Lucia Saperstein

About Lucia Saperstein

http://bagelsandcrawfish.blogspot.jp/

Lucia Saperstein is a story seeker, travel junkie, obsessive bibliophile, yoga mat devotee, and avid tea drinker. As a kid roaming the prairies and swamps of Southwest Louisiana, she never imagined she would one day be roaming the world. She and her family are currently living in Western Japan and savoring every minute of it, especially the weird and wonderful world of Japanese vending machines.

Posts by Lucia Saperstein:

Breathe In, Breathe Out

When I was fifteen years old, I attempted to read Of Mice and Men while sitting in the hallway of a hospital, but I was too nervous to absorb the words. My mom was in labor, and my sister and I were waiting to be called into the delivery room. Prior to that day, my only exposure to childbirth was what I had seen on TV or in the movies. Those cinematic depictions always involved a lot of yelling, frenetic energy, and intense pain followed by the arrival of a cleanly washed and freshly swaddled newborn. I thought I knew what I was in for. 

As my mom’s labor progressed, my dad came out to get us and when we entered her hospital room, I was immediately struck by how quiet and peaceful that room felt. My mom wasn’t screaming or writhing around in pain. Instead, she was breathing and getting through the current wave of contractions. As that wave subsided, she turned and smiled at my sister and me. The contractions became more frequent and painful, but my mom continued to remain calm and incredibly focused.  

At one point, I remember feeling scared because she was clearly struggling. Through gritted teeth, she announced that she didn’t think she could do this anymore. I didn’t know what this meant. Would they have to operate? Was there a problem? But before I could ask questions or even reach over to encourage her, she had shifted her position and refocused her gaze into one of determined ferocity, which resulted in the crowning of the baby’s head. And within minutes, I watched in awe as my beautiful baby sister entered the world coated in blood and vernix.  

It opened my eyes to the beauty and strength of childbirth. I have my mother to thank for that. 

*** 

It took us awhile to get pregnant with my son, and when it finally happened I quickly shifted from the agonizing rollercoaster ride of infertility to actively preparing for a natural childbirth experience. I read every childbirth book I could find. My husband and I attended Bradley Method classes, and I diligently practiced breathing and stretching exercises. I ate well. I modified my yoga practice. I did all the “right things.”   

But sudden pre-term labor led to bed rest, and round ligament pain turned out to be a life-threatening blood clot. On a chilly December morning, I woke up to discover that my left leg was purple, cold, and swollen like a misshapen eggplant. I could barely squeeze into a stretchy pair of maternity pants. My sister drove me to the hospital where my husband was a young resident in training. Within a few hours, I was medevacked to a larger hospital where the doctor brusquely declared I was in active labor. “You will be having this baby tonight,” he said, “but we will probably not be able to save both of you. You need to make some decisions.” He then turned and left the room. 

Breathe in, breathe out.  

Despite the glaring fluorescent hospital lights, the beeping machines, and the tiny room crowded with nurses; despite my frightened husband tightly gripping my hand, I was plunged into a dark and lonely place. Wanting this baby. Wanting to live. Wanting to be anywhere but here.  

In between gut-wrenching sobs, I was experiencing contractions. I was shaking and petrified to move for fear of dislodging the clot or making labor progress further towards delivery. I couldn’t trust my body. I had been doing all the right things, and yet this still was happening. And now I was being slammed into the grisly grey wall of mortality. The nurses kept telling me to breathe – Breathe in, breathe out – but I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. Everything was moving too quickly. 

As day turned into night, my anxiety sky rocketed. I had a flashback to my junior year of college when I awoke to discover that a girl in my dorm had died unexpectedly in the middle of the night from a blood clot. Could that happen to me? I couldn’t erase the doctor’s words from my head: “You will be having this baby tonight.”  

I was exhausted, and yet I was too scared to sleep. Adrenaline, contractions, desperate prayers, and pleading with my husband to save our baby twisted themselves into a tornado that tore me apart over and over again.  

Breathe in, breathe out. 

When morning came, I was finally able to breathe a bit easier. My labor hadn’t progressed, which was an enormous relief. Someone turned on the TV and I was eventually able to nod off to sleep.  

The next two weeks in the hospital were punctuated by blood draws and injections of blood thinners. My arms, legs, and belly were covered with bruises, but I was slowly able to get up and walk more each day. Throughout all the trauma and stress, our baby continued to grow and move. He was weathering the big and little storms of this pregnancy. Early on, we decided to name him Noah, and now that name seemed to be even more fitting. 

My pregnancy was now officially labeled a high risk. I was allowed to go home, but the remaining months were shaped by daily visits to the local hospital for blood draws and monitoring. In addition to returning to my Bradley Method breathing exercises, I started meeting with a therapist. I was struggling with anxiety and working hard to trust my body and myself again. I wrapped myself up in the cheery yellow robe my sister had sewn for me and watched Christmas movies because they always had happy endings. I spent a lot of time rubbing my belly and talking to Noah, reassuring him and myself that everything would be ok. 

Breathe in, Breathe out.  

A day before my scheduled induction date, I suddenly went into labor. On the drive to the hospital, I was battling my anxiety, imagining all the possible worst-case scenarios: dislodging the clot that was still there, having a complication with the baby, bleeding out because of the high dose of blood thinners still in my body, and needing pain medications but not being able to take them because of my current medications.  

