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!

 

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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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.

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.