A Tip (or six) From Me to You.

I have been really moved by the comments on this blog since it went Fresh. You are none of you alone in this bullshit.

It seems appropriate, since I’ve found some peace and not-awfulness on the far shore, that I should try to pay forward the hard-won wisdom I’ve picked up along the way. Here are some things that I learned in the 5 or so years we tried to make a baby:

  • People, even very kind and loving people, say absolutely horrible shit to folks who have suffered loss and infertility. They can’t really help it, I think. It’s just really overwhelming to watch someone hurt so galactically and not have a cure. We are a terribly pain-phobic society – we build towering billion dollar industries out of frenetic attempts to avoid discomfort in any form. I suppose in the face of that it’s not so surprising that we have completely lost the ability to shut the fuck up and let someone feel how they feel if their feeling is an uncomfortably incurable one. (When I first started the blog almost 3 years ago, I wrote a handy little list of things people shouldn’t say to their loved ones struggling with infertility. Please feel free to pass it along. And here are some suggestions for what people should say, although what they really need to do is shut the fuck up and let you have feelings at them. And be ok with that.)
  • After a miscarriage, you go through a Postpartum Situation. Just because you didn’t bring home a baby doesn’t change the fact that your body has just gone from being pregnant to being not pregnant, and everything is going to go bananas for a while. For a long while, actually. Like, a couple of months. In addition to grieving this big huge ghastly grief, your hormones are whacked for far longer than we’re led to expect. If you are still crying two months later, or staring at walls and not showering, or lashing out at people in totally un-like-you ways, it is not just because you are not “processing” this well enough. It is not because you aren’t “dealing with it” and “moving on” like a good girl. Your body is doing some legitimate shit here. You were probably made to feel like a non-entity at the hospital or doctor’s office, your pregnancy treated as something that didn’t happen rather than something that did. Your body was dismissed and gently shuffled out the door with none of the loving advice and information given to women whose babies are born live. But your body doesn’t know that your pregnancy doesn’t matter to the medical machine. Your body, dumb miraculous treasure that it is, is doing what women’s bodies do after their babies exit. It is experiencing postpartum symptoms. Bet they didn’t tell you that, the fuckers.
  • Your partner doesn’t understand what you’re going through. And that’s ok. This applies to partners of all genders. I have worked with lesbian couples who struggle with this; it’s not just the menz. Anyone whose body is not the living battlefield on which this war of absurdity and attrition is being waged, who has not held life and death in one tiny marsupial pocket in their belly, whose nipples and cervical fluid and lower back sensations are not the constant subject of microscopic scrutiny (there’s an app for that, seriously), who is not by necessity relegated to the Catbox for two weeks out of every month during which they are both pregnant and not pregnant without any ability to know for sure (just try to take your mind off it, I fucking dare you) – they are not going to get it. They will try, and that is awesome. If you are lucky they will try very, very hard, and I invite you to show gratitude for their efforts. But try to be patient with them, and for the love of all that is good PLEASE find people who do understand. You need to be understood and you have a right to it. You don’t owe it to your partner to keep it between you two and you are certainly not doing them any favors by expecting all the understanding and acceptance and normalization you need to come from them. Find a support group. Start one. We sure as shit need more.
  • You get to do this however you need to do this. Every minute of every day, you get to be exactly where you are with this and feel exactly how you feel about it. In this country we are just beginning to talk about infertility and pregnancy loss. Shameful whispers are only just now starting to turn into unapologetic declarations. Just in the past two years there are suddenly infertility/pregnancy loss articles abounding, although I have yet to see any that don’t feature the “happy ending” narrative (keep trying and your miracle will find you!) that just makes us feel like faithless quitters if we decide we’ve had enough. But whatever, they’re talking about it. Finally. We don’t have a blueprint for what open, shame-free, un-closeted childlessness looks like. You get to decide. Be exquisitely, meticulously kind to yourself.
  • The world world will make you feel like an alien. You will undoubtedly be fighting against finely crafted programming that goes back to the beginning of recorded history, whether you know it or not. Messages about being a “real woman”. About having “meaning” and “fulfillment” in your life. About what a woman becomes if this does not happen in the proscribed fashion. We live in a society that endows women’s bodies with only two categories of value: sexual commodity or reproductive outcome. If we don’t fall into the culturally sanctioned definition of either of these, we are made invisible. We are made to whisper. This shit is coming at you, a brilliantly stealthy shame-package straight to the cranium, every time turn on your screen. It is in our language and in our collective unconscious – when was the last time you saw a TV show about a woman who doesn’t go batshit crazy if she can’t have a child? Everything around you will make you feel like an unknown species. Don’t buy it. You are a woman.
  • Try to laugh when you can. Did your partner timidly remind you that you absentmindedly left a cup of pee on the bathroom sink this morning? That shit is funny. Did you freak out after the IUI when you pulled what looked like a bovine insemination plug out of your wha-hey? That shit is funny. How about the first time you had to tell your partner that you needed to have sex because your cervical fluid was egg-whitey? That is fucking hilarious. I mean it. It’s all so ridiculous. Humor is your greatest super power. Remember in Harry Potter, when Harry renders the boggart Snape harmless by putting him in a frowsy dress and giant vulture-adorned horrible hat? That’s the secret. There’s nothing a tyrant fears more than humor.

