Ask the Catbox, the Debut!  

Yay! My grand experiment worked! I put out a call for questions, requests and feedback about stuff folks want to see addressed in the blog, and a bunch of you reached out. Keep ‘em coming! I’m going to be making my way through them over the next couple of weeks and I’ll be linking to the blogs of folks who send questions, so don’t forget to mention where you’re writing.

So here’s the first of what I hope is a series of conversations with all you lovely humans here in the Catbox.

The Unexpected Trip writes:

“When you imagine the future, what do you see?…What happened that allowed you to move past the idea that only one version of the future is worthwhile? The passage of time…and what else?”

Sort of a two parter, really.

We’ll start with the mechanical question. How, exactly, does this happen? This acceptance? This peace with not-having? This not-being-batshit-allthefreakingtime?

My answer is: I don’t know.

I don’t know how it happens for you. I know how it happened for me, and I know that there are some basic common threads across experience that suggest that how it happened for me might be helpful for how it happens for you, but I want to be clear about the subjectiveness of this thing. Because otherwise, if I tell you “This Is The Way” and it’s not what works for you, then I’m just confirming the shitty global narrative you’ve been slogging through this whole time, that somehow you can’t get what you need because you’re doing something wrong. Or you are something wrong. If you just meditated enough, or took the right supplements, or got the right obscure shamanic vaginal massage protocol you’d be Mother Goose. You’re not thinking right, your body isn’t pure enough, you’re not praying properly, you’re not serving properly, bla bla bla all the way down through the centuries and millennia that have seen us subjugate to the patriarchal demand that we pay rent for our existence with the harvest of our bodies. So bugger that. I call bullshit.

With that said, here are some things that I found useful, that you may find useful, and if you don’t find them useful, please feel free to dismiss them without a shred of self-excoriation.

I had to start with The Bitterness.

I’ve written a lot about The Bitterness. And I know from your comments and from the conversations I’ve had with women in my practice that y’all know ALL about The Bitterness. The toxic simmering rage that sits right at the base of your belly where nothing will grow to fullness; the scraping, grinding bone-on-bone groan when you see the ripe bellies of your friends and relations; the thing that cleaves you away from the rest of humanity in awkward alien otherness and twists nightmare shapes out of the husk of your compassion.

No image of the future is possible from within the noxious quagmire of The Bitterness.

How can it be? Because after all and in the core of it all The Bitterness is a hatred of the self. You hate the body that will not be fruitful. You hate the face that grows pinched and furrowed with endless cycles of hope and devastation. You hate the choices you’ve made that you somehow manage to chop up and rearrange so that they neatly explain and describe the absence of a baby in your empty hated arms. Your hatred of yourself becomes your closest companion, a beloved and intimate Mean Girl who whispers judgement and scorn in your ear all day till it starts to sound like she’s talking about everyone else but you.

I reflexively flipped off a pregnant mannequin at Target yesterday. She’s still in here somewhere, I assure you.

But she’s quieter now. I can sort of patiently refuse to engage with her, put my arm around her bony, irascible shoulders and give her a squidge when she gets bitchy now. I can tell her I love her, that it’s ok, that she doesn’t have to be anything more or different or better for me to love her, that she doesn’t have to make other people shitty for me to see her as not shitty. And then she turns into this little ginger kid with big ears and zero impulse control, and I can see that she is confused and lonely and scared, scared, scared as hell. And I can reach down and slip my hands under her armpits and hoist her up onto my hip, press her poor helpless hurting body into mine, bounce her gently a few times and walk out of the store singing her lullabies.

And you know what? That kid has a future. I’m gonna see to it.

What I see when I look into that future is less important than my decision to ensure there is one. I’m not actually all that bothered with what it might look like. I am deeply, intoxicatingly in love with the present moment these days. It is an addiction. Right now, for instance, I am sitting in my writing chair in my sun dappled writing room which I just cleaned yesterday. On my lap is the pillow I usually rest my laptop on, except that at this present intoxicating moment it has been coopted by a warm snuggly wiener who has burrowed herself into my robe and caused me to have to move the laptop way over to the side, such that I am literally leaning half off the chair in order to type while accommodating her. Her breath comes in short sleepy huffs and her little body feels like a furry hot water bottle. This is the moment I’m in right now. Are you freaking kidding me? How did I get so lucky????


In practical terms, I see continued fulfilling work in my future, a marriage that is always growing and changing, watching my niece and nephew magically turn into adults while my sister and I get closer and closer, helping my parents deal with aging, raising wieners and hobbitses and cats, maybe buying a house, going to the gym with my awesome gym buddy, eating good food, watching awesome shows on Netflix, and continuing to figure out how one lives day to day and moment to moment in something like peace and acceptance. Frankly, that sounds like enough to be going fucking on with.

If you’re curious about the mechanics of “how” – how do you release The Bitterness, how do you choose love, etc – the way I did it was with meditation. I’ll keep this part fairly brief because it’s easy to start sounding like a cult member when you’re talking about this stuff. Meditation trains the brain to observe rather than engage with thoughts and feelings, and this allows you to make choices about how you respond to them. It’s really that simple. There are thousands of years of research to back this up, although it’s only in the last couple of decades that us dipshits over here in the West have decided to put science funding behind it and therefore begun to believe it works. But that’s where we are. There’s a ton of research proving that meditation changes the neural pathways of the brain and fosters empathy and compassion. It’s good shit.

