A Brief History of an Awful Year

Things that have happened since last September:

  • I got pregnant in October of last year and carried our baby girl 15 weeks, until we learned that she had genetic issues and terminated in early January.
  • Our foster kiddo transitioned back to her awesome maternal grandparents in the Midwest and we said goodbye to her in November, sadly but gratefully because the whole thing was so right.
  • I had a chemical pregnancy the month after we lost our daughter and another one two months after that.
  • I got pregnant AGAIN in May of this year and miscarried, ALSO AGAIN, at 11 weeks.
  • Everything in me died and burned and exploded and fell apart.
  • I started meditating and realized I didn’t have to try to have babies anymore and felt an intensity of relief I didn’t know was even allowed by law.
  • Everything in me regrew and cooled and settled and knitted back together.
  • (Those last three happened over the course of three days. Real.)
  • A lot of other stuff too but this is the stuff I’ve been avoiding writing about.

There. Now you’re all caught up and I don’t have to try to write the detailed history of death and despair and dancing dangerously close to madness, which I probably will do anyway but in pieces wherever it bubbles up instead of having to construct some kind of comprehensive narrative for utterly incomprehensible shit that makes my brain turn to foie gras when I try to put it all together.

I’m glad we got that out of the way. I feel better, don’t you? I look forward to hammering away at my keyboard late into the night over cheap boxed wine and obsessive self-reflection. Just like old times.

 

 

Returning.

Too many things to update on this blog. CANNOT UPDATE ALL THE THINGS. Because I cannot update all the things I have not been writing, and that is stupid. I will start with where I am and the rest will have to come as it comes, otherwise I will remain helplessly silenced by the overwhelming weight of what’s happened in the past year.

I had a mindblowing moment this afternoon. I spend so much time thinking about what other people have that I don’t have, or maybe more specifically the things I lack and how they define me in comparison to other people. I live in kind of a run-down house in a run-down neighborhood, and because of this I have convinced myself of a narrative about how if I lived in a beautiful new-built home I would magically become a better steward of my living spaces – i.e, I would pick up my fucking pants off the bedroom floor and put things away when I’m done using them. I have taken some serious career hits in the past decade and my private practice is still fledgling, so I’ve constructed a narrative about how I must be flaky and unworthy and destined to be unsuccessful because at (almost) 40 I do not own my own home (see delusional narrative #1). I am about 20lbs overweight (that’s a medical assessment and not an emotional one, so please don’t waste anyone’s time telling me I’m “not fat” because I have been pregnant more than 3 times in the last 12 months and my body has been through some crazy shit and it shows and WTF is wrong with being fat anyway) and I am not – may never be – the kind of woman who focuses consistent energy and intention on changing that. Narrative includes: failure; lazy; the creepy “she let herself go” shit (the very language of which tells the story of a war of attrition waged on bellies and thighs and bingo arms and suggests that the subject has simply given up out of exhaustion and lack of caring, which may in fact be somewhat true but not in the way you’d think). And of course the big boss monster in the center of the whole game – I have been unable to have children. That particular delusional narrative is so far reaching that I am every day finding new areas of self-concept that it has woven its cunning, muscular tendrils around, new ways I mistakenly understand myself as deficient and inadequate because of it. It is constant, unrelenting, cleverly camouflaged and tucked neatly into every other delusion. It is so real sometimes.  It’s a daily learning.

So I have a picture of this woman in my head who is driven, skinny, wealthy, fertile, immaculate. She lives in a beautiful house and puts her pants away when she takes off her clothes. She has children that came from her body, a body which matches the standard social guidelines of acceptability. I look at her through a glass constructed of delusional narratives and internalized culturally imprinted self-loathing. From this view she looks blissfully happy.She looks incredibly fortunate.

This afternoon as I went barreling around my run-down house trying to gracefully make my way from one obligation I felt like I was fucking up to the next obligation I felt like I was fucking up, I happened to catch a glimpse of the wedding picture David framed for me for our anniversary two years ago. Behind the glass I saw two people in an exquisite kiss – the kind of kiss you see in movies when you’re 16 and practice on your hand in the dark and hope to god you get to feel one day. The man in the picture is handsome, smartly dressed, open-faced and clearly leaning in to the kiss with everything he is and everything he wants to be. The woman is beautiful and perfectly present, absolutely herself, giving freely and totally unafraid. They are so, oh god, so in love. You can see it. They have everything. They are the soul of abundance.IMG_1953 (2)

The mindblowing moment:

I realized that if I saw this picture in another woman’s house, I would be jealous of her.

