My internet friend Kate recently asked me about how the animals on tour with us are treated (apparently there’s a bill before Congress that, if made into law, would limit or stop the transport of circus animals). I put a lot of thought into my response, and I wanted to share it with you:
I have heard of this bit but don’t know much about it.
I’m happy to tell you about what I’ve observed.
When they aren’t performing, they [the animals] are kept in their (scrupulously clean) enclosures, napping or eating or getting groomed by the vet tech or animal attendants or trainers. Elephants have some kind of rubber mat thing on the ground in their tent; the horses, ponies, and camels have straw underfoot, and the dogs have either astroturf or sawdust. Horses, camels, and ponies are kept inside the venue, and when it’s nice out, the dogs are outside during the day, under shade if it’s hot and sunny. On chilly days the elephants have heat lamps blasting in their tent. I see the horses and ponies and camels get walked on non-show days. I am getting to be friends with the vet tech and she loves on these animals quite a bit. She has pets of her own on tour and takes incredible care of them, and I know she’s not the type to neglect or abuse. Another animal attendant has encouraged me to rub the nose of one of the camels because “he likes getting pets”. Obviously, both of these folks have affectionate relationships with the animals on tour.
A little anecdote: we have a dog act, and I understand that the star dog (a scrappy-looking sheepdog) was actually slated for the big E at the pound the day before she was adopted for the express purpose of saving and perhaps training. It’s pretty obvious how much the trainer loves this dog. I don’t know what kind of literature you’ve received, but I have to say that I can’t imagine our trainers or other animal-related workers being neglectful or abusive to the performing animals.
If your information says that circus animals live in filth and squalor and are suffering from neglect of water, food, and affection while they’re touring, that’s absolutely NOT going on in my tour. Truly. I’m pretty sure that the Ringling/Barnum & Bailey circus is the biggest circus with animals, so there should be plenty of resources to take good care of the animals while they tour. Also, I think that if the circus had something to hide, they wouldn’t allow non-performers backstage, ever, or they’d change their treatment of the animals on non-show days when no one is around. I have not observed anything like this; the care of the animals is consistent.
You might have deduced this about me, (simply from the fact that I read your blog) but I’m the type of person who takes pregnant cats in off the street when I’m eight months pregnant myself, I buy eggs for $6 a dozen because they’re from happy hens, and I mostly avoid eating meat so as to not give my money to the horrible industries that pack animals into tiny pens and cram them full of shit and pills before killing them. I’m that awkward person at parties who finds the resident animals and pets them instead of hanging with the humans. I don’t even like zoos that much (even though I love seeing animals up close). So you can imagine that I felt a bit of trepidation about seeing how the animals were treated when I found out we’d be traveling with the circus. I’m really happy (and relieved) to be able to tell you that I have observed clean, healthy, well-fed, and cared-for animals.
I have a feeling that the folks who dislike circuses and are trying to shut them down are the type of people who wouldn’t be happy no matter how the animals are treated, trained, and cared for. Some people just believe that humans are not the boss of animals. I struggle a bit with this myself, to be honest. In the end (for the same reason why I stopped being a strict vegetarian about seven years ago), I have concluded that it is the responsibility of humans to carefully use the intellect that sets us apart from (and above) the other animals. There’s nothing wrong with keeping pets, or running a zoo, or eating meat, or training animals to perform IF the animals are treated with care and respect for the sentient beings that they are.
I hope my super-verbose response is helpful. Best of luck with your piece. I’d like to read it when you’re done.
I alluded to post-partum depression in Kai’s birth story and how my biggest problem right now seemed to be “body image”. Ahem….yeah…
So two weeks ago I went for my first post-baby run. And like I usually mean when I say “I went for a run”, I actually coupled a brisk walk with intervals of jogging. After that one outing, I haven’t been out to pound the pavement since.
What’s wrong with me, right? I’m four months postpartum, the c-section incision has long since healed, I’m only breastfeeding part time…time to get active again. No big deal.
Except it was a big deal. A HUGE deal. I put on my sneakers and then cried and sobbed for thirty minutes before I left, hysterical with embarrassment and shame and the overwhelming metaphorical weight of my pregnancy weight gain. I literally wanted to wear a sandwich board that said, “please be kind and don’t laugh…I just had a baby and that’s why I’m fat!” If that sounds really melodramatic, I wish I could tell you I was just hamming it up. But actually, I have never felt so desperately ashamed like that before; it was probably as close to feeling true despair as I’ve ever come.
If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll remember that I had a back injury in October 2010. I got pregnant pretty much as soon as I started feeling better, so I’m fighting against the inertia of a year and half of completely sedentary lifestyle. It just feels too overwhelming to start exercising…kind of along the lines of “what’s the fucking point?” A fifteen-minute walk won’t do much to help me, but I am physically not capable of doing much more than that. THAT’S depressing, especially when I attend a show of the circus to practice on my camera and I see all those incredible and beautiful bodies executing impossible feats. It really makes me hate myself; to see the amazing potential of the human body be completely fulfilled….and then to compare it to my own body….ugh…it just hurts to even think about it.
