Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day

I hate today.

(I love my mother, but I hate today).

Today is a reminder that three years ago I was grateful for a uterus and The Opportunity to Try. Two years ago I was anxious. One year ago I was desperate. Or despaired, if that's a thing.

Today I am crushed. I feel like a flat worm, squashed beneath a semi-truck, baked in the afternoon sun, picked at by a raven. Desiccated and not terribly pleasant company. I want to hide from social media so my poisonous opinion doesn't leech out into the internet and lose me precious friends. I want to drink heavily and binge on the last seven seasons of Grey's Anatomy I never saw, except that even Meredith betrayed me at some point and I'm not sure I can stomach her obnoxious face-presentation miracle baby born via c-section in a power outage by candle light. Even though I'd love to visit my own mother and spend time appreciating her and everything she has brought to me, I'm not in the mood.

I've tried therapy. Radical self-care. Running away. Blogging my heart out like a sea cucumber in distress. Divorce. Renunciation.

(and that's just the list of things I've attempted to stop wanting to get pregnant)

I'm exceptionally grateful for a wonderful mother, and I get that our Mother's Days are numbered. The thought of spending this day with her on one side of the ethereal plane and me on the other is excruciating, and that's just a thought. I have so many friends who have lost their mothers, or who have been abandoned or abused by their mothers. Many of my friends had mothers who treated them like shoes or individually-wrapped slices of American cheese. Several of my friends became mothers by accident and have forced themselves into a shape and size that appears maternal, despite their complete lack of interest.

I am so fortunate in this life that I could truly scratch out my own eyes for being ungrateful about this one, tiny detail.

Motherhood is triggering, because we all have a sad story about motherhood. And this is why everyone is flummoxed by my chosen line of work. How can I work in the world of birth and be so downright vile at the same time? Well here's your answer.

The Interesting List of Things That Trigger Me:
  • People who ask me if I have children or how many children I have. I get that this is an innocent question. Most mothers are exceptionally giddy and braggy when asked this question, so it's a great conversation starter. It makes me want to drink gasoline and tonic, on the rocks.
  • People who tell me I will be a great mother. Again, this is a compliment. And I agree completely. Thank you so much for recognizing how hard I have worked to know everything I need to know, for fostering an attitude that children adore, for being a “baby whisperer.” Salt rim on the open wound, my darlings.
  • People who suggest various brilliant ideas about how to get pregnant or tell me it will happen when I'm ready. As it turns out, I'm a bit of a birth-nerd. No matter what the suggestion is, I have tried it or researched it more thoroughly than most anyone I've met, because as it turns out, I'm more invested in my pregnancy than you are. PS: I'm ready.
  • Hearing people bitch about being pregnant with perfectly healthy babies. Maybe they got pregnant (again!) sooner than they had expected, or maybe they wanted a different gender or season for the birth. Cry me a river, darling. I would (just about) kill to be in your shoes.
  • Being told there is nothing wrong with me. Western medicine has looked me up and down, taken me apart and reassembled me and confirmed that I'm perfectly healthy, nowhere near menopause, and ovulating like a rabbit. This makes my mysterious lack of pregnancy entirely mental, spiritual, or (my favorite) An Act of God.

The More Interesting List of Things That Do Not Trigger Me
  • Attending births. Yup. I have an explicit role at a birth. I get to channel my inner Lorax, my bookworm, my medical anthropologist and my med school drop out. It's like Christmas every time!
  • Owning a prenatal yoga studio. It's birth and babies all around this place, and nothing makes me happier than teaching prenatal yoga classes, postpartum yoga classes, breastfeeding classes, or chitty chatting with people about parenthood. I know a lot and love to share it. I explain things in a way that people understand and remember.
  • Holding babies. As it turns out, they love me (and I love them, too). They're precious, adorable, and not yet totally fucked up by this world. It doesn't make me achey or sad in the slightest. Promise.

Mother's Day is hard for me. I hate it, actually, because it is one of those greeting card, shit-eating holidays. I'm supposed to buy my mom bacon and eggs. Or flowers. Or get a pedicure with her. Or celebrate our unique bond. And I can't do that without also realizing that I'm 34 and despite my incessant ovulation and promiscuity, this appears to be the only side of motherhood I'll get to experience in my life.

My opinion of Mother's Day has been hijacked by my lack of mental health, and I'm very sorry for that. I wish I could drink mimosas with her and talk about all of her grandmotherly expectations while someone else paints our toenails.

My opinion of my mother, however, has improved greatly through this experience. About two years ago I asked her how long it took her to get pregnant with me. I mentioned we'd been trying, and I gulped hard, anxious for her story of long-awaited pregnancy, triumph over infertility, or recipe for a secret, magical cure.

