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.

 

 

 

 

The Closing of the Bones

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

Kind of a fucking revolution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLOSING OF THE BONES, PART 2 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to you all.

 

Breathing Is Hard: Thoughts On Crying And Singing.

There are infinite ripples. There are infinite rooms.

It’s not a question of “getting over it”. That’s the lie. It’s such a pervasive lie that we believe it and shame our own selves when the grief bubbles up from well-managed dormancy, messes up our “I’ve Been Through Infertility But Came Out Awesome” faces. This is not linear. If it were linear, you wouldn’t be infertile anymore.

Today I accidentally, unexpectedly hooked into grief during my singing lesson and ended up doubled over with my hands pressing in my guts, watching tears scatter across the lovely blonde hardwood.

First, the obligatory update, since this has become a very occasional blog.

We are great. There have been ups and downs, and things that we thought would happen didn’t, and things that we thought would never happen did. But all in all we are well – savoring the sweetness and facing the tragedies, floating like butterflies and stinging like bees. We are in the final stage of the foster care certification process, and there will very likely be a small human under the age of 5 living in our home within the month. Our friends and family are throwing us a shower, which is awesome, because it lets us feel like expectant parents. You aren’t really encouraged to feel like expectant parents in foster care training – more like expectant combat veterans. I keep meaning to sit down and write all the craziness of the certification process, but I find myself a little itchy about the prospect of bringing foster parenting and failed baby-making into such close proximity – maybe I need to end this blog and begin a fostering blog. Whatever, I’ll get there when I get there. Onward and upward.

Recently we had a massive snow storm here in the Pacific Northwest. It was my first, being a California girl, and it was fucking impressive. My beloved husband was on tour in – wait for it – Australia and New Zealand, which meant that not only was I snowed in all by myself but I was snowed in all by myself while my life-partner sizzled in the Outback like a nice kangaroo steak. Bitterness and copious amounts of Doctor Who on Netflix happened. And not just Doctor Who, but broadway musical revivals and Royal Shakespeare Company productions happened. I will, under duress, admit that David Tennant may have largely featured. At some point during those four days I had a bit of a private revolution, the kind that is only possible after many hours of sci-fi/fantasy, spectacular BBC production values and the inescapable helplessness of an extreme, yet fundamentally boring, weather event. I decided to return to my musical theatre roots and take singing lessons. I had quite a set of pipes once upon a time, before the hammer of life and years of Lucky Strikes prevailed. I wanted to reclaim some of what I gave up by becoming an academic rather than a performer, taking this road rather than that. Musical theatre is a muscular and aerobic activity, and I wanted to step back into my body after several years of being at war with it in the Infertility Crusades. In a sacred moment of “Fuck It, Why Not” I booked a lesson with a local studio.

And it’s been really fun. It’s an archaeological act, scraping and dusting the axe-hewn stone and silt of decades off of something golden and seemingly long-gone. There are times when I sound like curdled shit, but there are more times when the old strength and clarity come bursting out like bats from a tomb. My voice coach is a talented young woman who quickly made me feel comfortable re-acclimating to all the weirdness that the art of performance demands, which is a very lot.

But lately I’ve had the devil of a time working on my own, outside of lessons. I warm up and try to remember all the precise muscular corrections she gives me – direct the sound through the head, release the jaw, center movement just around the mouth, engage the breath – but I end up with my throat closing up around strangled sounds that feel weak, small, disconnected. I get frustrated and helpless, and I have actually wept in defeat. After I reported all of this today, she announced that we were going to work just on my breath.

I know all about breath. I’ve mentioned before – I work with trauma survivors, and my therapist’s equivalent of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver is the breath. It lowers the blood pressure, reduces anxiety, re-establishes connection to the body and generally makes people feel better. It is the powerhouse of healing, the alpha and omega of self-regulation. I am not at all unfamiliar with breathing. I tell people to do it every day.

About 5 years ago in a yoga class, I was asked to put a block under my lower back and lie there, breathing and releasing. Although this was long before we started trying to conceive I had already had a significant amount of trauma to that general territory. A terminated pregnancy, years of crippling barbed-wire endometriosis, an abusive relationship rife with non-consensual sex, a sexual assault when I was a teenager. And even though none of this was in my conscious mind as I lay there with the block under my bum, it was as if an egg had cracked in the space between my hips and uncontrollable weeping came pouring out. I was engulfed by wracking sobs, the ugly barking gasping kind, these weird and desperately un-pretty noises filling the peaceful space of the yoga studio. I was mortified by my loss of control and felt like I had peed all over the floor, but the instructor was very kind and didn’t make a big fuss. He just came over and knelt by me while he continued talking the class through the poses.

Today was kind of like that.

She had me lie down and breathe. It’s kind of amazing how difficult that can be. We worked toward vocalizations just from the breath, without the throat or the chest interfering, straining, controlling. Slowly, slowly, she asked me to allow the release of all the steel scaffolding that holds me up, holds me in, holds me back. When I finally sat up I found that there were tears in my eyes.

All of a sudden that feeling of tightness and strain in my throat that I’d been struggling with in practice came into context and focus – it’s what your body does when you’re trying not to cry.

Infertility is all about pushing down the awful and moving forward, bucking up, choosing to stomp on all the grief and opt for hope instead of despair. I did a pretty damn good job of it until I couldn’t anymore, and then I stopped. But I think my insides stayed pushed down – like bin garbage you step on with all your weight to compact it so you can cram more in, all the grief and loss stratifying into that steel scaffolding that holds me up, holds me in, holds me back.

And something about lying there breathing from the center of me, from my belly where little lives have started and ended, where our hopes have started and ended, where my whole identity as a woman who bears children has started and ended – something about it cracked that egg between my hips again and all the weeping came out.

You would think that therapists might feel totally comfortable having big feelings in front of others, that we would have internalized all the times we tell our clients that this is a safe space and crying is totally OK. You would think that, but you would be wrong.

