rice sock: pretty weird, sometimes useful
by caitlin meredith
I just opened a better-forgotten drawer at the bottom of my dresser and a flutter of tiny moths burst from dark to light. Though I should’ve just shoved the drawer closed and deleted the event from my working memory so as to not have to launch counter warfare (which we all know is impossible – my favorite line from an article about how to eradicate moths from your home: That said, it is possible to defeat moths. You could, for instance, burn your house down.) I peered into the drawer to see what piece of clothing I’d be dumping in the bin. Instead of cloth, however, I saw….rice. What the fuck? There were tufts of pastel pink and blue threading surrounding the main pile, with a nicely tied twine bow laid to the side. I’ve been accused of moderate hoarding (I say it doesn’t count if your favorite childhood bathing suit is in a box labeled “can’t throw away for some reason”) but pantry supplies in the bedroom were never my weakness. Finally it hit me: The fucking rice sock.
Did you know that you can go your whole life without hearing the term “rice sock” and then all of a sudden have it rain down on you like bird poop in a bad parking spot? This is what happened to me when I was pregnant. Birth-y people are really into rice socks and go around encouraging birth-affected people to incorporate them into each stage of the pregnancy process. If, like me, you’d made it pretty far in life without knowing what a rice sock was, or ever imagining a need for one, it can be a little overwhelming.
The first person to mention a rice sock was the doula that taught my childbirth prep class. Throughout the class, she recommended many accouterments of the modern natural childbirth experience such as an exercise ball, yoga strap and essential oils. Between these props, the snacks and the special recovery garb, the hospital packing list suggested a confused mix of tailgating party, acrobatics camp and B & B weekend escape. The rice sock was at the top of the list. I was supposed to go home, fill an odd sock with rice and sew up the top to stow in my suitcase for game day. My husband could then zap it for a couple minutes in the hospital kitchen microwave and apply it to my lower back to relieve pain during labor, the doula explained. There were more than a couple problems with this suggestion.
First was the total chaos in my house. One of the more important items on my grand to-do list before my due date was moving into the bigger bedroom (that I had been renting out) so there would be enough room for the baby and me, and all our stuff, and leave the smaller room for my soon-to-be-arriving family. Consistent with the leisurely pace I approached all tasks in my ninth month of pregnancy – from standing up to making toast – I planned on stretching out this room switch over many, many days, transferring one drawer per day. Instead, I had an hour.
Two weeks before my due date I was diagnosed with a condition that meant I had to get the baby out pronto. Well, pronto plus one day that I begged for so my mom could emergency fly out from California. I got back from the doctor’s office and started to heave clothes into boxes and bags, stuffing them wherever they would fit on the floor, in the closet and under the bed of my new bedroom. Unfortunately, it was only after this mad flurry that I consulted my to do list, where I found that the next item was to pack my suitcase for the hospital. Top of the packing list? Rice sock. At that point I no longer knew where my suitcase was, much less my socks. I still haven’t found them. So, that was the first problem with the rice sock plan.
Even if I’d found my socks – and not just all the socks but an odd sock needing a new job – there would’ve still been a problem. The second problem was the husband part. Now, I’m pretty confident that if I truly applied myself I could’ve probably found my socks. In my family I’m known as a good “looker” – I’m always the one to find the relish in the fridge and the missing set of keys in the kitchen. Finding a husband, however, has proven to be much more difficult. In fact, impossible. But let’s just assume I had the elusive sock and husband, even then the plan was doomed for failure. (At this point I must mention that though I didn’t realize it that evening, I didn’t have any rice in the house so that even if I had found a sock, the packing plan still would’ve been thwarted by the fact that there would’ve been nothing to put inside it, but since I didn’t find a sock, I didn’t even get to that problem.)
Everyone knows that labor can be a sensitive time for a lady. There’s a fair amount of stress involved in the process and tempers can run high. In one of the birthing videos we watched in my childbirth prep class, for example, a husband makes the mistake of sitting on the hospital bed and the laboring wife all but head butts him onto the floor. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know – just a gentle reminder about the…ambience…the rice sock would’ve been introduced into if it had made it into the (finally packed) suitcase. My labor experience was no different.
Not to put too fine a point on it, and with all due respect to the experienced, kind doula teacher who suggested it, but if a single person in my labor room had suggested “getting out the rice sock” during my ‘Nam-style-carnage labor to help with the pain, they would’ve been shot on sight. Upon even the mention of the word “rice”, I would’ve magically found the time and energy to interrupt the worst, grinding, relentless pain spasm of my lifetime and the useless body contortions I tried to lessen its hold on me, just to find a sock and a husband so I could fill it with rocks and hurl it at someone. Offering a rice sock in the face of such intensity would be like proffering a piece of gum to someone with an elephant stomping on their back. The only reasonable response would be not a mere Are you fucking kidding me? but, indeed, You must die.
Clearly, the rice sock was meant for the calmer, early labor phases I never got to experience. And, clearly, the fog of labor war is still upon me.
A few other doula-type people referred to rice socks along the way in various classes and talks. I saw it in a labor handout from the hippie breastfeeding supply store, in the natural childbirth book I was supposed to read but never got around to, and then the final mention was by the lactation consultant. Finally, the rice sock had an appropriate application. Without going into too much (any) detail, certain breast feeding issues can be resolved with the application of something warm for a few minutes after nursing. One option is a heating pad but that means you have to stay put, hooked up to some electrical outlet in the precious eight minutes you have in between nursing sessions. Another, more mobile, option: Rice sock! That’s what I did.
Rice sock, you ask? But how did you do it without socks? Without rice? My ingenious mom filled the hospital baby hat with rice (that she bought) and tied it up with a piece of twine. (see: dissembled contents of bottom drawer.) Turns out no sock, sewing or husband is necessary to make or use a rice sock. Just zap whatever you’ve fashioned for 30 seconds, tuck it into your underthings on the problematic side and go about your business. So if you are pregnant or breast feeding while reading this, add me to the list of people annoying you about rice socks in this bizarre, advice-laden stage of your life: I highly recommend! With one caveat. I don’t know if these natural childbirth hippies have maids or their rice socks are in such heavy rotation that they’re never forgotten in the bottom drawer, but I don’t ever recall someone mentioning the VERY IMPORTANT BUT NEGLECTED topic of proper and timely rice sock disposal. Let my moth-infested bedroom be your cautionary tale.