in the sort of way where you aren't surprised at all that my labor would start precisely on the day that I had been counting down to for 9 months. I ticked off the minutes between contractions -- which felt exactly like the menstrual cramps my friend had described -- and waited. They were ten minutes apart, then seven, then five.

At around 6:00 a.m. the contractions were strong enough that I couldn't be still or silent any longer, causing Dutch to wake up. As I worked through a contraction, I heard Dutch realize what was going on and get excited. He jumped up and down on the bed, shouted something about my hospital bag, tried hugging me and said "We're going to have a baby today!" But I was in a contraction, so I think I replied with something like, "Uuuuuuguuuuuggggggh." And then the contraction was over, and I started to cry really, really hard. Hearing Dutch say out loud that the baby was coming made everything seem real and terrifying and unbearable.

I spent the next couple of hours at home with contractions about 5 minutes apart and lasting for 30 seconds. Everything I'd read about labor and childbirth had convinced me that I needed to stay at home as long as I could possibly bear it. All of those stories in Ina May's book about hippies walking around her farm and going about their normal business while in labor had convinced me that I could do that same. And so, when really faced with labor and contractions, I was determined to stick to that part of my plan. I wanted to watch TV! How can you think about pain when there is TV! So I had Dutch put in the Wizard of Oz. The movie was my choice, an old familiar drug to take my mind away from the pain. I wasn't going to sit through one of his Kurosawa films. Not this time. I sat a few feet in front of the set and forced myself to watch. But in between contractions all I could think about was how soon the next one was coming and whether or not I was going to throw up. Not even munchkins riding in teeny-tiny carriages pulled by teeny-tiny horses could take my mind away.

I threw up a lot. I guess it was the pain of the contractions; it seemed like every other contraction sent me running to the toilet. It was eventually the force of puking that broke my water, sending fluids spraying and gushing all over the bathroom. Unfortunately, through, the broken water just gushed into my oversized sweat pants, which, I have to admit, was kind of a bummer. I had always pictured water breaking by splashing down and puddling on the floor, and it had never dawned on me that if you were wearing pants that didn't happen. Instead it was just like I wet my fat pants.

By this time it was noon and it seemed like time to go to the hospital. With herculean effort I managed to shower, put on clothes, and get to the car, where I finally called my best friend so that she could start calling the other friends who'd said that they absolutely needed to know when I went into labor. It went something like this:

"Hi, just wanted you to know we're on our way to the hospital."
"Um, hold on, a contraction just started. . . "
"Uh. . . "

At least my friends had a phone tree set up so I only had to have one of those conversations.

When we got the hospital I was already patting myself on the back. I imagined the nurse congratulating me on laboring at home for 9 hours and waiting to come to the hospital until after my water broke. I was sure that by the time she checked my dilation I'd be at least 3, 4, or maybe 5 cm dilated. I have to admit, I was feeling pretty damn proud of myself.

Instead, when checking my dilation, the nurse said this: "Oh, honey, you're not even one centimeter. Not even an itty-bitty fingertip. You're going to need to go home -- I can give you some morphine. This baby isn't going to be born today."

After hearing this news, I puked all over the examining table and floor, simultaneously forcing out some more amniotic fluid all over the clean towels I was sitting on. The nurse examined the towels and found some nasty black and green baby poop (or mecononium for those in the know). This caused her to change her mind. Instead of going home, my not-really-dilated-at-all cervix and I were sent up to a labor room to maybe, if we were lucky, give birth early the next morning.

Devastated, I went through contractions for the next hour or so in a semi-catatonic state, drifting in and out of consciousness while connected to all of the things I hadn't wanted: a fetal monitor, a uterine contraction monitor, an oxygen mask, and an IV.

Dutch: An incompetant nurse kept losing the baby's heartbeat on the fetal monitor, confusing Wood's for the baby's. I watched as she tried over and over to get the heartbeat right. She claimed that when Wood sat up or moved at all, the baby's heart rate dropped dramatically, which meant the baby couldn't get enough oxygen. So Wood remained motionless and on her back. The nurse encouraged her to breathe only through the oxygen mask. It was exactly where she hadn't wanted to end up, horizontal in the bed weighed down by a sea of wires and tubes. The doctor had ordered pitocin and the nurse failed to put any in the IV stream, which was fine with us. Wood's birth plan had been to do this without any drugs. No drugs at all. Pitocin would increase the intensity of the contractions and make the pain worse. We didn't want it.