I had that same feeling of having accidentally peed on the floor, of something ungraceful and unacceptable taking hold of me and spilling all over the place. My coach fielded it beautifully; no seasoned therapist could have done better. With unshakable calm she took me through various vocalizations, telling me over and over that it didn’t matter what I sounded like, that my job was to “be out of control” so that I could begin the process of reconnecting with my breath and all the broken places it needed to pass through. We were working on “Someone Like You” from Jekyll and Hyde, at first just on vowel sounds and then trying the words. The sounds were indeed small, weak, disconnected, but like a doula she just kept returning me to my breath, to fighting the urge to take control and push all the crazy incongruous grief back down so that I could bring my voice to heel. We made a stab at words instead of vowels, and I did pretty good until “The past is holding me/keeping life at bay/I wander lost in yesterday”, and then I lost it.

Which is where we find me at the beginning of this post, doubled over pressing my hands into my gut to keep it from spilling over, watching the speckle of tears as they hit the studio floor.

Here are a few insights I took away from this.

One is that no matter how many times you consciously make a space for other people to cry and snot and bleed all over the upholstery, it always feels nigh-on impossible to accept that someone is willing to make the same space for you. When people cry in my office and express shame or embarrassment about doing it in front of me, we explore what is so uncomfortable about allowing another person to see them cry – fear that the other will be disgusted and judgmental, fear that crying exposes weakness, fear that a mess will be made. Almost always there is a fear of being out of control, of making the weird noises and contorted faces that are inevitable in deep-belly, bottom-of-the-spine weeping that leaves you feeling like you have no bones left. When it happens in my office I receive it without reservation, without hesitation, and certainly without disgust or judgment. And yet when the same thing happens to me, my first instinct is to apologize and get on with things. So that’s interesting.

Another is that this archaeological field project of renovating my voice is a deeper and more important thing that I originally thought. It is about breath and sound, about remembering what was and accepting what is, about being heard and letting go, and that is some pretty fucking significant shit. I’m curious – and a little afraid – about what might come up.

And finally is the realization – AGAIN – that moving forward is just that. It’s just a direction, one out of many, and it doesn’t mean that anything is left behind. If I leave one room and go into another, I cannot by the almighty power of my footstep cause the first room to disappear, to never have existed. It is silly and hubristic to imagine that there is a linear process by which “it” shall be “gotten over”, “moved on” from. My body has many rooms, and none of them are empty. Perhaps it is just a question of expanding the blueprint.

PS – If you’re in the Portland metro area and you’re interested in voice coaching, you should check out Resound NW. My awesome coach is Jennifer Davies, but you can’t have my spot because I’m using it.

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.

Spoiler Alert: I’m not pregnant.

(I tend to title my posts after I’ve written them, so that I can pull a couple of weirdly angled ideas from the text and throw them on top for added silliness. But I’m doing it a little differently this time. I titled this post in advance because I know that like me, many of my reproductively challenged readers will scan the first few lines of text and their insides will start to squeeze up like an angry fist, ready to brace for the unbearable kick to the uterus that comes with learning that someone is pregnant. I don’t want to do that to anyone. So read on, fearless reader, now that you have been divested of your fear.)

Wow. I think I may have found a new definition of “roller coaster”. This has been an interesting week, my blogpeople.

It’s been such an unbelievable roller coaster that I almost don’t want to write about the ups in the same post as the downs, but I’m still so all mixed up that I don’t know if there’s any other way to do it. I guess I’ll rely on good old chronology as a way to start picking apart this mess.

The week started with a whole lot of awesome.

On Monday and Tuesday, I exchanged wonderfully chewy, creative emails with the director of the agency with whom I will be working in Ireland next year. She observed that many parents in her agency have lived with grinding, hopeless, inter-generational poverty and suffering from their earliest beginnings, and as a result have had very little beauty or pleasure in their lives. This resonated with me because I see this with the families I serve too. It’s something we are very aware of in community mental health, but I think it gets diluted and beaten flat into platitudinous rhetoric about “self-care”, which is great as a theory but doesn’t really translate to an unemployed single mom with no high school diploma, and 5 kids from 4 exes and trouble getting health care and rental assistance and child support from exes numbers 1 and 3 and orders of protection against exes numbers 2 and 4, and and and and… We can’t very well tell her to go home and have herself a nice soothing Aveda aromatherapy bath with a glass of flirty yet accessible Sauvignon Blanc. So I often find myself shaking things down to the marrow with a parent, looking for a glimmer of something lovely, something more alive than what they’ve been taught to expect by the combined oppressive forces of racism, classism and misogyny. And here’s this director of a far away organization basically presenting this conundrum and then saying, “Ok, GO!” What an unbelievable blessing! So I started marinating some cool ideas about how to bring real, non-hoity-toity pleasure and beauty to people who will likely think me a gobshite foreign arsehole the minute I walk in the room. Basic. Joyful. Forget therapy, therapists, theory. This is humanity, bitchez. Git up in it.

So THAT was awesome.

And then Tuesday night, Hubby and I went to an orientation for prospective foster parents*.

(*This may sound like deja vu all over again – I mentioned that we were doing this weeks ago in my last post. We did go, and due to the challenges of driving in rush hour deep into another county to offset the fact that as a community mental health child therapist I know basically every freaking caseworker and foster parent in our county and the neighboring ones, we were 3 minutes late and the instructor locked us out. So we had to try again this week.)

It was overwhelming, a near-terminal case of information overload. My bum fell asleep and would not be roused, even when I tried making Hubby’s lap into a footstool. There is SO much we have to think and talk about. Many hours of training must be had. Many – MANY – pages of impertinently invasive questionnaires need to be filled out, about your relationships with your parents and siblings and partner and the guy who runs the gas station down the street. About your sex life. No lie. Luckily we have a robust and unfailingly awesome one of those. Apparently they interview you and your partner separately without letting you communicate, like some kind of state-funded Newlyweds Game. And then they interview essentially everyone you’ve ever encountered since puberty. I think they want to try to disrupt and unsettle your relationships as much as possible to see if they’ll hold up under the weight of the grieving, traumatized, behaviorally mysterious child they will place in your home, encourage you to love, and then send back to potentially unfit parents. Cause that might be hard.

And yet, we were so excited. SO excited. I tested the Hubby a little to see what he thought about it afterward, and he was like, “Yeah, it’s cool. I’m, you know, a little excited.” Later I told him I was glad that he was a little excited because I was worried that he would just get overwhelmed beyond tolerance by all the information and only want to go forward if I made him, and he said, “Actually, I’m REALLY excited, I just said I was a little excited because I wasn’t sure how excited you were.” And then we both went “Squeeeeeee!” and started talking about which guest room is going to be a kid’s room.

