Sunday, April 25, 2010

Finally Writing About Gem (part 3)

There I go again, ending my Pt. 2 post by labeling a sequence as if it can be understood in time, as if there is ever a beginning or an end. We humans, trapped in time, see things in sequential order; we like discrete steps, orderly series of causes and effects. But I don't really know when the end began, or when the beginning began for that matter. What karma did Gem perhaps begin this life with, that I will never know with my conscious mind?

Gem was born early in the morning May 2, 1981, at the cabin his dad, Gary, and I had begun to build on Moody Ridge 9½ months before. We had excitedly made a down payment on a 10-acre parcel of raw, partially-logged mostly-level forest land, and moved onto it in July 1980, setting up a camp and glorying in our long-awaited chance to join the "back to the land" movement of the time. We had then been married 8 years, had completed college, lived together in three states, done a fair bit of traveling, and we felt ready to start a family and grow a homestead. I was 26, Gary 34. I had stopped taking birth control pills a few months earlier, but didn't conceive Gem until my first cycle after moving onto the property, which felt undoubtedly propitious. As Gem grew within me, our cabin also began to take shape. We had little money left after the down payment but lots of energy, and so we cut our own building materials from trees on the property. Gary used a chain saw milling attachment to cut all the boards. Friends, neighbors and family helped on some phases of the construction. Slow, hard work. But by my late-April due date, we had come through our first winter on Moody Ridge, and we were living inside our funky hand-built cabin.

In retrospect, this was a pretty amazing accomplishment, as Gary was still working full time (though taking as much time off as he could get away with) and I was working part time, which meant we had to commute on and off the ridge often through that winter... using our two old, 2WD vehicles—a venerable VW bug, and an old Dodge pick-up. The 3.5 mile access road to our property had no rock bed at that time—it was nothing but a raw, red, clay track. It turned to snot when it got wet (deep, deep dust when it got dry) and became impassable routinely, even for 4WD vehicles when the snow was deep. We kept studded snow tires on the VW, which did remarkably well unless under-carriage clearance was an issue. Then we would leave that car out at the county-maintained road, and use the truck—which had much higher clearance and a powerful low "granny gear"—as our ridge runner, chained up, and with a load of wood in the back to increase traction over the rear drive wheels. That too was often inadequate for the challenge of Moody Ridge Rd. in winter—very often, we walked/plodded/skied the 3.5 miles in and out. I'm not kidding. And me increasingly pregnant of course—what a winter that was for us! But, basically we were in the cabin in time for the home birth we'd planned. One thing we hadn't accomplished yet was the stairs up to the floor, which was 8' above the ground. We had two ways of getting up into the cabin: a ladder (which I'd made myself) and a 20' ramp, 1' wide, with little molding pieces nailed on for traction, and not even a hand rail. It bounced a little going up and down but was the easiest, quickest way to get up. The stairs would come later...

Gem proved to be a big baby, 8lb 11oz if I recall, and he travelled the birth canal "face up" instead of face down, presenting forehead first instead of crown of head—taking a difficult path even then.

My pregnancy had not been particularly hard (I'd enjoyed it actually) and the first part of the labor was more or less routine also. I had seen a couple of doctors early on for prenatal exams, and had been working with a midwife throughout the pregnancy. All looked well going into labor, but as the pushing phase began, Gem's unusual orientation made progress slow. It became dangerously slow, as his traverse of the birth canal lengthened into hours, his body having to curve the opposite way around the pubic bone, his head forced into it's widest configuration—so by the time he actually emerged, both he and I were completely exhausted. He simply went to sleep, in my mother's arms; I wanted to also, but the important matter of expelling the placenta had to be dealt with first, and thus began the most serious problem. My uterus had just shut down—done—no contractions resumed to expel the placenta. My wide open uterus continued to bleed, and external massage intended to provoke contractions, which would expel the placenta and seal off the uterine capillaries, was ineffective.

