The Eagle Has Landed.

Not much time to write before the lights go out in my brain and I devolve into primordial ooze.

She is here, she is home, she is a tiny human with feelings that are much bigger than her body, and she has some very legitimate concerns. The second attempt at bedtime – at around 9pm, btw – was marked by probably one of the most incredible conversations I have ever had, and I have conversations for a living. In her broken toddler Lithuanian or whatever it is they speak at almost three, she was able to communicate to me that she is scared, that this place is different and kind of weird, that her mommy is the same thing as home, that she is worried that she will be bad and make us reject her, that she feels unwanted by the foster home she just left, that she is worried she will not live to see the morning, and that she really, really, really likes our kitties. Then she wrapped her spindly fingers around a chunk of my hair and said, “I like it here.”

She very quickly passed out after that, which is not surprising considering the incredible emotional heavy lifting she was doing. She insisted on piling every toy in the room into her bed and then lying on them, upside down. This is apparently the preferred sleeping arrangement. I am going with it.

Onward and upward, y’all.

 

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Please Keep Your Arms And Legs Inside The Car At All Times.

T minus 18 hours. This shit is about to get Real. About as Real as it Gets.

On the 13th, our amazing friends and family threw us a Fosterbaby shower. It was so lovely and precious and unusual and celebratory, I can’t believe it happened, and I can’t believe how enormously necessary it was. I didn’t even know we wanted one until a butt-kickingly cool girlfriend suggested it and then made it sound totally normal, like every foster parent should have one before they’re certified. I can tell you that they don’t, just on the basis of how stunned our certifier was when we told her we wanted to wait on the final walkthrough until after the shower because there was stuff on our registry that we were going to need to get certified. (Think about the last baby shower registry you had to engage with. Do you remember there being a fire extinguisher? A medication lock box? A crib AND a toddler bed? Probably not.) I don’t think she’d ever heard of such a thing. A sad commentary on the way people view foster parenting, but I’m deeply grateful that our little tribe felt it was a no-brainer. There were cupcakes that I’m still dreaming about, and a lovely cake with wee ducklings, and champagne (a decided benefit to not being pregnant at one’s own baby shower). My sister and my niece took time out of their incredibly hectic schedules to make yummy things and plan goofy shower games, including a brilliant personalized MadLib that will, without a doubt, be framed for posterity. My nephew accidentally diapered a doll’s head shortly before an 8 month old baby stomped on his crotch and my husband was made to spoon-feed baby food to our little hobbity dog, who had been stuffed into a onesie that said “Wild About Auntie” on the front. It was a banner day.

We figured it would happen quickly. We’re fairly desirable real estate – stay-at-home foster dad, trauma-oriented child-therapist foster mom, no other kids in the home. The agency where I worked for 3 years is a huge name in DHS circles, and just dropping it causes a Pavlovian salivation response in caseworkers looking for foster caregivers with basic literacy in child psychology. So we knew we were going to have to be combat-ready as soon as the papers were signed. But the call came on Friday, before we were even certified.

Two and a half year old girl. Can’t give much more detail than that, because of confidentiality stuff. Suffice it to say that she is little, and adorbs (they sent us a picture), and she will be arriving at approximately 6pm Tuesday evening.

It is 11:55 on Monday night, and I am feeling ALL the feels.

Our family and friends have gone into high alert awaiting instructions on how best to help us, and every time I contemplate that I immediately tear up in soppy gratitude. People far and wide across our whole sphere are standing by to provide physical, emotional, practical and philosophical aid, because they love us and they believe in us, and they are totally excited about the insane adventure upon which we are embarking. I never knew how loved we were until now.

Her room is ready. We didn’t know it was her room until Friday night, but from that point forward it was her room. We know a few things about her, but she is mostly a mystery – a shockingly blonde pig-tailed gap-toothed mystery. Her name is an unusual one, and it is the one we chose for the baby we lost two years ago. Hard not to feel a little messy about that.

Unlike most foster care cases, we actually have a fairly good idea of where this one is likely to go. We know that we will not be considered an adoptive resource due to other viable relatives being available and willing. That is both sad and a relief – we know that we will pour love and life into her and she will leave us, but we also know what to expect and won’t get our hopes up. All in all it’s a pretty good first case for us.

