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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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

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.

Fertility Privilege, Part 2

Ok, here’s where the academics come in. Most folks have heard something about the dynamics of power and privilege, but not everyone, so please forgive the review if you’re ahead. Here is a quick and dirty outline of privilege and what it does/fails to do:

Privilege is any societal advantage you hold because your skin color, your gender, your sexual identity, your able-bodiedness, your age, your class, your education, your language, or your religion are accepted and prioritized by dominant culture. Privilege means that there are benefits you enjoy – whether consciously or unconsciously, and that part’s really important – because of something about you that society values more than something else. Frequently these are things you were born with, or into. People get very upset when it is pointed out to them that something that is not their “fault” carries implicit potential to harm and dehumanize others. This is usually the place that most folks shut down and say, “I didn’t own slaves, so I don’t know why Black people are so angry at ME”, or “Hey, things are hard for me too!” or “Some of my best friends are (fill in the disenfranchised identity blank).” It is uncomfortable to confront the ways in which we unintentionally contribute to suffering. I don’t like it; you don’t like it. I’d say tough titties, but titties are kind of a privilege battleground with so many different possible interpretations that it’s probably best to leave them out of it for now.

Here are some examples of privileges I inhabit.

  • I am white – dominant culture values white people above people of color. Yes, I know that we have a Black president. We also have the Tea Party, which arose in terrified and enraged response to a Black president. You do the math. I promise, racism still exists in America.
  • I am educated – yes, it’s true that I fought and clawed and persevered my way to that degree, but it’s something about me that makes available to me many things that are unavailable to others.
  • I am middle-class – again, haven’t always been, mostly been dirt-ass poor my whole life, but here I am with a three bedroom rented house and a steady job with health care, frantically banging away on my touch-screen laptop while the central heating takes the edge off the winter chill. That’s about as middle-class as it gets.
  •  I am straight, or (more accurately and, in the eyes of society, more importantly) in a heterosexual partnership that is recognized by the state we live in. Can you fucking imagine what it would feel like if your partnership – your love, who takes out the garbage and does the taxes and holds you when you’re broken and laughs with you when you’re joyful, and all the mundane and exquisitely miraculous things we do for and with each other when we make a promise – were condemned by the government? Just sit with that for a moment. No, seriously. Just sit with it.
  • I am cisgender – this means that my assigned sex reflects the gender I perceive myself to be. I have girl parts, I feel like a girl. No one questions what bathroom I should use, no one reacts with ignorant fear and disgust when I walk down the street dressed like I feel like I should be dressed. I bet you take that for granted.

There are more, many more, I’m sure. Unexamined privilege is just that – we don’t know it’s there. I am stating my privileges first off here to show you how easy it is to not notice that you occupy privilege. I embody all sorts of ways in which patriarchy, racism, capitalism and hegemony inflict harm upon those it deems valueless. We all do.

So, that’s privilege. Now let’s talk about fertility privilege.

Maybe it wants another name, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I made it up, considering that when I googled “fertility privilege” mostly what I got was welcome letters from fertility doctors saying what a privilege it is to serve their clientele. Breeder privilege? I-can-get-knocked-up-and-carry-a-baby-to-term-and-successfully-push-it-out-of-my-vagina privilege? Or possibly I-can-knock-up-others-so-that-they-carry-and-successfully-deliever privilege? Or how about My-relationship-and-physical-appearance-is-sanctioned-by-society-and-therefore-no-one-looks-at-me-funny-when-I-say-I-want-a-baby privilege? I don’t know. It’s a work in progress.

I can only tell you what it feels like to not have it.

Multiple times over the course of my week I find myself in a room full of people who have given birth or sired children. I am often the only childless person, and since people talk about their children constantly and with the easy, flippant cadences of “Oh, you know how it goes!”, I frequently feel ostracized and alienated.

Many times a day I am confronted by a constant stream of information – from social media to commercials to the fucking baby food samples they’re STILL sending me from Similac – representing pregnancy, childbirth and parenting as the norm. It’s so normal people don’t think about it. Unless they can’t do it. And not just the norm, the standard. The end-all-be-all of hope and joy and love and meaning and value. Watch some commercials with this thought in mind, and think about what it might feel like to be on the outside looking in. Think heteronormativity: media, language, public signs, greeting cards, literature, music, just about every bit of cultural production that isn’t specifically geared toward an LGBTQI population just assumes a basic normative state of heterosexuality. That leaves anyone who falls outside of a cisgender male/female partnering feeling utterly invisible and invalid. I’ll have to come up with a new word – fertilinormativity! – to describe what it’s like to be totally unrepresented by the daily expressions of the vast majority of society because I am not able to make a baby.