Monday and Tuesday were banner days.

But then something toppled all the progress I’ve made in the last 4 months since deciding to stop fertility treatments. I’m not going to get into what it was, because A) it’s not mine to get into and B) it actually has nothing to do with what happened for me as a result. Suffice it to say that I got knocked off the pitch for a bit.

I was violently transported back to the place where I relive the Big Miscarriage over and over, feel the scooping out of all my life and love and hope as I hear those words, “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat”, remember the precise color of the thing that slipped out of me into the coffin of the toilet like a neglected goldfish. I was engulfed by rage, despair, incoherent betrayal. The kinetic energy of it, vindictive and fierce after having been held off for months by optimism and a flimsy patchwork hope that we had nurtured like a starving animal, threatened to burn everything in its path. My husband had left that morning for a month tour and had never felt so far away. No one in my immediate fleshly life has struggled with infertility, or if they have it’s been resolved eventually. I was totally, completely alone. For about 24 hours I couldn’t stop crying, glass-eyed and hollow, moving around the stage props of my life without any connection to them.

This is what went on in me during that time.

I walked around the city, watching people with their babies and children, feeling like a bona-fide alien. There was no one I could talk to, nothing I could do, no measure I could take to somehow make my body do the thing that billions of people, people around me can apparently do without a shred of effort. I felt – I feel – isolated and different, ejected from the common stream of humanity. I got very quiet and listened to the resigned wisdom of my body, which is that the hope that there will be an unintended “oops” that turns into a baby is not going to be realized. The quiet voice of my body said, “This is not going to happen.” And I felt, for the first time in my bones, that it was true.

Watch them pick up their babies, press them to their chests. Watch them grow irritated with toddlers, or heedless, or off-handedly turn a little body this way or that, as if it is a given, as if it should always be so. Watch them and wonder at how inter-galactically far their planet feels from your own, stand in awe of just how different you are from the rest of humanity. Think of the quickening and the flutter, the turning and the arrival, primal and bloody and so beautiful that they weep when they tell of it, those women who are real women. Think of the miracles you cannot imagine because you are not the same and will not be the same. Think of the babies you will have to see bred and carried and born and raised, lives seeded at the root and growing unstoppably in the certainty of lineage, for whatever that’s worth. Think of all that you will never know.

And all our amazing movement forward felt pathetic, this process we have begun to bring children into our home felt like a thing you do when you cannot do what you ought to be able to do. It felt like a prosthetic limb. I felt like I am not a real woman.

Real women will conceive, will spark and grow, will keep the life in momentum until it rips out of them with its fists flailing. Real women will watch bellies stretch and round, and their partners will smile and rub their bellies and be in awe of them, and they will dream together about the shape of the nose, the lift of the chin. Real women will know the feeling of a life wheeling about in them, will chide it for its boisterousness when they are trying to nap, will name it before its fingers and toes have been counted. Real women will get pregnant and have babies. If I am not among them, then I don’t know what I am.

On Thursday night I finally let all of this grief roar up through me and out of my mouth on the phone with my sister, who did not in any way try to make me feel better. If I believed in a god I would thank him/her/it for that, for the fact that my sister did not demand logic or right thinking or hope from me in that moment. Because if you ask me on a good day, I know that the above assertions – that to be a real woman you must be able to make babies come out of you, that I am not part of humanity, that what we are doing in becoming foster parents is not real or good enough, even that there is no chance that we will ever bear our own genetic child – are all patently false. I can give you concrete evidence that disproves each and every one of them. Doesn’t matter. As my sister so wisely put it, it doesn’t have to be real in this universe to be real right now.

When I was a kid, my mother habitually pointed out how strange I was and announced to anyone listening that I was a foundling, an alien from Xenon sent down to gather information for the Home Planet. I was young enough that I believed it, and our upbringing gnarly enough that I watched the night sky for a sign that my People were coming to take me away from fear and loneliness and the otherness that I felt all the time. It has become a running joke between my sister and I.

On the phone on Thursday night, my sister allowed me to scrape up the nastiest, tarriest, nuclear-waste-iest pain I had in there and spit it out like vomit. She metaphorically held my hair. It was exactly what I needed. In response to me howling about feeling like an alien, she let out a hoarse chuckle and said, “Honey, we’ve known that for years. So what? They just don’t have children the same way where you come from. Maybe becoming a foster parent is how they do it there. And I’ve got to tell you, of all the women I know who have had babies the Earth way, there’s not one of them that could do what you’re going to do. And you can, and you will. And you’ll be good at it.”

Today I feel better.

I feel sad, and I feel like I have been through something catastrophic that I did not know was lying in wait for me, dormant until the perfect storm tore it up from below. I still feel like an alien, but maybe like a kind of sad, good humored ex-patriot alien – Ford Prefect? – who is working to find meaning in the incomprehensible otherness that seems to surround her, because she is pretty committed to figuring out how to live on this planet. I am still not sure how to move forward without splitting open again. It is imperative that I move forward without splitting open again, for me and for my loved ones. I am working it out.

In the meantime, this song/video by Amanda Palmer is making me really, really fucking happy. Watch it. Seriously.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9WZtxRWieM

No, seriously. You have to watch it.

Boycott.

Oh, my sisters. I’m thinking about you all today. You’re pretty much all I’m thinking about today. Us. We who cannot help but cringe and flee from Facebook to escape all the fertility. We who have poured every ounce of our time and money and sanity into trying to become mothers but who have been repeatedly devastated by failure and loss. We who look with confounded alienation at the women in our lives who have given birth and raised children, as if they have climbed Everest or sprouted wings.

I was pregnant last Mother’s Day and celebrated it for the first time as a mother. Two weeks later my baby was dead. This year I warned friends and family in advance that I was going to be boycotting this appallingly saccharin holiday, and some took it better than others. It is difficult for people to understand that you really mean it. It is difficult for people to accept that you cannot make them feel better about how much pain you’re in. It is difficult for people to really entirely remove themselves from their own needs and feelings long enough to allow you to fully express how unrelievedly, unrelentingly, irredeemably fucking shitty this is and take care of yourself in the way that feels right.

In years past I have enjoyed meditating on my gratitude for all the truly remarkable women in my life by whom I have been privileged enough to be mothered. There have been times in my life when my need for a mother has been so great, so scaldingly, coweringly overwhelming that just a simple kind word of acceptance from an older woman I respect has sent me into tailspins of grief and unworthiness, and I have spent a lot of time in therapy figuring out how to feel worthy enough to receive love from such women. Mother’s Day has traditionally been a time to reflect on this piece of my healing and to reach out to women who have been part of the process. This year is different. Everything is different after a miscarriage or four.

What I really wanted this year was to go down to San Francisco so that I could attend a Glide Memorial service. For those of you who haven’t heard me talking about this before, Glide is a unique and marvelous congregation that not only was ok with me being an atheist, but downright celebrated it as yet one more expression of the unconditional love and radical acceptance that is their doctrine. Services are rollicking, joyous, split-you-open-and-let-you-bleed-out-the-poison blowouts, and the place is packed with spiritual Mamas who have surrounded and filled me with unimaginable love in my darkest moments. There is no one there who expects me to be graceful or upstanding in my grief. People break apart inside the music and allow themselves to be repaired and rebuilt by the love of the strangers beside them. There is hugging. There is a LOT of crying. The power radiated by hundreds of bodies all celebrating and then letting go of their suffering is the most cleansing thing I have ever known. It would have been really, really good to be there. But it didn’t work out.

So instead I’m chilling with my dog, maybe getting my nails done. The Husband is on tour in Europe, so I’m pretty much free to shuffle around and do what feels right. Later on I’ll mosey on over to my sister’s, who has been just heroically and unflinchingly ok with my boycott of this holiday and has not once caused me to feel like I’m letting anyone down by doing what I need to do to take care of myself. We’ll have our usual Sunday dinner, and the twins will snuggle me and make me laugh, and my sister will pour me another glass of wine and comfort me in the quiet way she has, just by placing the warmth of her body in gentle proximity to mine and knowing me utterly in both my triumphs and my vulnerabilities. My mother will hopefully allow me to not have to Mother’s Day her. My dog, who is by far the most popular person in the family, will give everyone joy by looking ridiculous beyond words, which he is able to do just by sitting still. And we’ll all make it to tomorrow.

I’m sending you love, my hurting sisters. We’ll all make it to tomorrow.

PS – I thought I would include the picture I took of my response to yet another marketing package from baby food corporations who somehow got hold of the due date of the baby I lost last May. It was unbelievably empowering to do this and I recommend it to everyone who has to endure this shit. Happy Mother’s Day.

miscarriage pic

I’m Going for the Tote Bag – Making Sense of Absurdity

Crap. Fuck fuck fucking shit crap arse. I’m pretty sure I miscarried again.

I won’t bore you with the details because I don’t want this to be a diary of all my temps and fluids and ovulation predictor kits, but suffice it to say that I strongly suspected it 3 weeks ago and an extremely late ovulation kind of puts the seal on it for me. If you recall, I heroically battled my urge to take a frillion pregnancy tests and therefore had no confirmation, but the only times I’ve ever ovulated this late are when I’ve miscarried. That plus all the other signs and portents adds up to yet another early miscarriage. So that’s 4. Awesome. I’m so close to getting my frequent miscarriage card. I think you get a tote bag and fat discounts at the boxed wine factory when you hit 5.

I wanted to write the other day, last Friday when I came home to find a sample pack from Similac on my doorstep. Just sit with that for a minute. It included about twelve different pamphlets for “the new mother”, and four types of powdered baby food for the newborn infant who in no way exists at all in my home at this time. I did the math and realized that it must have been somehow related to the baby we lost in May, who, had it been born on the outside of the due date range, would have been a week or two old at that point. Somehow my pregnancy got sold to some marketing list somewhere (I’m looking at you, WhatToExpect.com) and the result was some very poorly vetted research that wound up as a box full of baby juice on my front porch. For my dead baby. Probably not the cognitive link they were hoping for: Similac = my dead baby. Pretty much forever. High fives and High Lifes all round for the online marketing department.

I wanted to write then, and I tried, but I ran up against two major blocks. One was that I was actually not utterly destroyed by it. I had an hour or so when I felt like I’d been kicked in the solar plexus and essentially wanted to give up and raise ferrets instead, but it passed and I was able to move on. I took a picture of the box and posted it on Facebook, and all my fierce beloved warrior women crowded the ether with their righteous anger on my behalf. It was awesome. A devout Christian woman whom I love most deeply (and who appears to love me equally despite my staunch and unrepentant atheism) commented that she was thinking some VERY bad words at Similac. That’s like some nuclear shit, yo. You don’t want to mess with a godly woman when she’s protecting her sisters. Another dear friend did not deign to feck about and deployed the word “douchenozzle”, which is not to be thrown around lightly. And that’s just a sampling of the inventive invective. I have some seriously savage and articulate GF’s. These women gave me the tremendous gift of validation, raised their voices in an outraged clamor and because they did, I didn’t need to. So I didn’t need to write.

(After checking through the 20+ comments on that post, I must correct the language above. It was not only women. There was one man, a creative and perennially smart-arsed artisan cheese maker with whom I once haunted the back parking lot of our high school, who commented and deserves to be noted here. He made me nearly pee my pants by reporting that he’d heard Similac pairs nicely with ice wine. Ice wine. Well played, sir. Well played.)

The other obstacle to writing was that I couldn’t find a larger meaning for the experience. So far in this blogging experiment I’ve gotten comfort from being able to pull all this heartbreak and insanity into a pithy little point, a message that makes sense of my despair. How do you make sense of something so absurd? All of this is absurd. My cups of pee; my obsessive nipples; the way that sex, which we have traditionally had in quantity and ever increasing quality for nearly 11 years now, becomes this occasionally onerous task and gives rise to questions like, “Should we fuck?” or “Have we done it enough or do we need to keep doing it?”, both of which are in the running for Least Arousing Come-on Lines EVER. It’s all absurd to a degree I never would have imagined.

And what, really, is the point? If I am a walking garbage disposal in which tiny little sparks of life are caught and then spat out with the rest of the trash, no matter what I do, what is the fucking point? Where in the hell do you find meaning in that?

