You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman

I would have to say that one of my greatest, let us say, accomplishments (rather than achievements) is giving birth to two babies without pain medication or what are commonly known as “natural“ childbirths. I’m not sure why that determines that a childbirth is “natural”. No woman in the world thinks the delivery of her baby was other than “natural”. And I don’t think a mother has a diminished experience because she uses pain medication. Until now, I’ve never mentioned it. After all, it’s not a competition and it makes absolutely no sense to make such delineations. Everyone experiences pain differently and is entitled to decide how to tolerate that pain without feeling judged. What I would call intense discomfort in one setting I might experience as excruciating in another. For me, labor was painful but endurable– there are things I imagine would probably hurt more: shrapnel, gunshot wounds, mustard gas, to think of a few. Yet, I reckon if I ever had to deal with some puffed up, macho guy I would comfort myself in recalling the strength I had once possessed and say, “Oh yeah, tough guy, I bet you couldn’t do THAT!”

Why did I decide to try natural childbirth if modern medicine provides a way to avoid pain? Who doesn’t want to avoid pain? Even the durable, long-reigning monarch Queen Victoria before the birth of her eighth of nine children inhaled chloroform—then a new anesthetic– from a handkerchief.
She loved it, describing “blessed chloroform, soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure.” Having been in that rodeo more than a few times she knew a thing or two about labor pain. Thus, this royal seal of approval established chloroform à la reine as the beginning of a new era of pain relief during childbirth. For me, I think it came from a feeling that I wanted to try to be in touch and aware of what my body was sensing and to allow it to do what it does on its own. I had only witnessed one birth and I knew from that experience that the pain relief medication given in an epidural can greatly slow the process of labor and make it harder to sense what your body is doing, like going through contractions (well, obviously). So I didn’t want to feel out of touch with what my body was doing and I certainly didn’t want to make the whole process longer—recollections of my sister being in labor for what seemed like an eternity without any progress impelled me to want to avoid this scenario, pain or no pain.

So, during the labor of both my babies, with every contraction I would close my eyes and try to “rest”. Part of my body was doing so much work that I figured that the remaining part of me should just relax and be at rest. Now, that’s one thing all those years of yoga taught me: how to consciously relax, corpse pose being my favorite part of the practice. I must have looked like some kind of narcoleptic not exerting any energy every two minutes: one moment I would be alert and chatty then a contraction would come on and I would put my finger up as if to say, “Hang on,” close my eyes and it looked like I had fallen asleep. Then, when the contractions were over, I would bring my consciousness back from wherever I had floated off to and pick up where I left off in the conversation with the nurse. The hospital staff was completely bemused by this. I recall my obstetrician coming into the room and asking the nurse, “What’s happening?” as she could not fathom the scene she was witnessing: that I was not hooked up to an epidural yet I was so serene looking. I became the news of the delivery ward. Six months after the birth of my second child I wrote a letter to my yoga teacher thanking her for guiding me and my practice through not just a knee surgery and rehab but through two natural childbirths. It was from her that I learned that your body could be working really hard but you can still maintain calmness and endure with little struggle by keeping your breath and focus steady. Because what is labor after all? Labor is work. I thought that if I could really focus on being steady, I could observe the process unimpeded by outside influences and let my body do the work that needed to be done. Was a natural childbirth necessary for me to have a good birth or to raise good children? No, I just wanted to try to be in tune and understand the whole process and now it is part of my story.