A really nice compact bite sized training program for meditation is the Headspace app. It is of course the most microscopic nano-scratching of the surface of what mindfulness and meditation are and I strongly encourage you to follow the rabbit hole as far as you can, but it’s a good place to start.

Ok, I gotta go to an office kickball game, cause that’s the awesome shit that’s in my future today. Much love to you all, thanks for your feedback and keep it coming!

 

Feedback Loop

This is Frodo at work. He wants to hear about your needs.

I’m writing this between clients. Frodo and I are both squashed into my chair and wrapped in a blanket because my summer-long abject pleading to fix the AC in my office has, now that it is getting cold out, finally borne fruit. So it is approximately ten below in here, but now I’m too embarrassed to ask them to turn it up.

But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m taking some notes on what I’d like the blog to focus on in the weeks and months ahead. I very much want to become more regular with my entries and that means I need to find a way to stay engaged even when I’m not in desperate need of writing. My husband jokes that I write like pooping – if there is a great pressure and need then I’m writing like a champ, but it’s not the sort of thing I can just make happen when there’s no calling. I’ll end the metaphor there, but you get the idea.

So it occurred to me that what I’m really interested in is how I can be of help to other folks who are going through it. I feel like I’ve reached a point that, if it’s not the end at least is a great peaceful slowing and calming of all the grief and turmoil that drove me to write in the first place.

So what would feel helpful to you? Which particular part of this wretched bullshit is tormenting you, and what kind of support do you wish you could find? If there is enough interest, I’d be happy to start a sort of weekly Q&A here in the Catbox.

Let me know in the comments or send me an email at gillian.chachere@gmail.com.

Mornings With My Wiener

Oh, my darlings. It’s been a long time.

It’s a little intimidating, this blank screen. I’ve been meaning to write, been wanting to write. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve just been, I don’t know, just…

Living.

And that’s good, right? Life has been all, you know, lifey.

We got a puppy last November, a two month old piebald dachshund we named Hermione who promptly got sick with something obscure called “puppy strangles” and almost died. I had a massive PTSD trigger response and melted down in the vet’s office about how all my babies die and I can’t keep anything alive and nothing I love is safe. You know. Rational-like. But she healed up fine and is a wriggly little one-year-old punk now, and probably the single most photographed wiener since the Congressman from New York.

And I turned 40, snuggled in a gorgeous wooded chalet on San Juan Island with my crazy family, singing songs and drinking wine and eating amazing food and just generally being blessed as fuck. Also my husband took me skydiving, which I strongly recommend to anyone as the only appropriate response to turning 40. More on this later.

In the almost-year since I’ve undergone some kind of unexpected cellular transformation that functionally burned away any fucks that could potentially be given about most of the things that used to mess me up. I’ve learned how to talk to people without the shadow of past trauma falling across my face and making me timid, I’ve forgiven myself for a lot of mistakes made in the thick of mental illness. I’ve let go of a lot of internalized misogyny and subsequent idiotic expectations of what my body is supposed to look like (which, ironically enough, resulted in a previously unimaginable enjoyment of going to the gym and the loss of about 10 pounds. Can’t make this shit up.). I spontaneously and with almost no discomfort cut back my drinking by about 90%, which has been a serious and quite literal eye opener. Mornings these days are pretty awesome.

And we are still childless. (Well, besides the wiener.) And that’s almost completely ok with me. I still have moments that hit out of nowhere like a dirty bomb of grief and resentment, but they’re pretty quick and I can get back to ground zero-fucks in jig time. I spend a lot of time with women who are still in the thick of it, still drowning in the horror and helplessness and bitterness of infertility and pregnancy loss, and that gives me the opportunity to pass along the little lifelines I picked up in the years we struggled with it. And god, I love that. There’s a special kind of healing that comes from giving to others what you desperately needed and couldn’t find yourself.

Yesterday I had the very great honor of being treated to lunch by a reader of the blog, which felt like the final nudge I needed to sit down in front of this sternly intimidating blank screen and start making words. (Thanks S!!!!) Last night I dreamt of all sorts of creative doings: women’s living spaces filled with gorgeous fabrics, precarious forest paths winding down to steep shorelines and towering tides, a sudden impulsive decision to try out for a traveling opera company. Rich, risky, colorful, frightening, ecstatic. I’m feeling again the moral obligation to be loud and loving with this stuff, to speak where we’ve been silenced, to embrace where we’ve been isolated, to honor where we’ve been made invisible. Or, more accurately, to do all this more publicly, as I’ve been doing it in the safe confines of my beautiful 16th floor office with my clients the whole time. I’m ready to roll, y’all.

Does anyone know how you get a TED talk? (I’m asking for a friend…)

And introducing my wiener…

img_0333

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Brief History of an Awful Year

Things that have happened since last September:

  • I got pregnant in October of last year and carried our baby girl 15 weeks, until we learned that she had genetic issues and terminated in early January.
  • Our foster kiddo transitioned back to her awesome maternal grandparents in the Midwest and we said goodbye to her in November, sadly but gratefully because the whole thing was so right.
  • I had a chemical pregnancy the month after we lost our daughter and another one two months after that.
  • I got pregnant AGAIN in May of this year and miscarried, ALSO AGAIN, at 11 weeks.
  • Everything in me died and burned and exploded and fell apart.
  • I started meditating and realized I didn’t have to try to have babies anymore and felt an intensity of relief I didn’t know was even allowed by law.
  • Everything in me regrew and cooled and settled and knitted back together.
  • (Those last three happened over the course of three days. Real.)
  • A lot of other stuff too but this is the stuff I’ve been avoiding writing about.