We still feel like that. We still kiss like that. We met 20 years ago, have been together for 14 and married for 10 next month. We have been through unimaginable hardships, have seen the absolute worst of each other and in so doing have earned the right to see the absolute best of each other. We have fought each other tooth and nail, we have abandoned and betrayed each other in a thousand ways big and small and we have made it right every time. We have laughed and been amazed together, we have learned from and for and about each other. We have joyfully greeted and incomprehensibly lost and fathomlessly grieved a passel of tiny children whom we made out of our own flesh and dreams and love and watched die for no reason anyone can explain. We have been utterly shattered and have put the pieces back together so many times that eventually it stopped being all that important which piece belonged to who, and as such we are a mosaic of both ourselves and each other, beautifully fractured and shimmering in our harmonies and discords. We are still so, oh god, so in love. We are so much more than fortunate.

I am endeavoring to live, every moment, outside the glass of those constructed delusions. That woman in the wedding picture is the same woman who is, right this very second, sitting on a pet-hairy couch with stains on the cushions from either the weird hobbit dog mindlessly licking his feet or the exceptionally pukey calico cat who has never once been known to hork on a non-porous surface. Her pants are probably not put away and her body shows the undeniable marks of tragedy. She may go for a run tomorrow but probably not. She will probably meditate because that’s what’s been making sense lately. And tomorrow her husband will come home from a 6 week tour during which they lost yet another baby, and they will put their heads together just like in the picture and between kisses they will discuss what comes next for them now that they have decided to give up trying to have children. We have the world before us, all options on the table. We are fortunate. I am fortunate. I am here and this is now.

I am here and this is now.

The Closing of the Bones Part 2

Ok, so. I’m a little better rested and a little better equipped. I’m going to try to tell this shit.

Samantha invited me to her beautiful little garden cottage in the woods, where she and her mentor Bernadett had prepared the space for the ceremony. I was fawning over the five 8 week old kittens when a tiny woman with long gray hair stepped barefoot through the grass to greet me. Bernadett didn’t seem to mind that I was too wrapped up with the kittens to make a proper introduction.

I am a product of my field and there were several things about this that were unfamiliar to me. First, I would never in a million years invite a client into my home. That’s just not what we do. And while I knew that this wasn’t the same thing as what I do for people I wasn’t sure exactly what it was going to be. So I didn’t know what the boundaries were and in mental health boundaries are the difference between service and abuse. And second, it is just spectacularly difficult for me to dismantle my Helping Professional Skeleton and allow myself to fold into someone else’s hands. I became a therapist because of a childhood of fear and helplessness where the only thing about me that seemed valuable was my ability to emotionally support the adults around me, and I have made a career out of Keeping It Together so that I could go to work and do what I do. Letting other people take care of me feels really deeply fucking weird.

Samantha has a Womb Room. No fucking lie. She painted it a deep bloody raspberry color and put a futon mattress on the floor, and that’s where she does her work. I sat down in the Womb Room with Bernadett and told her that I felt weird, that being the Helped instead of the Helper is an itchy kind of stretch for me, and that I didn’t really know what the fuck I was doing there. She just smiled.

She started with a massage. It was an easy thing for me to wrap my head around – you lie down, someone works on your muscles, you relax. I’m totally familiar with that protocol. It was a mind-blowingly fucking awesome massage like nothing I’ve ever gotten on a spa table, and because I was on a futon mattress on the floor I could hear and feel her moving around my body – crouching, lifting, using her small body to move mine in this really visceral way. I had to struggle with an insane reflex to worry that she might put her back out. What? Yes. That was in my head. I am kind of bad at this.

One of the lasts things she did were my feet. There is a crescent-moon sliver of my instep that is always fairly painful when someone rubs it, but it was off-the-hizzy painful this time. As she was finishing up I asked her if she knew why this might be.

She hadn’t spoken much up till that point. At my words she knelt by my head and said, “I don’t really know your story, but I think that whatever you’ve been through must have been really, really intense. Every single one of your muscles is holding pain in a tonic state, and I don’t think you even know that it’s happening. You’ve had to hold it together.”

So I told her the story. About this being number 5, about being stuck in a foreign country where they wouldn’t take the baby out of me but wouldn’t let me take it home, about going anyway and getting off the plane and going to the hospital and waking up the next day stripped and hollowed and confounded with no aftercare to speak of. About stepping immediately back into life with a 3 year old foster child and a husband who just wanted the whole thing to be over and done with while my body screamed, while my breasts ached and my ligaments stiffened and my uterus shrank and my hormones fermented in disarray and chaos. My eyes were closed as I spoke and my tears flowed down the sides of my face, and I felt her reach out and wipe them with such gentleness that it startled me. I opened my eyes and saw that she was crying too.

“No humane culture would do this to their women”, she said, her eyes streaming. “No humane people would leave their women alone to deal with this.”

I lost track for a bit after that. Her kindness, the truth of her words, the reckoning of it was too much to take in for a while.

After some time, Samantha came back in and announced that all five of the kittens had congregated outside under the windowsill just inches from our feet. She and Bernadett chatted and prepared, spreading black and purple shawls beneath my hips and shoulders. When they were ready Bernadett held my hand. I don’t remember the exact words but she asked me if I was ready to give thanks and let go, to close the open place that had been made in my body and let myself be knit back together.

