Redemptions: Finding Strength in Absurdity. Also, Strippers.

So, yesterday was a whole lotta suck. I want to thank everyone who reached out and offered support and love, on this blog and in the physical world. I also want to make sure everyone knows that I don’t usually sit around and contemplate my own grand awfulness. I mean, not all the time. Mostly not. Only in those dark, dark catbox moments when the helplessness becomes so overwhelming that I’m slam-dunked right back into the darkness and helplessness of my childhood and all those cruel, chittering demons come crowding round to fill the silence. A lot of people wanted very much to remind me of what’s awesome about me, and that certainly never goes amiss. I’m very touched by and grateful for those words. But that’s not really what it was about. Self-hatred is just what comes up in that moment.

And as it turned out, I ended up having kind of an awesome evening.

After sitting on the couch staring at the wall for what seemed like days, trying to figure out how best to take care of myself or what would make me feel better, I came to the realization that since actually NOTHING was likely to make me feel better, the best thing I could do would be to lay down arms and submit to the awful and just see where I ended up. My husband wanted to go hear some music and had been kind of waiting to see whether or not I would be in the mood to go out, so I toddled downstairs to his practice room and let him know that I was willing.

We had a lovely and utterly ridiculous dinner. The spot that we had picked at random off of Yelp happened to be hosting a benefit concert for Autism that night, and we got a table as far away from the noise as we could manage. The first band was insipid but largely innocuous, and we ate delicious things with cheese and talked about childlessness.

Ok, I realize how depressing that sounds, but it really wasn’t. We talked about what we might want our lives to be about if we couldn’t have our own children, what kind of presence we would want to leave with the world if it wasn’t our own genetic offspring. A big part of the conversation was about our niece and nephew, the boy/girl twins that my beautiful sister has been generous enough to allow us to help raise. They are about to turn 12, which is about a nanosecond away from becoming entirely alien creatures who erase us from their lives for a period of six to eight years while they focus on the incredibly challenging work of figuring out what the fuck they are. And also who, but mostly what. My husband is betting that we will remain cool for a longer period of time than their parents, based on the fact that we will not have to ground them when they become assholes. This may be true. Right now they genuinely love hanging out with their grown-ups, parents and aunties and uncles and grandparents all, and look forward to Sunday nights when we all have dinner together and get silly and make inappropriate jokes at the dinner table. There will likely come a time in the next six to eight years when we are not their first choice of recreational activity, when complicated and confounding other things become more pressing on their social calendars. But maybe my husband’s right, and maybe we can eke out a few extra years of coolness by virtue of our dual citizenship of “Adult” yet “Not Parent”.

So what will we do in those intervening years, if our own children aren’t ravaging us and turning us into zombies?

I’ve brought up the idea of fostering in the past, and we got a bit farther into the nitty gritties of it last night. It is a slightly terrifying yet insistently compelling thought. As a child therapist in community mental health I work with lots and lots of kids in foster care, and they can often be an incalculable handful. The foster care system is broken beyond my ability to describe to you here, and children are ground up in its machinery in ways that can damage them forever. Kids in foster often present with a whole host of extremely difficult behaviors that can turn a home upside down, and the cycle is perpetuated by foster caregivers who are not provided with any kind of education about attachment disruption or the effects of trauma or the tools of consistent, pragmatic parenting. Good foster homes are quite astonishingly rare. Often foster caregivers are literally doing it for the paycheck, and overworked caseworkers load up to six and seven kids into one home if it can accommodate them. And then there’s the fact that under the best possible circumstances, the parents of foster kids will work really really hard and accept a whole lot of really awful responsibility and jump through about a million sometimes absurd hoops to get them back, and then the foster caregiver has to say goodbye to a child that they may have become very fond of. The trauma is sort of built in.

Given all of that, why would we even think about doing this? My husband put it succinctly – when I asked what he wanted his life to be about if we couldn’t make babies, he said “I want to be able to do something for kids.” For him this might be teaching or volunteering or building programs that benefit children. Kids are absolutely enchanted by him and he’s a bona fide internationally famous musician, so the possibilities there are kind of endless. For me it’s a little different. I do that already. I work all day with children and do everything within my power to help improve their lives in anyway I can. For me what’s missing is the intimacy of a child in my home, the small rituals, the bedtimes, the wake-ups. The myriad spiderweb threads of attachment that wind throughout a day, a home, a life. For me it’s about doing more than what I can do in my office – I can’t teach a kid how to make macaroni and cheese, I can’t help them get back to sleep from a nightmare, I can’t  make up songs together about stupid things in the car on long trips. That’s what I want. And coincidentally, that’s also exactly the kind of indefinable stuff that’s missing in the lives of kids in foster.

At about this point in the conversation, the bands switched over. As this was an Autism benefit, there were a lot of families there with their kids, many of whom were on the spectrum. For reasons that remain utterly baffling to me, the big finale band chosen was an incredibly loud, incredibly jarring 90’s cover band with the largest drum kit we had ever seen outside of a Sheena E show. It bears pointing out that one of the many things with which kids on the spectrum struggle is a crippling hypersensitivity to loud noises. Good intentions, man. Good intentions.

We had a lovely stroll through the springtime night city to the club. As it turned out the guy who was supposed to put us on the guestlist had failed to do so and was MIA, and we didn’t feel like paying the cover. I was having such a fantastic time that I didn’t care. We were very near a famous strip club, sort of a Portland institution (for those of you who watch Portlandia, it’s Mary’s and it’s in the opening credits) that I used to haunt with a band of lingerie-obsessed gay boys I ran with back in the day. It was a “why the heck not” kind of night, so we went in. We were pretty underwhelmed. I mention it only because both the door girl and the floor waitress were hugely pregnant, which was at that point in the evening totally fucking hilarious to both of us.

Which sort of brings me to the loveliest moment of the whole night. Back at the absurdly orchestrated Autism event when I had posed the question of what might bring meaning to our lives should they be childless, my husband said something that took all my fears, all my existential anxieties and wrapped them up in loving arms, pulled them out of their madly spinning orbit and set them down firmly on solid ground. “We’re going to be fine Kitty,” he said. “You and I will always find a way to be happy together. Between the two of us, we’re never going to get stuck for long in the darkness. We’re always going to find the light.” And in that moment it finally dawned on me that he is right.

It’s a damn fine man I married. There’s a twinge of sorrow there, too, because I want so badly to see him go on and on in the faces of children we make together. But if it never happens, I know that we will find what we need in each other, and in doing so we will find the strength to create something that will go on and on. Just in ways that we can’t yet see.

 

 

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What Comes Up.

I was a painfully different kid. There were many things, both inside and out, that set me starkly apart from the kids around me. Or maybe it was more like the outside differences were such that I believed concretely that my insides must be terribly weird and corroded and nothing at all like the insides of my classmates. We were poor in a very wealthy community. We were members of a minority religious group that required us to abstain from normal kid things in very overt ways – birthday cupcakes, the Pledge of Allegiance, those blobby alien-looking turkeys you make out of handprints for Thanksgiving, Christmas as a whole, etc. I was an unattractive child with orange hair the color of traffic cones that jutted out at odd angles, big giant gaps in my teeth and sticky-outy ears about which my mother delighted in commenting that when I was born she didn’t know if I would walk or fly. But probably the most toxic difference was that instead of the safety and stability I saw in the homes of my peers, my home was rocked by violence, addiction and mental illness that twisted us all into terrifying unnatural shapes, shapes we hid from the rest of the world.

I remember watching the beautiful blonde girls, those precious porcelain creatures with their clean nails and their pearl-drop teeth, like a hungry urchin with my face pressed up against the glass of the finest bakery. They were like a different species, fairies to my scurrying, scaly goblin-self. Their hair fell in soft waves around their faces and their fingers were never chewed and bloody and their clothes were all brand name and their dolls stayed pristine and glamorous. Their rooms were pink and frilly and not shared by necessity with an older sister who appeared to hate them.