There. Now you’re all caught up and I don’t have to try to write the detailed history of death and despair and dancing dangerously close to madness, which I probably will do anyway but in pieces wherever it bubbles up instead of having to construct some kind of comprehensive narrative for utterly incomprehensible shit that makes my brain turn to foie gras when I try to put it all together.

I’m glad we got that out of the way. I feel better, don’t you? I look forward to hammering away at my keyboard late into the night over cheap boxed wine and obsessive self-reflection. Just like old times.

 

 

Returning.

Too many things to update on this blog. CANNOT UPDATE ALL THE THINGS. Because I cannot update all the things I have not been writing, and that is stupid. I will start with where I am and the rest will have to come as it comes, otherwise I will remain helplessly silenced by the overwhelming weight of what’s happened in the past year.

I had a mindblowing moment this afternoon. I spend so much time thinking about what other people have that I don’t have, or maybe more specifically the things I lack and how they define me in comparison to other people. I live in kind of a run-down house in a run-down neighborhood, and because of this I have convinced myself of a narrative about how if I lived in a beautiful new-built home I would magically become a better steward of my living spaces – i.e, I would pick up my fucking pants off the bedroom floor and put things away when I’m done using them. I have taken some serious career hits in the past decade and my private practice is still fledgling, so I’ve constructed a narrative about how I must be flaky and unworthy and destined to be unsuccessful because at (almost) 40 I do not own my own home (see delusional narrative #1). I am about 20lbs overweight (that’s a medical assessment and not an emotional one, so please don’t waste anyone’s time telling me I’m “not fat” because I have been pregnant more than 3 times in the last 12 months and my body has been through some crazy shit and it shows and WTF is wrong with being fat anyway) and I am not – may never be – the kind of woman who focuses consistent energy and intention on changing that. Narrative includes: failure; lazy; the creepy “she let herself go” shit (the very language of which tells the story of a war of attrition waged on bellies and thighs and bingo arms and suggests that the subject has simply given up out of exhaustion and lack of caring, which may in fact be somewhat true but not in the way you’d think). And of course the big boss monster in the center of the whole game – I have been unable to have children. That particular delusional narrative is so far reaching that I am every day finding new areas of self-concept that it has woven its cunning, muscular tendrils around, new ways I mistakenly understand myself as deficient and inadequate because of it. It is constant, unrelenting, cleverly camouflaged and tucked neatly into every other delusion. It is so real sometimes.  It’s a daily learning.

So I have a picture of this woman in my head who is driven, skinny, wealthy, fertile, immaculate. She lives in a beautiful house and puts her pants away when she takes off her clothes. She has children that came from her body, a body which matches the standard social guidelines of acceptability. I look at her through a glass constructed of delusional narratives and internalized culturally imprinted self-loathing. From this view she looks blissfully happy.She looks incredibly fortunate.

This afternoon as I went barreling around my run-down house trying to gracefully make my way from one obligation I felt like I was fucking up to the next obligation I felt like I was fucking up, I happened to catch a glimpse of the wedding picture David framed for me for our anniversary two years ago. Behind the glass I saw two people in an exquisite kiss – the kind of kiss you see in movies when you’re 16 and practice on your hand in the dark and hope to god you get to feel one day. The man in the picture is handsome, smartly dressed, open-faced and clearly leaning in to the kiss with everything he is and everything he wants to be. The woman is beautiful and perfectly present, absolutely herself, giving freely and totally unafraid. They are so, oh god, so in love. You can see it. They have everything. They are the soul of abundance.IMG_1953 (2)

The mindblowing moment:

I realized that if I saw this picture in another woman’s house, I would be jealous of her.

We still feel like that. We still kiss like that. We met 20 years ago, have been together for 14 and married for 10 next month. We have been through unimaginable hardships, have seen the absolute worst of each other and in so doing have earned the right to see the absolute best of each other. We have fought each other tooth and nail, we have abandoned and betrayed each other in a thousand ways big and small and we have made it right every time. We have laughed and been amazed together, we have learned from and for and about each other. We have joyfully greeted and incomprehensibly lost and fathomlessly grieved a passel of tiny children whom we made out of our own flesh and dreams and love and watched die for no reason anyone can explain. We have been utterly shattered and have put the pieces back together so many times that eventually it stopped being all that important which piece belonged to who, and as such we are a mosaic of both ourselves and each other, beautifully fractured and shimmering in our harmonies and discords. We are still so, oh god, so in love. We are so much more than fortunate.

I am endeavoring to live, every moment, outside the glass of those constructed delusions. That woman in the wedding picture is the same woman who is, right this very second, sitting on a pet-hairy couch with stains on the cushions from either the weird hobbit dog mindlessly licking his feet or the exceptionally pukey calico cat who has never once been known to hork on a non-porous surface. Her pants are probably not put away and her body shows the undeniable marks of tragedy. She may go for a run tomorrow but probably not. She will probably meditate because that’s what’s been making sense lately. And tomorrow her husband will come home from a 6 week tour during which they lost yet another baby, and they will put their heads together just like in the picture and between kisses they will discuss what comes next for them now that they have decided to give up trying to have children. We have the world before us, all options on the table. We are fortunate. I am fortunate. I am here and this is now.

I am here and this is now.

Eek! It’s cold outside of my cave!