Tonight, after getting the positive ovulation test at 21 days that confirmed, in my head at least, my fourth miscarriage, I wanted to give up. I want to give up. I want to storm out of the room I share with this fickle imaginary child, slam the door, scream that if it doesn’t want me then I don’t want it, and fuck it all anyhow cause I don’t care anymore. I don’t want to care anymore. I want to hurt its feelings and make it know how badly it’s hurt mine. I am sulking at my unconceived child. How evolved is that.

As I snarfed and snotted all over my husband’s sweater this evening he put some words to this absurdity for me. If you’re stranded on a desert island, he said, you can’t know if there’s a plane coming today, or tonight, or this week, or this year. You can’t know but you can’t just lay down and die. So you make your big-ass “HELP” sign, every night, without fail, and then you just have to lie down and get some sleep, because there’s no way you can make that plane come. If the plane comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. The only real failure is not making that sign, because it’s the only thing you have control over.

I kind of really wanted to suggest that if we ever have a boy we should name it Wilson, but he was in a moment and I didn’t want to distract him. And he was making a hell of a lot of sense.

Anyway, it’s nice to be back.

 

 

 

 

 

Walmart Lurking, Wee-Wee & The Infertility Olympics: In Which Our Heroine Refrains from Going Batshit.

Well folks, there’s good news and there’s bad news.

The bad news is that the stork gave us the finger again this month. Back to the old drawing board. Which has sex on it. Good thing it’s a favorite hobby.

The good news is actually better than the bad news is bad, in my opinion. The good news is that I managed to refrain from going completely fucking batshit whackadoo insane this month while I waited to test. I mean, I felt like crap. I felt anxious and angry and hopeful and hopeless and then sad when the blood came, and my best friend had to come over and watch truly heroic quantities of Battlestar Galactica and eat Thai food with me, cause he’s good like that. But it felt like the worst of the worst of it was kept at bay this month.

I did not, for instance, go to Walmart and in a creepy, lurky, trying-to-be-stealthy-but-failing-epically kind of way buy several boxes of pregnancy tests, timing my contemplation of the selections for a moment when the aisle was otherwise empty (which is difficult to do because the pg tests are in the same aisle as the athlete’s foot meds) and holding the boxes so that the labels faced inward until I got them to the register. I would like to take some time to apply a little good-old-fashioned feminist deconstruction to the fact that at 37 grown-ass-woman years old I continue to feel like a busted teenager whenever I buy pregnancy tests, but that will have to be another post.

Suffice it to say that not only did I not go out and buy tests, I even refrained from obsessively taking the ones I have left over from last month’s shameful spree. Do you hear that, world??? I DID NOT TAKE A PREGNANCY TEST THIS MONTH!!!! Does anyone out there have any idea what a phenomenally HUGE fucking step that is? Yes, I’m sure you do. Based on the comments I’m getting on this blog you ALL know about the Catbox and the crazy, crazy, crazy that comes with it. Preach, sisters.

So, yeah. I didn’t test. I refrained at 10 days, when you know damn well you’re going to get a negative but you trawl the Fertility Friend charts and decide that there’s just the slimmest possible chance, and you’re planning on going out for drinks with a friend tonight and you just want to be sure.

I refrained at 11 days, when the CountDownToPregnancy stats begin suggesting that you’re more likely to get a faint positive than a false negative, so you don’t drink any water after 8pm and tenaciously hold it when you wake up at 3am having to piss, because you want the absolute most potent wee-wee you can possibly excrete so that those coy little hormones you just KNOW are floating around in there will show up on the test.

Which you’re running out of by the way, so you’d better lurk on over to the Walmart after work tomorrow.

I refrained at 12 days, which is when you tested positive the last time but not the two times before that, and now both Fertility Friend and CountDown are assuring you that only gross statistically anomalous freaks would get a false negative at this late date, but even when you see the negative you still tell yourself that those statistics don’t mean anything, even though you’ve basically been living by them like the bloody Bible for the last week and a half. So you squint at it until you actually begin to see a little pink or blue line that moves around depending on where on the strip you’re looking and actually shows up when you look at other blank surfaces, an honest-to-god hallucination bred of deranged hope and pure bloody-mindedness.

I EVEN refrained at 13 days, when the real crazy happens and the Catbox is up over your head so you can’t breathe and you can’t think and you stop being able to hear people outside of your head and your temperature has dropped but only a little and it dropped the time you were pregnant for 11 weeks so you never know and maybe it’ll be this time but probably not but maybe, just maybe, it may just be that you can see a glimmer of something that if you look at it from the side with your eyes kind of scrunched up with tears in them might look a little like hope, please maybe, please maybe, please maybe…

And then the blood came, and my husband and my BFF circled the wagons cause we’ve been through this before and they’re good men who know what to do.

But I made it through all the crazy hurdles. The psychotic, hormone-crazed, PTSD-riddled, nipple-obsessed Infertility Olympics. I’m sad, but I’m not all twisted up like some weepy lunatic pretzel made of progesterone and despair. Gold fucking medal, me.

I really think it’s this blog. I think it’s giving up on striving toward fertility and just dealing with infertility, and the fact that women out there are hearing me and are going through the same thing. That does something to the spirit, somehow. It gives it a reason not to tear itself to pieces. It gives me a reason to stay sane.

Thanks, y’all. Keep on keeping on.

Help. I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t…. Oh, F*@k It.

The dark days, the maddened grasping obsessive days, the Catbox days have arrived.

I have managed to stay out of the crazy place for much longer than in previous months. The writing is helping – in addition to hearing from other awesome women going through the same thing, it’s been a way of focusing all the helplessness and rage into something that connects me rather than isolates me. My husband has read each post and looked at me with new admiration and understanding, which has helped me feel so much less alone in this insanity. People have reportedly learned things here, so I’ve been able to feel useful in all this impotence, which, for good or ill, is the only way in which I can see any worth in myself. All the unspeakable silence and shame is lifting. It’s fucking awesome.

But here I am, right smack dab in the middle of the Catbox.

Just in case you need a refresher, the Catbox is the beastly, insufferable state one occupies in the final four days before taking a pregnancy test.