Remember that we were a LONG way from the nearest medical facility. My midwife was getting very nervous at this point. She finally decided to probe, and something she did caused me intense pain, did NOT provoke contractions, but DID increase the rate of bleeding. I was bleeding uncontrollably. It was truly an emergency. Time to get HELP—we sent my friend Deborah to call for an ambulance. At this point she had just returned from carrying news of the birth to Gary who was waiting at her nearby tipi home—he had opted to tend to her 9-month old at the tipi while she helped with the birth. So Deborah walked in, full of high spirits—but flew back out, drove at crazy speed down to the nearest phone at Alta which took 20 minutes, waited another 20 minutes for the ambulance to get from Colfax up to the Alta exit, and then guided them in—so it was an hour before help arrived. A very long hour for me.

I could not move. Every part of my body was heavy as lead, and every time I moved even a little, I felt a rush of blood. I knew that I was hanging on by a thread, and needed to slow my heart, slow the pumping, slow everything, to increase my chances of hanging on until help arrived. And the very knowledge that I couldn't move made me WANT to move! I wanted to scream and jump about! Wave my arms and kick my legs! I wanted to move, to LIVE! Not to lie passively while my blood drained out... it was a terrifyingly contradictory set of impulses, but my cool head won out, I "chilled", I waited. I watched my mom, holding my sleeping newborn boy, and tried to share with her a calmness neither of us truly felt, but which wisdom dictated we pretend to feel; and my midwife, afraid of culpability, went outside to find a place to hide when the ambulance arrived.

The two paramedics burst in, bringing color and light in the door with them, and they were already on the radio getting counsel from their support team. My blood pressure had dropped to 50/30. Within about a minute of entering, these wonderful pros had fluids flowing into my body, which didn't immediately staunch the flow of blood, but did almost immediately bring some strength back into me. And I knew the crisis had passed. And then they gave me a shot of pitocin to induce contractions. And then began consideration of just how to get me to the hospital where I would need a blood transfusion. I was now hooked up to a life-preserving IV feed, and had been moved onto a stretcher to be carried to the ambulance. But—remember the ramp? Imagine the scene! It took two people to carry the stretcher... I was on the stretcher... and a fourth person (this was Deborah) had to stay close enough to hold up the IV bottle that was attached to my arm—and that whole parade had to get down a 1' wide bouncy board ramp to reach the ground and the ambulance. It was a bit harrowing, probably hardest for my mom, watching, while holding baby Gem. I wish I had a photo of that scene!

So, I eventually got to the hospital, had a blood transfusion, and continued to regain strength, but for the first 24 hours, I really couldn't even sit up. I was still awfully weak. Deborah, along with her still-nursing baby Surata, Gary, and my mom, focused on Gem. They stayed at a motel near the hospital, and brought Gem over to me every time he awoke, to see if I could nurse him yet. But I was always either asleep, or unable to even sit up during that first 24 hours, so Deborah nursed him for me as needed. He slept calmly most of the time, and seemed deeply peaceful they told me afterward. I remember thinking then, that Gem was in good hands, so lucky to have so much support, so many people who loved him already. And that was a pattern that continued through his life. All the way along his life path, there were people around to help as needed; he always had supporters, even when he became much less cute and lovable. But there was a place in his soul where he was always alone too, where no one could reach, a deep place of aloneness and pain.

And so I think about all this, about the framing incidents of Gem's life, and I just wonder. What has it all been about? I will wonder about Gem all my life; I know I have not learned all the lessons he has for me.


  1. I only just found out about Gem. I have thought about him over the years and wondered what he was doing, recently while moving I came across a photo of us together in Berkeley, when another high school friend and I visited him. Gem is someone I always felt drawn to and spent 4 years of high school in almost every class with him sitting within a couple of rows. When I think about his spirit I imagine his smile. Gem had a really fantastic smile. He was typically pretty serious but if he got embarrassed he would sort of tilt his head down, get a little flushed and smile. I am so sorry to learn of the suffering he experienced in his last years and I hope that he is closer to finding peace. I send you and him a great deal of love and warmth.


  2. KB, thank you for sharing that image of Gem and his characteristic smile. I can see it too, in my mind's eye.