And all of a sudden I panicked. For the first time I realized that I wasn’t ready. You think you’re ready, because you think of it in terms of wanting to feel better. But it seemed like she was asking if I was ready to let go of my baby, and all of a sudden my whole being rebelled.

We lose them. They fall from our bodies or are scraped out from our insides, and we lose them. We are asked to move on.  At 9, 10, 11 weeks we are told that these creatures are not alive enough to take seriously and we are expected to keep walking, to tend to the bleeding and the cramping and the aching as though they are the symptoms of a virus that has now been flushed out. Our bodies know different.

My face crumpled and I shook with sobs that threatened to split me apart. In an instant Bernadett was lifting up my torso, folding me over my thighs and holding my body as it quaked and shattered. I remember her saying something like, “Let it go, let it be strong, let it be tall and loud and strong.” Samantha was at my other side, bracing my body for the impact of grief, one arm across my chest and the other at the back of my neck the way you hold someone who is vomiting, or choking, or giving birth. Bernadett threaded one arm under my knees and cradled me like a baby, and I could hear her sobbing too, saying again “No sane people would leave their women this way.” And my heart and my chest and my belly all thundered with rage and loss and a wordless, helpless grief.

And then there were words, two words, although they barely choked past all the thunder. I didn’t think anyone would hear them and frankly I didn’t even think I had the right to say them, but out they came.

“My baby.” 

In all this time, in all these deaths, I had never mourned my baby.

It was hardly intelligible, but Bernadett heard me. Her surprisingly strong arms lifted me and she said, “Were you home when your baby came out of you? Did they show it to you? Did you get to see it?” I spluttered that I was under when it happened but they’d told me in Ireland that it was 9 weeks when it died. She spread out my palm and in the slick wash of tears and snot that coated it, with the soft pad of her finger she traced the size and shape of my baby in my hand. “This is how big. This was a tiny person. This was your baby.”

She put my baby into my hands. No one in all the world and in all this time had ever let me have my baby in my hands.

I am weeping freely as I write this. I don’t think I will ever find the end of my gratitude for that small act.

At some point my sobbing slowed, my breath regulated, my body went limp. I was ready.

The Closing of the Bones is wordless. It’s like a muscular combination of a Thunder Shirt and being born. The practitioners wrap each of 7 areas of the body with a long rectangular shawl, a rebosa, and pass the ends to each other to form a knot that they tighten and secure with the ends under their knees. It starts with your head and eyes, then your shoulders and arms, then your upper belly from your armpits to your navel, then your pelvis from your navel to your thighs, then your knees and lower legs, then your feet. Each space is held for an undetermined amount of time – at some point drifting in and out of the now I began to wonder what the signal was, how they knew to release me and move on. When they get to your feet they start back up again, ending with your head and eyes. They spend a LOT of time on your pelvis.

With each passage I could hear the two women breathing, could feel a hand pressed to my heart or the space above my pubic bone, and I gave my body permission to let go of all the walls, all the fake alrightness, the places in my hip joints where my babies have been hiding and grieving in silence. I realized that I had held on to them because I believed no one understood at a cellular level that they existed, that they mattered. These two women believed that my babies mattered, so it was finally safe for me to let them seep out of my bones and into hands that loved them.

When it was over, after I’d held their hands and wept wordlessly, my tears filling my ears and all my language washed away, I sat up and asked for a kitten.

It seemed like the right thing. “You should have them on hand, like after-dinner mints,” I said through my snot.

Sam didn’t question it and went looking. She came back with the mommy kitty instead. “All the babies were gone from under the window, but the mommy was just waiting for me.”

Mommy’s name is Juniper. She is slight and slim with splashes of pure black in artistic patterns across her pure white fur. She is barely a year old – a teen mommy. Samantha told us that Juniper held her hand with both paws while she gave birth to five kittens. Sam put her down on the mattress purring, and she made her way to the rebosa covering my feet and curled up. She fixed me with green eyes and vibrated my feet till the bones shook, never looking away. As my senses adjusted and the world returned to me she relaxed, spread herself across my ankles and just luxuriated in the absorbent way that cats have, like “Go ahead, let the poison go. I’ve got ultrasonic amplifiers in here, I can break that shit up like a kidney stone.”

So that’s what happened. I’m still working on what it means, if not for me then for all the women I know who have been denied this and didn’t even know it was an option. Didn’t even know they had a right to it. I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot more about that in days to come, and I am honored and excited to say that I’ll be working on some collaboration and networking with Samantha and Bernadett to lift the signal. Some shit needs to change here.

Goodnight and love.

 

 

 

 

The Closing of the Bones

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

Kind of a fucking revolution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLOSING OF THE BONES, PART 2 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to you all.

 

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.