Alex Chambers: One night last spring my partner and I were getting ready for bed. I was telling her about my day and suddenly she pointed at me and said, "There's a frog in here". I was confused, but I realized she wasn't pointing at me. I followed her gaze and sure enough, there was a frog on our closet door. Not something I expected to see. The frog was just chilling there on the door but I panicked a little. I was imagining rolling onto it at two a.m., squish. So I said to Molly, "Keep an eye on it, I'm going to get a jar".
Alex Chambers: I ran to the kitchen, ran back with the jar but the frog had jumped, she had lost it. Right below the closet door was her laundry basket. We both said, "In there". She started to dump it out and I said, "Not in here". So she took it to the back porch and one by one took out her clothes and shook them at arms length because she was, understandably, worried that the frog might jump on her. I wasn't as worried about myself because I was pretty sure a frog couldn't jump around a corner ten feet away. I watched Molly empty the basket. No frog. We ran back to the bedroom, "Bin of shoes, don't dump it in here." Molly looked at me, dumped it in here. No frog. Then I noticed the meditation cushion next to the closet which I clearly don't use very often, and it occurred to me to pick that up, and there was the frog, serene as a lotus flower.
Alex Chambers: I put the jar over it. Once it was confined it was a lot easier to feel friendly with it. It hopped onto the side of the jar and we spent a while looking at its white belly and its gray mottled back. We took pictures and looked it up online. Cope's gray tree frog. It was pretty cool, although I thought tree frogs lived in the tropics not Southern Indiana. That was the first bad sign.
Alex Chambers: Eventually we took it outside to go free and there was another tree frog on our siding. We closed the window and went to bed listening to them sing. It was raining that night and it kept raining. A couple of nights later Molly pointed out two frogs on the outside of our sun room window. Pretty soon there were three, four, five all chirping away. We watched them for a while, then I went out into the misty night and saw probably ten more all over our house. The neighborhood trees were full of them. It was other worldly. Cool air, wet frogs. It felt like a rain forest. I thought to myself, we're doomed.
Alex Chambers: See, I worry about climate change pretty constantly. Anytime the weather seems out of whack; warm stretch in January, a day of heavy rain. It's another sign of catastrophe staring me down. So when these tree frogs that seemed like they should live in the Amazon took up residence on my street, climbing up the trees to sing to each other, getting ready to mate and make new life, all I could think was, we're all going to die. For better or worse, I'm not the only person who thinks this way.
Turner DeBlieux: That's all I think about as well. This is what I do. I mean I don't work on climate change but it affects everything I do, so I do think about it the same way.
Alex Chambers: I've been curious whether the tree frogs really were some sort of climate induced plague upon us. So I went and talked with ecologist, Turner Deblieux. That's his last name, Deblieux. Deblieux. Deblieux. Like the letter, but not the letter, the name. D-E-B-L-I-E-U-X. Anyway, Turner's a PHD student in ecology at Indiana University. So I found him in the science building in campus and he told me that frogs weren't a plague at all. They're actually quite common in Southern Indiana. They were just, you know, doing their Spring time thing.
Turner DeBlieux: They'll get on your house, a single tree frog might get on your house. The temperature's right, the humidity's right and so they'll start to call, hoping to gather a bunch of other males that will also call, and so generally if one male's calling, another male will hear it and they'll say that must be a good spot. They'll get over there, they'll either find their own space or they'll compete for a space and then they'll start calling as well. A bunch of males calling attracts a bunch of females which is what they want, and so the goal is to develop a chorus. So a chorus is, how I described it earlier was, if I walk into a pond and the calling stops, it's not a chorus and that's how you know. That's not a great threshold.
Alex Chambers: So they're reaching out trying to find each other, get it on.
Turner DeBlieux: When they're on your house, they're probably not attempting to chorus, they're just trying to attract. In a pond they were chorus.
Alex Chambers: Or at least they're trying to gather a harem. Okay, they were doing their thing, but I was still pretty sure it was a plague. I mean I'd never heard them like this before.
Turner DeBlieux: It also could be it was just a timing difference. I noticed that they bred kind of later last year than they typically do, and so I did notice hearing the calls more clearly, and it could have been it was a bad year and everyone was desperate, so they called more.
Alex Chambers: Okay, so it was climate change, I knew it. The polar vortex the previous winters had put them on the edge of survival. These were their desperate final calls.
