As our families are rocking away the evening under our kiwi arbor, my friend mentions that her sister is pregnant. After having one baby by C-section, she is worried about having another one at home, without drugs. Pregnancy and birth have changed a lot since the old economy failed and insurance and government stopped paying for epidurals and Cesareans. Of course, without insurance or government support, no one can afford them, and hospitals want payment up front now. The midwifery school has a waiting list a year long - people who can actually help a woman deliver a baby at home, without medications, are in high demand.
I had to attend a few labors of my friends and family myself before the midwife network really filled out. Not that I knew how to deliver a baby, but who else did? OB's were fantastic for surgery but hadn't a clue what to do without drugs. I was scared to death at the first birth I attended. I was unqualified, obviously, but there was no one else they could afford (I was free, so very affordable). I attended a few of the free trainings that the midwives sponsored, and I had done natural childbirth myself and could help my cousin get through labor. Thank heavens, nothing serious was wrong - no cord around the neck, no breech birth - just a normal, healthy, delivery. Pull one of those all-nighters and you'll be pretty tired, I tell you.
Our tri-neighborhood area actually still has an OB who will attend at-home births. The catch is, if you want her (and the anesthesiologist) to be on call for you, you have to sign a contract with the payments already specified - and pay a non-refundable down payment before the birth even happens. We're so grateful our OB is available for emergencies, but my friend's sister is still paying off her C-section from four years ago.
For better or worse, caring for babies has become pretty traditional again. Almost no women are willing to risk the life of their baby by starting an infant on formula. When supply disruptions are possible, and inevitable, breastfeeding is pretty much the only way to go. So Mom usually stays with the baby for the first year, at least. After the trucks stopped coming for a month in 2012 - and when formula prices spiked in 2013 - we actually witnessed a resurgence in wet nurses. Never thought I'd see the day, but it was either that or watch the babies die.
Even though women are staying with their babies, we're not Victorians here. Mothers don't hide away at home. It may seem strange, but a lot of ladies carry their babies around in slings wherever they go - gardening, Farmer's markets, stores, even some paid jobs - and nurse in public. There's just really no other way to get life done. Gender equality is one blessing that's persisted. True, women and men often do different work, but it's generally acknowledged that their work is equal in value.
A few people stop by to use our computer or phone over the course of the evening. People still have phones, and computers, but the service costs have gone up, up, up. We don't mind sharing. Most people don't take advantage, and they are usually just scheduling carpools or short-term work arrangements. Sometimes our "regulars" will do a few chores for us as thanks. We're just glad the community has evolved enough that people have gotten over their fear of asking for (or offering) help. There are so many ways we help each other cut costs and still keep a similar quality of life. Sometimes it just takes emotional abilities and qualities that most of us didn't have before - trust, respect, humility, and interdependence.
Actually, one of our regular computer users, who owns a wood stove, lets us move in with her during the cold days of January and February. Our geothermal system, while very efficient, still runs on electricity. No resilience there. We should have gotten a wood stove before the electric crisis/price increases, but somehow we never got around to it, and now of course you can't get one for love or money. Like most people, we had a fireplace, and it took us a while to realize that fireplaces suck more heat out of the house than they produce. The first years before we found Mrs. Simmons were pretty cold.
It's easier now, since winter only lasts about two months. We're adding a lot less carbon to the atmosphere than we were a few years ago, but the emissions juggernaut won't run it's course for a long time to come. I miss tulips - they stopped blooming about two years ago, when they stopped getting enough cold in the winter. Our growing season is pretty long though. We can generally have vegetables year-round, although not the heat lovers like tomatoes and okra.
The kids play out in the little bit of lawn under the pecan trees. They seem happy enough, relatively unaffected by the chaos of a few years ago. We tried to protect them from it as much as we could. Of course they saw what was happening as schools shut down, classes were cut, and the school year shortened. Frankly, I can't believe we managed to keep school going up to fifth grade as other services like police and firefighting were cut almost completely.