There were these twins, just absolutely the most lovely little long-eyelashed, full-lipped little girls you ever saw, who wore exclusively pink or lavender so that people could tell them apart. Early on in grade school, before the lines really got drawn and the children started to get cruel, when I was still being invited to sleepovers at the homes of the beautiful girls, I went to one at the twins’ house. I think they each had their own playroom, although I could be remembering that wrong in the overwhelming haze of loveliness and luxury and sickly pink-or-lavender-tinted envy that seized me like a vice grip. I clearly recall the multitude of table-top Ataris, and that I played Frogger timidly in a corner until somebody ripped it out of my hands. They had a Christmas tree that reached up to the sky-lit open-beam rafters of their two story living room. Their parents were young and lovely and playful, lenient and sober. Safe. I was so disoriented that I faked a stomach ache and had my mother come pick me up after the girls went to bed. She took me home to our fear and poverty and insanity and cramped apartment airlessness, which were all blessedly familiar and normal.

For many years of my childhood I put myself to sleep every night with a careful inventory of all the things that were wrong about me. From my toes all the way up to the top of my head I would count them out – 1) Weird bunyony feet. 2) Knock-kneed. 3) Bow-legged. 4) Fat stomach. 5) Little white-head acne all over my arms that I compulsively picked at. 6) Ugly. 7) Gapped teeth. 8) Big nose. 9) Giant ears. 10) Scary orange hair. They were my rosary beads, my litany, my way of understanding and explaining a world that consistently rejected me. It must be these things that make other kids torture me, that make my stepfather punch holes through doors and leave bruises on us, that make my mother disappear into fluid melancholy or rage. That made sense. It was compassable, I could get my chewed-fingered little hands around it. They were also proof of the terribly shameful thing that cringed and quivered inside of me, this difference, this wrongness. This me.

I’ve been thinking about this stuff for the past few days, as I’ve waited to learn whether or not the heroic amount of time, money and ovary-mutilating effort we expended this month will result in a pregnancy. I’ve thought about it as I watch women all around me, bearing and rearing babies that they have somehow managed to conceive and carry to term. I’ve wondered how many of those beautiful porcelain girls have children now, how many got pregnant without difficulty, exactly when they wanted, or maybe even accidentally – although never at a bad time. I’ve pictured them looking into the faces of children who look like them, beautiful and finely carved like ivory figurines, pictured them seeing there the reflection and culmination of all their loveliness and rightness and safety. I’ve pondered the diabolical fucking mystery of why all these women can do this thing, this elusive, ubiquitous, fact-of-life thing that I can’t seem to do to save my life. And I cannot figure it out.

This afternoon we found out that I am not pregnant.

The urge to collapse into all my old understandings is tremendous. I am infertile because I am not good enough. I am infertile because I am overweight. I am infertile because we waited too long because I was flaky and took 12 years to get through school and couldn’t find paid work after and am terrible with money and irresponsible about everything and just generally an awful, useless person. I am infertile because this wrongness, this shamefully terrible, cringing, quivering thing that inhabits my deepest places is so toxic that no life can take hold there. I am infertile because I am me.

Don’t bother telling me that this is irrational, because I know perfectly well that it is. I am a fucking therapist, for pete’s sake. I work almost exclusively with children who believe that their insides are rotten and unlovable because of trauma, and I am encyclopedically aware of the theory. But this is what comes up when month after month, year after year I fail to conceive. What comes up is ugly and brittle and impervious to grownup reason. What comes up is old and barbed like prison wire. In the face of the perfectly deadly logic of self-hatred, all I can do is write it out and try to move forward.

Just to clarify, although I believed that my sister hated me when we were kids, we are incredibly close as adults. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t hate me now. She is very supportive and hasn’t tried to flush my head in the toilet in a really long time. Years, even.

Ferret Hormones, Walking Egg Cartons and Vaginal Fishing Floats. Or, When Infertility Gets Weird.