There has been a lot of attention lately given to wines that are called ”natural” wines. So, what exactly are “natural” wines? Eric Asimov from The New York Times writes, “it’s a measure of how nebulous the issue is to say that many people disagree on the use of that phrase… even trying to define the parameters is difficult and contentious”. What are considered the tenets of natural winemaking? It’s a bit ambiguous, but the consensus is that a natural wine is one with nothing added or taken away. This typically means no chemicals in the vineyard or cellar, no filtering or fancy machinery, no added sulfites”, and adherence to the idea of non- intervention in the making of wine to reveal the “true” nature of a wine. Yet, is a natural wine the “true” expression of authenticity? Will a wine that roams feral in its adolescent journey from grapes to wine become the best expression of its innate self with lasting quality? It is akin to saying does having natural birth make my offspring somehow better as an adult? Does it make them more likely to become the next Beethoven or to discover a cure for cancer or to win a Nobel Peace prize? Does it make them ultimately well-adjusted, well- rounded, upstanding citizens of this planet? Of course not. I believe that an important part of making quality wine is attentive grape farming but, equally as important, is the mindful and intentional transformation of the grapes into wine. Just like it is important that an expecting mom watch her nutrition – to begin with the best starting material – a winemaker must start with the best possible grapes. We take care of the grapes and the vines before they become wine by farming our vines organically. I can attest, however, that being organic farmers is anything but non-interventionist. It takes a lot of work, a lot of work by hand and a whole lot of people-power to farm grapes without conventional herbicides and pesticides. And the work does not stop there.

A child is not simply a product of nature, nurturing certainly plays a role in the development of a human. As farmers we cannot do much other than take nature as it comes and respond to the vagaries of weather. But with wine, as with child-rearing, I like to nurture, just a wee bit. If I wanted you to have fizzy, turned wine, I would give you a jar of our organic grape juice and tell you to set the jar aside for a few weeks and you could have your own natural wine DIY style. It might be a fun project, what do you think? That is what nature without nurture would likely do. I think, however, that to make wine that has lasting quality it is important to guide the winemaking process a little. This isn’t the same, however, as making wine in an industrial fashion where you preemptively undergo unnecessary winemaking processes in an effort to make a uniform style and ultimately a soulless and uninteresting wine. Quite the contrary. Guidance in the case of added sulfites, for example, is often there to stop bacteria and yeast from making grape juice or wine taste uniform, like vinegar, cider or Brett. You intercede to allow the “true” expression of the wine the opportunity to emerge. Often I do not need to add sulfur as we have such low pH (our wines our high in natural acidity) but sometimes I need to add just a little. To make it even trickier to know how to best guide the process, there is no single formula for rearing that is right for all wines (or children). For example, I like to use commercial yeast in the making of red wines. Why? Because I find our red wines ferment more slowly when I don’t rely on indigenous yeasts and this results in a better red wine. But I don’t add yeast in the white fermentations. Why? Because I find the white wines ferment more slowly when I use indigenous yeast and that makes a better white wine. Wait, huh?? Yes, that’s right, different winemaking for different wines for different reasons because the act of adding or not adding yeast has different outcomes for different circumstances. I have carefully observed these small nuances over the past 30 years, and it is part of a mindful and intentional approach to how I make wine. Yet I am comfortable bottling our wines without filtering or fining and occasionally the wines, though stable, are a little bit cloudy. We, however, do our best to present to you a wine that in the glass isn’t too cloudy as to cause concern or to become unsound over time. Unlike just about any other food, wine alone is a food that has an ability to give an experience not just for that moment like a dish at a restaurant, or for many months like an aged cheese, but for many years, decades even. It is a lasting experience that evolves slowly over time and gets better with time. It is my goal, then, to make a wine that not only has a mindful birth and childhood but ultimately lives a graceful and enduring life, too, so that you can enjoy it for years to come.

My experience with natural childbirth is an interesting background story to tell about myself and how my children came into this world just like the story of how a natural wine is made can be interesting. But to be great, you need to be more than interesting, you need to be delicious as my brother-in-law Andy once said. Just like in gastronomy, there is a whole panorama between serving up a plate of rotting meat (lutefisk anyone?) and a creative fancy of molecular gastronomy. Being a natural wine is no guarantee of quality or style just as is the case with “regular” wines. And just like people, there is a wide variety and diversity of the expression of the authentic self. For myself, in giving you the authentic me, I willingly embrace the inevitable effects of gravity on my face and body but am okay with a little make-up when I go out to dinner. I definitely brush my teeth, shower, and use deodorant before stepping out the door so you aren’t presented with my “natural” aroma. And I hope these are the personal interventions you are pleased that I do. But that is just me…vive la difference!

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