Turner DeBlieux: So the gray tree frog and the Cope's gray tree frog are pretty common as far as frogs go. So I'm not super worried about them as far as climate change. They have a really large range and they're pretty general, like they can adapt to a house. So they don't face a combination of threats per se.
Alex Chambers: Or maybe they're fine. Which was reassuring. All the rain we're going to keep getting in the Midwest, at least it'll be good for the frogs. Climate change is terrifying but the frogs are going to be just fine.
Turner DeBlieux: I mean all frogs are doing really terribly right now, one in four frogs faces the threat of extinction at this moment. In history it's like a huge extinction level event and so I can't say that they're going to be safe. But if any frog is safe, it's the gray tree frog, the bull frog, the very common frogs that have a really wide distribution, they're probably going to be okay.
Alex Chambers: The gray tree frogs are adaptable and I know that doesn't hold for all the creatures. As Turner reminded us, we're in the midst of the sixth major extinction event in the planet's history. But for now it's worth remembering that humans are pretty adaptable too. As much as we worry about the future, we don't actually know what it holds. Which brings me to today's show. This is Inner States by the way, from member support at WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. I'm Alex Chambers.
Alex Chambers: Today's show is about the future. Specifically how to survive the future, which is the name of a podcast about today from the perspective of tomorrow. It's a show I produced for Indiana Humanities with my friend and collaborator, Allison Quantz. All five episodes are available in podcast feeds right now. Today on Inner States I'm going to play you the first two. How to Survive the Future started because I was worried about the planet and I realized I could maybe find someone to tell me how things were going to work out. So I called up some farmers I know, Liz and Nate Brownlee. We sat down around their kitchen table in the year 2016 and talked about the past. It was raining because here in Indiana there's going to be a lot of rain.
Nate Brownlee: Once my way of making a living, my entire life really not just money but the way I valued my time moved outside and onto the farm, rain took on a different meaning, and I had been learning to farm on other people's farms up in New England and it was amazing to be an hourly worker and to not have a ton of accountability and not as much riding on it as the farmer themselves, and so I slept like a champ because I was working like a dog. I would just exhaust myself and sleep really well. Once I was paying bills and renting a farm and relying on the stability of the system and structure that I thought I understood, rain took on a different meaning and so I didn't sleep two nights when it would rain. I would think about my chickens in the field, I would think about my sheep getting wet. I would think about what it would mean for tomorrow's day of chores and I would lay awake and still do that to this day, because none of us now can run away or avoid the realities of what it is outdoors, because even when we're inside, that's a present piece of our reality.
Alex Chambers: What were some of the things you did on the farm over the decades to sort of mitigate the intensities?
Nate Brownlee: Well you know, we moved into a farm that had been row crops, annual crops year after year after year, and so instituting perennials was a huge piece of it. I remember those first couple of years of our farm, we were planting in trees. We had all these grand ideas like, oh we're finally where we're going to be rather than moving around so let's plant oak trees, maybe one day they'll be huge. And oak trees are beautiful and I loved them but, when we would mow the pasture and miss spots because the pigs were in the way of the mower, trees would grow there and they would be trees that wanted to be there and they would be eight times as tall as the trees that I had planted, you know, in a span of just months, and so the big plants that we were letting live year after year, got really good at drinking the water that was in that soil.
Nate Brownlee: There was one year we were on a three week butcher schedule. Every three weeks we were going to the butcher and the rain was on the same schedule, and so when you can't drive out to the pasture to collect your animals to go to the butcher, you got to bring the animals to the road and so our little 13 acre field wasn't huge but when you're building alleys of electric net to move the pigs from the back of the pasture all the way up to the road and you've got to do it over the course of two days, it feels a lot bigger than it does when you're just thinking about it on a Google map. So once we realized how to choreograph the dance in such a way that we could preempt rather than respond, that was a huge piece of the puzzle.
Alex Chambers: Could you introduce yourselves?
Liz Brownlee: I'm Liz Brownlee.
Nate Brownlee: And I'm Nate Brownlee.
Liz Brownlee: And this is our farm. So this is Nightfall Farm and we're on my family's land here in Jennings County, Indiana.
Alex Chambers: What was the hardest part in those years?