If I try to talk about the differences between my body and those of people who can reproduce, my experience is often patronized and minimized, even by thoroughly well-meaning people. I am told that someday, I might just be normal. If I just have hope. It’s like telling someone with cerebral palsy that they should just buck up and one day they’ll shake it off. Or that really there’s nothing different about me, I’m just like everyone else, which is essentially telling me that the thing that makes me different is so aberrant and intolerable that you can’t even allow yourself to see it. Or that I am lucky that I don’t have to put up with all the terrible things that parenthood entails, which sounds exactly like a millionaire telling a homeless person how tough it is to have to think about all your money all the time.

At least once a week someone – a client, a grocery clerk, the mani/pedi lady – asks me why I don’t have children with this sort of mix of disgust, concern and sorrow, as if it is some kind of abhorrent and neglectful oversight on my part. Like I have chosen this, and choosing this is a rejection of everything good and wholesome and right.

If I get angry about all of this alienation and isolation and ostracizing, I am often greeted by otherwise compassionate people who lament about how uncomfortable it is for them to be fertile in the face of all my infertility, as though I am committing some kind of unforgivable social faux pas by relentlessly NOT being able to have a baby. There is sort of only so much anger people are willing to take before it becomes too sad for them. The freedom to disengage from the anger of infertility because it’s uncomfortable is a privilege that infertile people don’t have.

Facebook. Fucking, fucking Facebook. A 24hour stream of how totally different and defective you are. The worst, of course, are the pregnancy posts. Yes, you can block people, and I have and will continue to do so. Blessed, blessed blocking. But you have to be careful or else you will end up blocking nearly everyone you know, because nearly everyone you know is able to have children. And you are not. And because fertility is the norm of the dominant culture, I am expected to refrain from being angry or upset or slowly driven mad by the utter ubiquity of it all throughout the very fabric of my social interactions, or at least from describing that upset in an overt way. And yes, people should get to celebrate their pregnancies on their Facebook pages, which are their free-speech podiums and they can represent themselves however they want. But if you had even a few friends on Facebook who were severely disabled by missing limbs, you might think twice before you posted daily pics of your arms and how awesome and full of love and mystery and delight they are. You might think twice if someone important to you had recently lost a spouse and you really wanted to post all your wedding pictures. For some reason, this never occurs to people when it comes to infertility. Because fertility is an unexamined privilege.

What should we do with unexamined privilege? We should examine it, to start with. We should take a look at what we’re putting out in the world and think about microaggressions – those small, unconscious acts of verbal violence that we deal out without meaning to that make other people feel invisible, invalid, inhuman. We should not examine it and then say, “I have examined my privilege! Now stop being all disenfranchised at me! It’s making me uncomfortable!” We should continue to approach people with humility and empathy and the firm understanding that we do NOT know what their experience is, just because we once had a brief moment of the same experience or we know someone who did.

Do some word-swaps with me:

“I totally know how you feel as an infertile person, because before we had our 3rd we tried for two whole months and it was really, really stressful.” = “I totally know how you feel as a person of color, because once I went to Oakland and I was the only white person and it was really, really stressful.”

“You should be happy you don’t have children – it’s a lot of work!” = “You should be happy you’re in a wheelchair – stairs totally suck anyway!”

“I shouldn’t have to feel bad about my fertility, because it isn’t my fault you’re infertile and I should be able to express myself however I want.” = “I shouldn’t have to feel bad about my whiteness, because I didn’t invent slavery and I should be able to express myself however I want.”

“Some of my best friends are infertile!” = “Some of my best friends are gay!”

I know that most people in my life would never, ever, ever in a million years say anything like these swaps. Most people in my life are kind, compassionate, empathetic and progressive people who have spent a lot of time considering their privilege when it comes to race, class, orientation, gender and ability. For some reason though, fertility privilege seems to slip through the cracks. And all over my head.

I also know that comparing infertility to race, class, orientation, gender and ableness is going to ruffle a lot of feathers. It’s because of that fact that it’s taken me almost three years to claw my way out of the silence and alienation and finally put a name on all of this. Because I don’t like to get people mad at me.

But I have a breathing button, and I’m prepared to use it.

Namaste.