I’m always tempted to apologize after a long absence from the blogging, but then I remember that this was supposed to be some kind of therapeutic tool, and if I were my own therapist I’d have to ask me a whole bunch of probing questions and try to explore the deeper context of my apology, e.g. some kind of lingering repressed guilt from my mother or something, and frankly it’s the weekend and I’m burnt out and I don’t really fucking care where my lingering repressed guilt comes from on a Friday night. So there.

I guess I haven’t had much processing to do lately. I mean, the journey goes on and uterine hilarity continues to ensue, as well as tears and sadness and frustration sometimes. People around me get knocked up and I don’t, and I have a really hard time with that no matter what kind of evolved zen mantra-mumbling place I’m in. It sucks. But I think I’m feeling a bit more longitudinal about it right now.

Last month we went in to see the Doc, who described a truly appalling process in which I would be flooded with hormones (whose hormones? People hormones? Animal hormones? Scary GMO robot hormones? I don’t know. Seriously. Whose hormones?) over the course of 7 to 10 days that cause my ovaries to go into massive superproduction and pop like 7 eggs, and then the “trigger shot” (I believe that there is a genuine market need for less horrifying names for all this shit) makes them release. And then I have like quintuplets or something. He laid it all out and it was daunting and awful and jaw-droppingly expensive, so we filed it in the “nuclear option” bin and went for the far less costly and upsetting IUI.

And it was in general far less upsetting. It hurt like a &%$#@ because of my old friend endometriosis, but my husband was there and made me laugh with his little pep talk to his sperm on their way in – “Alright you guys, remember what we talked about! Get in there!” The only really upsetting part was later in the evening, after I had gone directly from the doctor’s office to a staff party and finally got around to going in the bathroom and taking out what Dr. S had described as “just a little plug to keep the sperm where they should be”. As I’d had my legs up with a sheet draped over them when he was finishing the job, I did not see it go in and was picturing some kind of dainty little tampon-shaped thing. So I was utterly aghast when I pulled out what looked like a small nautical buoy the size of my palm wrapped in a plastic bag tied at the top with dental floss. Like a gods damn fishing float. Holy crap. Have you guys seen these things? I was so grossed out I finally had to tell the women I was hanging out with after a couple of glasses of wine. One of my staff is from the Midwest and when I described the abominable thing she cheerfully informed me that those are what they use when they inseminate cows. So, you know, that happened.

And as it turned out, it didn’t work. I will point out here, as I refrained from pointing out to Dr. Pushypants, that when I had so rashly taken all that pesky control over my vajayjay and did a home insemination, I managed to knock myself up on the first try. Ahem. Who’s counting?

So we moved on to the nuclear option. A week of shooting up ferret hormones or whatever the fuck they are, then becoming a giant walking egg carton. My husband was totally mortified when I told him we’d be doing it at home, and would he please do the actual poking part because I didn’t think I could cause myself that kind of pain. Once I tried to give myself a bikini wax but wussed out and couldn’t go through with it, so I had to sit in a bathtub full of Coke to get all the glue off. True story. But he cowboy’d up and watched the instructional video twice and scrubbed down the entire coffee table and went to work, albeit with significant anxiety. I kept offering to do it myself but he declared that it was his part of the process and that it was the least he could do. He did a great job and only made me bleed a little bit. It was a rough week physically and I felt like absolute arse toward the end. If I lay down on my stomach it felt like I was lying on two little golf balls where my ovaries used to be.

Today I went back in for the IUI. On the way over my sister and I were on the phone cracking up about getting a buoy in my hooey. It hurt even more like a &*%$@# this time because my entire pelvic region is all sore and bloated and unnaturally egged out like an Easter basket on steroids. Also, my doc uses these horrible old-fashioned metal things to pry me open. They’ve got all knobs and dials and stuff. One time when I was waiting for him to come in the room I peeked into the drawer I’d seen him take one out of and it looked like Steampunk Gynecology in there. Fucking horrifying.

So anyway, that’s the catch-up. I think the Catbox might be pretty bad this time around, since we’ve just sunk upwards of $2500 into my mysteriously dysfunctional lady place and there’s a little, you know, pressure in that. I’m going to try to keep up better with the writing so that I don’t fall back into the bad place.

Here we go…