First try.


Second try.


She asked me, and I lied. Awhile. And she said the sweetest, most perfect, most maternal thing she could have said.

“You can always talk to me about this. And I will never ask.”

Thanks, mama. For all the ways in which we are different, for all the ways in which you will never understand my wild spirit, my neurotic lists, my complete defiance of my genetics. Thank you for getting this: that you have the greatest capacity to kill my spirit and that instead, you showed me how much love is possible.

Happy Mother's Day.

Imagio Dei

The God of my childhood was never pictured. He was decidedly male, probably bearded, and definitely professorial. I imagined him wearing mismatched flannel, snuggled in by a fireplace with several cups of tea and books and notes scattered all around. My God had thick glasses and smelled of an earthy aftershave. His floor was strewn with commandments that somehow didn't get across, like Thou Shalt Not Pull Thy Sister's Hair, Try Not To Eat All The Chocolate Every Day, and Floss, DAMN IT! Commandments that seemed too nit-picky. The Phased Release Plan for new species and the crumpled drafts for The Cure for Cancer and time travel.

My religion of origin did a remarkably piss-poor job of providing female role models in general. A touch of whorishness, but nothing worth filming. Just one, giant image of The Perfect Woman, the saint who said either "I'm on board!" or possibly, "Do I even have a choice?" when asked if she'd like to be the image of motherhood, the archetype of saintliness, or the matron saint of inopportune births.

I think about her on Mother's Day. She's always depicted in a calm, serene, loving way, gently cradling her baby (possibly to keep it from being licked by an ox and an ass). She's wearing blue robes and a new mama glow. All of the artists dream of her with child, or with infant. None of them depicts her with sleep deprivation or mastitis or a toddler. I used to dress up like her, blanket on my head, baby doll tucked under my arm, maternal enthusiasm radiating like one of those imaginary seventh-chakra halos in the Renaissance paintings. In my earliest memories, I remember idolizing her, prior to finding more meaningful role models like Pippi Longstocking and The Thundercats.

I am the Princess of Power.

It wasn't until later in life that I realized that she buried her only child. Her marginal role as an observer at his crucifixion is pretty well downplayed until she has to clean up the mess and mourn. There was an embalming process. A giant rock. The Caper of the Missing Body. And then in a rousing plot twist, echoed by more than one soap opera and possibly the X-Men, the resurrection and sublimation.

The more involved I become in birth work, the more I wonder about her experiences, and more importantly, how the lack of these experiences in our cultural mythos leaves us hanging. Sure, we're sorely underrepresented in general, but what a gift to women to have somewhere to turn for emotional and spiritual guidance in the cases when our dreams don't pan out, when our children precede us in death.

I for one would have loved to read The Gospel According to Mary, nearly as much as I'd like to read my life's story from the perspective of my mother (but that's for my therapist and I to discuss). How did she cope with becoming a mother? Raising a rambunctious child? How did she mourn? What did her grief look like?

This is the ugly side of the motherhood role: it is inherently on the sidelines. A spectator as fate (and in this case, cranky Romans) dole out the strange doses of whatever shreds of God's Plan make it down through the grate. I see (and feel) the hopes and expectations of mothers. The anguish when it doesn't go neatly according to plan. The wonder when it goes better, and the unthinkably glorious moments when bliss transpires.

I'm slowly coming to terms with the images of motherhood I bit into as a child. I'm becoming more discerning as I try to see which morsels come with a shiny sharp thing that you didn't realize was there until you're flying through the breeze on some other idiot's line, drowning in the air. For one, I didn't realize that motherhood was a cultural expectation, nor did I realize it was a personal expectation. Never had I entertained that it was something fail-able. In the past three years I've degenerated from expectation to hope to the realization that nothing I feel or do will affect it.

No one showed me how to cope, nor did they show my friends who have lost infants and children. No one showed me what to do when I lost hope.

There is no silver lining to infertility or loss.

It's also hard to hide away from that THING with wings that sometimes whispers, “maybe.”

I know I have to write it for myself. Dig through the dirt and figure it out. I try a lot. Then I try to forget about it. Then I cry at the Honda dealership. Then I wander away during brunch, or bite my cheeks when someone asks the innocent, “and how many children do you have?”

My image of motherhood is as limited as my image of God, and that's the thing I've got the ability to change. I don't know how, precisely, to escape the biological imperative, to make my body not ache. My soul and spirit are attached to this body in this life, and it's up to my mind to carry us through this monthly defeat.

Salve Regina, imagio materna.

You've brought me this far, and for that I'm grateful. Perhaps you will serve me in another life, but for now, goodnight.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Spirit Brownies

I have a lot of things to do right now. Legitimately, my TO DO list is three columns on one page, nicely separated by section of my life, like a demented pie or one of those plates you give toddlers: sectioned into protein, starch, vegetable.

