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.
Advertisements

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