Hey guys! I’m gonna be fay-muss! A few months back I was invited to come down to LA and record an episode of the most excellent podcast Mental Illness Happy Hour with Paul Gilmartin, and it’s going to be airing tomorrow. You can hear it on mentalpod.com starting 12/5/14, or look for it on your preferred podcast platform – I’m a Stitcher girl meself.

Since this is the first time my actual name and identity will be publicly associated with this blog (gulp!), I’ve taken down a few things. After thinking about clients’ possible reactions to certain information about me I thought it best for now. More to follow!

Hi, I’m Gillian Callahan Chachere. Nice to meet you!

The Closing of the Bones Part 2

Ok, so. I’m a little better rested and a little better equipped. I’m going to try to tell this shit.

Samantha invited me to her beautiful little garden cottage in the woods, where she and her mentor Bernadett had prepared the space for the ceremony. I was fawning over the five 8 week old kittens when a tiny woman with long gray hair stepped barefoot through the grass to greet me. Bernadett didn’t seem to mind that I was too wrapped up with the kittens to make a proper introduction.

I am a product of my field and there were several things about this that were unfamiliar to me. First, I would never in a million years invite a client into my home. That’s just not what we do. And while I knew that this wasn’t the same thing as what I do for people I wasn’t sure exactly what it was going to be. So I didn’t know what the boundaries were and in mental health boundaries are the difference between service and abuse. And second, it is just spectacularly difficult for me to dismantle my Helping Professional Skeleton and allow myself to fold into someone else’s hands. I became a therapist because of a childhood of fear and helplessness where the only thing about me that seemed valuable was my ability to emotionally support the adults around me, and I have made a career out of Keeping It Together so that I could go to work and do what I do. Letting other people take care of me feels really deeply fucking weird.

Samantha has a Womb Room. No fucking lie. She painted it a deep bloody raspberry color and put a futon mattress on the floor, and that’s where she does her work. I sat down in the Womb Room with Bernadett and told her that I felt weird, that being the Helped instead of the Helper is an itchy kind of stretch for me, and that I didn’t really know what the fuck I was doing there. She just smiled.

She started with a massage. It was an easy thing for me to wrap my head around – you lie down, someone works on your muscles, you relax. I’m totally familiar with that protocol. It was a mind-blowingly fucking awesome massage like nothing I’ve ever gotten on a spa table, and because I was on a futon mattress on the floor I could hear and feel her moving around my body – crouching, lifting, using her small body to move mine in this really visceral way. I had to struggle with an insane reflex to worry that she might put her back out. What? Yes. That was in my head. I am kind of bad at this.

One of the lasts things she did were my feet. There is a crescent-moon sliver of my instep that is always fairly painful when someone rubs it, but it was off-the-hizzy painful this time. As she was finishing up I asked her if she knew why this might be.

She hadn’t spoken much up till that point. At my words she knelt by my head and said, “I don’t really know your story, but I think that whatever you’ve been through must have been really, really intense. Every single one of your muscles is holding pain in a tonic state, and I don’t think you even know that it’s happening. You’ve had to hold it together.”

So I told her the story. About this being number 5, about being stuck in a foreign country where they wouldn’t take the baby out of me but wouldn’t let me take it home, about going anyway and getting off the plane and going to the hospital and waking up the next day stripped and hollowed and confounded with no aftercare to speak of. About stepping immediately back into life with a 3 year old foster child and a husband who just wanted the whole thing to be over and done with while my body screamed, while my breasts ached and my ligaments stiffened and my uterus shrank and my hormones fermented in disarray and chaos. My eyes were closed as I spoke and my tears flowed down the sides of my face, and I felt her reach out and wipe them with such gentleness that it startled me. I opened my eyes and saw that she was crying too.

“No humane culture would do this to their women”, she said, her eyes streaming. “No humane people would leave their women alone to deal with this.”

I lost track for a bit after that. Her kindness, the truth of her words, the reckoning of it was too much to take in for a while.

After some time, Samantha came back in and announced that all five of the kittens had congregated outside under the windowsill just inches from our feet. She and Bernadett chatted and prepared, spreading black and purple shawls beneath my hips and shoulders. When they were ready Bernadett held my hand. I don’t remember the exact words but she asked me if I was ready to give thanks and let go, to close the open place that had been made in my body and let myself be knit back together.

And all of a sudden I panicked. For the first time I realized that I wasn’t ready. You think you’re ready, because you think of it in terms of wanting to feel better. But it seemed like she was asking if I was ready to let go of my baby, and all of a sudden my whole being rebelled.

We lose them. They fall from our bodies or are scraped out from our insides, and we lose them. We are asked to move on.  At 9, 10, 11 weeks we are told that these creatures are not alive enough to take seriously and we are expected to keep walking, to tend to the bleeding and the cramping and the aching as though they are the symptoms of a virus that has now been flushed out. Our bodies know different.

My face crumpled and I shook with sobs that threatened to split me apart. In an instant Bernadett was lifting up my torso, folding me over my thighs and holding my body as it quaked and shattered. I remember her saying something like, “Let it go, let it be strong, let it be tall and loud and strong.” Samantha was at my other side, bracing my body for the impact of grief, one arm across my chest and the other at the back of my neck the way you hold someone who is vomiting, or choking, or giving birth. Bernadett threaded one arm under my knees and cradled me like a baby, and I could hear her sobbing too, saying again “No sane people would leave their women this way.” And my heart and my chest and my belly all thundered with rage and loss and a wordless, helpless grief.