We enjoy the company of our friends until the sun starts to fade, and they walk home together. Safety in numbers! The neighborhood patrol passes through here once or twice a night. Crime has definitely gone up in some places where the neighborhoods aren't tight and where no patrols run. We've seen some gang activity through the city, and of course some cities have been virtually overrun with them. OKC still maintains a core of police, who generally act as intelligence agents, trainers and consultants to the neighborhood organizations. But keeping us safe has more to do with giving the young men something productive to do to keep them busy - along with hope for the future. I won't mind when it's our turn to pound the pavement for a few weeks. The peace of mind is worth it.
We get ready for bed. The hot shower is a once-weekly event now. Thank God OKC was smart enough to invest in keeping our water running even as the world seemed to be spinning out of control. So we all have water, but it costs ten times as much, so we try to use 90% less. We usually just scrub down with a washcloth, brush our teeth and floss (we never skip that chore now that root canals cost the earth). We open all the windows to let the cool breezes sweep through the house. When it gets too hot we'll sleep in tents, but in June we still enjoy the ceiling fans in the house.
For now, we are enjoying the rare situation of just the three of us living in our house. Many families live with grandparents or other in-laws, or they take in orphans. Even though the foreclosure epidemic stopped when the federal government bailed out every single freaking financial institution in the country - and finally decided to quit kicking people out of their homes - living together makes it easier to pool resources to pay the bills and take care of young and old alike. Multi-generational house families have learned to respect each other, lay down ground rules and maintain some privacy. Most people are still getting used to it.
I'm finally recovering from the nervous breakdown I had a year ago. I'm sleeping much better now. During the original chaos, when it seemed like the institutions we depended on were falling like dominoes, I struggled to help our neighbors and community stay safe, alive and sane. Along with, of course, keeping my own family running while prices rose and our income fell. I felt like I had a special responsibility since we had known ahead of time about many of the possible consequences of the energy crisis and had been able to make some preparations. Even for us, everything got pretty unpredictable there for a while.
After those years of 12-hour days working to hold our community together and build new networks to replace the institutions that were crumbling, I had a little breakdown. Everything just seemed hopeless. I was tired of trying to help people who wouldn't help themselves, tired of propping up people who expected to be rescued, so I retreated into the house and never left. I had daily panic attacks, insomnia, crying jags, and I became afraid of crowds. It took about six months before I was much use to anyone. It's true, burnout sucks.
But now I'm back in the saddle again. There's still so much to do. We seem to have reached a point of stability, but I have no doubt that things will change again. Gas may get astronomically more expensive. Trucks may stop running for months at a time, instead of just weeks. OG&E may just quit repairing some of their electrical lines. The heat may turn into a blistering drought. Who knows what will happen? We need to keep reinforcing our community, preparing to make the best of life while bracing for the worst possibilities. And that's going to take a lot more work.
Despite my breakdown, our family got off pretty easy. Because we were mentally prepared, we weren't as shocked as some people were when things started to unravel. We weren't surprised when the Dow hit 3000, and pension plans and unemployment insurance stopped paying benefits. We weren't surprised when entire classes of jobs were eliminated, rendering complete sections of the population useless. So our immediate family didn't have any suicides or "accidents," and no one froze or starved. Whether it was geographical accident, the grace of God, or sheer hard work, our community held while many others fell.
As I lay dozing off, I notice the complete darkness and silence. No streetlight shining in my window, and no moon tonight. No humming from highways in the background; no car alarms going off. Wait - my husband starts to snore a little. I poke him (gently), and thank my lucky stars for our family, our health, our food, and our community.
Yes, I miss travel, seeing movies, the occasional shopping trip, and sushi. I am anxious about a future without Social Security, Medicare, or retirement plans. I constantly debate whether we need to move North to beat the heat that seems to increase every year. And I wonder what kind of opportunities the future will hold for our son. Will he see the Grand Canyon and the Tetons like we did? Will he find something meaningful to do with his life? Will he be happy? Will he forgive us for what we allowed to happen to the planet?
But these are thoughts for another time. For now, we are safe, our bellies are full, and we spend our days among people who care for us. Our lives seem fuller, healthier, and less stressful, even though we do without a lot of things we used to enjoy. I can live with that.
Even if I do miss guacamole.