Liz Brownlee: Just the fear. We didn't know how it was going to turn out then. I wish I could have known, alright, that was always the saying, if I had only known then what I know now, then I could have probably been more ambitious, because we could have gone in the right direction more quickly and I could have been less scared and stressed out by climate change, because I would have known, people are going to come around. But at the time I didn't know and when you're a farmer who's in year six of your business or something, how do you know where to invest right? Is it worth putting another $10,000 into fences that those fields may not be grazable in 15 years because it's going to be always too wet or too hot or too something? Should you pack up your bags and move to Michigan because the climate projection is better there than they do in Indiana? Should you just give up altogether and go to London and protest? Do you remember the protesters, the extinction protesters. We talked about that, should we just go, because is this working or not, I don't know and what are the long term prospects of a farm in Indiana? We didn't know and that was scary.
Liz Brownlee: Probably the coolest indicator of life returning to this place I would say, because growing up this was all corn and soya beans and there's not a lot of life in a corn or soya bean field. It's basically just that crop. When we're out here we see tons of different birds, great blue herons that fly over and we see bugs and spiders of all shapes and sizes and little snakes and big snakes and we assume that all that life means there's a food web that's reforming here and that's encouraging to us.
Liz Brownlee: We'll take this bucket. What do you think like a half bucket in each and we'll take it over to whoever needs it?
Nate Brownlee: Not even, but yeah.
Liz Brownlee: Okay.
Nate Brownlee: If you guys want to go on the other side of the trees.
Liz Brownlee: Sure, yeah let's go around.
Liz Brownlee: So we sit really wet here and I only recently learned that not everybody knows what that means. If you sit wet that means your soils are very heavy clay soils where the water table's really high. We're right by the Muscatatuck River, it's just beyond the next tree line. And essentially the crawdads are prolific here because it's a wet clay heavy place and that's the habitat they like. So actually when I was a kid my dad would answer the phone, Crawdad Holler. We thought about naming the farm Crawdad Holler but we thought, I don't know if that actually sounds like a serious business. Maybe it sounds like a party. So we went with Nightfall Farm instead.
Liz Brownlee: Some of climate change we couldn't stop right, it was too late to stop, some of the impacts. So we still get these heavy rains, these downpours that happen. We have more intense heat in the summer and crazier ups and downs throughout the year. So it'll be June something and it's 68 degrees, even though it ought to be 80, and it'll be February and it'll be also 68 degrees. But, we stopped the worst of it. People started to see climate change happening in their lives, they started to see it's the middle of June and they couldn't plant their crops. That was becoming a real problem and so they said we've got to change something. And so they started thinking about soil health and over time they ended up thinking about climate and we were able to halt climate change, and it wasn't any big technological fix, you know, that pie in the sky stuff that they were talking about back in 2000, 2015 range, people finally gave up on it because it wasn't going to happen, it was too expensive.
Liz Brownlee: What really happened was a total revolution in farming because people started to see that we could sequester a lot of carbon with our grazing lands. And there are these farmers back in like 2015, 2018 range that were doing some really cool on the ground trials in South Dakota and California and they were showing how much carbon we could sequester on our grazing lands, on or pastures, and then farmers like Nate, started to pay attention to that and started to mimic those practices, and then our neighbors started to mimic those practices and it trickled in pretty quickly, and we pulled out a whole bunch of carbon from the atmosphere and here we are, and we're doing alright.
Liz Brownlee: Now we want some trees out here. You can see we've got trees rows, some of which we have planted and some we just let come up. You know, it gets hot here in Indiana and hotter all the time, so we need shade for the sheep and for us. Basically everywhere you see a tree row used to be a drainage ditch and so we just planted trees along the ditch and we're adding more all the time. We've been adding some Willows in especially wet places and Bald Cypress from the conservation nursery. You can get 100 trees for 30 bucks.
Alex Chambers: Did you have moments of despair?
Liz Brownlee: Oh God yes. On a pretty regular basis and how wouldn't you? So you look at a forecast that says rain for the next ten days, two inches today and more tomorrow. As a farmer I know exactly what that means for the health of my pasture, for the health of my chickens, for my ability to do chores. So I remember a night where we were up until two a.m., moving chickens and chicken tractors to a drier place because we had to butcher the coming Wednesday and if we didn't get those chickens to a better position before the next day, maybe they wouldn't drown but we would have no way to get out to them to put them in the live stock trailer to take them to the butcher and that just doesn't work. So we stayed up until two a.m., moving chickens, and that's just not a way to run a business with that amount of inconsistency and fear and stress.