And then there were words, two words, although they barely choked past all the thunder. I didn’t think anyone would hear them and frankly I didn’t even think I had the right to say them, but out they came.

“My baby.” 

In all this time, in all these deaths, I had never mourned my baby.

It was hardly intelligible, but Bernadett heard me. Her surprisingly strong arms lifted me and she said, “Were you home when your baby came out of you? Did they show it to you? Did you get to see it?” I spluttered that I was under when it happened but they’d told me in Ireland that it was 9 weeks when it died. She spread out my palm and in the slick wash of tears and snot that coated it, with the soft pad of her finger she traced the size and shape of my baby in my hand. “This is how big. This was a tiny person. This was your baby.”

She put my baby into my hands. No one in all the world and in all this time had ever let me have my baby in my hands.

I am weeping freely as I write this. I don’t think I will ever find the end of my gratitude for that small act.

At some point my sobbing slowed, my breath regulated, my body went limp. I was ready.

The Closing of the Bones is wordless. It’s like a muscular combination of a Thunder Shirt and being born. The practitioners wrap each of 7 areas of the body with a long rectangular shawl, a rebosa, and pass the ends to each other to form a knot that they tighten and secure with the ends under their knees. It starts with your head and eyes, then your shoulders and arms, then your upper belly from your armpits to your navel, then your pelvis from your navel to your thighs, then your knees and lower legs, then your feet. Each space is held for an undetermined amount of time – at some point drifting in and out of the now I began to wonder what the signal was, how they knew to release me and move on. When they get to your feet they start back up again, ending with your head and eyes. They spend a LOT of time on your pelvis.

With each passage I could hear the two women breathing, could feel a hand pressed to my heart or the space above my pubic bone, and I gave my body permission to let go of all the walls, all the fake alrightness, the places in my hip joints where my babies have been hiding and grieving in silence. I realized that I had held on to them because I believed no one understood at a cellular level that they existed, that they mattered. These two women believed that my babies mattered, so it was finally safe for me to let them seep out of my bones and into hands that loved them.

When it was over, after I’d held their hands and wept wordlessly, my tears filling my ears and all my language washed away, I sat up and asked for a kitten.

It seemed like the right thing. “You should have them on hand, like after-dinner mints,” I said through my snot.

Sam didn’t question it and went looking. She came back with the mommy kitty instead. “All the babies were gone from under the window, but the mommy was just waiting for me.”

Mommy’s name is Juniper. She is slight and slim with splashes of pure black in artistic patterns across her pure white fur. She is barely a year old – a teen mommy. Samantha told us that Juniper held her hand with both paws while she gave birth to five kittens. Sam put her down on the mattress purring, and she made her way to the rebosa covering my feet and curled up. She fixed me with green eyes and vibrated my feet till the bones shook, never looking away. As my senses adjusted and the world returned to me she relaxed, spread herself across my ankles and just luxuriated in the absorbent way that cats have, like “Go ahead, let the poison go. I’ve got ultrasonic amplifiers in here, I can break that shit up like a kidney stone.”

So that’s what happened. I’m still working on what it means, if not for me then for all the women I know who have been denied this and didn’t even know it was an option. Didn’t even know they had a right to it. I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot more about that in days to come, and I am honored and excited to say that I’ll be working on some collaboration and networking with Samantha and Bernadett to lift the signal. Some shit needs to change here.

Goodnight and love.

 

 

 

 

The Closing of the Bones

Last week I met with Samantha Zipporah, a woman who identifies herself as a “full spectrum doula”. This is a relatively new term and something I’d never heard of. It’s a doula who attends and provides services for ALL postpartum needs, no matter the outcome of the pregnancy. The theory is that whether you gave live birth, still birth, had an abortion, had a miscarriage, whatever way your body transitioned from pregnant to not pregnant, you are postpartum. You have had a partum, and it is now post. Ergo, postpartum. To a woman who has felt like my pregnancies are seen by the the larger culture as nothing, a non-event, a failure to eventuate; like I should just hop up and put it behind me because there isn’t anything anyone can do about it and it’s over now so why dwell on grief; like I am less than a woman because my  body hasn’t accomplished what other women’s bodies have accomplished – to this woman right here it was kind of a fucking revelation.

Kind of a fucking revolution.

I’ve been struggling to find what I needed after this last loss. Miscarriage is such an enigma; it falls in this weird no-man’s-land (literally?) between life and death that the Western medical system just has no idea what to do with. Western medicine gets infertility, or at least maintains a system around it. There are procedures and best practices, and sometimes even insurance billing – although that is a little like unicorns as far as I’m concerned cause I ain’t never seen it. And it gets pregnancy and childbirth, at least to the extent that there are systems and subsystems – hell, whole hospitals – dedicated to dealing with that event. But miscarriage is an ill-fitting abomination, an un-event, a deviation that makes all those big, churning, well-funded and well-staffed system machines start spluttering and spitting cogs. So miscarriage is made invisible. Undone. It is something that didn’t happen, not something that did. Which leaves us with our hands and arms empty, standing in rooms that were once filled with congratulations and warm welcome but now echo with a cold, clinical silence.