At some point we almost lost hope. We were left alone in the room for such long stretches, just sitting there watching the contractions on the seismometer thing, waiting for each peak to recede. It was just the two of us. Having scared off a potential doula months earlier, I had taken it upon myself to be as knowledgeable as I could be. I'd read a half dozen books on the birth process, from The Birth Partner to the same Ina May book on smokey mountain hippie childbirthin' that Wood had read. I had been giving Wood perineal massages for months. I had prepared a kit of relaxing music on a portrable mp3 player and some aromatherapy bottles. I knew what questions to ask the doctors when they recommended pain relief. I had read about dozens of ways to help her through the pain. I looked at my wife and realized that it was taking all the strength of her mighty will to get through these moments, and that this imposed posture was gradually wearing down that will. I went over to her at the end of the next contraction and told her we needed to get up. I dragged away the oxygen mask and the baby monitor (which wasn't even picking anything up). I led Wood and her IV into the bathroom and had her sit on the toilet. We practiced big breaths. I asked her to breathe like a horse does, and her cheeks and lips vibrated with exhaled breath. I saw the yoga ball in the tub and asked Wood if she wanted to get on it. She told me she did. We pulled it back into the delivery room, and sat on it and started bouncing. I was grateful for the ease by which I could hold her in this position when the contractions came, and Wood seemed to like squeezing the crap out of me when they came. It was a long time before the nurse came back and scolded us for leaving the bed and taking off the fetal monitor, but soon the doctor came in and scolded the nurse for not putting the pitocin in the IV. We just faded into the background while she really let the nurse have it.

I hadn't eaten since dinner the previous evening, and at about 2:00 or so I began to think it would be a good idea to go grab something to tide me over the coming hours. The doctor had said in her last examination that the baby would be born late that night after all, and not the next day. So with the doctor there I left Wood's side for the first time in eleven hours or so, and rushed out of the elevator to the closest cafe to grab a sandwich and bring it back up to the room.

And when I got back, everything had changed.

[to be continued soon]

Click here for part 2 of the Birth Story

Babies: dumber than dogs?

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, January 25, 2006

We tend to focus on our baby daughter's more positive aspects here. But to be perfectly honest, occasionally something will happen to make us realize this kid is still dumb as bricks. Just this morning I was taking a shower, and I heard the scampering of her little legs against the linoleum. When I peeled back the shower curtain to see what she was doing in the bathroom, I saw her hovering next to the toilet, pulling soggy pieces of toilet paper out of the bowl and cackling with glee. "Wood!" I shouted, "did you pee and not flush?" I asked.

"You were in the shower!" she replied from the next room. "God," Wood cried, when she found her daughter massaging a wad of urine-soaked toilet paper like a pet ferret. "She's as dumb as a dog!"

"Dumber," I replied. "Dogs at least have a reason to stick their heads in the toilet. She does it for recreation."

We're approaching Juniper's first birthday this week, and the issue of canine comparison is still rearing its head. Something like the toilet incident will happen, and I'll groan and ask, "Jesus, when is our child going to be smarter than a dog? Because I still know lots of dogs who are smarter than her." Wood sometimes will try to tell me that Juniper is already smarter than a dog, but when she does I go and give her my best Gary Coleman look.

Scientists say that your average dog has about the same level of intelligence as a 2-year-old child. Some scientists have even given dogs IQ Tests and claim that members of the smarter breeds (such as border collies, poodles, German shepherds, retrievers and Dobermans) are smart enough to get hired as greeters at Wal-Mart. I say bullshit. Two-year olds can talk, and watch Dora the Explorer. That alone makes them smarter than dogs, who can only bark, pant, and wag their silly tails. Do dogs know the Spanish word for backpack? I don't think so.

So when, exactly, do babies become smarter than dogs?