This time tomorrow night, I will have in my ears the echo of her stompy stompy feet up and down the hallway, and I will be hoping that she stays in her bed instead of sleeping on the floor as she is reportedly wont to do. Or maybe I will be asleep myself, overwhelmed and drowning in wonder and fear and love and mystery. There will be a little body in the room that has been lovingly and meticulously prepared for it, and in the morning there will be a world of new things to learn. For all of us.

Here we go.

 

Bracing for Impact, Redecorating the Catbox

We are mere weeks away from becoming foster parents to some as-yet-unknown small human. Of course, I can’t be certain about that timeline, because you never know when the call is going to come in. But considering that our certifier tried to place a sibling set with us a couple of weeks ago before we were even certified, I’m guessing it’s going to happen pretty quickly.

Because it is (for now) so much cleaner and more peaceful than the rest of the house, I’m writing this in the Kid Room, which is what we’ve settled on calling it. It feels weird to call it a nursery or baby’s room, as we may get a five year old. It feels weird to call it the kid’s or kids’ room, because that presupposes a subject (a specific kid or kids) to whom the noun (the room) currently belongs, and at the moment that subject only exists vaguely and anonymously in potentia. So it has become “the Kid Room”, literally defined as of or pertaining to the idea of “kid”; a room into which, ostensibly, a kid of unknown provenance will eventually fall.

But I may be overthinking it. A bit.

As this crazy event approaches, I’ve had pause to consider all the things that are different about this way of welcoming children into our lives versus the more traditional organic way, which can make me sad if I spend too much time with it. The surprise here is how much is actually the same, just in a slightly alternate-universe kind of way.

Our friends and family have occasionally expressed concern about the stressors that fostering will place on us. What about when Hubby is on tour and I’m on my own? How will we feel about the ginormous changes to our basic way of living? Won’t childcare be expensive? Aren’t we nervous about not knowing what the outcome of the case will be? How are we going to deal with behavioral issues? Aren’t we, frankly, a little terrified?

And the answer is yes. We are more than a little terrified. We don’t know what the hell we’re getting into. There are days when we wonder what the fuck we were thinking, when we take in the blissful peace of the house while we both work in companionable silence without worrying about anyone else’s needs, savor the exquisite joy of sleeping in and taking an hour to gradually climb out of the bed, revel in the freedom to stay up late or decide to see a movie or a show at the last minute. Our lives are going to change in ways that we cannot possibly prepare for.

But….um…. Isn’t that what every expectant parent feels?

And all the specific problems that people ask about would still have been problems if we’d managed the build-your-own version. I would still have periods of single parenting while my husband is on tour. Childcare would still be a financial drain. The unknown would still be haunting us, ready to leap out from behind any corner and throw something catastrophic in our path. There would still be days when we’d wonder what the fuck we were thinking, bang alongside days when we can’t imagine our lives any other way.

If I let myself, I can get a little miffed about this. Nobody, or at least nobody nice, ever brings these kinds of concerns to financially and emotionally stable adult pregnant couples. Nobody ever takes an 8-months-gone pregnant woman aside at gatherings and asks her if this is really what she wants. Maybe this is another function of fertility privilege, the societal biases that place the value of procreation and the worth of a breeding woman so much higher than any other method of child-acquisition. Who knows. Generally I do not let myself get miffed about it, because no matter what accidental foot-in-mouth offenses people might occasionally commit, the vast majority of our community has been unbelievably supportive and celebratory and awesome. They are throwing us a fosterbaby shower, for shit’s sake.

There are of course challenges that are unique to fostering, and we are trying to be as centered and practical about those as it is possible to be with problems that are, at this stage, only dire predictions. We will not only be taking a child into our lives, we will also be taking that child’s biological parent(s) into our lives as well, and there is no underestimating how difficult that could prove to be. There may be substance abuse, personality disorder, mental illness, domestic violence or some unholy combination of all of the above coming in the door with that parent, and our job is to help them get their shit together enough to be “minimally adequate” in the eyes of the state in order to have their child back. I’m not quite ready to delve into the galactic fucking potential shit-show that may be in store. We just have to brace for impact and figure it out as we go along.

On the plus side, nothing horrifying or traumatic will happen to my vagina, there will be no “baby weight” and my boobs will stay the same size and shape. I don’t know, I kinda feel like there are some upsides here.