I googled all the stuff you’re supposed to google, and I found some stuff. Mostly web pages with book recommendations, which is by far the loneliest, most distancing form of referral out there. There were a few therapist and support group links, but nothing that really spoke to me. Plus the fact that almost without exception all those “resources” are found through sites for women who are pregnant or have just had babies – the miscarriage info is just sort of a half-assed loser cul-de-sac on the site map, something grim and macabre, and the virtual path you have to take to get there is riddled and rotten with ads for maternity clothes, baby-bump forums, scroll-worked cursive-script pronouncements about the wonder of birth and the miracle of life. Seriously, it is enough to make you board up your windows and start with the cat-collecting. It definitely doesn’t encourage your feeble cry for help.

Somehow I ended up on a site called Cascadia Birth Services. I think it was one of the resources on the Brief Encounters website, and I was pissed at first because it felt like yet one more instance of “If you’d like to get help recovering from your miscarriage, please walk through this agonizing tunnel of shit that makes you want to shoot yourself in the face”. But there was a blurb about miscarriage doula services, and I was intrigued. I contacted the woman and she said she was out of town, but gave me a couple of other names to try.

I met with Samantha last Sunday and we talked about what I needed. I wasn’t totally sure. I’d recently posted a list on Facebook of things I want after a miscarriage, but I was pretty sure they weren’t going to be provided by a healthcare professional. For reference, they were as follows:

“Things I want after a miscarriage: 
*lots of wine
*intense snuggles, head-pets, etc
*possibly a massage? 
*to hang out with people who have experienced this bullshit
*preferably while drinking wine
*some kind of ritual, as yet undiscovered, not necessarily spiritual but wouldn’t reject it, that seeks to draw out sickness and restore strength, restore the sense that I am still a woman and still valid and not a useless throw-away piece of shit (which is, incidentally, exactly what you feel like so please don’t remind me that it’s not true because that’s not helpful although I appreciate the sentiment), mark and commemorate the loss of an actual almost human being and then release it
*a weird (and probably impossible) balance of treatment from loved ones that doesn’t make me feel like a scary pariah Miss Havisham pity case but also doesn’t make me feel like I have to pretend to be ok just to make others more comfortable around me
*to have a break from hearing about other peoples’ healthy full term pregnancies
*to sleep and sleep and wake up and have it all back the way it was
*something that will make my hormones stop freaking the fuck out so that I can stop crying and looking like a tomato with rubella
*more snuggles
*more wine
*maybe a mani-pedi
*definitely more wine
*ice cream
*things with ketchup
*cheese
*wine.”

Unbeknownst to me, before I had even posted this exhaustive list there was a crack team of women in my life pulling some straight-up black-ops shit behind the scenes, coordinating across state lines to put together this humongous basket of wine, towels, smelly stuff, a foofy blanket, and $200 worth of Spafinder gift cards that was stealthily left on my doorstep late one night. They blew quite a few items off the list, and filled me with wonder and humility and love and fucking insane gratitude such that I bawled all over my baffled husband’s t-shirt for a full 5 minutes before I could even bring the thing inside. Still kinda reeling from that shit, ladies.

But there were a few things on the list that I just thought weren’t going to come to me, because miscarriage is incomprehensible and so there is no such thing as comprehensive care. After 5 miscarriages – 3 officially logged by medical professionals and 2 gone before I could even get in the door – I’ve just been trained to believe that longing and isolation are the expected norm. It’s What We Do. We buck up. We soldier on.

We deserve so much more. We are due so much more. I know that now.

Samantha and I talked for almost two hours, huddled up on my couch on a hot afternoon. Mostly we talked about how utterly the medical system fails women whose pregnancies do not result in full-term births and healthy babies. She asked me how I thought that system should serve women, and I’m a social justice activist and a community mental health organizer so I had tons of political shit to say. But she knew and I knew that my rage and passion for change was, while legitimately describing a massively fucked-up deficit, really an explosive cover for my own hunger and sorrow. When I finally simmered it down to the truth, I wanted this: To feel like my babies and my pregnancies mattered, to feel as valid a woman as any other, and to have my body treated with the fierce love and infinite honor that I have been unable to show it.

She thought I needed the Closing of the Bones. It’s a traditional Mexican ceremony performed at 40 days postpartum, regardless of the post of the partum. It’s about honoring and letting go and taking care of the bodies that do all the work of life and death in one tight circle. It’s about healing.

Most cultures make a space for this sort of passage. Because it’s kind of a big fucking deal. Dominant Western culture doesn’t, and I don’t know why. Maybe because we only understand value in capitalist terms – women’s bodies are only valuable as commodities and they are only commodities if they are sexually available or carrying offspring. Women’s bodies that fall in between don’t count.

I received this ceremony today. I thought I could get to the words for it tonight and I wanted to, because my heart and my body are so full of relief and healing and solace that I wanted to make sure I got it on the page. But it’s getting late and this body has been treated with such fierce love, such infinite honor, such tenderness and understanding and shared grief and celebration and strength that for the first time in non-pregnancy I want to honor it for the power it contains, instead of punishing it for the deaths it has witnessed. I want you to hear this. But tonight I am wrapping myself in love like a rebosa and putting myself to bed.

Goodnight, all you miraculous women. Miraculous, every one.

CLOSING OF THE BONES, PART 2 

Turbulence, in-flight madness, abortion laws and recovery: Some Shit Has Gone Down.

I haven’t known how to start this. My fingers get tied in knots and my words slip away because there are too many, and not enough, and I am hurting.

Between April 22nd and July 4th, we became foster parents, I got pregnant, went to Ireland, and lost another baby. Those are the basic facts. It’s a lot to fit into two months and twelve days.