The following is a highly scientific analysis that attempts to answer that important question:

Baby/canine developmental intelligence

Newborn dogs need physical stimulation from their parents in order to piss and poop. "Stimulation" means licking the anal area. Gross. Human babies, on the other hand, require no such stimulation. Judging by the ample amount of colostrum that fudged out of Juniper all on its own after she was born, the advantage in this area definitely goes to the babies. Dogs 0, Babies 1.

It usually takes about ten days for a puppy to open its eyes, whereas a human baby pops out of the womb looking right at you with pure hatred in its beady little eyes. Human babies' ears also work at birth, but puppies won't be able to hear for about two weeks. Newborn infants therefore intellectually surpass all these little canine Helen Kellers, who are only good for sucking teats. Dogs 0, Babies 2.

So human babies do pretty good over the first week or two, but things really start going downhill in the third week. A three-week-old baby can pretty much do three things: eat, sleep, and scream its fucking lungs out. At least that's all Juniper did at three weeks. Three-week-old puppies, however, can already walk. More impressively, by three weeks they have learned perhaps the most important lesson in life: shit is unpleasant, so it is best to do it somewhere where you're not going to end up sitting in it. Human babies, in contrast, continue to marinate in their own shit for more than a year. So dogs get one point for walking and one point for shitting elsewhere. Babies lose a point for their cavalier attitude towards defecation. Dogs 2, Babies 1.

By week five, puppies are already playing with each other and establishing pack dominance. Actually, though, human babies establish pack dominance much earlier than that: as soon as they realize the giants who carry them around will do anything for them and can be easily controlled through crying (tempered with an occasional smile, hiccup, or fart to keep the giants' spirits up). Infants rule over their households like feudal lords over their fiefdoms. They don't even have to blow their own noses. Dogs 2, Babies 2.

During weeks seven through twelve, puppies can learn and they will remember what they learn. Everything a puppy comes in contact with during this period will make a lasting impression upon it. The only thing going for human baby at this point is that it's just starting to appear steady and alert when held upright. A baby savant at this age might know how to roll itself over, but don't count on it. Dogs 3, Babies 2.

Puppies, at four to eight months, are almost fully-functioning dogs. They are fully housetrained (meaning they not only go somewhere else to shit, they can hold it in). They know their names. They can fetch things. Puppies at this age become more independent of their owners and are likely to venture off on their own. Human babies at this age still can't do shit. Maybe they can sit up if you prop them up against something but they always slide down and cry like spineless losers. They certainly don't exhibit any independence. In fact, at this age they develop separation anxiety and get all weepy if you leave them in the boppy in front of the Baby Einstein for more than an hour. Whiners. Dogs 4, Babies 2.

Depending on the breed, dogs go through their adolescence at about six months. They are horny, rebellious, and surly. Meanwhile, your baby can maybe hit two blocks together and laugh. Whoop-dee-doo. Can they fetch my paper? Can they follow orders? Can they hump the neighbor's leg? To understand what it's like in intellectual terms to sit a six-month old dog next to a six-month old baby, imagine one of the stars of Laguna Beach with the brainpower of Stephen Hawking having a conversation with Corky. Dogs 5, Babies 2.

By the time a dog is one year old, it's about as smart as it's going to get. It has reached the apex of its intellectual development and is ready to embark on a life filled with pissing on things to mark its territory, smelling butts, barking at strangers, and drinking out of the toilet. This adult dog is the true measuring stick up against which we must hold our children, rather than the virtual puppy geniuses who surpass babies intellectually at every turn.

Adult dogs and one-year old babies

As I said earlier, Juniper is about to turn one, so I'm really hoping that we're close to the turning point when she will finally be smarter than a dog. I'd really like to be able to say, "Hmm, my daughter is smarter than a dog." She's already showing signs of busting through the canine intellectual barrier, i.e. she is starting to talk.

Granted, she is talking like a dog.

This child scampers about the apartment on all fours, scanning the corners for one of those rubber spherical objects she likes to call a BALL. "Ball!" she says. "Ball!. . .Ball!. . .Ball!" Cripes kid, enough with the exclamation points. We get it, you love balls. Granted, you think anything remotely circular is a ball, including the snot sucker. You even call me a ball from time to time, but I chalk that one up to my gigantic dumpling head.

