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.

 

 

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.

 

Fertility Privilege, Part 2

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

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

Here are some examples of privileges I inhabit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do some word-swaps with me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste.

Fertility Privilege, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

So I made a conscious decision to let it go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

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

Redemptions: Finding Strength in Absurdity. Also, Strippers.

So, yesterday was a whole lotta suck. I want to thank everyone who reached out and offered support and love, on this blog and in the physical world. I also want to make sure everyone knows that I don’t usually sit around and contemplate my own grand awfulness. I mean, not all the time. Mostly not. Only in those dark, dark catbox moments when the helplessness becomes so overwhelming that I’m slam-dunked right back into the darkness and helplessness of my childhood and all those cruel, chittering demons come crowding round to fill the silence. A lot of people wanted very much to remind me of what’s awesome about me, and that certainly never goes amiss. I’m very touched by and grateful for those words. But that’s not really what it was about. Self-hatred is just what comes up in that moment.

And as it turned out, I ended up having kind of an awesome evening.

After sitting on the couch staring at the wall for what seemed like days, trying to figure out how best to take care of myself or what would make me feel better, I came to the realization that since actually NOTHING was likely to make me feel better, the best thing I could do would be to lay down arms and submit to the awful and just see where I ended up. My husband wanted to go hear some music and had been kind of waiting to see whether or not I would be in the mood to go out, so I toddled downstairs to his practice room and let him know that I was willing.

We had a lovely and utterly ridiculous dinner. The spot that we had picked at random off of Yelp happened to be hosting a benefit concert for Autism that night, and we got a table as far away from the noise as we could manage. The first band was insipid but largely innocuous, and we ate delicious things with cheese and talked about childlessness.

Ok, I realize how depressing that sounds, but it really wasn’t. We talked about what we might want our lives to be about if we couldn’t have our own children, what kind of presence we would want to leave with the world if it wasn’t our own genetic offspring. A big part of the conversation was about our niece and nephew, the boy/girl twins that my beautiful sister has been generous enough to allow us to help raise. They are about to turn 12, which is about a nanosecond away from becoming entirely alien creatures who erase us from their lives for a period of six to eight years while they focus on the incredibly challenging work of figuring out what the fuck they are. And also who, but mostly what. My husband is betting that we will remain cool for a longer period of time than their parents, based on the fact that we will not have to ground them when they become assholes. This may be true. Right now they genuinely love hanging out with their grown-ups, parents and aunties and uncles and grandparents all, and look forward to Sunday nights when we all have dinner together and get silly and make inappropriate jokes at the dinner table. There will likely come a time in the next six to eight years when we are not their first choice of recreational activity, when complicated and confounding other things become more pressing on their social calendars. But maybe my husband’s right, and maybe we can eke out a few extra years of coolness by virtue of our dual citizenship of “Adult” yet “Not Parent”.

So what will we do in those intervening years, if our own children aren’t ravaging us and turning us into zombies?

I’ve brought up the idea of fostering in the past, and we got a bit farther into the nitty gritties of it last night. It is a slightly terrifying yet insistently compelling thought. As a child therapist in community mental health I work with lots and lots of kids in foster care, and they can often be an incalculable handful. The foster care system is broken beyond my ability to describe to you here, and children are ground up in its machinery in ways that can damage them forever. Kids in foster often present with a whole host of extremely difficult behaviors that can turn a home upside down, and the cycle is perpetuated by foster caregivers who are not provided with any kind of education about attachment disruption or the effects of trauma or the tools of consistent, pragmatic parenting. Good foster homes are quite astonishingly rare. Often foster caregivers are literally doing it for the paycheck, and overworked caseworkers load up to six and seven kids into one home if it can accommodate them. And then there’s the fact that under the best possible circumstances, the parents of foster kids will work really really hard and accept a whole lot of really awful responsibility and jump through about a million sometimes absurd hoops to get them back, and then the foster caregiver has to say goodbye to a child that they may have become very fond of. The trauma is sort of built in.