There’s more, but this is getting long. If you’ve gotten this far and you have an issue that hasn’t been addressed, I invite you to put it in the comments below. I’ll say it again – you are not alone.

Where I’m Calling From

I have been trying to figure out what to write about.

I began this blog in January of 2013, nearly three years ago, because frankly I was broken. My anger was a molten subcutaneous animal, a writhing and howling thing beneath my skin. From time to time it would claw its gory way out of my mouth in mean and unkind words, and so I isolated myself for the health and safety of others. A fog of shame, rage and dumbfounded grief was gathering between me and the rest of the world and I was slowly dying. I had lost two babies at that point; I would lose many more before the end.

I saw a therapist who suggested writing as a way of reconnecting, of releasing. It was a pretty good idea.

It’s hard to hold in my hands all that’s happened since. There have been times when I’ve written to stay alive and times when I’ve hidden away, quaking with fear, from all my words because I could not sit in my own skin long enough to voice them. Once upon a time it was all I thought about, this terrible wound of childlessness.

I’m not there now.

Where I am now is ok. There are momentary relapses, times when the grief is fresh and the grinding fertility-privileged world that discards and erases the bodies and experiences of childless women can irritate the shit out of me, and I will give in and rant for a bit. Luckily I can crack myself up, so it’s at least entertaining.

But for the most part, most of the seconds and minutes and hours of my days, I’m at peace. As I write those words, a great geyser of emotion is erupting in me and all of a sudden I am weeping. I’m at peace. The dreadful blood-colored ache in my belly has ebbed, has healed, has not killed me. What a dear and inestimable gift, to be able to say that.

This blog has given me wings, has let me virtually fly all over the world and connect to women in this global sisterhood of loss. While I still raged, there were women who knew that there was a far shore of forgiveness, and although I didn’t believe them I was grateful for their patience and love. It is one of the great miracles of human connection, to be loved when you are an unmitigated asshole.

So maybe that’s what this is about now. You, who have lost or cannot conceive, who sit in crushing isolation, who read these words from the center of a hermetically sealed echo chamber of shame and rage. You whose belly is thick with want and empty of life, whose guts churn with bewildered self-loathing and the knowledge that you must, at the core, be corrupted and unlovable or surely a life would take hold there. You, oh my sweet beloved girl, my fierce and aching woman, you perfect precious suffering soul – I’m here now. Come here, baby. I’ve got you now.

Big love from the far shore,

-Schrodinger

I am Freshly Pressed.

Several things:

  1. Holy Crap. They put me on the Freshly Pressed thingy and all of a sudden there are all these cool people reading my weird overly intimate ramblings. I kind of feel like I was just standing in my living room picking my underpants out of my bum and then looked around to find a small army standing at my window. In a good way. Totally in a good way. (Sheesh, Callahan, just stop talking, stop talking now…)
  2. A bunch of people in my professional and personal life have recently been talking about the difficulty of integrating physical and emotional healing modalities for recovering from reproductive trauma. I was very lucky to have received some powerful medicine of this sort after a miscarriage last summer, so I thought I’d throw an old post talking about it up here for informational purposes. Here is the first part, which kind of explains where I was at, and here is the second part, which talks about the healing. I was also honored to record a podcast about the experience with Paul Gilmartin of Mental Illness Happy Hour last year, which you can listen to here. (It’s an amazing podcast and an amazing community, which you can check out here.)
  3. Since I will now be shamelessly flouncing across the Followed Sites feed of a couple hundred new sets of eyeballs, and since I don’t have anything all that interesting of my own to post today, I wanted to use the space to raise some awareness about male survivors of domestic violence. This right here is the blog of one of my best friends who is writing about his experience as a victim and now flourishing survivor of domestic violence, and I think it’s rad and I want you to read it. This is some shit that we as a culture utterly and spectacularly fail in providing support for. Ima be sharing some thoughts about that in upcoming posts, but for now I will let a survivor speak for himself. Enjoy.
  4. Thank you thank you thank you to all you folks who have plodded through this blog, and welcome welcome welcome to all you folks who are joining me. I will try not to suck.