One of the acrobats holds an exercise session after the last show of the day, and not just for acrobats: administrators, crew members, and other cast attend, too. I was going to join them last week but completely chickened out. Too embarrassing for me to even think of huffing and puffing next to anyone, let alone elite acrobats. After I ran my little jog/walk, I was going to write this very humble blog post about how I was ready to start getting active again and that I was going to try to lose seventy-five (75) pounds and think again about entering a duathlon….but then I didn’t go running again…and I didn’t attend acrobat exercise session….and I ended up writing THIS post instead, which is just a bunch of whining so far. I’m not really sure why I’m publishing such drivel; I guess it’s partially because I don’t want any other freshly post-partum lady to feel like she’s some kind of freak. Quite the contrary, really; I’m sure post-partum depression has something to do with my feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to change my inertia. At least we can be (chubby and depressed) freaks together, other-new-moms.
BUT…all’s not totally lost in the last few days; I HAVE made some small changes, mostly about eating less and better. Two nights ago I eschewed dessert. Yesterday I rode my bike to the coffeeshop and back. Today I was on the brink of putting a quarter into the soda machine and I turned away and drank tap water instead. So…that’s some progress, I guess.
If I had access to a scale I’d share my weight with you (for the purposes of holding myself accountable) but alas, I do not. I really don’t know what my weight is, as it dropped upon having Kai back in November but has actually been CLIMBING since early December. In taking a stab at what the scale might say right now, I think that if I lost 100 pounds I would not be technically underweight for my height. Don’t believe me? In lieu of a weight check, how about a picture?
I think that pretty much says it all.
It’s time to figure it out.
Time to take those first small, seemingly pointless steps to flexibility, strength, and endurance.
And (most important of all) time to finally feel great about the fact that I have an awesome baby, husband, job, friends, and life. That is impossible without love and respect and care for one’s self.
I’ll keep you updated on my progress.
I’ve been procrastinating (for >3.5 months) on writing this post, mostly because I couldn’t really think of a good way to keep it succinct without leaving out important details. What’s the point of a birth story without any blood and gore? I also was a little hesitant to write it because of how I’ve been dealing with the post-partum period…it hasn’t been pretty. But…I think it’s time now to get it out there. So, if you’re not into birth stories or very long blog posts in general…..sorry.
Kai was due on 30 October 2011. We chose that day to leave Toronto with the cats and head back to Philadelphia…Ben had just gotten enrolled in his new job’s health insurance and I had zero signs of impending labor, so we figured it was not an entirely irresponsible thing to do. I liked my midwife practice well enough but wasn’t too sad to leave them and a tentative home birth for a likely intervention-full hospital birth in Philly. Being home was far more important. We also knew we’d have to be in Tampa, FL right after Thanksgiving, and we didn’t want to risk delays in getting newborn Kai out of Canada. With the help of my dad and grandfather, we briefly met up with the circus to collect our rig from the tightrope walkers we purchased it from (pickup truck and fifth wheel RV trailer). Once the rig was packed up and on the road, we headed to Philly to wait for the little guy to show up.
Of course…he was late, eight days late, though I don’t think it’s all that unusual. On the 7th of November I called my old OBGYN practice, who made an immediate appointment for me (PennCare for Women is the name of the practice, Philly ladies…if you need a doctor, do what you can to see Dr. Kolecki. She’s the best). Being eight days past the due date with spiking blood pressure is bad news, no matter how uneventful your pregnancy had previously been. Doc swept my membranes to hopefully kick things into gear and sent us off to Pennsylvania Hospital to be induced.
While I was in the hospital getting monitored (that’s before you’re really actually admitted for the duration) I started labor for real. And I knew it was “for real” because I was pretty sure that my pelvis was going to crack in half. I swear this is not a hyperbolic statement. It was absolutely unbearable. It hit me about every five minutes or so between 1AM and 7AM. Even with the incredible pain, I fretted the entire time about how I could avoid the epidural. All I wanted to was to avoid getting an epidural, but in the end, I just absolutely could not bear it. After being up all night, I had the epidural at 7AM and slept on and off until 3PM. Even with the IVs, monitors, beeping, occasional interruptions, it was so incredibly blissful. After laboring all night I had dilated from 3cm to 4cm…but at 3PM I was still at 4cm. The midwife tending to me during the day broke the amniotic fluid sac to try to move things along, but after a couple hours, there was still zero progress. At about 5:30PM, after wavering a bit, Kai’s heartrate plummeted. Suddenly there were twelve people in the room, and for the first time in my pregnancy I’m not thinking of the thing I’m growing but MY SON, my son who is at risk of oxygen deprivation if we keep going much longer. I’m terrified for him and the tears start flowing. His heartrate came back up soon after, but the decision that had been bandied about as a last resort was suddenly the only option: I needed a c-section to give birth.