Given all of that, why would we even think about doing this? My husband put it succinctly – when I asked what he wanted his life to be about if we couldn’t make babies, he said “I want to be able to do something for kids.” For him this might be teaching or volunteering or building programs that benefit children. Kids are absolutely enchanted by him and he’s a bona fide internationally famous musician, so the possibilities there are kind of endless. For me it’s a little different. I do that already. I work all day with children and do everything within my power to help improve their lives in anyway I can. For me what’s missing is the intimacy of a child in my home, the small rituals, the bedtimes, the wake-ups. The myriad spiderweb threads of attachment that wind throughout a day, a home, a life. For me it’s about doing more than what I can do in my office – I can’t teach a kid how to make macaroni and cheese, I can’t help them get back to sleep from a nightmare, I can’t  make up songs together about stupid things in the car on long trips. That’s what I want. And coincidentally, that’s also exactly the kind of indefinable stuff that’s missing in the lives of kids in foster.

At about this point in the conversation, the bands switched over. As this was an Autism benefit, there were a lot of families there with their kids, many of whom were on the spectrum. For reasons that remain utterly baffling to me, the big finale band chosen was an incredibly loud, incredibly jarring 90’s cover band with the largest drum kit we had ever seen outside of a Sheena E show. It bears pointing out that one of the many things with which kids on the spectrum struggle is a crippling hypersensitivity to loud noises. Good intentions, man. Good intentions.

We had a lovely stroll through the springtime night city to the club. As it turned out the guy who was supposed to put us on the guestlist had failed to do so and was MIA, and we didn’t feel like paying the cover. I was having such a fantastic time that I didn’t care. We were very near a famous strip club, sort of a Portland institution (for those of you who watch Portlandia, it’s Mary’s and it’s in the opening credits) that I used to haunt with a band of lingerie-obsessed gay boys I ran with back in the day. It was a “why the heck not” kind of night, so we went in. We were pretty underwhelmed. I mention it only because both the door girl and the floor waitress were hugely pregnant, which was at that point in the evening totally fucking hilarious to both of us.

Which sort of brings me to the loveliest moment of the whole night. Back at the absurdly orchestrated Autism event when I had posed the question of what might bring meaning to our lives should they be childless, my husband said something that took all my fears, all my existential anxieties and wrapped them up in loving arms, pulled them out of their madly spinning orbit and set them down firmly on solid ground. “We’re going to be fine Kitty,” he said. “You and I will always find a way to be happy together. Between the two of us, we’re never going to get stuck for long in the darkness. We’re always going to find the light.” And in that moment it finally dawned on me that he is right.

It’s a damn fine man I married. There’s a twinge of sorrow there, too, because I want so badly to see him go on and on in the faces of children we make together. But if it never happens, I know that we will find what we need in each other, and in doing so we will find the strength to create something that will go on and on. Just in ways that we can’t yet see.

 

 

When You Care Enough To Give The Very Best: Awkwardness, Intimacy and Weird-Ass Ways to Get Knocked Up

The Catbox looms. My nipples are getting all chatty again. STFU, you two.

This will likely be the last shot we’ve got for a while (my husband is in a popular band that tours extensively in Europe and South & Central America, which is often a challenge for the whole timed intercourse thing cause I sort of require his participation on this project), so in typical fashion I’m starting to think about what comes next. What kind of crazy-making, totally abstract, intimacy-robbing fertility treatment will we consider now? Will it include as much surreal hilarity as the last time we tried a non-bonking method?

After the 11 week miscarriage this past May (we generally refer to it as “The Big One”), I insisted that my husband freeze some dudes so that I can keep trying when he is on tour. My husband is extremely spend-a-phobic. We lived the first 8 years of our life together in abject, digging-change-from-couch-cushions-to-buy-toilet-paper, how-many-ramen-packs-can-you-get-for-three-bucks, can’t-afford-the-last-two-letters po’ type poverty, and I think we are both a little kooky as a result. Anticipating this I researched the absolute cheapest way we could get his frozen swimmers into my swimming pool. We decided to bypass the fertility doc entirely. He would leave an offering at the OHSU sperm bank and I would pick it up, take it home and do the bizniss my own damn self.

Boom. Plan, Set.

