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.

 

 

 

 

Bracing for Impact, Redecorating the Catbox

We are mere weeks away from becoming foster parents to some as-yet-unknown small human. Of course, I can’t be certain about that timeline, because you never know when the call is going to come in. But considering that our certifier tried to place a sibling set with us a couple of weeks ago before we were even certified, I’m guessing it’s going to happen pretty quickly.

Because it is (for now) so much cleaner and more peaceful than the rest of the house, I’m writing this in the Kid Room, which is what we’ve settled on calling it. It feels weird to call it a nursery or baby’s room, as we may get a five year old. It feels weird to call it the kid’s or kids’ room, because that presupposes a subject (a specific kid or kids) to whom the noun (the room) currently belongs, and at the moment that subject only exists vaguely and anonymously in potentia. So it has become “the Kid Room”, literally defined as of or pertaining to the idea of “kid”; a room into which, ostensibly, a kid of unknown provenance will eventually fall.

But I may be overthinking it. A bit.

As this crazy event approaches, I’ve had pause to consider all the things that are different about this way of welcoming children into our lives versus the more traditional organic way, which can make me sad if I spend too much time with it. The surprise here is how much is actually the same, just in a slightly alternate-universe kind of way.

Our friends and family have occasionally expressed concern about the stressors that fostering will place on us. What about when Hubby is on tour and I’m on my own? How will we feel about the ginormous changes to our basic way of living? Won’t childcare be expensive? Aren’t we nervous about not knowing what the outcome of the case will be? How are we going to deal with behavioral issues? Aren’t we, frankly, a little terrified?

And the answer is yes. We are more than a little terrified. We don’t know what the hell we’re getting into. There are days when we wonder what the fuck we were thinking, when we take in the blissful peace of the house while we both work in companionable silence without worrying about anyone else’s needs, savor the exquisite joy of sleeping in and taking an hour to gradually climb out of the bed, revel in the freedom to stay up late or decide to see a movie or a show at the last minute. Our lives are going to change in ways that we cannot possibly prepare for.

But….um…. Isn’t that what every expectant parent feels?

And all the specific problems that people ask about would still have been problems if we’d managed the build-your-own version. I would still have periods of single parenting while my husband is on tour. Childcare would still be a financial drain. The unknown would still be haunting us, ready to leap out from behind any corner and throw something catastrophic in our path. There would still be days when we’d wonder what the fuck we were thinking, bang alongside days when we can’t imagine our lives any other way.

If I let myself, I can get a little miffed about this. Nobody, or at least nobody nice, ever brings these kinds of concerns to financially and emotionally stable adult pregnant couples. Nobody ever takes an 8-months-gone pregnant woman aside at gatherings and asks her if this is really what she wants. Maybe this is another function of fertility privilege, the societal biases that place the value of procreation and the worth of a breeding woman so much higher than any other method of child-acquisition. Who knows. Generally I do not let myself get miffed about it, because no matter what accidental foot-in-mouth offenses people might occasionally commit, the vast majority of our community has been unbelievably supportive and celebratory and awesome. They are throwing us a fosterbaby shower, for shit’s sake.

There are of course challenges that are unique to fostering, and we are trying to be as centered and practical about those as it is possible to be with problems that are, at this stage, only dire predictions. We will not only be taking a child into our lives, we will also be taking that child’s biological parent(s) into our lives as well, and there is no underestimating how difficult that could prove to be. There may be substance abuse, personality disorder, mental illness, domestic violence or some unholy combination of all of the above coming in the door with that parent, and our job is to help them get their shit together enough to be “minimally adequate” in the eyes of the state in order to have their child back. I’m not quite ready to delve into the galactic fucking potential shit-show that may be in store. We just have to brace for impact and figure it out as we go along.

On the plus side, nothing horrifying or traumatic will happen to my vagina, there will be no “baby weight” and my boobs will stay the same size and shape. I don’t know, I kinda feel like there are some upsides here.

I will try to write as much about this as possible given the constraints of confidentiality and the immediate disappearance of every ounce of free time that will occur once the as-yet-unknown small human arrives on our doorstep. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep this blog going now that the subject has changed so much, but I kind of like it here and I don’t want to give up my picture of a pregnant cat and a catbox. And in our own way, we’re in sort of a different kind of Catbox – we are waiting for a child that both exists and doesn’t exist, is present and absent at the same time. Except this time I’m not forced on the daily to handle my own pee.

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 2

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

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

Here are some examples of privileges I inhabit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do some word-swaps with me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste.