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!

 

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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…

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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

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.