Childbirth is just a draw to the button

When Rachel Homan and John Morris were named to represent Canada in mixed doubles curling at the Olympics in Beijing, it reminded me of this column that appeared in The Sault Star in April 2021. Can any athlete in any sport match the toughness Homan displayed at the Scotties?

I don’t know if you noticed, but curling whiz Rachel Homan led her team to a record 11th Grand Slam title Monday, just 25 days after giving birth to daughter Bowyn.

And just 50 days before that at eight months pregnant she curled in the Scotties, losing in the final.

Some beer league skips might have fingered Bowyn for the Scotties loss; Ms. Homan had the grace not to heap scorn on her unborn vice-skip. 

Photo of John Morris and Rachel Homan from the Team Homan page on Facebook

In return, infant Bowyn, out of the womb and into the crowd for Monday’s final, declined to criticized mom’s shot-calling decisions in the Grand Slam.

Homan’s remarkable ability to make her special delivery without missing a delivery on the ice has some men questioning why most other women make such a big fuss about childbirth.

Let me be crystal clear: I am not one of those men. No. No. No.

I enthusiastically agree that childbirth is an exhausting ordeal, sometimes agonizing but usually with a happy outcome.

After all, it took me weeks to recover from the birth of one of my kids. In hindsight, perhaps it would have been quicker and less painful had I not chosen to recover in a tavern. 

But that experience helped make me the empathetic (some would shorten that to pathetic) “woke” male that I am today.

Homan herself rushed to demur that her child-birthing experience was very far from the norm.

“I want to be clear that every pregnancy, delivery and recovery is different and you can’t compare from person to person,” she told CBC Sports. “I feel so fortunate to be able to play and I know that wouldn’t be the case for a lot of people.”

“A lot” being 99.975% of people.

Any comment less gracious might have resulted in curling brooms, and perhaps other sorts of brooms, being hurled Homan’s way.

Certainly, I don’t hear any other woman saying “hold my beer” and preparing to compete in Olympic weightlifting while sucking on crushed ice, doing rhythmic breathing exercises and cursing her spouse.

One wonders if Olympic drug rules would immediately disqualify a competitor who called for an epidural.

Still, Homan’s accomplishment, whether enabled by an incredibly low pain threshold or the overwhelming strength of her legendary competitive drive, brings to mind old stories of women working in the fields, giving birth and then returning immediately to hoeing duty with a newborn strapped to their backs.

I found an account online in which a 70-year-old tribeswoman from the Philippines recalls just such an experience, but not with any nostalgic fondness.

And forgive me, members of the “gentler” gender, but Homan’s heroics brought to my mind a memorable scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of the Life.

A woman, played by Terry Jones, gives birth to an infant while standing at the washtub doing the laundry.

“Oh get that would you, Deirdre,” she asks her daughter, not missing a beat at the washboard.

Shame, shame on those Pythons for making light of pre-twentieth-century childbirth. Shame, I say yet again, reluctant to wade through a bunch of scorching emails.

The reality is that childbirth in the olden days involved equal parts pain and death. Fully one in three women didn’t survive their child-bearing years.

Rich pregnant women would close themselves off from the world; no men were allowed into the laying-in chambers, which I am sure was a great hardship to all concerned.

Poor women often had to work right up until they gave birth, unless they had dodged death long enough to have a daughter old enough to cover their responsibilities.

Catholic women apparently called upon St. Margaret, the patron saint of childbirth. Margaret was eaten by a dragon but hacked back up because of a crucifix she was holding.

The idea of a dragon giving birth might resonate with a lot of men.

Childbirth is seldom as easy as spitting out a saint, but many women recover amazingly quickly. Perhaps not win-a-curling-grand-slam quickly, but quickly.

For that we can thank an overdose of endorphins, calming and pain-releasing hormones released near the end of pregnancy.

Without endorphins there would be so many one-child families you’d think you were in China.

Men don’t get endorphins during childbirth, which is why so many self-medicate.

And childbirth leaves men with permanent scars on their wrists that testify to their failure to convince a pregnant partner to pare her fingernails down to the quick.

But let’s all raise a glass, first to Rachel Homan and then to all of those women who for some reason can’t pull off a double-raise takeout while carrying a watermelon.

Why am I still a hairy guy?

(Originally published June 2020 in The Sault Star)

Almost cut my hair. Happened just the other day.

It’s getting kind of long. I could’ve said it was in my way.

Friday was the day the Ontario government, apparently after consulting a ouija board, restored many of our pre-COVID freedoms, even though the virus is still hanging around like a drunken neighbour at the end of a party.

So in the better-behaved parts of Ontario, including Algoma, people finally could legally get their hair cut professionally again. Put down them garden shears, ma!

But like David Crosby in his 1970 song quoted off the top of this column, I didn’t book a haircut. I didn’t even try.

David Crosby is more “party in the back and polish in the front” these days

For one thing, my preferred cutter couldn’t have handled all her regulars in a single day even if she sprouted a few dozen sets of arms.

And I anticipated a stampede by a whole bunch of women who have been afflicted with a two-inch-wide strip of grey in their hair, apparently a side effect of the coronavirus.

Hell hath no fury like a woman whose turn in the salon is usurped by a man, as Elizabethan dramatists used to say. So after you, mesdames.

My own hair looks like it sustained a dye job from a passing seagull. But I’m sort of liking the length.

And unlike David Crosby, now 78, I still sprout long hair from most parts of my scalp. No party in the back and polish in the front for me. I’m styling long hair.

Is it nostalgia for the halcyon hippy days of my late teens and twenties that makes me fondly fondle my longer locks? How could I be nostalgic for something I’m not supposed to be able to remember?

But letting your hair down seems appropriate in today’s atmosphere of social upheaval. Long hair was an emblem of the ‘60s counterculture, before it became an excuse for a horrible Broadway musical.

About a month ago if someone said “there’s something in the air” they meant COVID; now they might mean revolution — as well as COVID.

There are thousands of people in the streets and young people speaking their mind, just as when Crosby’s bandmate Stephen Stills captured the ‘60s street clashes in For What It’s Worth.

Today’s protests are mainly focused on racial inequality. My generation hit the pavement over that too, but we’d take umbrage at just about anything, from the Vietnam War to the undercooked french fries in school cafeteria lunches. As long as our parents might like something, it qualified as an injustice.

But things have changed since half a century ago.

Smoking pot openly isn’t the act of defiance it once was; legalization took the fun out of that.

And police aren’t being referred to as “pigs.” Perhaps real pigs, upset at being associated with animalistic acts of violence, threatened to sue.

As in the late 60s, there is a crooked a-hole in the White House, although compared to Trump Nixon looks like his claim that he was “not a crook” could almost stand up. There’s nothing tricky about the current dickie; his crimes are part of his allure for the red cap crowd, so why cover them up?

Will there be free love this time around? If so, I hope it’s before 9 p.m., the bedtime of aging revolutionaries.

Will some really great music be inspired by today’s street clashes? Probably, if some rapper samples something like early Chicago or Neil Young.

Crosby’s anthemic Almost Cut My Hair has been credited with making long tresses an emblem of rebellion against the establishment.

So I guess a long-hair today should do his best to bring down the loathed boomer ruling class. That’s going to require some fancy philosophical footwork for me, since I am, by birthdate and default, a member of that elite. Whether I like it or not.

Even the cynical younger me who didn’t give peace and love much of a chance in 1970 never imagined how avidly my generation would embrace selfishness and greed.

So maybe the remnants of an idealist in me has bit of an itch to be on the front lines, though I’d likely end up like Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old who lay bleeding from the ear after being pushed to the ground by police in Buffalo June 4.

And maybe the journalist in me thirsts (journalists are known for their thirst) to be out covering what’s happening on those American streets, risking mace and rubber bullets and false arrest while the cellphones cameras roll.

But the pragmatic chicken in me will leave both the reporting and the protesting to a younger generation, hoping they’ll do a better job than we did. You’re on your own, revolution.

Still, I toyed with letting my hair grow even longer as a gesture of sympathy to the cause.

But then I was told just the other day that long hair makes me look 20 years older than I am.

As someone in the WHO (World Health Organization, I think) once said, hope I die before I look that old.

I’m booking my haircut chop-chop.

To self-isolate, perchance to write

(Previously published in The Sault Star but still pertinent today)

It’s mostly Shakespeare’s fault.

Those of us in the writing biz cringe when we are told that we should be churning out masterpieces from our COVID isolation instead of scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Didn’t the Bard of Avon concoct three of his most beloved and respected dramas, King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, while fleeing the Black Plague? So why are some of us playing Candy Crush all day?

To be fair, just about every time Shakespeare put quill to parchment there was a plague going on. It cropped up intermittently for more than a century in Elizabethan England. 

A bust of Shakespeare sits in a hotel window in Stratford-upon-Avon, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease. REUTERS/Carl Recine

Whenever an outbreak of the rat-borne disease prevented him from sucking up to sponsors and shilling ticket sales at the Globe Theatre, Will spewed out another masterpiece from his forced confinement.

London was hard hit, but Stratford didn’t escape unscathed. So for Shakespeare, it was a plague on both his houses.

Anyway, in some people’s minds any old pandemic should generate almost as much art as it does death.

Critics might scream that Edvard Munch painted some of his most memorable works during the Spanish Flu.

Or they’ll let it drop that Isaac Newton came up with his theory of gravity during a retreat from the plague. At the same time Newton also invented calculus, a subject I never gave a fig for in high school.

Boccaccio wrote his plague-themed Decameron and Daniel Defoe produced A Journal of the Plague Year while in isolation. 

And so on and so on.

Fair to say most would-be scribblers have more in common with Hemingway, who found himself quarantined with his sick child, his wife and his mistress, and produced nothing but empty liquor bottles.

The thing is, people who make writing their full-time job might not even have noticed that there’s quarantining going on. It’s business and life as usual.

For writers, there’s never much more to do during the day but write. Yet because they’re very creative they find lots of other stuff to fill the time.

The only benefit COVID has had for writers is to make their lifestyle more socially acceptable.

Suddenly writers are not the only people with questionable personal hygiene, erratic snacking habits and a tendency to drink before noon. 

Since some writers trend toward weirdness, they rarely find themselves in gatherings of more than five people. So social distancing comes naturally to them.

The rest of the world is also spending inordinate amounts of time revising tweets, spreading conspiracy theories online, choosing our 10 favourite albums and following trails to nowhere on YouTube.

Many a life is passing to the sound of a relentless TikTok.

In this COVID world, a writer’s day-to-day existence doesn’t seem as eccentric as it once did. We have lots of bedfellows in our strangeness.

‘Od’s truth, I’ve been fairly prolific during this time of stasis, chugging out newspaper columns at more than my usual rate.

But as for the other, more “serious” writing to which I sometimes aspire, I’m afraid it has been much ado about nothing.