I will try to write as much about this as possible given the constraints of confidentiality and the immediate disappearance of every ounce of free time that will occur once the as-yet-unknown small human arrives on our doorstep. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep this blog going now that the subject has changed so much, but I kind of like it here and I don’t want to give up my picture of a pregnant cat and a catbox. And in our own way, we’re in sort of a different kind of Catbox – we are waiting for a child that both exists and doesn’t exist, is present and absent at the same time. Except this time I’m not forced on the daily to handle my own pee.

Breathing Is Hard: Thoughts On Crying And Singing.

There are infinite ripples. There are infinite rooms.

It’s not a question of “getting over it”. That’s the lie. It’s such a pervasive lie that we believe it and shame our own selves when the grief bubbles up from well-managed dormancy, messes up our “I’ve Been Through Infertility But Came Out Awesome” faces. This is not linear. If it were linear, you wouldn’t be infertile anymore.

Today I accidentally, unexpectedly hooked into grief during my singing lesson and ended up doubled over with my hands pressing in my guts, watching tears scatter across the lovely blonde hardwood.

First, the obligatory update, since this has become a very occasional blog.

We are great. There have been ups and downs, and things that we thought would happen didn’t, and things that we thought would never happen did. But all in all we are well – savoring the sweetness and facing the tragedies, floating like butterflies and stinging like bees. We are in the final stage of the foster care certification process, and there will very likely be a small human under the age of 5 living in our home within the month. Our friends and family are throwing us a shower, which is awesome, because it lets us feel like expectant parents. You aren’t really encouraged to feel like expectant parents in foster care training – more like expectant combat veterans. I keep meaning to sit down and write all the craziness of the certification process, but I find myself a little itchy about the prospect of bringing foster parenting and failed baby-making into such close proximity – maybe I need to end this blog and begin a fostering blog. Whatever, I’ll get there when I get there. Onward and upward.

Recently we had a massive snow storm here in the Pacific Northwest. It was my first, being a California girl, and it was fucking impressive. My beloved husband was on tour in – wait for it – Australia and New Zealand, which meant that not only was I snowed in all by myself but I was snowed in all by myself while my life-partner sizzled in the Outback like a nice kangaroo steak. Bitterness and copious amounts of Doctor Who on Netflix happened. And not just Doctor Who, but broadway musical revivals and Royal Shakespeare Company productions happened. I will, under duress, admit that David Tennant may have largely featured. At some point during those four days I had a bit of a private revolution, the kind that is only possible after many hours of sci-fi/fantasy, spectacular BBC production values and the inescapable helplessness of an extreme, yet fundamentally boring, weather event. I decided to return to my musical theatre roots and take singing lessons. I had quite a set of pipes once upon a time, before the hammer of life and years of Lucky Strikes prevailed. I wanted to reclaim some of what I gave up by becoming an academic rather than a performer, taking this road rather than that. Musical theatre is a muscular and aerobic activity, and I wanted to step back into my body after several years of being at war with it in the Infertility Crusades. In a sacred moment of “Fuck It, Why Not” I booked a lesson with a local studio.

And it’s been really fun. It’s an archaeological act, scraping and dusting the axe-hewn stone and silt of decades off of something golden and seemingly long-gone. There are times when I sound like curdled shit, but there are more times when the old strength and clarity come bursting out like bats from a tomb. My voice coach is a talented young woman who quickly made me feel comfortable re-acclimating to all the weirdness that the art of performance demands, which is a very lot.

But lately I’ve had the devil of a time working on my own, outside of lessons. I warm up and try to remember all the precise muscular corrections she gives me – direct the sound through the head, release the jaw, center movement just around the mouth, engage the breath – but I end up with my throat closing up around strangled sounds that feel weak, small, disconnected. I get frustrated and helpless, and I have actually wept in defeat. After I reported all of this today, she announced that we were going to work just on my breath.

I know all about breath. I’ve mentioned before – I work with trauma survivors, and my therapist’s equivalent of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver is the breath. It lowers the blood pressure, reduces anxiety, re-establishes connection to the body and generally makes people feel better. It is the powerhouse of healing, the alpha and omega of self-regulation. I am not at all unfamiliar with breathing. I tell people to do it every day.