Shame Spiral: The Scenic Route.

It’s Sunday, and I just got back from the community meditation service at Portland Insight Meditation Center. I was tired and grumpy and whiny and the meditation sucked arse because I was either falling asleep or having mild panic attacks about money, both of which made me want to crawl out of my skin. The nice thing about insight meditation (also known as vipassana meditation for those who like to know the groovy Sanskrit names of things) is that you can’t really do it wrong – if you’re having an arse-sucking meditation full of tiredness and whiny-ness and Grumpy Eeyore crap attitude, rather than seeing it as a failure to get your ohm on you can view it as an opportunity to observe tiredness and whiny-ness and Grumpy Eeyore crap attitude. Which, as it turns out, is kind of interesting.

For instance, I observed a strong desire to either shimmy under the bench and take a nap or leave the center so that I could go look at my finances and worry about them in a more focused manner. In the grand scheme of things, the outlandish ridiculous childish thing (taking a nap under the bench in a public place because I am grumpy) would probably be more helpful and less destructive than the supposedly normal adult thing (staring at numbers and freaking out because they are small-ish) because while a nap would have the effect of reducing my grumpiness, no amount of palpitating about my finances is going to increase my bank account. In the end I did neither, and I walked out kind of chuckling to myself about what a po-faced weenie I can be sometimes. And that was, in its own weird way, a valuable insight.

A couple of weeks ago I had a similar opportunity to observe a seemingly intolerable emotional process and learn something from it, the tale of which I shall now recount.

To lay the foundation I must tell you that I have some body problems. Besides a zillion miscarriages and endometriosis and ruptured ovarian cysts and a whole host of other catastrophic ladypart issues I have bursitis in my hips and tendonitis in my right arm/shoulder, which can make it very difficult to sit upright without a chair back for very long. When I first started meditating at home I would lay on the floor because breathing could be difficult with all my core muscles wonking out to compensate for the effed up hips and shoulder. The first few Sundays at Portland Insight I’d sort of tucked myself into the back of the room and lain down while the guided meditation and subsequent lecture was going on, and no one had mentioned anything so I didn’t think anything of it. One Sunday I thought I’d get a little more involved and tried sitting up on some cushions in the center of the room like the pros do. I got a bunch of cushions and shoved them wherever things felt iffy and settled in. It very quickly became incredibly painful, but it was a great way to practice noticing sensations without clinging, right?

When the meditation was over I stayed where I was and propped the pillows under my head so I could lie down and rest my hips and back and shoulder, which were now kind of yelling at me. The director of the center started the lecture (about impermanence and present moment, good stuff) and I was enjoying it. Then out of the blue he looked right at me and asked, “Would you mind sitting up?” I was totally shocked and mortified and awkwardly started sitting up, and then he said “Unless you need it for your back, in which case stay down.”

I spluttered that I do indeed have back problems and was it ok if I stayed where I was, and he said again that it was fine and then noticed with a laugh that he had forgotten to take his shoes off (which you’re totally ‘posta do). He made a joke about how bare feet aren’t any more spiritual than shoes and if some people needed their shoes on that was ok too. That was it. That was the whole thing. I went back to lying down and he went back to his talk.

And I began to slowly implode with shame.

Like an avalanche, like a riptide it took me, so violently that I barely heard anything else for the next 15 minutes. People must think I’m rude. He must think I’m rude. I had no idea this was a rule – is it a rule? If so, why is it a rule? Is it some kind of respect thing, like I’m being disrespectful? How the hell was I supposed to know that? I felt so comfortable here and now maybe I can’t come back. Can you get kicked out of a meditation community for lying down during the Dharma talk? God, look at everyone else, sitting up with their straight backs and their strong core muscles and their nice clear minds, and I’m over here all broken and fucked up being disrespectful in some way I didn’t even know about. And EVERYONE is looking at me. CLEARLY. 

I had a sudden flashback to 3rd grade, when Mrs. Uyeda with the one scary permanently raised eyebrow would bring my math workbook up to the front of the class to show everyone the pages I hadn’t done. That burning, that sinking, that feeling of being trapped paralyzed in the chair with no good way out of that endless, torturous moment. That shame. Oh god, that shame.

And all the other kids around me are smart and can pay attention, they’re clean and loved and not dying of fear all the time. Their houses are safe and their parents are sober and help them with their math homework instead of yelling and nobody beats them or punches holes in doors when they try to get away. Their teeth aren’t ugly and gapped and their fingers aren’t bitten bloody and their insides aren’t rotting and corrupted with whatever this thing is inside of me that makes me so, so weird and bad and unlovable.

And in the meditation hall I could feel all this happening, could feel the stinging shameful tears starting behind my eyes and my breath going ragged with the effort of keeping it together as my brain catapulted me backward in time with the force of a sci-fi blockbuster. And I kept reminding myself that what I was feeling was totally ok because it was what I was feeling, and that it was transient, and that it didn’t define me because the past is not happening right now, in the present, in THIS present where I am safe and loved and loving and he said it was ok and anyway nobody is probably even fucking thinking about me anymore because I am not actually as important as all that, for fuck’s sake.

And I started to get a hold of it – or no, to NOT hold it, to just let it through and let it go. It was the end of the talk and he asked if anyone had any questions. A woman asked about how to stay mindful with her 2 year old. And I fell apart again.

As he spoke, answering the woman’s question beautifully, he got choked up for a moment talking about the incredible heartbreaking power of parents’ love for their children. I felt my belly ripped apart with the ache, the longing, the unbearable knowledge that I will never know that love. I will never hold my own baby and watch it grow and have my heart broken by it. All the old alienation returned, enthroned like a sainted idol in a feast day procession, flanked by the clean, safe, unbloodied children in my 3rd grade classroom and all the normal people with their normal bodies that do normal things sitting in normal positions all around the room. Everything I am not. Everything I am not. Everything I am not.

Holy shit, that shit is powerful.

I managed to stay in the room. I didn’t flee; I let tears and snot run down my face because there was nothing I could do about it. I tried to be as silent as possible because I didn’t want anyone to notice me and try to comfort me. The director noticed, I’m fairly sure of it, and he said a couple of things that suggested that he was trying to make space for whatever incomprehensible shit was going on with that new woman who was lying down and is now sitting up with tears and snot running down her face. I can’t remember what they were but I noticed them. I even managed to stay through the part where everybody stands up in a circle and holds hands and chants stuff, although that was mainly because by the time I’d made it back to the door it was already blocked by hand-holding people and it was either hold hands or bust through them running, and I thought the former would be far less disruptive. When it was over I walked to my car with my whole face flowing, drove home with my whole face flowing, and my whole face continued flowing as I went through my day trying to synthesize and learn from what had happened.

What I took from it was this:

Shame is one of the most powerful hallucinogens on Earth. It can literally warp your perception of reality and make you absolutely, unequivocally sure that you know what the people around you think or will think if the object of your shame becomes known. It is also incredibly narcissistic, casting you as the star of your very own diabolical horror movie because of course, you are so important that everyone else is going to expend their hard-earned time and energy thinking shitty thoughts about you. And we become wasteful ourselves – the incredible acrobatics we go through to mitigate shame, intellectualize it, avoid it, repress it, become rageful in defense against it, are all extravagantly unnecessary because shame, like all other emotions, is a transient state that does not define us. As real as it feels in the moment, it’s a delusion. In the end it’s all ok, because we are where we are and we’re allowed to be exquisitely kind and compassionate toward ourselves, even when we are covered in tears and snot because a total stranger asked us to change position.

Happy Sunday, y’all.
Postscript – Are any of my readers good draw-ers? I came out of the service today with a mental picture of Eeyore meditating, sitting cross-legged on a cushion made of thistles with his little front hooves resting on his knees and a grumpy yet resigned expression on his face. I totally need to have this image for my practice. I’ll send you awesome pictures of my weird looking dog in exchange. 

M-m-m-myyyyyyy Mirena…

I got an IUD on Thursday.

I almost want to just leave that there, mic-drop style, and then go wander off to take a nap because it’s just too much to wrap my head around. Also, I got up too early to make bread this morning and I’m feeling a bit rubbery, so that might be part of it. But probably not much. This is kind of a big deal.