Fertility Privilege, Part 1

Hello, blogpeople. I am shortly going to lay down some heavy shit right here. It will entail a certain amount of academic nerdliness, through which I humbly entreat you to bear with me. I have a point, I promise. It will be in a subsequent post because it takes a long time to get there.

First, an update. If memory serves, I had fallen back into a world of hurt and awful the last time I wrote. That giant swirling miasma of hurt and awful got very big and unbearable, and I was briefly an asshole. I found myself being helplessly eaten alive by everything I thought I’d dealt with, all the grief and the flashbacks and the rage and the hopelessness and the helplessness, and it became venomous, and for the first time in this whole hell-ride of infertile misery of the past few years it shot up and out of my mouth and at someone else. I said shitty things that I should have kept to myself. You remember that cute little dinosaur that the bad guy finds when he’s trying to leave Jurassic Park, and he’s all “Hi little guy, have a piece of candy!” and then its neck fins fan out and its teeth get gnarly and hideous poison goo shoots out of its spit glands and fries the guy’s face off? Yeah. It was kind of like that.

And the whole time it was happening, I was sort of outside of my own body looking in, going, “Who the fuck is this horrifically bitter, miserable woman saying these cruel things?” Because you see, I am kind of the nicest person on the planet. Or I try to be. Sometimes I may have to say things that are difficult for someone to hear, but I have been known to spend weeks – weeks! – working on how to say it in such a way that the hearer will not be hurt or made angry or if they are, then I have a plan in place to try to ameliorate any rift that might result between us. My worst fear, literally my worst, is people being mad at me and not loving me anymore. Yes, I’m in therapy. Shut up.

But here is this woman with this poison flying out of her like ejecta from a venom volcano, and she appears to be me, because she is wearing my favorite boots. Some proof is incontrovertible.

The whole experience checked me like a kick to the solar plexus. I had to kind of go to ground for a little while and breathe, just breathe, and start to bleed off the poison. Because I realized that that’s what it was – poison. Rage, despair, grief. They are corrosive, especially if they are applied daily and weekly and monthly, as the years go by and your body betrays you, and all around you joy happens and you are not the one. Rage, despair, grief. They become the only connection between you and the baby you lost, or who would not spark at all. The baby that slipped out me into the toilet and all its brief-sparked kin – all that was left of them was the rage, despair and grief of their loss. It had become a friend, something I held close and nursed and protected. And it was killing me.

So I made a conscious decision to let it go.

When I work with children who have experienced trauma, I teach them about the breathing button. This is an absolutely for-true fact: there is a nerve in your spinal cord that, when you take deep belly breaths and inflate your abdominal cavity, gets activated and lowers your blood pressure. This is why we have been telling each other for millennia to “take a deep breath and calm down”. When I tell kids about this they freak out, and they tell their parents and their siblings and their friends about how you have a magic button inside your body that makes you calm down when you’re upset. It is kind of magic.

I spent a lot of time focused on my breathing button.

Because these things are tenacious. It’s a kind of PTSD. Rage, despair and grief – they stick to the insides of your psyche and cling like tar sand oil. It really does feel utterly uncontrollable, the same way PTSD is uncontrollable – waves of unbearable emotions crash your executive functioning systems and pull them offline, leaving you in a thoroughly animal state of fight or flight, hide or lash out. Rage, despair and grief. I became aware of just how many moments of my day they got triggered to spring: Baby section at grocery store. (Which is always right next to the tampon section – how fucking assaultive is THAT?) Major plot twists in roughly every show I watch. Seemingly weekly ultrasound-picture pregnancy announcements on Facebook. Most of my clients. Most of my family. People in the park. People on the street. People, just generally. Boing, boing, boing – rage, despair and grief sprung so frequently I stopped noticing it. It was just the water I swam in.

So I breathed. I breathed and I breathed and I breathed, and I listened to meditations, and I wept when weeping happened and laughed when laughing happened, and eventually I got to the point where I had enough compassion for myself that I could start filtering out the rage, despair and grief. Not that they went away – they don’t go away. This month is the month that baby, the toilet baby, would have been turning one year old. Don’t for a minute imagine that I’m not deeply, solemnly aware of it. I’m just choosing to breathe instead of die.

So this is where I am. Several people in my immediate social and occupational vicinities have announced their pregnancies recently, and I have felt some fleeting sorrow but then I’ve breathed and I’ve been ok. I feel clear-eyed and calm and oddly detached in an analytical sort of way.

Which is what led me to an epiphany about fertility privilege.

To be continued.