Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Prenatal Guru to the Stars

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I sit with the phone in my hand, my pregnant belly pressing against the rim of the dining room table. Boredom dulls my brain like Novocain.

Who should I call next? I've already called my mother, a friend in Philadelphia, Office Depot, and a closet organizing company. I've ordered two sets of sheets for the crib and canceled a pedicure.

I look down at my taut tummy, swollen to accommodate the size of a seven-month-old fetus. The fetus is Spence, but I don't know that yet.

I imagine my tummy splitting down the middle, everything inside me spilling out.

What a thought.
I call my husband, Pat, on his cell phone. He's on the set of Friends, playing the part of a smart-ass maître d' who hassles Joey for not wearing a jacket.

"Honey, I've only got a minute," he says.

In the background I hear the assistant director calling everyone to the stage.

"I'm thinking of calling Dr. Sammy and having him do a C-section this afternoon," I say. "The books all say that the baby is basically done now."

"Honey," says Pat, "I read those books too. And they say that the baby still needs to make kidneys for itself."

Pat throws this logical horseshit around when I least need it.

"Never mind," I say, and hang up.

I look out the window and consider taking a walk or a nap. Both of which would require me leaving this chair.

I dial Lana.

"You feel like the man who had to be buried in the piano crate. Right?" she says.

"Mmmm . . ."

"You know you've got to keep moving."

"I don't want to move."

"Look, you've got to get up and move around. Do something. Go take that prenatal yoga class with Rananda. Remember when I went?"

"You hated her."

"I did not."

"You said that you thought she might be a man."

"I was hormonal. Look," says Lana. "Pick up a Redbook. There's an interview with Cindy Crawford. Rananda coached her through her pregnancy."

"You're reading Redbook?"

"I was in a doctor's office."

I'm not convinced. I think that maybe all the shifts and swings of having given birth turned Lana into a closet Redbook subscriber. I'm tempted to confront her, but there are places you don't go, even with your best friend.

* * *

At Los Angeles Life Works - Center for Yoga, I sit in a little waiting area watching the other pregnant women around me. Most of them are gorgeous actresses, their little round bellies poking out of loosely tied sweatpants. I recognize some of them as women I've competed with for two-line parts on marginal sitcoms.

A fresh-faced girl sets down a big clay pot of yogi tea and a plate of graham crackers. The women help themselves to tea and nibble on the edges of their crackers. I take four crackers. I eat one, put one aside, and stash two in my purse for later.

"Well, of course, I'm having a home birth," someone says. "But I haven't settled on a doula yet."

"What's a doula?" I ask.

She flashes a gorgeous Meg Ryan smile at me. "A doula helps you through your birth. She keeps you focused and helps you when you feel like you're going to get weak and ask for pain medication."

I find this information useless and uninteresting, as I've been thinking of asking my doctor if I can start getting epidurals now. I want to ask if Rananda has cures for the bad smell I've started to emanate, but decide to sit back and not tip my hand. Maybe no one can smell me but me.

Another woman says, "I had a friend whose doula had her on her feet and washing the blood out of her sheets only two hours after she gave birth."

I start to wonder what kind of sick trip these women are on, when a bell rings and they all rise to go into the classroom. I grab another graham cracker and pull myself to standing by grabbing onto a statue of Vishnu.

About forty pregnant women sit on yoga mats facing a stage draped with Oriental carpets. Swooping gauze creates a canopy over a huge gong, an ornate pillow, and an elaborate sound system. The women speak in hushed tones.

Expectation hangs in the air.

After a few minutes there's some rustling and a breeze, then the tinkle of a bell. At this, all murmuring stops as the women hold a collective breath. They turn toward a door, which opens noiselessly. A small woman enters. I guess, by the shifting of the crowd, that this is Rananda. She's dressed in filmy white and she smiles like she's canonized. She walks onto the stage and turns toward us as she adjusts a head mic around her turban. She pauses for a moment, looking out over our heads, then picks up a huge padded stick and bangs the gong.

"Welcome," she says, her voice amplified. "As you know, there are three kinds of people in the world. There are men, women, and pregnant women." An approving rumble moves through the crowd.

I don't know what this means. But it looks like I'm in the in crowd, and that's always a good feeling. I want to pull a cracker out of my purse but resist.

"I was talking to Cindy the other day," she says, "and Cindy said that her home birth was magical and that she was becoming her animal self. She is spending this time in bed with her child, nursing and rocking."

She lets this land with a long pause.

"Now," she says, "we will introduce ourselves. Give your name, your doctor's name, and tell us where you are having your baby."

The women start introducing themselves. Most of them are having their babies in hospitals. But a few say, "My name is whatever, and my doctor is whozits, my doula is Hari something, and I'm having a home birth."

When a woman says she's having a home birth, the group turns toward her en masse and beams, while Rananda mutters approvingly, "Home birth."

Near the end of the introductions a woman says that she's two weeks overdue with her fourth baby and she's going to have a home birth with a Hari doula.

Rananda looks like she could die now and her work would be done.

"This is Anna," she says in well-modulated tones. "She is having her fourth baby at home. Stand up, Anna."