We’d been talking about it since the last miscarriage in July. I’d decided I couldn’t survive another loss, which meant that (since I appear to get pregnant every time he walks past me these days) if we wanted to continue having sex (which we do), we were going to have to figure out some birth control. I am kind of a contraceptive conundrum – I have endometriosis so the copper IUD wasn’t a great option, but I also have this extremely rare autoimmune reaction to hormones called erythema nodosum which causes my joints to swell and hurt and giant painful fist-sized lumps to form on my legs and arms (AWESOME), so any kind of hormonal birth control was a risk as well. My very enlightened husband offered without reservation to resume contraceptive responsibility upon himself, but frankly after 5 years of lovely condom-free sexytime who wants to go back? So after consulting with the amazing folks at the Oregon Health and Sciences University Family Planning clinic, I decided that the Mirena would be worth a shot. It’s a low enough dose of hormone that the erythema might not get triggered, and it has the added bonus of stopping your periods altogether – kind of a sweet party trick for those of us who enjoy the adventures of endometriosis every month.

I had mixed feelings about it. Duh. It was heartbreaking. It wasn’t where we meant to be. You’re supposed to go back on birth control because you’re done having kids, not because you’re done having your soul torn out of your vagina every few months. Nobody ever intends to have their soul torn out of their vagina every few months. It’s like we got all dressed up for prom and took all the pictures and were filled with all the promise and butterflies of a mythical magical night, and then the limo drove us to the DMV instead. You go home afterward the same as if you’d made it to the dance, but you’re not happy about it.

But on the other hand…

The week before I went in for the Mirena, I thought I was pregnant. It’s been two months since the miscarriage and I haven’t gotten my period, and when my husband came home from the last tour we were a little…um…imprudent. We just aren’t used to thinking about not getting pregnant. So after a little quick freak-out math, I realized I was going to have to take a test.

As I drove to my old friend the Dollar Tree, my guts churned. I was filled with dread. The thought of being pregnant felt like a prison sentence, a death sentence. Like an eldritch hand gripping my ankle and pulling me back down into watery madness. I was weirdly ashamed – how could I put everyone through this again? My family, my friends? I felt like that one friend you have who calls you joyfully every few months to tell you about the new amazing guy she’s just started dating, and you roll your eyes and try to keep the cynicism and disgust out of your voice as you pretend to be stoked for her, because you just know that in no time at all you’re going to have to go pick her up from the bar where she’s just seem him tonguing some skinny new cupcake on what was supposed to be their three month anniversary and hold back her hair while she pukes and weeps about how great he was. I felt like we are all just about OVER it. And here I go again.

And of course it was negative. There may have been a little reflexive sadness there, the vestigial convulsion of a dumb organ that doesn’t know any better. But mostly it was relief. I am in such a good place right now. A better place than I have been in since we started this idiot limo ride 5 years ago. To give that up would feel calamitous.

I am sad about that. I am sad that the only way I can feel sane is to stop trying. That sucks. It’s unfair beyond reason. If I let it, it’s enough to bring on a bout of The Bitterness. And there’s something else, too, that I don’t really have a word for. Something like: I don’t want you to think I’m ok with this. It’s really comforting and relieving for people, the idea that I’m ok with this. Folks who don’t have to think about losing babies, who get uncomfortable when challenged on their own privilege by the suffering of others, who desperately want there to be an answer or a cure or a treatment or a reason so they don’t have to sit with the colossal, unbearable helplessness of my empty belly – I don’t want to give them the solace of my recovery. She’s fine now, back to your regularly scheduled blissful ignorance. I know that this is crazy, a toxic scrap of The Bitterness discarded in the corner of an otherwise clean and breezy room. I’m only admitting it because I want to take responsibility for it. If I pretended it wasn’t there, that I’ve somehow achieved some kind of nirvana of universal compassion and forgiveness just because I started meditating, I’d be just as big an asshole as someone who pretends it’s no big deal that all my babies die.

The room where I’m sitting right now is lovely. I’m snugged into a corner of what was once the almost-baby’s room that I converted into a writing room. My husband bought me my dream chair – it’s a corner unit from an Ikea sectional couch, and it’s wide and deep and perfectly fits the way I write, with the laptop on my legs pulled up crisscross-applesauce and a cat squished in beside me. Dappled sun is falling across the remains of my coffee and there’s an industrious squirrel who keeps doing drivebys across the fence outside the window with two giant chestnuts jammed in his face. Every half hour I get up to turn my dough, and by the end of the day there will be two gorgeous burnished loaves bursting with tangy goodness. Later on we’ll take Hobbit Dog out into the woods so he can pee on every growing thing, and when we get home I’ll drink some wine while I zen out in my kitchen creating something ridiculously complex and too fancy for two people.