I was of course upset by this, and was immediately furious at myself for resorting to the epidural. I was certain that if I had been able to labor unmedicated, I could have eventually figured out how to get semi-comfortable and labor as I thought I should have. Pretty quickly, though, I settled into a very cool, detached, and matter-of-fact mindset that stayed with me for days afterwards and seriously took weeks to dissipate. Honestly, I’m not sure if that feeling is totally gone even now. Anyway, I digress…time for the good part.
We’re in the OR by about 8PM on the 8th, and after they give me the new set of meds through my epidural, my teeth start chattering like mad. Are any other c-section mamas reading this who also had this experience? I seriously thought that I was going to inadvertently bite off a bit of my tongue, that’s how fiercely my teeth were chattering. It was incredibly disconcerting and took all my concentration to stay calm through it.
Knowing that your innards are being exposed to the open air is such a weird sensation. It didn’t last long though…seemingly only a few short minutes after they started, they pulled Kai out. I couldn’t see him at all, but he began WAILING not even a minute after being born, so I knew right away that he was not in any apparent danger. My happiness on this topic was short-lived, though, because then he wouldn’t STOP wailing. I was suddenly despairing of what we’d done…
how can I make this thing stop crying??
I’m not ready to do this!!
what if he never stops?? what if he has colic??
I am not gonna be able to handle this.
I can’t do this.
Ben took video of the first seven minutes of Kai’s life and now when I see video evidence, he actually didn’t cry all that much, and certainly not without stopping. But what I perceived while lying on the OR table was just that…my baby was miserable, and I was miserable. There’s a point in the video that I remember really well from my own memory: the nurse held Kai up to show me and said, “we’ll bring him over to you as soon as we fix him up” and I said, in the most nonchalant voice, “oh, yeah, no worries, whenever”. Aside from desperation to make him stop crying, I felt nothing. I shed a couple tears because Ben was bawling and I was floored to see so much emotion from him, but I was numb. I was not in any hurry to take over responsibility for the baby yet, and I hoped my super-casual tone would not induce the nurse to hurry.
While I was being stitched up, one of the surgeons came over and said that we should be aware that the c-section was necessary not simply because of “failure to progress”…the failure to progress was because of a bone in my sacrum (lower back) that had blocked Kai’s head from descending into my pelvis. She said that any and all future children would need to be born via c-section, as well. I suspect my back injury from last October might be to blame.
They wheeled Kai out of the OR and to the nursery, and I was wheeled to a recovery area while our post-partum room was prepped. I begged Ben to feed me ice (I have never experienced thirst like I did post-operation…weird considering they had been pumping me full of intravenous Gatorade all damn day) and we sat around taking turns saying, “holy shit”. I was still reeling from the realization that our son had just been born and I felt zero elation or happiness. Once I got into bed in my private post-partum room (very nice, by the way) and got a little more comfortable, I felt a little better. Ben fetched Kai from the nursery and I held him for the first time. I tried to latch him on, but he was not having it: too sleepy. I sent Ben home for a real night’s sleep and plopped Kai onto my chest, which, as it turns out, was probably the best thing I could have done for both of us (even though the night nurse scolded me for doing it). While Kai slept on me, I stared at him….and the first tiny seeds of love were planted. (Pardon the super-cheesy and cliche analogy, but it really fits well here). What I felt at first for Kai was what most people feel when they see sweet, tiny, helpless things: an instinctual urge to cuddle and protect the tiny, helpless thing. Putting him on my chest and sleeping through the night like that made it a little bit different though: he was my sweet, tiny, helpless thing. That made all the difference to get me through the first night.
He slept like a champ, and we weren’t without our struggles for the first couple days, but even with my persistent too-cool-for-school nonchalance to the whole situation, he continued to grow on me. I don’t know when I fell in love with him, but it’s fair to say that I’m still working on growing it. Some lucky mamas seem to experience this almost immediately, whereas for others, it takes weeks or months to fall in love with their babies.
The first weeks of Kai’s life were busy, too busy, for us. We hosted a party before he was a week old, went back to Toronto to move out of our apartment before the end of his second week, and haphazardly packed our life into our new trailer and hit the road before he was a month old. What I now know as post-partum depression hit me like a ton of fucking bricks when we settled into circus winter quarters in Tampa. I am still struggling (mostly with body image now) but am finally feeling much better and more comfortable with this addition of “mother” to my identity.
I’m not a terribly sentimental person (I swear), but I had a moment of really raw feelings a few weeks after Kai’s birth. I had been holding him, watching him doze, when I was suddenly overwhelmed with sadness…and this was why: I turned to Ben, my eyes completely filled with tears, and I said, “I wish I could know Kai when he’s an old man”.
It was THIS…this realization that my sweet little fresh baby was going to be an old man someday….I felt like I saw his whole life flash in front of my eyes. That moment was fleeting, but it was possibly the most human I’ve ever felt. Since then I’ve looked at Kai differently than I did in the beginning; he’s no longer “the baby” or “that thing I grew”. He’s our new human, and he’s ours for only a brief period. It is not easy, but I am doing my best to cherish this time.
To my dear son, Kai Apollo…..I love you. Thank you for making me your mama.
2:15AM on 9 November 2011