Just as Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead, simultaneously and with equal statistical likelihood, until such time as the box is opened and one possible reality collapses into the other, the final four days before testing are a barbaric thought exercise in which one is both pregnant and not pregnant, full and empty, positive and negative. After you’ve been doing it a couple of years you lose the ability to comprehend or translate the signals your body is sending, so that some parts of your anatomy are screaming joyously that you are all kinds of knocked up, while other equally legitimate and strident bits are solemnly pronouncing your uterus empty, empty, empty like the garbage cans after curbside pick-up.

My nipples, for instance, are planning the baby shower. End of September. It’s a Libra. We’re so happy.

My lower back, however, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no chance in an infinite number of hells, and that my period is lurking right around the corner. Walk it off, bitch.

Either one – either one – could be telling the truth. There are no statistically reliable methods by which you can eke even the merest shred of valuative differentiation between the two. It is maddening beyond even my power of speech.

Today was the first day that I really started to creep into the cray-cray. I find that I am unable to pay attention to what people are telling me, which is kind of an insurmountable challenge if you are a fucking therapist. In the past it was the hope that drove me insane – it’s poisonous, a cloying toxic miasma that can smother the oxygen right out of the air if you’re not careful. Now I generally banish the hope before it even starts, because it is just bloody well easier that way. Or it would be if it weren’t for my accursed fucking body shooting up these obnoxious little flares to just throw the whole planned hopelessness thing off the rail completely. It’s not over till it’s over. And you just so badly want it to be over, even though you know that the grief will come, all the terrible grief and numb disappointment that floods your body when you finally see the blood.

At least you have an answer.

These are the days when the fierce rejection of this month’s hope begins to go global, when the knowledge that you are barren and will never conceive seeps a little deeper into already porous bones. It’s something you just know. And at the same time, with the same fierce rejection, you know that it will someday happen. How can you know both these things so surely? How, in the face of this insane duality, can you know anything? Ever?

I am certainly not going to be consulting my nipples for any kind of clarity. They are over-zealous fucking reactionaries and I am totally over their bullshit.

I Own A Uterus, And I Have Some Opinions. Deal With It, Y’all.

This is going to be an unapologetically feminist post. I have no wish to offend anyone, but neither do I wish to hedge on what was intended as a full examination of what this whole infertility thing is like. And because this whole infertility thing sort of involves my body, which, by dint of having breasts and a vagina and a uterus and stuff, is female, and because this country that I proudly call home has recently made quite a name for itself with its rather patrician and obsessive concerns about this body, I must at some point come to a discussion of how living in said country affects my thoughts on the whole infertility thing. So, caveat emptor and shit.

Ok, here’s the long-ass details, and we’ll work up to the feminist diatribe in a sec.

I have pretty standard employer-provided health care, and in this country I am lucky as hell to have it. It does not cover “fertility treatments”, which is pretty normal. Having been diagnosed with endometriosis 7 years before we started trying, I knew that we might face an uphill battle. So when I began to have erythema nodosum outbreaks alongside early pregnancy symptoms, I started to get a little freaked out. It seemed like my body was actually rejecting its own pregnancy hormones. We went to a fertility doc who specialized in endometriosis and methodically cherry-picked the services that we thought would be the best bang for our buck, primarily focused on trying to figure out what was happening with my hormones. I couldn’t go to a reproductive endocrinologist because that would have been considered a fertility treatment and therefore hundreds of dollars just to get in the door, so I was sent to a general endocrinologist who had a very difficult time figuring out why I was there if I didn’t have diabetes. Then I got sent to a rheumatologist because, um, you know, inflamation and stuff, and he had a similarly difficult time figuring out why I was there if I didn’t have arthritis. Neither the rheumatologist nor the endocrinologist believed me about the erythema, so I had to wait till the next outbreak (aka, next almost-pregnancy) and then go to a dermatologist for a biopsy. Despite my pleas that I was training for a 5k, he melon-balled a nice big hunk out of my leg and confirmed what I had been telling them for months. And then all three of them individually looked at me with that special kind of frowny, knitted-brow half smile that only confused male doctors can pull off and said – I kid you not – “Huh!”

We are still getting bills for this stellar medical sleuthing. Gregory House, where were you when I needed you in my pants?

Then, after giving up completely on dudes in doctor coats and seeing a naturopath for a while (which, ironically, WAS covered, because I work for a progressive mental health agency with an alternative health sub-plan, and because the naturopath had suffered infertility and billed services as pain management for the endo), I finally had a positive test. That was the first chemical pregnancy. When my lines started to get faint I was told that the health care system did not consider it an actual pregnancy until 12 weeks, so they couldn’t authorize any kind of hormone treatment to save it. It was the same with the next pregnancy, which lived to 11 weeks. I got bills for all the ultrasounds and testing because it wasn’t yet considered a “pregnancy” covered under my prenatal care. Even the drug that pushed the dead fetus out of my body cost more than my normal co-pay.

Just a few months later, after yet another chemical pregnancy, the debates about “Personhood Amendments” started. These were laws that were aimed at defining human life at conception, the minute a sperm fertilizes an egg. Unimaginable sums of money were being funneled into political action that would criminalize as a murderer any woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy, with potential for actual jail time. Todd Akin joined the already charming conversation with his stunning grasp of the female anatomy, and we were blessed with the term “legitimate rape”. My empty uterus and I sat with slack-jawed, stunned horror while exclusively male politicians weighed in on the exact spiritual chronology of a pregnancy, after months of being told that my pregnancies weren’t fucking pregnant enough to deserve medical attention. The fact that these were generally the same exclusively male politicians who were threatening women’s health care everywhere from private corporate insurance to cancer screenings for low- and no-income women just made the whole thing a disgusting absurdity.

So, here it is in the quick n dirty. If you DO want to be pregnant, it’s 12 weeks before you can get help. If you do NOT want to be pregnant, it’s pretty much as soon as the sperm enters your immediate airspace and then you can’t have any help at all. Regardless of your personal stand on abortion, you have to admit that this is a hot fucking mess. If life is so bloody sacred, then we should be able to get help with infertility. If it’s not sacred enough to assist a first trimester pregnancy when a woman wants desperately to keep it, then “personhood” is a despicable farce. Really, gentlemen. Shit or get off the pot.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s the gentlemen (discrete cough) who are deciding this. Here I sit in this fertile/infertile body, both fetishized and threatened simultaneously by the self-same powers, clinging to my once-a-year vote to elect mostly men to sitting bodies of mostly men to decide this shit for me. For me in this body. This body that has carried life and willingly given it up because the father was an emotional and sexual abuser, that has carried life and had it evaporate away without explication, that has carried life and watched it slough off into the toilet water when no one would pay to save it. This body that put off childbearing until possibly too late because there is no such thing as affordable, adequate childcare in this country so that if you choose a career it means choosing against children, even if your career is to serve children. This body that has borne the weight of misogyny, rape culture and ignorance just to stand at these crossroads and plead for help from the very men who would condemn all the choices that came before.

It’s possible that I am just infertile. It’s possible that no amount of money or choice or freedom will make a life take hold in my belly and grow strong and true. It’s possible, and if so then I will deal with the blame cell by cell, atom by atom in my own dreadful reckoning. But it’s also possible that my womb is held hostage by an indefatigable patriarchy against which I have only the barest defenses. The real stone-cold bitch of a kicker? It’s that there’s no way for me to know, because I am as much at the mercy of my body as my body is at the mercy of the patriarchy.

How’s that for a pickle?

A Cup of Pee and Thou

I am fairly certain that there was, once, in the distant mists of memory, a time in my life when I did not know the exact day on which I ovulate. I am almost positive that somewhere in the past was a time when I was not acutely conscious of my basal body temperature at all points in my cycle. In fact, I can almost remember times when my period came unexpectedly, as if I did not know to the most minute cellular detail precisely when it was due to arrive. Like, I would wake up and go, “Shit! I forgot my period was due! I’m out of tampons!” I mean, imagine the heedlessness, the depraved indifference! Craven, bedlamite willy-nilly laxity!

Oh, how I miss it.

What a side show, what a roller-coaster. My body is a mysterious sequence of events that I have had to learn how to read like hieroglyphs, like braille. Its secrets are mapped out in graphs, calendars, digital read-outs from machines into which I put sticks marinated in urine, all to somehow divine the exact moment when this elusive statistical oddity of conception is most likely to occur. At least 10 days out of every month I wake up every morning and handle my own pee, so that like an alchemist I may extract from it the arcane knowledge it holds. My own pee. I don’t even notice it anymore. Sometimes I forget about it completely and leave a cup of it on the bathroom counter, where my husband discovers it as I bustle about getting ready for work. I’ll hear, “Uhhhh…….Kitty?” and I’ll know that I spaced and left an actual cup of actual pee with which my husband is at that moment face to face.

Oh, the humanity.

And at the same time, even as I’m having to microscopically focus on the details of my body, I have also somehow been shut out of it.

Some pretty shitty things have happened to this body, many of them perpetrated by me. I grew up with physical abuse; I have had sexual trauma; I have struggled with addiction, anorexia and cutting. I had an abortion when I was 24 and to this day I cry when I get a pap smear. For the last decade or so I’ve worked really, really hard to peacefully and lovingly inhabit this body, and for the most part I do fairly well. I have even actually enjoyed it from time to time, have enjoyed feeding it and allowing it to be expressive and to get loved up and generally have a rollicking good time. I have been in good shape sometimes and fair-to-middling shape at others, and I have tried to be ok with both. For the most part, we get along ok.

When I was pregnant in May, it was the first time I have ever truly loved it. It was miraculous to me. The way everything was filling up with blood, coursing, pink-cheeked. The way I could feel the space pushing out, expanding me from the inside. The way it was just doing all these almost supernatural things, my body just doing these joyful wonders without hesitation, without shame. It was awesome. My body was awesome. I took such good care of it, started walking every day, got prenatal yoga and pilates dvd’s and did them every morning. I took great delight in thinking about food for my body, for the body growing inside my body. Food became, instead of a complicated and ambivalence-laden vehicle for either excess or deprivation, a sacrament I shared with that little life. Everything, even the nausea and the exhaustion, was something precious and vital that kept me firmly grounded inside my own skin. For the first time in my life.

And then the miscarriage happened. I went for an ultrasound at 11 weeks and saw, instead of the faint flicker of a heartbeat that we had seen the time before, a disintegrating dead husk in my belly. They sent me home with an abortificant and I tried to go somewhere else in my head until it was all over, but there is no way to step outside of that kind of physical pain, even for a veteran dissociater like myself. So I just tried not to scream while it all came out.

I keep thinking I should go back to doing yoga. I am by no means a super crunchy wellness junky and in fact can usually only get to within about 3 inches of touching my toes, but it did just feel so, so good. My back and shoulders are all ferkakte and yoga helped tremendously with that. But every time I think about doing it, doing pretty much ANYTHING that places me at the grounded center of my own body, I recoil and have to think about something else. I don’t know if it’s the fact that it reminds me of that pregnancy, or if it’s some kind of cruel withholding punishment I’m inflicting on this body, this body that failed and feels, still, laced with death at the core. I just know that the thought of being present in my skin and bones long enough to breathe into some kind of awareness sends me into a protective crouch and utter barren stillness.

And all the while this scientific inquiry continues; I chart my basal body temperature, cervical fluid (could they not have come up with a name that is at least a little bit sexier than “Egg White Mucus“??? I mean, we’re supposed to be trying to have sex when we see that stuff, right? One time early on I told my husband that we had to do it because I had…blech…egg white mucus, and he looked at me with amazement and said, “My god. ‘Let’s do it because I have egg white mucus.’ Where did you learn these positively geisha-like powers of seduction?” I kept it to myself after that), ovulation predictor readings, possible pregnancy symptoms, menstruation. I am intimately aware of the most intimate communications of my body, and yet it still feels like it’s in another room without me most of the time. What a fucked up paradox.

PSA Part Deux: What You CAN Say to an Infertile Woman Without Making Her Die Inside.

A number of people I love asked me yesterday and today what IS ok to say to a woman who is struggling with infertility. I feel a little remiss, not having included such vital information in my last post, which was entirely dedicated to explaining why you should NOT say pretty much anything you would intuitively think to say. Bad teaching on my part. Unfortunately I don’t have as many ideas about what you SHOULD say as about what you SHOULDN’T, but I will do my best.