The truth is that I am ok. More or less. In this moment. Which is all there is, really.

Post-publish update: Industrious Squirrel just went by rocking THREE chestnuts. Playah.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Part 2

(I’ve been trying to start this for the last half hour but my husband, who is listening to On the Media while doing the dishes, keeps lurching into the living room to loudly splutter his horror and opprobrium about the monstrous window-into-the-nation’s-rotting-soul that is Donald Trump. He’s been in Europe for 6 weeks and is just now catching up on how America is actually going to be over soon. Totally not relevant to the rest of the post but I thought you might enjoy a brief postcard snapshot from a Wednesday afternoon in the Schrodinger household. Wish you were here.)

It was a Saturday night when I came home from my sister’s house to the creepy frozen diorama of grief my own house had become. I sat on the couch wishing I could drink wine (they’d given me Metronidazole for the D&C and I’m pretty sure your stomach actually explodes if you drink alcohol for like 72 hours after taking it) and wondering what in the everloving shit to do with myself.

In the stillness, I could feel it bubbling up. The Bitterness. Cleaving me off from humanity like a butcher’s knife. I am alone. I am not like anyone else. Everyone else is normal and I’m not. Every woman of childbearing age in my life is a ticking time bomb that can go off any minute. All the pregnancy announcements I will have to endure after having a few blessed months of immunity from the splintering pain of seeing them in my Facebook feed. All the callous unthinking comments from people with children, all the blissful nursery-chimey diaper advertising, all the shows I will have to stop watching because the main character just got pregnant and I KNOW that they will not miscarry because they NEVER miscarry on TV. Because people having babies is what is normal. And I am not. 

And I didn’t want to feel it, didn’t want to grieve it, didn’t want to go back to that desolate toxic wasteland of hating the Normals and smothering in anger. I so very badly wanted to stay in my humanity. I felt myself gripping the sides of an emotional doorjamb, my fingers going numb from resisting the push. I don’t wanna go I don’t wanna go please don’t make me go…………..

Eventually I put myself to bed, because what the hell else are you going to do.

Down the street from my house there is a meditation community called Portland Insight. A friend had sent me a link to their website some years ago after some other miscarriage, and though I’d used the guided meditations as a resource for clients and listened to a few myself I’d never made it over there. I thought that I was really bad at meditating, so I preached its benefits while secretly being afraid to do it myself. Because quiet is scary. What might come up is scary. Being bored in your own head is scary. Right?

Quick backstory flashback:

In 2009, after a truly execrable patch of marital trauma and in a really generally broken and shitty place, I took a friend up on a recurring offer to go to church with her on a Sunday morning. I am an atheist, so that sounded weird. But she kept telling me that the music was amazing and that nobody would force me to believe anything or even ask about it, and that it was this incredible watershed emotional experience of human connection and celebration. And there is this very peculiar and magical flavor of despair and hopelessness that is so totally despairing and hopeless that it seems to transform into a kind of deadpan, invincible why-the-fuck-not-ism, a place so closed up and shut down that it somehow makes you open to whatever, and you wander into things you’d previously rejected out of hand. So I went with her that morning because I genuinely couldn’t think of anywhere else to put my body, and it opened up a loving and life-changing world that rebuilt and healed me in a way nothing else could have. I’m still an atheist, and it’s still not weird. You can read about it in the blog I kept over that period, if you’re into learning why that’s not weird.

On the Sunday morning after losing my final baby I awoke in that peculiar and magical why-the-fuck-not realm, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else to put my body, so I went to this meditation place. It was either that or start drinking at 9am. Always an option, but the Metronidazole thing made it a challenge.

I walked in weeping, hurting, twisted, sick, helpless, terrified of my own mind. I walked out weeping and hurting, still, but full of lightness and hope and a visceral understanding of how to grieve cleanly, with love and kindness.

I am new to this meditation thing, so my ability to explain to you what happened is limited. It was not metaphysical, it was not miraculous. It was very simply a shift in perception. Apparently anyone can do it. Here’s the real core of what did it for me:

The “sermon” at a meditation center is called a Dharma talk, and that morning the speaker told a Buddhist parable about two arrows. I am going to tell it badly but you can read more here. The basic idea is that when we are pierced by an arrow, it hurts. Because duh. That pain is inevitable. But then we get hit by another arrow that hurts twice as much. The second arrow is all the ways we try to avoid feeling the pain of the first arrow. We run from it, we try to control things around it, we pretend that controlling it will make it go away. We defend it with rage and hatred, we obsess about our obsession with not feeling it. We drink, we eat, we fuck, often in ways that make things a million times worse. We stay busy, we make noise in empty spaces to drown it out. The vast energies we expend trying not to feel the first arrow cause exponentially more pain than the injury itself. And if we can let all that shit go, the second arrow falls out and ceases to pain us. We are left with just our wound, which is inescapable and exquisite and beautifully human, just like us.