I could fill a book with any single one of those events. I haven’t been able to fill a page with all of them.

I didn’t want to be pregnant at first. I was pissed. I’d planned this amazing trip, 23 years in the waiting, and I wanted to drink my face off all over Ireland with my old friend, being teenagers and living the dream. And there was this crazier-than-average 3 year old in my house. Morning sickness + toddler with attachment disorder = areyoufuckingkiddingme. I didn’t want two kids – I’ve never wanted two kids. Maybe twins. Not one squalling newborn and a miniature sociopath, which is what even the most well-adjusted toddlers are. And I’d actually come to a kind of peace about infertility. I don’t know if I can say that I was over it, but I’d moved on and found joy in the life I had rather than longing for someone else’s. And then I got knocked up.

By the time I got on the plane on June 28th I’d come around. We’d made the old Facebook announcement after two good strong heartbeat ultrasounds. I’d had an ultrasound on the 25th two days before I left and recorded that fat hummingbird boom-boom on my phone, listened to it on the plane. I bought an Irish baby name book and had my eye out for a good Irish knit baby blanket. I walked ancient Irish roads with my hand over my belly, telling the child stories about our heritage.

At about 11pm on July 3rd I started spotting. My travel mate, a most excellent nurse and even more excellent friend, called the nearest hospital at Limerick, who said to come in immediately the next morning.

At the scan on July 4th they told me it had died a week before. Some little switch got thrown and the light went out. It must have happened the day I left. I’d been telling stories to a dark and empty room.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland. For reasons that are still not clear to me, this means that in cases of missed miscarriage they will not do a dilation and curettage to remove the fetus. They make you wait a week to see if you will “pass it naturally”, and only then will they intervene. Wait hold up WTF I hear you say, removing a dead fetus is not the same thing as an abortion. I know. I don’t get it either. But that’s the law. So my choices were:

A. Continue my trip as planned, roaming about the country wondering when a dead baby would fall out of my vagina – on a hike? In the pub? We’d planned a lovely excursion to Whiddy Island; perhaps in the ferry bathroom? – and if it hadn’t passed by the following Friday then I could drive the 4 hours back to Limerick and they’d take care of it. Or,

B. Get on a flight the following day and risk massive hemorrhaging and possibly bleeding out somewhere over the Atlantic.

Seriously.

I called the American Embassy, hoping they’d be able to advocate with the hospital and get them to see sense, but they told me they couldn’t interfere with the law of the land. I called the hospital in Dublin because I’d heard that, big as they were, they would sometimes stretch the rules a bit and might possibly take me. They told me they’d take me if I started passing the fetus, which was really sort of fucking unhelpful. I called the Belfast Royal Maternity Hospital and pleaded with them to take me, since they are part of the UK where abortion is legal. I think by that time I had been on the phone for nearly 3 hours, repeating over and over the following statement in increasingly desperate tones: “Hi. I’m an American here on holiday. I was 10 weeks pregnant and I’ve just learned the baby is dead. I need to get home and I’ve been advised not to get on a plane until the fetus has passed. I need a D&C so I can go home. Can you please help me?”, and I’m pretty sure at that point I just sounded fucking crazy, so they said no. I can’t remember why, I just remember the no.

So I weighed my options and decided that bleeding out over the Atlantic actually sounded slightly better than birthing my dead baby in a pub jacks.

I want to take a moment here to pay most humble homage to the incredible strength and fortitude of my travel companion, whom I have known for 23 years. I was a fucking hell-beast during those awful hours. Mad with grief, lashing out like a trapped and wounded animal, I refused to let her take me south to her family where she could take proper care of me because all I could think about was getting home. We were at Drogheda only half an hour from the airport, and I dug in my crazed heels and would not be moved. Her heart was breaking for me, and she was terrified and overwhelmed, and I was, let’s just say it, a fucking atrocious patient. She didn’t want me to fly because she knew the medical risks, but to her very great credit and my even greater gratitude she put her shoulder to the wheel of my insane determination to get home and helped me get there. My dearest Ducks, I will never have coin, word nor valor enough to repay your good offices. You are a fucking star.

So I got on the plane the morning of Sunday July 6th, 9 days before I was due to come home. Amazing humans from all over my life sent prayers, thoughts, love, light, phone numbers of friends and family in Chicago where I had a 4 hour layover, so that in case something really terrifying happened on the Atlantic flight I’d have help when I landed in the States. People I know and people I didn’t know but who knew someone who loved me all bound together in a kind of “Get Gillian Home” Facebook campaign. One of my oldest and dearest friends summed it all up in a post:

“Watching us all circle the wagons to get Gillian home safe is truly a beautiful sight. We’ve got a multi-country multi-jurisdictional task force going on here. Sorry to offend anyone, but my friends just might be more awesome than yours.” 

And while all this was going on, no less than 5 different women messaged me privately – women I hadn’t talked to in years, but who unbeknownst to me were reading the posts as I fought to smuggle my own dead baby out of the country and had been reading the blog since I started it in January of 2013. They told me they’d miscarried, struggled with infertility, felt ostracized and broken and voiceless under the weight of society’s bullshit expectation that we keep it down about our losses. Some of these women I’d admired through the years, but I’d thought they didn’t particularly like me. And maybe they didn’t – god knows I’ve not always been a superlatively likable person. But this thing, this experience of having life inside you and then having it ripped away, and all the madness that comes after – that shit is utterly universal to those who’ve survived it. It is a sisterhood of blood and loss, and there are few things stronger than that.