In thinking about this I revisited an email that a very wise and wily bad-ass broad wrote me after the 11 week miscarriage last May. In the midst of a whole lot of “It just wasn’t meant to be” and “Don’t give up, keep the faith” kinds of commentary, this email was like cool clear water  in a parched and cracking mouth. This is my favorite part:

“Let hope go fuck itself today. It’s a sucky, raw place you’re in. Now is not the time to soldier bravely on and shit. Now is the time to grieve. Messy, awful grief that no one around you really understands, not even your partner.”

I think that what made it so powerful was the fact that nowhere in her words was an expectation that I was supposed to be ok with this. There’s this powerful social demand to show bravery and fortitude, to patch together some kind of beatific, battle-scarred grace that people can point to and say, “Wow. Look how well she is holding up.” I think it feels better to see grace than to see, really see the bloody tattered mess that remains of your hope, your faith, your courage, your humanity. So you end up somehow taking care of other people by saving them the discomfort of your pain, and you give a forced and pinchy smile and you get bloody well bucked up. Which is several letters of the alphabet away from what you’re actually feeling.

So, what can you say to a woman who is struggling with infertility and loss? Maybe, “Please feel free to be a sniveling, rageful, pessimistic emotional biohazard right now. I’m totally ok with it.” Or, “Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. Seriously. Fuck.” Or maybe nothing. Maybe just listen to us in those terrible Schrodinger’s catbox days when we’re channeling every ounce of ok-ness and energy into not careening pell-mell into the crazy place, when we feel like everything we say sounds certifiable and we have lost the ability to trust our own bodies, when hope has become a toxic, barbed thing that threatens to suck the air from our lungs if we allow it anywhere near us. Maybe just listen and pass the tissues. You’d be amazed at how much you can help someone by just allowing them to be as utterly deranged as they’re feeling in that moment.

On a side note and for the record, I have never actually heard of New Guinean shark-fat enemas. I made that up. I cannot email you the info.

Warning: This Is My Scheduled Angry Time.

There are so many things that they don’t tell you about trying to make a baby. So. Many. Things.

For instance: It is actually quite spectacularly difficult to get pregnant. No kidding. All those years we spend trying desperately NOT to get pregnant, thinking that it’s just a simple Tab A to Slot B kind of venture – as it turns out, the odds of a sperm fertilizing an egg that then implants properly in the uterine lining and grows to term are astronomically low. The female reproductive system is in fact a finely-tuned sperm killing machine that will only allow this whole messy conception business to occur for a period of about 48 hours out of every month. Who knew? I didn’t, when two years ago we decided to start trying, threw away the condoms with joyous abandon and began rapturously bonking 47 times a day, savoring the thrill of danger because we were allowing these two highly radioactive agents – his sperm and my egg – to encounter each other unfettered. Pro-creation. Let’s fucking create some shit, baby.

And then the months go by and every time you’re sure it’s happened, your body feels full and ripe and ready and full of life and all your folic acid and prenatal vitamins and yoga and hydrating and what-the-fuck-ever is going to pay off and then pthfffft. That test comes up negative and the bleeding starts and the whole thing goes down the toilet with the sound of a raspberry blown by a David Lynch backwards-walking scary dwarf. Over. And over. And over.

And nobody tells you about the miscarriages. You hear about the rare example and it sounds properly gothic and bloody, replete with the rending of garments and the gnashing of teeth and the gathering of relatives by the bedside, like it must be this one-in-a-million kind of tragic misfortune that never actually happens to anyone you know.

In fact, a staggering number of pregnancies – 15% of all pregnancies in the US – end in miscarriage. They never tell you, for instance, about chemical pregnancy, which is basically a fertilized egg that begins to implant in the uterine lining but then, for some ineffable reason, stops. So you get a few days of positive pregnancy tests and then that little line gets fainter and fainter until it disappears entirely. The first time I got pregnant, in May of 2011, was a chemical miscarriage. I hadn’t ever heard of it, had no context or containment for such a thing. I was just pregnant and then not pregnant, and the OB brushed me off with impatience when I called and called and called for my hCG readings because I could not understand what had just happened. I had never heard of a 4 day pregnancy. You don’t, really.

And nobody tells you about what a later stage miscarriage feels like. I’m not really ready to tell about that either, but it seems like I’ll need to eventually because every month, every blood, I relive it. In my head and in my body, the shock and grief, the searing, shredding pain that grips you in all your limbs and pushes out the dead decaying thing that you’d already dreamt a life for, gone and slipping out and away, gone and gone and gone.

I’m not there yet.

And in the midst of it all, there is the anger. No one tells you about the anger. You walk around with it like a serpent coiled around your throat, like a pacing tiger that keeps everyone else at bay. You’re angry at women and at children, at people who try to give you advice and sympathy but end up sounding utterly asinine and heartless, at doctors, at advertising, at your family, at your spouse. You’re angry in the grocery store and at the mall, in movie theaters and in airports. You’re angry at the women who conceive despite meth, despite alcohol, despite rape and violence and war and prostitution and destitution, as if these are fabulous talents they are rubbing in your face to make you feel even more inadequate. And most cripplingly at yourself, at this body that has failed so completely to protect and nourish a life in the way that you believe other women’s bodies can. There’s self disgust, self punishment, the final triumph of every cruel internal voice that’s ever told you you weren’t good enough in the fanged and sleepless dark of night.

There’s all this that they don’t tell you.

Maybe because if you knew how much pain was in store you’d never open your legs.

I’m in a place of remapping right now, trying to find a way to live with all this instead of dying every month. I have to figure it out or I have to stop trying, because it is too much death time after time. And I have to find a way of feeling less alone in it. I know that if I feel alone in it, countless other women must feel alone in it too. I don’t know what else to do but write.

This morning, on the advice of a fellow therapist and feminist and thinker, I saw a new therapist who specializes in infertility issues. She suggested adapting the concept of “scheduling worry”, the idea that a highly anxious person might get some relief in their daily life by scheduling time to obsess and be anxious at strategic points in the day, when they’re doing something comforting or mindful, so that the worry doesn’t just rampage around taking everything hostage. Her idea was to have “scheduled angry time”, when I could focus all this anger and impotent rage into something creative. If not pro-creative, then at least creative.

So here it is. Thanks for listening.