I can’t even tell you how many lights that switched on for me.

The same relief I felt in the ER ultrasound room came back to me, but this time full of a vibrant gratitude. I’m not even really sure gratitude for what, maybe just the fact that it was suddenly clear to me that I had a choice. I didn’t have a choice about the first arrow – that is a profound wound, a ragged trench that runs through the center of every cell in my body. It will never go away. The torn edges will heal and the empty space will fill in the way a gouge in the earth eventually fills in with windblown soil. But it will never go away. That part I don’t have a choice about. But the rest of it? The second arrow? That I can choose.

And if I can choose to cling to that second arrow, I can also choose to let it go.

Incidentally, please don’t send this to your friend who is still struggling with The Bitterness. Please don’t hope that she reads this and suddenly realizes that she doesn’t have to be an insufferable black blot on the social landscape. She is where she is, and she needs you to be ok with that. She can’t just Let It Go. She is doing the best she can. I did the best I could. The people who matter forgive me for my failures. The people who don’t are long gone.

You don’t get it until you get it. That Sunday morning, I finally got it.

This is what it looked like.

The children of the people who come to meditate on Sunday mornings get to go off to a different part of the facility and do, I don’t know, kid meditations or something. It’s like Sunday school with oms. When I first walked in and saw them all filing off to do their thing, the sight of children hurt me. The sight of children hurt me. I wondered if, amidst the bitterness and rage and resentment of not being able to have my own child, I would ever be able to fully love someone else’s if we adopted. I felt a gut-wrenching fear that I would live in acrid, loveless barrenness all the days of my life. All of that gripped me as I watched the kids go to the kid place.

After the Dharma talk all the children rushed back in and took their places in the circle. I watched them in their joy and their vital silliness and thought, “Crazy woman. How could you think you couldn’t love another’s child? They’re children. It’s what they’re here for.” 

It was the first time in 5 years I had seen children as something other than the representation of my failures, my losses, the ways in which I am alien and wrong. It was the first time in 5 years I had looked at a child and seen simply a child.

There’s more, but it’s evolving and coming to light day by day. And this is fucking long. And I have to go see clients. I’ll keep wrangling with this shit and keep talking about it as it grows.

Real quick, though? Thank you so much for the incredible welcome back to the blogosphere. I forgot how awesome this place can be.

Love you guys.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb, Part 1

I took a pregnancy test on the morning of May 14th, my husband’s birthday. I’d had a feeling about it and I thought it would be a nice surprise. Good morning, here’s your coffee, Happy Birthday, here’s a stick I peed on. It’s got a baby in it.

I got back into bed and we both kind of looked at it, our faces lopsided with a jumbly, inchoate collision of mixed emotions. It wasn’t as happy a surprise as I’d imagined. We were both instantly filled with dread. Hope and excitement and joy, but mostly dread. Because we were not born yesterday.

I told him then that this was the last one. I couldn’t do it it anymore. If this one didn’t take, I was done. I asked him to remind me of that if needed, noting that I was at that time sound of mind and body but after a miscarriage all bets are generally off. I start wanting to get pregnant again almost instantly. My body whines and whistles with emptiness, a great soughing wind of grief and void through a collapsing ruin. It is extremely difficult, if not functionally impossible, not to go directly to “maybe next time”. And I knew, in my sound-of-mind-and-body state, that I did not want there to be a next time.

The next weeks passed in relative calm. We are so good at this now. David went on tour and we both settled into the wait, the interminable linoleum muzak-flooded waiting room of the first 15 weeks. We had two good strong heartbeat ultrasounds, but I wasn’t going to get excited. I occupied a bland, vanilla-beige landscape in which I repeatedly assured people that I felt “very mindful” and “very grounded”. It was more or less true. I’d have to say it was probably less mindful than flatline, but it worked. When I expressed doubts or fears one of my closest friends urged me to “stay positive”, and I replied that I couldn’t do “positive” but I was doing an ok job staying out of “negative”. Positive wasn’t a safe place for me. There’s hope in positive, and in hope lies terror and helplessness and the manic negation of everything you believe you know about the way the world works, for you at least. Positive was treacherous territory. Neutral was perfect, and I was a master at neutral.