The effort required for Anna to do this makes it look like this might be her last act. She rolls onto her knees, then straightens her legs. Her butt wavers in the air a bit as she walks her hands as close to her feet as her belly will allow. When she gets to standing, she rocks back and forth on her feet, until she manages to turn herself around to face us. She's six feet tall and looks like a Helga painting. Her gray sweatshirt stretches around her belly, which is big as a planet. I can't take my eyes off her belly. It's the biggest live thing I've ever seen. It puts me in mind of a giant mushroom a friend of mine had growing under his bed in a pot of water -- organic and freakish.

Rananda continues, "I attended Anna's last home birth. She was in labor for thirty-two hours. She managed the pain of her contractions by chanting and making a gorgeous daisy chain that encircled her garden twice." She smiles at Anna and motions for her to sit down, a process I don't watch. "During those hours, we laughed, ate peaches, and talked to Christie Brinkley on my cell phone. Christie reminded Anna that giving birth was a close as any being gets to being God."

I like the God part and even the little tidbit about Christie Brinkley. But my ass is killing me, and I wonder when we are actually going to get down to the yoga.

"Everyone stand up," Rananda says.

The pregnant herd jostles and groans into position. It takes a good two minutes to get everyone standing.

"Find a partner and hold her hand."

Now that they're on their feet, the women match up very fast. I look around desperately. Moving through the pairs of women, I spot a short girl in a ripped Batman T-shirt backing into a corner. I make a beeline for her.

"Hi. Want to be my partner?" I ask.

"Sure."

I grab her hand, feeling the moisture between our palms squish. Rananda walks over to the sound system and fires up some chants.

"Now just start walking," she says.

As we walk around in our twosomes, I listen to bits of conversations. Someone says that she just auditioned for a battered pregnant wife guest spot on ER, "but they gave it to someone who wasn't really pregnant." Her voice is tight with resentment.

Rananda guides us through our walk, telling us to walk on our toes, step over imaginary boulders, and waddle on our heels -- all while holding our partner's hand.

"I'm Ruth," my partner says. "My husband and I just moved here. He's a writer on Blind Date. So he's gone a lot." Her hand squeezes my fingers together. "I've been coming to Rananda every day. She's terrific. Do you know that she coached Cindy Crawford privately? Of course, Cindy didn't come here. She'd get mobbed."

Ruth scopes the room with hungry eyes.

Rananda's tinny voice rises over the chatter of the women. "Now stop where you are. Face your partner. Let go of each other's hands and put your arms out to your sides, parallel to the ground."

She shows us -- stretching her gauzy white arms out like a crucifix. I look at Ruth like, "Let's agree to fudge on this one a bit." But she looks back at me with a fixed, determined gaze. So I turn to face her, our bellies practically touching as we put our arms straight out.

Rananda says, "Looking into each other's eyes will give you the strength to hold this pose. We will hold it for as long as a contraction lasts. That's three minutes. After having done this exercise for weeks, Leeza Gibbons said that she felt like she could have gone through three more hours of labor."

I hold the pose for a few seconds before I start to feel invisible weight pressing down on my biceps. I look into Ruth's eyes for permission to put my arms down. She stares through my forehead into the back wall. She is all belly and will.

Pain shoots through my shoulders and neck. My arms start to shake.

I hear Rananda's voice through the pounding of blood pulsing through my head. "While you are holding this pose, I want you to think of your birth and what you want it to be like. How do you want the lighting? Cindy had her birth at home on white sheets made out of one-thousand-thread-count cotton."

I feel the veins pop out of my neck like a relief map of the highway system to my heart. My chest clutches and knees buckle. I let out a moan and lower my quivering arms.

I look at Ruth, who seems to have entered a misty realm, a ghostly otherworld. A world in which she is as strong as a Greek goddess. As beautiful as Cindy Crawford. A world in which there are no absent husbands working on Blind Date until two in the morning. She is the Venus of Willendorf -- stone fertility goddess, timeless and iconic.

And I am going to be sick.

I grab my purse, stagger to the back wall, and lower myself to the floor, my legs wobbling. Two women sit there already, cross-legged, their backs resting against the cool, solid wall.

"I think I had a small seizure," I say, pulling a graham cracker out of my purse.

One of the women dabs her forehead with her faded red T-shirt, her orb poking out for a moment.

"I held it until I peed on myself," she says.

"It's okay. Your pants are black," I say. "I can't see any wet spot."

The other woman turns to me. "Do I smell?" she asks.

My heartbeat slows and I pull in a long breath.

"I can't smell you," I say. "I don't think anyone can smell you but you."

"Has anyone noticed," says the first woman, "that there's something oddly masculine about Rananda?"

"I have a friend who thinks she's a man," I say. A feeling of deep contentment fills me. "Anyone want a graham cracker?"

"Oh, yes." They sigh like I have offered the gift of inner peace.

My chest feels warm and tingly and the pain in my neck eases, as I break the graham cracker in half and hand it to the women to split among themselves.

I have found my people.

Excerpted from Mommies Who Drink by Brett Paesel, Warner Books, copyright © 2006. Used by permission.


Brett Paesel is an actress who has most recently appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Six Feet Under. She was also a regular cast member of Mr. Show on HBO. She has written about motherhood for various publications, including Hip Mama, Literary Mama, and Brain,Child, and is also a regular contributor to Violet. Her book, Mommies Who Drink, has been optioned by HBO, where it is being developed as a TV series. Brett is a married mother of two and lives in Los Angeles.


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