About 5 years ago in a yoga class, I was asked to put a block under my lower back and lie there, breathing and releasing. Although this was long before we started trying to conceive I had already had a significant amount of trauma to that general territory. A terminated pregnancy, years of crippling barbed-wire endometriosis, an abusive relationship rife with non-consensual sex, a sexual assault when I was a teenager. And even though none of this was in my conscious mind as I lay there with the block under my bum, it was as if an egg had cracked in the space between my hips and uncontrollable weeping came pouring out. I was engulfed by wracking sobs, the ugly barking gasping kind, these weird and desperately un-pretty noises filling the peaceful space of the yoga studio. I was mortified by my loss of control and felt like I had peed all over the floor, but the instructor was very kind and didn’t make a big fuss. He just came over and knelt by me while he continued talking the class through the poses.

Today was kind of like that.

She had me lie down and breathe. It’s kind of amazing how difficult that can be. We worked toward vocalizations just from the breath, without the throat or the chest interfering, straining, controlling. Slowly, slowly, she asked me to allow the release of all the steel scaffolding that holds me up, holds me in, holds me back. When I finally sat up I found that there were tears in my eyes.

All of a sudden that feeling of tightness and strain in my throat that I’d been struggling with in practice came into context and focus – it’s what your body does when you’re trying not to cry.

Infertility is all about pushing down the awful and moving forward, bucking up, choosing to stomp on all the grief and opt for hope instead of despair. I did a pretty damn good job of it until I couldn’t anymore, and then I stopped. But I think my insides stayed pushed down – like bin garbage you step on with all your weight to compact it so you can cram more in, all the grief and loss stratifying into that steel scaffolding that holds me up, holds me in, holds me back.

And something about lying there breathing from the center of me, from my belly where little lives have started and ended, where our hopes have started and ended, where my whole identity as a woman who bears children has started and ended – something about it cracked that egg between my hips again and all the weeping came out.

You would think that therapists might feel totally comfortable having big feelings in front of others, that we would have internalized all the times we tell our clients that this is a safe space and crying is totally OK. You would think that, but you would be wrong.

I had that same feeling of having accidentally peed on the floor, of something ungraceful and unacceptable taking hold of me and spilling all over the place. My coach fielded it beautifully; no seasoned therapist could have done better. With unshakable calm she took me through various vocalizations, telling me over and over that it didn’t matter what I sounded like, that my job was to “be out of control” so that I could begin the process of reconnecting with my breath and all the broken places it needed to pass through. We were working on “Someone Like You” from Jekyll and Hyde, at first just on vowel sounds and then trying the words. The sounds were indeed small, weak, disconnected, but like a doula she just kept returning me to my breath, to fighting the urge to take control and push all the crazy incongruous grief back down so that I could bring my voice to heel. We made a stab at words instead of vowels, and I did pretty good until “The past is holding me/keeping life at bay/I wander lost in yesterday”, and then I lost it.

Which is where we find me at the beginning of this post, doubled over pressing my hands into my gut to keep it from spilling over, watching the speckle of tears as they hit the studio floor.

Here are a few insights I took away from this.

One is that no matter how many times you consciously make a space for other people to cry and snot and bleed all over the upholstery, it always feels nigh-on impossible to accept that someone is willing to make the same space for you. When people cry in my office and express shame or embarrassment about doing it in front of me, we explore what is so uncomfortable about allowing another person to see them cry – fear that the other will be disgusted and judgmental, fear that crying exposes weakness, fear that a mess will be made. Almost always there is a fear of being out of control, of making the weird noises and contorted faces that are inevitable in deep-belly, bottom-of-the-spine weeping that leaves you feeling like you have no bones left. When it happens in my office I receive it without reservation, without hesitation, and certainly without disgust or judgment. And yet when the same thing happens to me, my first instinct is to apologize and get on with things. So that’s interesting.

Another is that this archaeological field project of renovating my voice is a deeper and more important thing that I originally thought. It is about breath and sound, about remembering what was and accepting what is, about being heard and letting go, and that is some pretty fucking significant shit. I’m curious – and a little afraid – about what might come up.

And finally is the realization – AGAIN – that moving forward is just that. It’s just a direction, one out of many, and it doesn’t mean that anything is left behind. If I leave one room and go into another, I cannot by the almighty power of my footstep cause the first room to disappear, to never have existed. It is silly and hubristic to imagine that there is a linear process by which “it” shall be “gotten over”, “moved on” from. My body has many rooms, and none of them are empty. Perhaps it is just a question of expanding the blueprint.

PS – If you’re in the Portland metro area and you’re interested in voice coaching, you should check out Resound NW. My awesome coach is Jennifer Davies, but you can’t have my spot because I’m using it.