I started checking out the lesbian fertility sites because when you have to purchase it, sperm is an outrageously expensive and precious substance and you do not want to waste that shit, so those ladies tend to have the best advice for home insemination. The Husband took care of his end of the deal – and frankly that sounds like one of the weirdest experiences any man could have, so let’s hear it for the gentlemen, y’all – and went off on tour, and I waited for game time. About a week before the window in which I was likely to ovulate, I drove to the OHSU sperm bank during a lunch break to pick up my little buddies.

The guy at the front desk went in the back and hauled out this three foot tall, two foot square cardboard box, and set it caaaaaarefully at my feet. He informed me that he would not be able to give me any information on what to do with the sperm once it was…um…decanted. Presumably this was so that I could not sue him if I accidentally used it as eye drops or attempted to inseminate my cat with it. He was however willing to share with me the tremendous danger I would be courting once I opened the canister. The three foot tall, steel canister filled with cryogenic liquid nitrogen that housed my husband’s sperm. He demonstrated how to open it and drew my attention to the billows of vapor that poured out and crept along the floor, calmly letting me know that my hand would freeze off – actually off – if I touched the liquid inside. Using a cloth rag to protect his hand he pulled up a steel rod onto which were clamped two teeeeeeeeeeny little vials full of sperm. Which, in case you were wondering, turns faintly pink when it is frozen. Who knew. Then, with a cheerful warning about the potential explosion that might occur if I dropped the canister, he sent me on my way.

If you are ever in the large and well-appointed lobby of OHSU and you happen to see a mortified-looking woman struggling gracelessly to lug a three foot tall cardboard box with ominous warning labels down from the tenth floor out to the parking lot, now you know. She is carrying sperm.

I was so terrified of blowing up my car that I strapped it into the passenger seat. I drove home from the hospital with a giant vat of liquid nitrogen and sperm, safety-belted into my passenger seat. I took a picture of it, in case we conceived. It would be the kid’s first photo, after all. I brought it home and put it in the living room. I looked at it for a while. My cat came and sat on it. Then I went back to the office.

This was all going down a couple of months after the miscarriage. I was still in this impenetrable daze of grief and rage and disbelief, hunkered down in a kind of emotional foxhole while the rest of the world went on around me. My best friend, who at that point was still living down in California, decided to come up and hang out with me for a week. This was ostensibly to check out the market for a game he is designing (Portland is a gaming mecca, FYI), but mainly I think to make sure I hadn’t fallen so far into the bad place that I couldn’t pull myself out when I was ready to. His trip happened to coincide with the range of days in which I might ovulate. Awkward.

I had sent him a picture of the safety-belted sperm, so he knew the scoop. I was soooooo hoping that it would happen a day or two before, but those little pee sticks kept coming up goose-eggs. The morning after he got in, bingo. I went into the guest room and shook him awake. “I’m going for a run,” I told him, “and then I’m going to defrost some sperm, take a shower, and go fuck myself. Orange juice is on the counter.”

He is a former State Department Search and Rescue contractor and was an EMT in Richmond, CA, the murder capital of the Bay Area. It is really hard to unsettle him.

After the dire warnings of death and dismemberment from the charming OHSU guy, I was scared shitless of the damn canister. We knelt on the living room floor and I tried to remember all the instructions, but I was so nervous I couldn’t pop the little vial off the clamp. I was terrified of either frying off a finger in the nitrogen or dropping the vial, to the point of near-paralysis. He watched me struggle for a few seconds and then without the slightest discomfort grabbed the ratty dishtowel out of my hand, popped the vial off the rod, and handed me my husband’s sperm. One of the weirder moments of my life.

My husband skyped me right when the timer was going off and the dudes were thawed. “Sorry, honey, I gotta go. Your sperm is thawed. Bye!” Technology, man. Making Awkward happen in new and innovative ways, every day.

As it turned out my first time pitching was a success, although not one that resulted in a baby. That was the third miscarriage, a chemical that lasted about a day. Still, though. I felt pretty smug. And it provided a Hallmark moment that is downright unique in 24 years of knowing my BFF. Intimacy comes in odd shapes sometimes.

See y’all in the Catbox.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.