And when I saw the blood at 11 weeks, alone in the bathroom in an empty house at 11:30 at night, I threw my head back and scrunched my eyes shut groaning, “No no no no no no no…” and knew that it was over.

But I was not surprised.

In the middle-of-the-night ER waiting room I pulled my sweater down over my bare legs and curled up on the couch, the rocketing thrum of my heart playing counterpoint to the grim, weirdly calming certainty of the ache in my back, the increasing cramps. Soon, at least, there would be an answer, and whatever mad little cockeyed optimist bullshit voices that kept piping up in my head would be blasted quiet, and I could get on with things. Whatever that meant.

When they took me back I craned my neck to see the screen from my prone position on the table, every optical nerve straining to find the outline – yes, there it is – stretching and pushing my sight to find that flicker, that precious shimmering butterfly that would mean – please please oh please – this little life still held tight.

I looked and looked and looked till my eyes hurt, and then in a flash I realized: I didn’t have to look anymore. I didn’t have to try to find a flicker of hope on that unfeeling screen. No amount of straining or stretching or searching would matter now. I didn’t have to keep hoping or even staying neutral. I didn’t have to keep wrenching open a space for an impossible possibility. It was ok to let go.

I turned my head and surrendered to a bottomless relief.

Grief and relief, flowing in equal measures around the dead husk of my hope like a felled tree in a fast-running river.

As I drove home, sobbing on the phone to that same close friend who was the only one blessedly awake at 2am, the most pressing thing on my mind was avoiding The Bitterness. The rage, the resentment, the hatred of all Normal People who trot about being all fertile at you while you shrink into weird, twisted shapes, ragged and grating like bone on bone. The alienation, the irrefutable feeling that you are of a different, inferior species; a mule, a chimera. Oh god, it is the worst injury of all the injuries childlessness can deal out. It is acid, nuclear waste, seeping poisonous and inescapable through the veins and eating a swathe of desolation around you that acts like a moat, cutting you off from love and joy and progress and life. I had fought it for 5 years, sometimes winning battles but never the war. I didn’t want to go back there. I could not go back there.

I spent the next 4 days with my sister and her family. They are busy and full of doing, which was lovely to be around. So they rocketed around doing all they do and let me come in and out of involvement as I needed so that I was never alone but never overwhelmed. I grieved with my husband over Skype, my poor husband who was out there in Nowheresville without any of the resources that were gathering around me like an immune response. I tried to tell him about the relief that burrowed in the heart of the grief, how we could maybe start to actually move forward on some of the dreams we put on hold while we waited helplessly to see if an apathetic universe would do us a fucking solid and let us make a baby. Buy a house? Live abroad? Adopt? Go to Burning Man? Probably not that last one, because we are too old for drugs and we like toilets, but you get the picture. We could do anything. Anything. Anything would be better than nothing. And we could act now, do, now that the years of paralysis and waiting were over.

When I went in for the D&C the clinic let me bring my weird stumpy hobbit dog Frodo for comfort and support. It’s hard to be sad around him. He’s just so absurd. I briefly went agro on a protester outside the clinic who simperingly asked me if I needed any “help”, while standing next to a giant photo of a dead fetus. “NO I DO NOT NEED YOUR HELP I AM HERE BECAUSE MY BABY IS DEAD AND THESE PEOPLE RIGHT HERE ARE HELPING ME WITH THAT SO STOP TALKING TO ME OR I WILL SCREAM YOUR FACE OFF.” That was pretty much the gist of it anyway. Frodo was aggressively stumpy and funny-looking at her. A woman bringing her daughter in through the same door behind me muttered, “Well said!” as we were buzzed into the lobby.

I got home after recuperating in the bustling bosom of my family and the house looked exactly as it did the morning after the ER. The clothes I had worn to the hospital and numbly stripped off the tomb of my body lay where I had dropped them on the floor next to the bed. The room that would have been the baby’s still collected dust in the same state of limbo-imposed storage-locker disarray. The dishes I had been in the middle of washing when I went to go pee and saw the blood were still in the sink. Everything was frozen in time, a chilled and perfectly preserved despair.

I entered the house and was overrun with The Bitterness.

The story of how I survived, and maybe not won but definitely waged a successful diplomatic campaign to end, the war, can be read here.

Also, here is a picture of my absurd stumpy hobbit dog Frodo. My husband took the picture. It is awesome.

 

Frumps