I dreaded the thought of returning to the hospital where I had felt scared and overwhelmed during my previous stay. I tried to combat these thoughts with the visualization exercises I had been practicing with my therapist. I tried to remember the breathing techniques from my Bradley classes. Nothing seemed to work, and the rising panic grew more intense with each contraction. 

Breathe in, Breathe out.  

When we entered our assigned birthing room, I requested that they keep the lights dim and asked them to fill up the large tub with water. The fears were still clinging to me, but my focus shifted to the intense contractions that were starting to make me gasp. I entered the warm water, and transitioned to a deeper place within myself. It was similar to my previous hospital experience, but instead of being dark and scary, this was a space of surprising strength and focused calm.  

There was something powerful about being fully immersed in warm water and darkness. I was finally able to breathe – deep, focused, calming breaths that came from a place I didn’t know I had within me. Anchored to my breath in a way I had never experienced before, my body was doing exactly what it needed to do. My mind was fully engaged on laboring. My worries had no space here. Diving down into the surreal peace like I had I seen my own mother do during her labor, I was able to go deeper with each inhalation.  

Breathe in, breathe out. 

A few hours later, Noah was born healthy and without complications. Our doctor started to sing “Happy Birthday,” and with tears streaming down his face, he handed Noah to me for the first time. Holding his tiny body tight to mine, I was overcome with crazy, heart-piercing joy and love. All the years of wanting a baby of our own, all the months of scary ups and downs, melted into the background and were replaced with pure elation. He was here. He was really here. And I was, too. 

 

Words and image by Lucia Saperstein.

Tucked Away

hello there friend

Growing up I spent a lot of time with my cousins. We would create elaborate imaginary worlds and on-going dress-up dramas that would endure for several months. We played a lot of cards and board games. We watched Pink Panther movies over and over again. We put on embarrassing dance performances for large family gatherings by using our pastel-colored boom boxes to record music from the radio.

And we played a lot of Sardines. Sardines is similar to hide-and-seek, but instead of hiding from the seeker, everyone looks for one person, then crams into the hiding space together. When we eventually crawled into that space we would hold our breath, fight the giggles, and remain hidden until the final person discovered the sweaty mess of kids crammed under our grandmother’s back porch steps or in a musty closet with towering piles of our grandfather’s old tax returns. The last person to discover the “sardines” was the next one to hide, and the game would continue until my grandmother would call us into the kitchen for an afternoon snack.

I am sure we must have played Sardines in other places, but my strongest memory of playing it is at my grandparents’ home. Theirs was a large house, which at one point held nine children. But as they grew up and moved into their own homes, it gradually became filled with boxes, mounds of papers, unfinished projects, egg cartons, books, plastic bags, yarn, sweepstakes letters, empty margarine tubs, damaged or unlabeled cans of food, among other things. My grandparents had grown up during the Depression and they were both incredibly bright, resourceful, and witty. But they also had a strong need to hold onto anything that could potentially be reused, refurbished, and remembered. They were hardcore recyclers and hoarders long before those terms became commonplace.

I inherited my grandparents’ tendency to hold onto things, but as a military family who frequently has overseas assignments, we are limited in the weight and size of our household goods. Moving every three to five years forces us to reevaluate all of our belongings. It is an incredibly draining process for me and with this most recent move from Maryland to Japan, I started to think about the different ways I “box” things up in my life. While weaving in between wobbly piles of books and my excessive collection of tablecloths, I realized that it goes so much deeper than objects. I don’t just cling to physical items — I also clutch bits and pieces of stories and raw emotions. And just like any seasoned Sardines player, I hold my breath and cram them into the tight spaces hidden from view until they are ready to be rediscovered and reexamined. Sometimes these memories reemerge in expected ways, but most of the time they catch me off guard and take my breath away.

Since moving to Japan, my eleven-year-old daughter, Camille, has discovered the joys of origami and has spent countless hours transforming single sheets of paper into three dimensional creations that are both fragile and surprisingly durable. One of the very first things Camille learned to make were boxes, lovely little boxes that are able to hold their shape with only a few deft folds of the paper.

Soon, after she mastered those boxes, we visited the Hiroshima Peace Park. At the entrance to the Memorial Hall honoring the victims, we stopped to admire a set of miniscule origami cranes. Camille and I were amazed by how tiny, perfect, and beautiful they are. A Japanese docent noticed our fascination with them and guided us over to her desk where she proceeded to hand Camille a little origami box, similar to the boxes she had been making but on a much smaller scale. Nestled inside that box, were two of the smallest cranes we had ever seen.

The docent told us that she had made them that morning and that she wanted my daughter to have them. My eyes filled with tears as we thanked her for her generosity. Camille and I moved on to the memorial space, and the tears continued to flow. I was struck by the power of the paper box that my daughter was so carefully cradling in her hand. Surrounded by the haunting presence of war, loss, and sorrow, there was also this gift of peace, hope, beauty, and human connection all tucked into an itty-bitty box, made by a Japanese woman and gifted to an American girl.

We returned home, and my daughter found a special spot for the origami boxes in her room. Sometimes it’s the smallest boxes that contain the most important pieces of ourselves and others. Sometimes we cram as much as we can into whatever size box we have – a back closet filled with cousins or a moving box packed with seashells and favorite photos. And sometimes what’s most precious to us is hidden in unexpected spaces, small containers, just waiting for the perfect moment to be discovered, a moment of clarity and resonance. These are what I treasure and carry with me around the world.

 

Words and image by Lucia Saperstein.