Right now, I'm not doing any of it. Instead, I'm writing.

(I also just ate chocolate before dinner).

Must be a writer thing.

Two weeks ago a dear friend asked me what I would do tomorrow if I knew it were my last day on Earth. After asking her if she was planning to kill me or had secret impending asteroid knowledge, I said there were lots of things on my to do list that would probably never get done. Like “follow up with the HOA to see if they will ever (ever) reimburse me for work I paid for four months ago.”

That's not a way to spend a last day on Earth, is it.

(I still haven't done it yet).

I've tried to nicely section my calendar the way I've sectioned my TO DO lists, with a special brownie slot that's just for me. Some days it works, but more often the peas and potatoes spill into the space where the brownie used to be, because I've given it to someone else.

It's really tempting, and I don't think it's because I'm a woman. I don't believe someone is coercing my dessert away from me, do you? Do I LOOK like someone who will easily let go of the chocolatey goodness that makes the dry potatoes worth the effort?

Don't answer that.

Yes, of course I do. Or, yes, I have. Some days I split it with a friend, sometimes I give it freely. Others I give out of obligation. And occasionally, as in tonight, I eat it myself.

Sometimes I lead professional development seminars for recent college graduates. I'm not certain that I'm actually qualified for this, because I haven't exactly had the most outwardly-successful career. My financial situation isn't impressive. My personal life has a few hiccups. However, I'm not afraid to tell the truth. I'm not ashamed to say I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, because I'm not sure when that will be. When I was a kiddo it was easy to look down the barrel of 18, or college graduation, or even 30 and think, “YES, then I will be an adult.” For many years I thought I knew what I wanted. Rich. Successful. Fertile. Partnered. Then I realized each of those things is a cardboard cutout just used for filming the commercial, and that real life offers none of these things.

(except maybe fertile, but work with me here).

I think I'm the right person to talk to recent college graduates not because I have all of the answers, or because I look like the spokesmodel who appears fully satisfied by the kitchen appliance or hair removal system. My qualifications are that I have tried and failed at a lot of things, but that I keep getting up when I get knocked down. Despite my sometimes epic failures, I realize that I'm significantly more fortunate by all measures than just about everyone else on Earth.

So I share my brownies.

Sometimes this bites me in the ass, as it did last week when one of my lovelies may have accidentally brokeninto my house and taken various important things of mine, but most of the time I'm able to go to sleep at night thinking that if THIS were my last day on Earth, I'd rather watch you smile after enjoying a bite of brownie than know I'd kept it entirely to myself.

How about you?

Rocks in my Pockets

Here again I face the moment that has been waiting for me all my life. It sneaks around the corner whenever there is too much to do and climbs into my lap when I would otherwise prefer to sleep. It calls loudly in dreams and chews through the messiest tangles of my life. It's the reason you're here, dear friend, and the reason this exists on the page.

I'm a writer.

(I shudder when I write that).

My mind immediately jumps to those who have boldly gone before me, straight through a cistern of alcohol or a mild heroin addiction and hopped straight across a successful writing career and into the grave. Writers don't live well. They don't keep gratitude journals, because they realize what a waste of space it is to be grateful for toilet paper or instant coffee, or to write what you think you're supposed to write in case someone finds your gratitude journal. The gratitude journal of a writer says, “I'm grateful that I didn't go to the store before the blizzard and stock up on salted caramels.” Because it is funny, and sad, and true. But it sure isn't gratitude.

 I had a great conversation with a friend the other day about this practice, and how it has been helpful for her to write a gratitude journal because she believes that her grandchildren will appreciate it down the line. I agree wholeheartedly, but Virginia Woolf did not have this thought precisely (perhaps) because she knew she would not have grandchildren and therefore could simply be honest about her opinions. Or wallow in her negativity? Or possibly her gratitude journal was simply boring as she thanked each day for the sun rising, the river out back, and the stones in her pockets.

(Some foreshadowing is just too much).

The kinds of writers who have spoken to me have been those who tiptoe on the edge of this calling. They write with the kind of realism and truthiness that makes you laugh and cringe simultaneously, just like real life does. Because real life is stranger than fiction, and the kinds of writers that I enjoy the most get this fact and don't fight it. Rather than attempting to write about unicorns and rainbows, they write about the things that keep them up at night in an ooh funny, aah poignant kind of way. I write about the hilarity of infertility and neuroticism, inglorious interpretations of sacred yogic sutras and impromptu reviews of irritating modern “literature.” This is my sustenance, my penance, and the safety valve on my life that maintains my skepticism about rushing water and keeps the rocks out of my pockets.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Sugar Bowl

One of my earliest memories is gleefully slamming a small wooden sugar bowl onto my mother's living room coffee table. Perhaps there is a photo of this, or maybe I am able to remember it because of some quirk of pre-cognitive dissociation. Regardless, there is a series of small semi-circular dents in the end of the polished and otherwise perfect table. Divots that remind the world that I was here. Etchings for the future anthropologists to analyze.