A couple days ago, we were looking at the word flash cards and Juniper said "ap-ball" when we saw the picture of the apple. And Wood has been teaching her sign language, so she knows to jut her tongue out when she sees a frog and to pant when she sees a dog. When we say "frog" or "dog" she makes those signs. She knows their names.

Biblically, isn't that what divides us from the animals? God gives Adam the right to name the other animals, Juniper sees the neighbor's pomeranian and declares him dog. I have no doubts that dogs have name for their owners in their heads. "The guy who gives me snacks." "The lady whose underwear I like to chew." But they can't say these names, so they don't count.

But is speaking enough to get her there? She's still so much needier than a dog. You can't leave a baby home alone for a few hours while you go to a movie, or even when you go to work. That said, you can't feed a baby the same meal day after day without the baby throwing it at you; dogs will eat the same damn kibble for years. And dogs are dumb enough to allow monkeys to ride them, whereas babies will not be controlled by monkey jockey overloads the way dogs will. Babies are smart enough not to get along with monkeys. We learned that one the hard way.

Babies and dogs do some of the same stupid things, but dogs really take stupidity to an extreme. Take eating just about everything that isn't tied down. I once had a black labrador that ate a full length of metal chain, and the chain eventually worked its way through the dog's intestines until a few inches of the chain were hanging out of the dog's butt. I will never forget the sight of that dog dragging its ass around the backyard, trying to get the whole length of chain to pass. Hilarious. I'm sure a baby would find some way to get its stomach pumped before going through such theatrics.

My parents left that same dog alone in the garage for a whole day once when it was just over a year old. They left plenty of food, plenty of water. They expected to find a pile of turds and some pee I think. But when we returned home, we found that our dog had eaten a 2 foot by 3 foot hole in the drywall. The hole stood there staring at us, the drywall not only chewed out, but consumed, evidence of the similar gaping hole we now presume existed within our dog's skull.

Babies don't do anything on that scale of stupid and self-destructive at least until they are teenagers.

So I don't know what to conclude. There are so many powerful arguments for both sides. As we rapidly approach Juniper's first birthday, I am not so concerned with her passing the 12-month milestone. I am much more excited about the other cusp we're sitting on: the point where Juniper will officially be smarter than a dog. I think we're almost there. I guess the answer to the question remains elusive, despite my deductive reasoning: when is a baby no longer dumber than a dog?

My dad was really into wrestling as a kid. He told me stories about how my grandfather would move all the furniture to the corner of their tiny living room and conduct wrestling matches between him and his brother. And my dad loved professional wrestling on television, rising early every Saturday morning to watch the matches of Gorgeous George, the "Toast of the Coast," the "Sensation of the Nation," and the "Human Orchid": a pampered frock-wearing dandy wrestler who sprayed the crowd with “Chanel No. 10” lest their common stink offend his nostrils. He told me about Gene Stanlee. Karl Von Hess. Nature Boy Buddy Rogers. Crusher Lisowski. Maurice Maddog Vachon. Buzz Sawyer. Buddy Rogers. Chief Big Heart. The Fabulous Kangaroos. He told me the stories of their famous matches like myths, full of bloodlust and betrayal. The National Wrestling Alliance was his epic. Killer Kowalski his Achilles. Haystacks Calhoun his Hector.

Naturally, like every red-blooded American boy, I eventually discovered pro wrestling myself at the age where the haze of kayfabe still allows a kid to view pro wrestling as a morality play where good triumphs over evil in the end. The spectacle of excess. The grandiloquent truth of gestures. Kayfabe is an old carnival term, referring to the way carnies never publicly reveal the games are rigged. No wrestler ever publicly goes out of character. No wrestler ever admits the matches are scripted and fixed, the moves choreographed. No wrestler ever admits wrestling is fake. In 1987, when the Iron Sheik was arrested for marijuana and cocaine possession in New Jersey after being pulled over while riding in a car with fellow wrestler Hacksaw Jim Duggan, wrestling fans weren't shocked because of the drugs. They were shocked because the Iron Sheik and Hacksaw Jim Duggan were supposed to be mortal enemies. The Sheik was a character designed to play on the public's fear of militant Islam; his favorite phrase was "USA, hack-ptooey." And Duggan represented the most American of American wrestlers, always entering the ring draped in the American flag. It shook the wrestling world.

I was a fan during what I believe was the golden age of the WWF, before Vince McMahon turned it into the hip-hop infused sex opera that is its current incarnation. Those were the days of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. The Junkyard Dog. Rowdy Roddy Piper. Ravishing Rick Rude. George “The Animal” Steele was still wrestling, a grizzled old holdover from my father's days, a man who was so crazy he'd rip apart the turnbuckles and chew the stuffing after he won a match. I loved these guys, and watched their matches every week with my dad. I thought it was all so cool. One year for Christmas, I bought my father rubber toy figures of the "Dream Team" with my own money. This was a tag team consisting of Brutus "the Barber" Beefcake and Greg "the Hammer" Valentine. The latter was the son of one of my father's favorite wrestlers and the undisputed master of the "figure four leg lock," a devastating finishing move that caused his opponents so much pain they begged for mercy.

Brutus the Barber was my chosen favorite. He was the master of the "sleeper hold" -- a move that caused his opponents to fall asleep -- and followed it by cutting the guy's hair off with giant gardening shears. I tried the sleeper hold a thousand times on my Hungarian neighbor, but it never worked. Brutus wore a little chippendales bow-tie and had a fabulous mullet. His partner, Valentine, just wore speedo-like black shorts. At the time I had no idea how gay pro wrestling was.

A few days after Christmas in 1985, my parents found me crying in a corner of the basement. "What's wrong, seven-year-old Dutch?" they asked me.

"Dad didn't do anything with the wrestlers I bought him," I said. "He just threw them in the drawer."

I think it was then that my parents realized (1) that I was a sensitive little pussy; and (2) you have to pretend to treasure all the shitty gifts your children buy you well after Christmas, no matter how shitty those gifts may be. My dad displayed the toys I bought him in a glass case, next to some of his antique car stuff. It made me so proud.

When Sweet Juniper started appearing on people's blog rolls, we were usually listed under "daddy blogs", probably because I am the more verbose member of our household (and in some respects because the daddy blogging community is smaller and more inclusive). Because we were on so many "daddy" blogrolls, some of our readers even thought we were two gay dads. We quickly realized that people had a hard time categorizing us, because there just weren't a lot people writing a parenting blog together from two different perspectives. When the BoB nominations started coming, we were nominated in both the mommy and daddy blog categories, but we really didn't fit into either, and our nominators expressed their doubt. But we're no longer among the only ones doing this. There are a number of other parent blogs where the blogging responsibilities are shared between the parents, including miles, etc., mother-woman, charlie and nina, homeonthefringe, and others (if I've missed you, shoot me an e-mail and I'll add you to this list).

I recently noticed that under cynical dad's blog taxonomy, we are not under "moms" or "dads" but "tag teams." I love it. That is the best way to describe what we do here. Tag team matches are among the most exciting in pro wrestling. According to the rules, only one wrestler per tag team is allowed in the ring at a time, and the only way that a wrestler can change places with a partner is for the competitor in the ring to "tag" him or touch him on some part of his body. The referee must also see a tag for it to be legal. Offensive cooperation from a team member can happen as long as they are within the referee's count of five and after an official tag. This means wrestlers can do all kinds of sweet moves together that they can't do alone. One wrestler can hold an opponent up in the air and the other can jump off the top turnbuckle for a crushing blow. Both wrestlers can french whip their opponent into the ropes and do a double-team clothesline or flying drop kick. Awesome.

Therefore, here at Sweet Juniper we'd like to take just a moment to honor 1980s WWF's top six greatest tag teams:

The Twin Towers: Hakeem "the African Dream" and the "Big Boss Man"

Oh the 1980s: Before that blind Egyptian Sheik with crazy glossy eyeballs tried to blow up the WTC, before two planes eventually brought both those towers down. Only then could you have gotten away with pairing up a militant Islamic north African named "Hakeem" and a redneck corrections officer from Cobb County Georgia as the tough-as-nails tag team called the "Twin Towers." America truly did lose its innocence on September 11, 2001, in part because it meant it would never again be believable that these two stereotypes could ever possibly get along.

The Rockers: Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty

Okay, I remember thinking these were like the two coolest guys on earth. They were cool like Poison or Warrant, only they were also wrestlers. Not only did they have tastefully ripped t-shirts and rock-n-roll mullets, they had this move where they would both headbutt their opponent at the same time called the double flying headbutt. They were agile and ripped and they once even beat the tag team champions Bret "the Hitman" Harte and Jim "the Anvil" Niedhart (though they lost the belt on a technicality).

But looking back on it, God they were so gay.

The Killer Bees: Jumpin Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair

I really liked these guys too. I liked the music they played when they came down to the ring. I liked their black-and-yellow striped underwear. I liked how they would hide matching masks in those underwear, pull them out and put them on, making it so opponents and the referee wouldn't know who was who. That allowed them to switch in and out of the ring without making tags. They were really good at performing flying drop kicks, and when you're an eight-year-old boy the only thing in the world you want to be able to do is perform a flying drop kick. Their finishing move was kind of gay, though. The "bee sting" involved knocking their butts against an opponents head, I think.

The Foreign Legion: The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff

Looking back it's so crazy to remember how our cold war anxieties were played out on the squared circle. Both the Sheik and Volkoff had been actual wrestlers and weightlifters in their native lands before joining the WWF and becoming Islamic and Soviet heels, respectively. Volkoff used to demand that the audience rise for the singing of the Soviet national anthem and only get a chorus of boos. After the Sheik was convicted of cocaine possession, Volkoff joined with Boris Zukoff to form the all-Soviet "Bolsheviks" tag team, but it was his years with the Sheik that that formed one of greatest tag team combinations of all time. The Sheik's signature "camel clutch" move was applied to me many times by schoolyard bullies. Hurts like a bitch, too.

Rhythm & Blues: Honky Tonk Man and Greg "the Hammer" Valentine

I honestly don't remember any of their matches, but how can you possibly go wrong with two wrestling Elvis impersonators, one of whom apparently doesn't like to wear pants. What did he have against pants. Seriously, why did Greg Valentine love those little black wrestling undies so much? I'll bet he slept in them. Honky Tonk Man used to sing his own theme song and his signature move was the "Shake Rattle and Roll."

I really don't want to know what's behind that guitar.

The Mega Powers: Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage

Hulk Hogan AND Randy Savage wearing alternating red and yellow outfits? Come on! That's even better than when Hogan fought with Mr. T as his tag-team partner at Wrestlemania I. It was so awesome and had so much potential, until it imploded from within when Savage became convinced that Hogan wanted to tag the Lovely Elizabeth, Macho Man's girl. I remember like it was yesterday: Royal Rumble, 1989. Hakeem of the Twin Towers tosses Macho Man right onto the Lovely Elizabeth, rendering her unconscious. Hogan, instead of assisting his teammate, carried Elizabeth back to the locker room, leaving Macho Man to fend for himself against the Twin Towers. He eventually returned to the ring for a tag, but Macho Man beat him down with his Championship Belt. They fought later that year at Wrestlemania, where Hogan won the championship. Still, these two had enough explosive power and charisma between the two of them it's hard to imagine what the two of them could have accomplished if they'd stayed together. Imagine how awesome the slim jim commercials would have been.


I know I've left off some great tag teams. Ricky Steamboat and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka; Demolition; Strike Force; Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy; The British Bulldogs; Los Conquistadors; The Islanders; The Rougeau Brothers; The Bushwackers. So many great teams.

One of the greatest parts of watching tag team wrestling matches is the glut of personality and the increased sense of drama you get from all those wrestlers in the ring. There is always more action, more sneakiness, and all those tricks the grappler behind the ropes can pull when the referee is distracted: chairs knocked over opponents' heads, sucker punches to the back. And then there is the drama and tension when the wrestler in the ring just can't reach his partner's hand to tag when he's in a punishing leg lock. He reaches out his hand, stretching out his fingers, and his partner reaches out over the ropes, his muscles at their full length and looks of desperation on both their faces. And when they finally make the tag, a fresh body enters the ring and the dynamic of the whole match changes.

Here at Sweet Juniper, we know you're used to solo blogging, but we hope by tag teaming we can bring a little more drama and shift the dynamic of what you're used to just enough to keep you interested. You, for example, may have no interest in the minutia of pro wrestlers from the late 1980s. Good thing my wife will come along eventually to deliver another photo of her hot ass coupled with some cute anectdote about Juniper. Not every parent has a partner they can reach to when the wear and tear of the match is getting to them and they just need some relief. If you're lucky, there's someone like that there for you, someone whose hand is held out whenever you need it, and when you reach for it that person steps in with freshness and vigor and let's you stop for a second, slip silently onto the couch and close your eyes and escape for just as long as you can before you're needed again.

The Holiday Sex-Cabin Diary

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, January 03, 2006 | ,

When we arrived at our little cabin in the woods, we found a leather-bound journal on the table that had notes and anecdotes left by previous guests who’d stayed in Cabin 7. Wood and I read over the book together while Juniper played with her box of toys on the floor. Soon we were wondering if our little cabin in the woods wasn’t some kind of stop on an international sex tour. I felt like we were reading a backwoods edition of Penthouse Forum. Nearly every entry seemed to have some reference or allusion to the sex that was had on (or around) the bed we were going to be sleeping in:

"This was my partner’s 38th birthday. We loved hiking and climbing all around the river. We stayed for two days and discovered a recipe for success in the cabin:

1st step: Use the Jacuzzi tub.

2nd: Start the fire

3rd: Fall into bed and fall in love with that person in your life all over again."

----Glenn & David, San Francisco (September 12, 2005)

"Make sure you close the curtains! The folks in the neighboring cabin put on quite a show, but it put my fiancée and I in the mood to put on private a show of our own!"

----Ann & Jason, Nottingham, England, October 4, 2005

"We were looking for a few days respite from work and children to talk and plan and just be together, if you know what we mean (wink, wink). And we found it here in Cabin #7! The cabin was so cozy and romantic with the fire and the snow outside. It was perfect!"

----Bob & Lillie, Chico, California, October 22-24, 2005

The fire was just what we needed to rekindle our romance. We look forward to visiting again!

----Jennifer & Don, Davis, California, November 28, 2005

Then, in VERY feminine handwriting:

We were very sad to see it snowless! It has rained every day of our visit! Fortunately we love spending our time together and this gave us a much-needed getaway. Just us, no kids, no phone, no T.V. We actually talked to each other, among other things ;)

----Patty and John, Carmichael, California (Friday, Dec. 30th)

That last one was the day before we checked in. She actually drew the winking emoticon. We get it Patty, you and John did it in the cabin the day before we got there. Whoop-dee-doo. Still, there was something in the air up there. Even the snowmen were siring offspring:

When it came time to leave our message in the book, rather than pussyfooting around like everyone else, we crafted our entry completely honestly as follows:

Great cabin for sex! We enjoyed ourselves sexually a great deal in this cabin! Sex! The lack of television meant all we could do to pass the time was have sex! We had sex on the bed, on the floor, in the loft, in the jacuzzi, bare-assed up against the cast-iron stove (ouch!), on the bed again (that blue duvet was so comfy---after sex!). Good thing we brought the cozy cuffs and all the edible underwear. There's nothing like watching the snow fall and playing strip scrabble to set the mood for our bondage play. We did forget the whips, but thank goodness we had our tire chains! And our leather-clad midget gimp (Troy) was really comfortable sleeping in the wicker trunk at the foot of the bed! All three of us really enjoyed rekindling our romance all over Cabin 7 with lots of sex! We just hope they never have to call the Tahoe CSI team into Cabin 7, because they sure would have a tough time sorting through all the fluids we left all over the linens and floorboards! Thanks for providing such a wonderful place to have lots of sex!

----Dutch and Wood, San Francisco (Dec. 31--January 3)