I remember at the time thinking, oh if we can only start a farm in the 80s, we'd be established now and our soil health would be so much further along and we'd be okay. But we're okay now.
Liz Brownlee: Hey Nate, can I help? I bet he's just finishing up.
Alex Chambers: So these are the meat chickens?
Liz Brownlee: Yes and what might be good, let me switch out with him and you can chat with him for a little bit and he can tell you about the meat chickens and then you guys can come in, maybe all pop in and start on the barn chores.
Nate Brownlee: You can go in with them if you want?
Alex Chambers: Might as well, yeah.
Alex Chambers: So they've got grain, water and they're also feeding.
Nate Brownlee: Yeah and little frogs. I've seen one with a crawdad claw but I didn't see them get the crawdad. I mean they are opportunistic, they'll take what they can find. One of the things I really like is when they find something and it's too big for them to eat, because they don't have hands to help take it apart, their instinctual behavior is to make noise and squeak and run around and all the other birds follow it and so they just pull it apart through sharing, but also a fun game of keep away. That's fun on the farmer end. I think they benefit from getting to have a bite size morsel rather than something they can't eat. But I don't know if it's as fun for them as it is for me.
Alex Chambers: And then how old do they get?
Nate Brownlee: We do ours for six weeks. So it's good for cash flow for the business. It's great for the pasture. Usually you can see a dark green path where the tractors have pulled and so you can see the little light green spaces between the tractors where they haven't fertilized it as well.
Alex Chambers: And do you move it everyday?
Nate Brownlee: We move them everyday. So they move forward one length of the tractor. So they're getting a new 12 feet every day and you know, they leave behind this manure carpet and that turns into gold. Manure can be a waste product if you've got too much of it, but if you utilize the employees to spread it out for you then, shoot, it's a pretty sweet thing.
Liz Brownlee: Back in 2020 there was a farm that we were really good friends with those guys, still are. They had been all commodity crops. They were doing all non GMO at the time which was kind of crazy, but they still sold into the commodity market. But they started dabbling in local and regional sales and that's what carried them through the hard years and so they just kept doubling down on that strategy, and their neighbors saw it and they saw it working and so they took notice and they started adding. So they started that farm, added popcorn and they started selling some of their beef locally and they added small grains that they could sell at market and ground their own wheat and that sort of thing, and then they had neighbors who would add oats and they started grinding oats for oatmeal, and they had another neighbor who had been selling dairy on the open commodity market for a generation and then they started making ice-cream and butter, and everybody likes ice-cream and butter. So it worked.
Liz Brownlee: Farmers are not always quick to change, but when you can see your neighbor do it and it works, that's very encouraging. I think they called it over the back fence conservation. So it works.
Alex Chambers: Crawdad holes, is that what you say?
Nate Brownlee: Yeah.
Alex Chambers: It's amazing, I've never seen it before.
Nate Brownlee: Called chimneys.
Alex Chambers: Yeah right, that makes sense.
Liz Brownlee: I think back to farmers' markets, sitting around at the farmers' markets back then and the old timers. I remember Butch and John's dad and those guys, they'd be talking about, "I remember when it was this wet in 1967," or whatever, and they would just talk about, "Well it'll be alright, there are up years and down years." And that's the thing that farmers have always said, "Next year will be better." It's hard to be a pessimist and a farmer at the same time right? I think farmers just didn't want to think about it, because if you started to think about it, it was a very serious problem for you business model and your identity and your business, but your family as well. So I think the economics though are maybe what finally got people to wake up, because farmers started to see, not just a few bad years right, they saw noticeable losses year after year and you can't argue with the numbers after a while, and you can't take a loss year after year after year after a while. So I think that's what got people to pay attention.
Alex Chambers: And now on a personal level, did you feel despair?
Liz Brownlee: Absolutely. I absolutely felt despair. I just couldn't understand why other people all around me, my neighbors and my legislators and everyone in between couldn't see the problem. It just didn't make any sense to me. Don't they care about my future? Don't they care about their own future? Don't they care about their grandkids? I couldn't make sense of it. I just wanted to shake people. Just any random person I saw, just take them aside and say, "Please, don't you get it?" I joked about farmers can't be pessimists but I'm absolutely a pessimist. So yes it's stressful. But Nate and I, we always used to debate about this, does change happen? Is the most effective change big change or small change? And we decided that our farm was going to be the change that could affect and so that's what we did, and here we are, it's 2016 and we're doing alright.