Sorry, mom.

Nearly one year ago my husband and I took off our wedding bands and placed them into the sugar bowl. We made a pact to throw them into a volcano together at some point in the future, when our emotions were a little more stable (and within throwing distance of a crater). I put it on a shelf in the living room, amid the books and other flotsam and jetsam that floats into my life. My decorating style has been lovingly described as “shipwrecked,” and so this seemed the most logical resting place. Temporary. Safe. A subtle reminder to me and an innocuous spot for everyone else.

Divorce is a sad thing, no matter when it happens, no matter how much love still exists between two people. And after months of worrying the spot on my finger where I used to worry the ring, I would occasionally take it out and roll it over in my hands. Try it on. Remember just long enough to want to forget. Then I'd place them back into the bowl and carry on, as though the day were the same and the emotional cloud over the sun had drifted past.

I remember distinctly the last time I held the rings in my hands. The sun was shining in through the windows as spring peeked in. The diamonds sparkled in the last rays, and I cried a little, thinking of all of the magical healing waters I had swam in wearing those delicate little tears. The warm, Pacific waters surrounding the honeymoon Hawaiian islands. The mineral hot springs. The bathwater of the Gulf. I remember thinking I should move them, maybe put them away in a safer place, and then thinking again that the sugar bowl was their home.

Tuesday, when I returned from a weekend of work and a day of vacation, I discovered they had been stolen. Someone broke into my home and stole several things, mostly electronic devices I didn't care much about. But when my eyes fell on the sugar bowl and I saw the rings were missing? Something inside me broke... that thing that has been trying to heal or ice over since last May, that thing splintered and cracked again.

I understand that I'm divorced, and that the rings were a symbol of something that no longer exists. I get that the universe would like very much for me to get over this simple fact. But losing those rings seals off both the promise of what was and the hope of letting it go in my own way, in my own time.

Now instead of offering my history, the times spent in healing waters to Pele or some other goddess of fire, they're on their way to a pawn shop or the swampy depths of Craigslist, to be resold or melted down and scattered into new pieces. Some other woman will wear my ring, unaware of the stories it holds.

Worse, it will likely be separated from its mate, as I have been from mine.

The universe, she works in mysterious ways, on a timeline that is governed by gravity and space, not my feeble little heart.

Now that sugar bowl is empty, yet again. Hollow. Full of nothing but memories. Covered by dust.

And fingerprints.

Desert Flowers

I went for an early morning walk in the desert. Even in late April, the air in the desert retains some of the flavor of winter... there's nothing for it to cling to as the seasons blow past the dry earth in circles and cyclones. Desert-dwelling people have terms for this phenomenon, whereby you cannot smell the path of the sun. On cloudy days it could be June or October as yesterday and tomorrow hold hands in the wind. The Aborigines call it the Everywhen.

And that is everywhere I find myself today.

There is a magic in the desert: you've probably experienced it yourself. Some people like to cruise past it, windows rolled up and ears riveted towards the music of the hour or the podcast of last year. The expansive nature of the desert, the endless rolling, cracked hills of the same dusty and hollow plants is too grave for some of my friends, but for me the timelessness feels like home.

I feel old in the world. When I catch my reflection in a window, when my back and knees crack, when all of the students in my prenatal yoga class are ten years younger than I am. Last week a student at a local college approached me to ask if I lived in the dorm where I was attending a board meeting, and then quickly corrected himself and wandered along. The advertising on my social media platforms hones in on my saddest and most personal fears and struggles, ironically offering both infertility services and forums to discuss the challenges of motherhood. It's enough to make one grow thorns.

But here in the desert I find solace. I feel as young as I've ever felt and quiet enough to hear the wisdom that I've earned from years of emotional weather. The wind plays with my hair and guides me off the beaten path, urging me somewhere deeper into myself.

This is a special time in the desert, because the occasional rainfall inspires even the thorniest plants to bloom. I'm sure if you blow past at 60 miles per hour, you can't see the tiny blossoms, but they are there, closed off, surrounded Sleeping Beauty style by thousands of tiny swords. I'm sure when the wind dies down the bees will swarm in and predict the future of this landscape, carefully navigating the treacherous path as their selfish efforts leave important footprints.

Even the desert offers tiny promises of hope.

Reassurance that the rain came.