Nothing happened on the flights. The bleeding got a little heavier but didn’t go red, and the cramps started to get a bit more insistent but nothing that 500mg naproxin couldn’t knock out. I’d told a desk person at Dublin International that I’d miscarried – in the past tense mind you, which was a lie, but I didn’t want to hear that now-familiar shitty refrain that I couldn’t fly until the fetus passed – so there was a wheelchair waiting in Chicago and another one in Portland. My husband had sent the foster munchkin to my mom’s for the night and was waiting, looking shocked to see me in a wheelchair but relieved nonetheless. We went straight to the hospital, were immediately admitted by the on-call doc I’d contacted from Chicago, and within an hour of touchdown I was under anesthesia and getting a D&C. I was home by 11, my body scooped out and reeling. We watched some stupid telly and went to bed.

The next morning there was no blood, no cramps, almost no evidence that I’d carried a child. My throat hurt like a bad case of strep from the intubation, and that was the only lasting physical effect.

I was deeply grateful that we’d done it this way instead of going home with Misoprostol, not only because we could request genetic testing on the fetus and maybe get some answers, but because it was much older this time and I couldn’t bear seeing it, poor withered little plum-sized creature, sloughed off and into the toilet like the last one. This one had a face, the beginnings of arms and legs, a brain. The fear of seeing it was indescribable. And last time the cramping and bleeding had lasted for days, weeks, lifetimes of blood and wrecking-ball pain that kept me in madness till I thought I’d never crawl out. This was better by miles.

But it was an oddly disquieting thing for the whole process to be so quiet. Like my child had been erased from history and had never happened, like I should just take some vitamin C for the sore throat and walk it off. Like my very cells should not be screaming in grief and disorientation, searching in vain for the life they had been funneling all their strength to. Like I’d made it all up.

It’s been 10 days. Just 10 days. I forget that sometimes and so does my husband, though I know he is doing his best in his own grief. We both seem to have unreasonable expectations of my ability to snap out of it. But I think I am doing better this time around, for a few reasons.

First, I didn’t want this baby to begin with. Not at first. I’d idiotically allowed myself to love the thing by the time it had died, but we hadn’t been looking for it and we hadn’t been trying, so there was a lot of ambivalence in the beginning. Ambivalence can be quite an effective prophylactic in times like these. My heart was at least partially vaccinated from the deprivation and wreckage of loss.

Second, this is not our first rodeo. When I heard the ultrasound tech say those words, “I’m so sorry”, my psyche dropped into a well-worn groove that plays a song I know by heart. The accent was different and the canteen had tea instead of coffee, but it was like I’d just been waiting to hear them say it because I’d known it was true, was going to be true, from the first shocking pink line. They gave us a private waiting room (wailing room, screaming room, grieving room) and as official-type people came and went I gazed out the window at gigantically pregnant women in hospital gowns smoking cigarettes between early contractions, and though my body shook and shuddered and rejected the sickening knowledge of the death it carried my mind was strangely calm. For stretches, anyway. Nurses or social workers or doctors would come in and their empathy would shine from their faces, and I was so, so grateful for the humanity. Every single one of them went out of their way to put a hand on me, to call me “pet” and grieve for me. And in those moments I would die alongside the dead child in my womb and helplessly drown in the undoing. But then they would leave and the room would be quiet, and I would return to the knowledge that this child was never going to be born, feel a barren kind of relief that at least I could stop hoping. Hope is energetically expensive. If nothing else I could reduce my capital outlay.

And finally, there is this 3 year old in my house. She stubbornly refuses to need anything less than exactly what we promised when we took her in: patience, radical acceptance and unconditional love. You don’t get to renege on that because you feel bummed. She is full of this radiant, tenacious fortitude that will absolutely not allow you to arse out or feel sorry for yourself. Her little body has gotten brown in the sun, her blonde eyebrows have gone shining white, and her feet are ever more firmly planted in the territory we have offered her. We told her she could occupy, and by goddamn she has done so. I have, with shame and disappointment in myself, realized how little I gave her while I was pregnant. I was tired and sick and, if I am unflatteringly honest, probably resentful of having to take care of someone else’s child while I was trying to keep my own alive. It’s not pretty, but this shit usually isn’t. So now it’s time to give this child what she fucking deserves, which is a caregiver who isn’t too wrapped up in their own illness to be able to receive her. She is worthy of the best. She is probably worthy of better than me. But I am what she has, and for that matter she is what I have, and so the least I can do is offer best I have to give.

That is, believe it or not, the shortened version. I have a lot more to say – about first-hand experience of the absence of reproductive rights and why it is so fucking necessary to protect them in this country, about the vastly disappointing dearth of miscarriage-focused recovery services, about how amazing it is to connect with women who make themselves vulnerable when you are vulnerable, about how unbelievably difficult it is to navigate a relationship that has sustained a pregnancy loss. About the GIGANTIC basket full of awesome shit that was organized by some far-flung bad-ass ladies in my life and left on my doorstep, and how it made me feel like I was not alone, would never be alone again as long as I live. About families rallying and accepting and making space for incomprehensible loss. Lots and lots of stuff. But it’s taken me at least 10 days to get this far and it is late and there is this 3 year old in my house who is relentlessly committed to waking up before I am ready for her to be awake. So I’m signing off for now. Thanks for reading. If you’ve gotten this far you are a fucking champ.

Love to you all.

 

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.

 

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.