Liz Brownlee: Because we sit so wet, cattle are a hard fit. They're big animals, and so if it's wet they're up to their knees in mud at all times. Whereas sheep are much lighter animals, but they're still grazers and what we want here is pasture because you can sequester a lot of carbon with pasture, you can raise good food with pasture and we enjoy working outside with our animals. So people ask us, "Why don't you grow vegetables?" and we say, "Well, I like pigs more than I like carrots."
Liz Brownlee: That sheep her name's Gracy, she's one of our mommas and she was just eating a little Ash tree sapling and now she's munching on some grass and there are some flower weed type things, some briers in here, some clovers and all those things have different chemical make ups. Actually the diversity of diet gives them a diversity of types of fats and that's what turns into flavor. Nate can tell you more about the science, but that's the sum of it and I think that's really cool.
Alex Chambers: If you guys could describe what it's like there now.
Liz Brownlee: Oh it's so nice. We can pop into the shade anytime we want.
Nate Brownlee: Sit on the swing.
Liz Brownlee: We have this full size swing, like a porch swing but it's hanging in a big old Sycamore tree that we planted back in, that's right we didn't plant it, that was one that we just let grow starting back in 2014. It's a big beautiful tree now.
Nate Brownlee: We used to call that the pig woods. The pigs were in that paddock so we had to mow around them and then all of a sudden next year without us planning on it, we had 100 by 100 square foot section of cotton woods and sycamores, that were as dense as could be those first couple of years, super dark underneath, and they started out competing with each other and the Sycamore was the grand champion of them all.
Liz Brownlee: Yes, it was the winner and we've got, gosh how many sheep do we have these days?
Nate Brownlee: You didn't count those this morning?
Liz Brownlee: So we got sheep grazing here and on the hill farm which feels really good because that's the part of the farm that has really nice old woods and so we get more time these days to go over there and hike around because we have to go check on the animals and that's good. When we moved back here there were gullies almost up to my waist and that land has really healed and come back to life as well.
Alex Chambers: That was episode one of How to Survive the Future, a podcast about today from the perspective of tomorrow. You can find more episodes wherever you get your podcasts, or you can keep listening because I'm about to play you episode two, Bloomington Birth Center. We're going to hear from Katie Barrus. She's the mother of two sons, Ameen and Awase. They're grown men at this point but they still do dinner together almost every week, along with Ameen's wife Sarah and Katie's husband, Hussain.
Katie Barrus: I just really like trying to cook new things, and I like to see them a lot and so we just have a very casual dinner on Fridays. They came over and we sat down, we ate. Sarah had brought over cookies. She brings over the dessert and so it's nice that I don't have to do that too. But, she brought out the cookies and we started getting into them and Ameen said, "Mom, we have something that we really want to talk to you about." For some reason my mind didn't go to that right away. I thought maybe, I don't know why but I didn't go there. But then when they both looked at me, I knew, because they both looked up and looked at me and I'm like, okay, I think I know what's going on. But I didn't say that because I wanted them to tell me. And so Sarah said, "I'm pregnant," and of course I started crying because I was just overwhelmed and excited and I gave them both a big hug.
Katie Barrus: Awase has been out of town a lot with his job and so he couldn't make it that Friday. So we all sat together and we video called Awase. I think he knew immediately when we were all there, all on the camera at once, and it was just like okay, he was very happy for them and I think he's excited to have a nephew. A nephew or a niece.
Alex Chambers: So they decided to find out ahead of time? Or are you just not wanting to reveal?
Katie Barrus: I might already know.
Alex Chambers: And how about Hussein, how is he?
Katie Barrus: He's really excited too. He's always talked about having grandkids and how he is excited to be that person that he always wanted. To help out and to not just be there when it's easy and fun and drop by and see the kids, but actually be like, "I'm here for you, you know, call me at three o'clock in the morning if you need me."
Katie Barrus: I'm also just very excited to do all the toddler things, because again I think that that's a phase that's really tough and exhausting, and I think it's great when you have somebody step in and play all the games they want to play like running around and getting outside and getting their energy out, and I'm really excited about that. I just think toddlers are hilarious and they say really funny things, so I'm excited about that too.
Georg’Ann Cattelona: I'm standing in the place where it all started upstairs in our house. Our son was born in the bedroom and just around the corner I went into another room to start the night because I needed to not be on the floor. We had a futon on the floor. And I just remember the beginning of this incredibly mind altered stated.
Katie Barrus: I think no matter how the birth goes.
Sheryl Stoodley: I was not prepared for what was to come.
Katie Barrus: The parents are usually exhausted by the end.
Sheryl Stoodley: I don't think I ever really thought about it except that I wanted a child very much.
Katie Barrus: And then they have a fresh newborn that they have to take care of.
Sheryl Stoodley: For some reason I had no idea what it would mean to have a newborn.
Georg’Ann Cattelona: It was the most amazing and the most frightening sense of responsibility and love and transformation.
Katie Barrus: And so I hope that I can be there to make that transition easier for them.
Georg’Ann Cattelona: I felt like I had walked through a threshold into a very sacred space, but also a really messy body fluid, poop, mucus, milk, all the things space as well. I can think of nothing more spiritual nor more physical than the experience of becoming a mother.
Katie Barrus: Of course I hope their experience is not like mine.
Katie Barrus: We had been wanting to have a baby for a couple of years and when I found out I was pregnant we both didn't really believe it for a while, just because we had been wanting to get pregnant for so long.
Amy Pickard: Going into the birth of my first child I had really high expectations for how awesome and completely natural it would be.
Katie Barrus: And then the experience of giving birth came, as it does.
Amy Pickard: And it was neither of those things. It was protracted, I was in labor for 51 hours. I got all of the meds they would give you, whatever the thing is that makes you dilate.
Katie Barrus: I was starting to have what I think was early labor pains.
Amy Pickard: And then right as I got to the point where I was in transition and starting to feel that urge to push.
Katie Barrus: It just continued all that night.
Amy Pickard: The doctors and the midwives were like, "Stop."
Katie Barrus: And we were both really afraid.
Amy Pickard: "Try and keep that baby in there because the baby is breech and you need to have a c-section right now."
Katie Barrus: And Hussein panicked and called the doulas and I think we got ahead of ourselves a little bit. I think we could have just hung out a little bit longer, maybe even tried to sleep. Then it was a long period of time. It was 12 hours. Luckily the doulas that we had worked as partners and so they switched out so that they could get some rest.
Katie Barrus: Things at home were painful but they were never really that scary, especially with the doulas there. But when we got to the hospital it became scary to me. It's just an environment that you're there at the hospital when you're sick. Someone you know is getting surgery or someone you know is dying or you yourself are injured or hurt or whatever, and that environment just amped up my anxiety and fear and the pain that before was manageable became unmanageable, and also my exhaustion started to wear on me. So I had been, like I said, at this point at least 24 hours already of no sleep and excitement turning to anxiety and Hussain was the same. We were both running on fumes and then just hours continued to pass.
Katie Barrus: One of my main birth preferences was to not have any pain medication at all. I don't like to take medication unless I absolutely have to and I was really nervous about what effects those medications might have on my baby and me, and so I was very firm on that and in fact to the point of kind of being semi not outwardly, but in my mind judgmental of people who did get an epidural or got some type of pain medication during their labor and birth.
Katie Barrus: But I just remember the pain getting worse and worse and finally realizing that I was thinking about the epidural and being afraid to tell Hussein and the doulas that I wanted the epidural, because I was ashamed. And then telling them that I wanted it and their reaction being better than I ever hoped for, like very supportive and just totally understanding, totally supportive, totally non-judgmental whatsoever, and just this sense of relief. It was the shame outweighed the pain at that point, like before I said that, because it was so, it was a lot. It was a lot to admit that. And then after I had the epidural I very much became just like a patient to the staff, like an unnamed patient kind of. They were doing things to me and I was just on the bed with no feeling.
Katie Barrus: We had to use some pitocin to move things along because things were taking so long after I got the epidural still, and so this was just more and more hours of not sleeping and I remember Hussain being next to me and sleeping in a chair, but waking up in panic every five minutes.
Katie Barrus: Then when the doctor came in, the new doctor, and she just came in the room and turned on all the lights and just checked me without really asking to check me, my cervix, and then said, "Okay, it's time to push." And it just seemed very rushed. It was very rushed and very impersonal and cold.
Katie Barrus: And she was very rough with me, and she was tugging a lot. After he was born they started suctioning him very vigorously and took him away from me and wouldn't let me have him and said that there was some meconium that he swallowed, and despite him looking really good and seeming healthy, they took him away and they were really vigorously sucking out stuff from his mouth and his throat. Then the doctor was pulling the placenta pretty roughly and I started bleeding a lot and so they had to give me some extra medication, not just the pitocin they usually give but an additional medication to stop the bleeding.
Katie Barrus: After that we stayed for two days. The first time that Hussain and I finally passed out, the nurses came and took Ameen from the room without telling us, and so we woke up and he was gone. Hussein went to go find him and he ran out of the room and walked up to the desk and as he was walking up to the desk, one of the nurses was talking to another nurse and reading off a piece of paper and was reading our son's name off and said his whole name. Said, "Ameen Hof Ahmed, Jesus Christ, what a ridiculous name."
Katie Barrus: Later that day we left the hospital and went home and Ameen was having a lot of difficulty breastfeeding and I wasn't getting sleep. I just kept trying and trying to breastfeed. I really didn't want to use formula. Again one of those things that I was judgmental about before I actually went through it myself and realized that it's really fucking hard. And breastfeeding went really terribly for about six to eight weeks of me trying and being in excruciating pain. I mean even to the point of bleeding, my nipples bleeding. It was really painful and he had a really tough time latching which we found out through physical therapy was because of the vigorous suctioning at birth. So he had a gag reflux to anything being put in his mouth because of that experience, and so anytime I tried to put my breast in his mouth, he gagged and moved away and I'd say around three months was where it really started to get a lot better.
Amie Messer: And when I took him home and he would cry because I knew he was hungry, I would cry too, knowing how much it was going to hurt to feed him. So then there's that decision you're trying to make, do I supplement with formula? I just want to give myself a break for one feeding. When I asked his pediatrician about that, she was really like, "You can do that but you're going to destroy his gut." And so I just hurt for four months until it stopped hurting.
Katie Barrus: I remember my doulas coming at six weeks to come do their check in visit, and then asking me to tell my birth story and I told them, "You guys were there, why would I tell you my story?" They said, "Okay, just go ahead and take it from the top, just tell us the story." And I'm like, "Do you mean the details when you weren't there? What do you mean?" They were like, "No, just tell the story from the beginning to the end in your perspective."
Amie Messer: I felt like there was a community of support that I'd heard about, but I didn't know how to access it. Like it was a club that I didn't belong to.
Katie Barrus: Only then did it really hit me that that experience was traumatic for me. I didn't realize that before then. I knew that having a baby was hard and I was struggling and breastfeeding wasn't going well, and I thought maybe this is normal. Breastfeeding, obviously there's some issues but maybe it's normal to feel miserable. Maybe it's normal to feel like you don't want to live anymore. Maybe that's just a temporary thing and everything's fine.
Amie Messer: I was probably feeling like in some ways I didn't really deserve the help.
Katie Barrus: It was scary how miserable I was. I remember crying to Hussein, being like, "I can't believe how absolutely miserable I am." I was just terrified that this was how life was going to be forever and that was so scary.
Katie Barrus: I'm glad that they had me tell the story because I think it was very healing for me to tell the story and every time I tell someone, who really listens, I think it is a part of the healing and clearly I'm still healing.
Alex Chambers: It's been decades now since you went through all that. What is it like to tell that story now?
Katie Barrus: I guess now when I tell the story, I'm no longer just thinking about me but I'm also thinking about my kids and what I want from their experiences. If Sarah is feeling the misery that I felt, I want to be there to say that it's temporary and it sucks, but it doesn't last forever. But it really sucks while it's happening.
Sheryl Stoodley: And she was telling me, it's all going to work out, you just have to breath and take time to introduce this child into your life. I guess sometimes I felt like I would never perform or direct again.
Alex Chambers: What are they doing to prepare?
Katie Barrus: Sarah really wanting to give birth at the birth center and I'm very excited about that because you see the same midwife throughout your entire pregnancy, and she's also the one that's there when you're giving birth, and so you're not walking in not knowing who's going to be there. You have someone who you know and you're comfortable with and it's more homey. It feels comfy and so you don't feel that sterile environment of the hospital. I love it. Yes, I'm very excited.
Eliza Ladd: Postpartum, does that mean something after the parting that in fact is like a great joining or a great finding out? I feel like it's so much more of a entering into a giant cathedral or vast forest and field and suddenly swimming in the ocean and then back out crawling onto the beach and basking in the sunlight and then animals are coming and flying and surrounding us. I was once run across by a field of monkeys in Dharamshala in Northern India. Ran across me and didn't even notice I was there. I don't know why I'm thinking of that now, I guess it's about the massivity of life force that I experienced.
Katie Barrus: When you become a parent, you realize how difficult it is and sometimes you make decisions that you thought you'd never make.
Sheryl Stoodley: One time when we had calmed down, we totally forgot we had a baby and we got half way to Joe's Pizza which is down the street, walking, to do what we used to do, get a pizza together, and had to rush back because we remembered we had a baby sleeping in the crib on the second floor.
Katie Barrus: When I went into my second labor and birth, I was more cognizant of, this is unpredictable and I'm here for the ride.
Amy Pickard: I also ate my placenta after my second birth. Got the placenta freeze dried and turned into capsules. Whether or not that actually was part of why the postpartum period was so much better I don't know, but it definitely was much better the second time around.
Katie Barrus: I definitely have preferences and certain things that I would like that I can kind of control, like having a doula there.
Georg’Ann Cattelona: I don't know, I suppose for the baby there's no sense of separation between where he ended and I began, that unity that had happened within and during the pregnancy, that just stayed for a very long time.
Katie Barrus: I feel like parents and I think women especially are pushed passed their limits.
Toby Kaufmann: And I guess the other thing I just remember the first years being so happy as a family and feeling so proud of that, and like we did that thing and we're doing this thing.
Eliza Ladd: So amazing to have carried a little schmooka looka puka puka in my belly for nine months or a couple of weeks late and then whoosh, she's out and she rose up with a tall hand and arm and fist, strong and powerful.
Katie Barrus: A lot of the families I work with, they think that they do have a lot of control and they do in some ways. But I think that they think that have more control than they actually really do, and I always encourage families to think through birth plans and things like that because I feel it's really helpful to learn these things and to understand what their options are in everything. But at the same time, you know, making it clear through conversations we have that this isn't set in stone and let's try to be open and curious with the experience that we have.
Eliza Ladd: My daughter's just turned five and I feel like I'm entering a new postpartum phase or place. She's so strong and independent and yet needs me in such another way. So I'm learning, I'm growing I guess that's the biggest thing. Oh my God, change, change, change.
Alex Chambers: So I think the last thing that I wanted to do is just see if you wanted to introduce yourself again.
Katie Barrus: I always have struggled introducing myself. Actually I struggle with like basically everything we're doing in this conversation, which is just like talking about myself.
Katie Barrus: I'm Katie. I'm a mom of two boys, a Professor of Criminology and a birth doula.
Alex Chambers: Do you have favorite foods or anything?
Katie Barrus: I got a triple chocolate raspberry croissant a few weeks back and it was life changing. So maybe that. Yes, it changed my life.
Alex Chambers: That was episode two of How to Survive the Future. A podcast about today from the perspective of tomorrow here on Inner States from WFIU. I'm Alex Chambers. How to Survive the Future was produced by me with Allison Quantz who also came up with our title. Music is by Airport People, Amy Oelsner, Backward Collective and Last Ledges and Ramón Monrás-Sender. Thanks to Molly Wyler and Kayte Young for additional editorial support. Thanks also to the mothers who lent their voices to that episode, that's Georgine Catalona, Cheryl Stoodley, Amy Pickard, Amy Messer, Eliza Ladd and Toby Coffman. How to Survive the Future is produced in partnership with Indiana Humanities, with Funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and with further support from the Writer's Guild at Bloomington. And Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Eoban Binder, Aaron Cain, Mark Chilla, Michael Paskash, Payton Whaley and Kayte Young. Our Executive Producer is John Bailley. As always our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. Alright time for some found sound.
Alex Chambers: That was me walking on the boardwalk in McCormick's Creek State Park, recorded by Molly Wyler. Until next week, I'm Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening.