Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, April 1, 2013

Arielle Greenberg & Rachel Zucker, _Home/Birth: A Poemic_

THE STORY GOES that Queen Victoria so loved Alice in Wonderland that she particularly asked to see the author's next book, and was taken aback when it turned out to An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, Charles Dodgson--that is, "Lewis Carroll"--being by profession a mathematician. I picked up Home/Birth because I liked Greenberg's poetry collection My Kafka Century, and like Victoria I was in for a surprise. I rallied nicely, though, read the book, and enjoyed it... which is probably more than Victoria could say.

Home/Birth is a conversation, interspersed with poems, between Greenberg and Rachel Zucker, another poet, on the subject of giving birth at home, with a midwife and a doula, rather than at a hospital, with a doctor and nurses. They both speak from experience, and are both committed advocates of home birth--as the subtitle suggests, the book is a polemic with some of the focus and momentum of poetry.

Accordingly, there is no back-and-forth, pro-and-con movement in the conversation; neither speaker is identified by name, so we have more the effect of two streams running parallel down a hill, sometimes converging, sometimes finding separate paths, or two voices in counterpoint, two melodies complementing each other.

Arranging the book this way might  be a disadvantage for some; since it has no index and no chapter titles, a reader couldn't simply zip to the info on, say, epidurals, or waterbirth.  The advantage, which is immense, is that the book is actually interesting to read, a compelling page-turner, not only for its facts, not only for its conviction, but also for the bone-deep, blood-thick friendship through joy and pain to which it testifies. The book is "about" home birth, but it is just as much about the intertwined histories and sisterly bond of these two women, a wonder to behold even through the indirect means of this text.

Besides, do we really need to have the "con" of home birth?  We all know what it is, and Greenberg and Zucker mention it several times: "what if something happens?" Every page of Home/Birth flashed me back to the births of our daughters, way back in 1985 and 1990, which did both occur in a hospital, and both times "something happened," so we wound up glad to be where we were. But do I know the same things would have "happened" had we been at home?  I don't. Might the frenetic atmosphere of the hospital, the Pitocin, the beeping machines, the strangeness and artificiality of the surroundings, have had something to do with what "happened"? It might well have.

I also found myself wondering--prompted by their names, I suppose, or reading the book during Passover--are Zucker and Greenberg Jewish? There's a glancing reference late in the book to the preference for home birth among Orthodox Jewish women, but Jewishness isn't braided into the cultural identity themes of the book, as hippie-dom and witch-hood are. Come to think of it, though... that's pretty Jewish right there. As are the complicated relationships with their mothers.  "My mother did Lamaze," one writes, and they chortle as they might over their progenitors' collection of Kahlil Gibran books. Then there's this bombshell: "my mother and I haven't talked since Willa was born." What?! Why not?? I felt like asking the book. But I could anticipate the reply: "Bubbeleh, don't ask."

No comments: