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Grief, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

I Was A Mother Waiting To Make The Call

May 8, 2017
call

By Mallory McDuff

I waited until I was three months pregnant to tell him about the baby. Then he died three days after my phone call, when my six-year old daughter shared the news of a baby sister in her future, squealing her delight in a high-pitched voice that sounded like a toddler, although she was quite pragmatic and focused for a first-grader. What drove me to call on that day rather than later in the week, when it would have been too late? And why was I devastated by his sudden death but comforted by his support of this unusual pregnancy?

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” my mother always said, describing the twists and turns in our lives that both confound and amaze us. This phone call to my father was definitely a mystery, one of those encounters I could never have predicted, even if I’d written the script in advance.

For starters, I’d gotten pregnant while separated from my husband, separated for nearly three years, as we avoided the eventuality of the end of our marriage, much like we often waited until the last minute to do our taxes. While we waited for something to happen (a move, an affair, a sudden desire to teach English in Japan?), I got pregnant, much to my joy-filled delight. We were separated, but not separated enough, I learned to say to anyone who questioned the timeline. Hearing that quip, people stopped asking questions, which was the intended outcome. This conception came several years after we ended a second pregnancy due to a genetic disorder affecting the baby, a gut-wrenching decision made from a foundation of love in the midst of a crumbling marriage. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, loss, Pregnancy

Choices

December 4, 2016
survive

TW: This piece discusses medically necessary termination of pregnancy

By Leslie Wibberly

A while ago, a friend and colleague received some devastating news. She and her husband were expecting their second daughter, and at over three months into the pregnancy they had assumed everything was fine. A routine ultrasound unexpectedly revealed multiple birth defects and a tumor, called a terratoma, attached to the base of the baby’s spine.

They were told they could choose to terminate this pregnancy, as the effects of those birth defects were not clear. Or, they could try to carry the baby to term and hope that surgery might be able to correct the problems.

As she shared her news with me, her despair carefully but not completely masked, I was brought back to the moment many years earlier, when I had received similar news. A tiny tsunami of nausea intermingled with terror and regret, flooded my body.

My first pregnancy was planned, but happened sooner than expected. Exhausted from full time work and a year of studying for a post-grad certification, my body was not in peak condition. My husband and I had fully intended to start trying for a baby once my exams were over, but the universe was impatient and so conception was precipitous.

We were overjoyed none-the-less, and I did what assume every mother-to-be did. I bought parenting books, baby-name books, maternal vitamins, I started to worry about never sleeping again, and I prepared to say goodbye to my thirty-something pre-baby body. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Pregnancy

Stretched

September 18, 2016
baby

By Rachel Schinderman

I was very pregnant.  38 weeks.  I remember being very aware of my belly and not because it was as big as it was.  And it was big.  Huge actually.  But because, it felt hollow, empty.  It was a Wednesday and my husband was at work.  I knew my running off to the movies to while away an afternoon days were coming to an end, so I sat down in my seat in a dark theater on 2nd Street to watch Little Miss Sunshine by myself.  The baby was scheduled to arrive in a week by C-section since he was breech.   I was trying to get it all in.  Lunch with an old college friend and a facial were rounding out the week.

I half watched the movie, half pushed on my belly.  Where are you I wondered?  But he never moved much.  That was his way.  It was normal.  Occasionally, like at night when I was trying to sleep he would remind me he was there.  Once it seemed he had friends over, but that was not the norm, he was snug in his spot.

It seems this would be the moment where I would race out of the theater and head straight to my doctor’s or arrive at the hospital.  This would be the hero move.  But as a first time pregnant lady who had called her doctor often over Braxton Hicks and other not feeling quite so well moments, I figured again it would be the same answer.  I was fine.  The baby wasn’t moving, true, but the baby never moved much.  And besides, I had an appointment the next morning. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Pregnancy

Downsizing.

September 13, 2016

By Megan Birch-McMichael

The blue Tupperware tub sat for months after the move, stored in an alcove under the stairs, sharing space with infant detritus that had been through two rounds of child. A swing, a crib mattress, a breast pump, waiting to see what their ultimate fate would be; a landfill, Goodwill, or in the fourth bedroom that was a combination guest room, office, catch-all room that swelled with our indecision.

 

A good friend revealed her third pregnancy to me on a playground as we watched our children skitter around, laughing and pushing and filling each other with joy. In a fit of re-organization and purging, I offered her the contents of the bin, pulling out the maternity underwear and nursing bras, and handing over the tops and bottoms that had held in my belly for the long summer months that I thought would never end. “These are just a loan,” she said, “I’ll bring them back when I’m done.” She brought them to the car in two overflowing shopping bags and for months, I forgot them.

 

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Guest Posts, Pregnancy

How to Not a Have a Baby

April 3, 2016
pregnant

By Catherine Newman

I am having my blood drawn for the third time in four days. “Me again!” I say to the cute, hoop-earringed phlebotomist. He smiles and then looks politely away while tears leak out of my eyes and into my hair. I’m sure he’s not supposed to talk to me about my situation, but when I stand up to go, he punches me gently on the arm he hasn’t stuck, and smile-frowns. He says, “Hey, I hope this turns out good for you.” My chart says, Pregnancy. Suspected ectopic. As I leave, he’s swabbing the chair with alcohol, and I feel contagious.

If you’ve had one go badly, then you know the terrible exponential math at the beginning of a pregnancy. Hormone levels are supposed to double every three days, and you picture these numbers as a representation of the baby itself: it’s getting twice as big, twice as big again, cells properly multiplying in a kind of magical embryological choreography. Everything folds up the way it should. A flat plane of cells become tubes and tunnels, because your body has learned origami while you were sleeping! You are so good at this! Multiplication is your best and favorite function! But not always. Sometimes the numbers go down instead of up, a simple subtraction problem represented by the kind of dark blot in your underpants that makes you sit there with your head in your hands long after you’re done peeing. That was the kind of miscarriage I had before Ben, and it was quick and certain. After a second trip to the clinic down the street, a friend who happened to work there  walked over with our results. She hugged me. “Not this one,” she said. “But it will happen.” And it did. But first this melancholy reproductive subplot had to end, what with the bleeding and the cramping and my drama-queen of a body throwing its miserable clots into the toilet.

This time there is no clarity, of either multiplication or subtraction. This pregnancy stays in a kind of algebraic twilight zone: x = x = ? Nobody knows. At first I picture a stalled-out ball of cells, neither growing nor dying. In nine months I will birth our beautiful blastocyst! I will swaddle it tenderly and push it around proudly in a pram. Babies with limbs and facial features? “Totally overrated!” I’ll say. “This one’s so easy!” I say this to a friend and she tortures me by not laughing. I am left hanging in more ways than I can count.

The stalling continues, and my doctor is on vacation, and her substitute is suspicious. If you might have one, don’t Google “ectopic pregnancy.” You will picture not only your baby growing uncomfortably in your fallopian tube—“Mama! I’m too squashed!”—but also your own death, your motherless children and motherless blastocyst dressed for school by a man who can’t remember if it’s a skirt or a dress that “also has the shirt part.” Blood work, numbers, no change. Day after day.

I am superstitious enough that I worry about the wish I make every year when I blow out my birthday candles: that everything stay the same. What kind of wish is that? It’s a crazy wish! I’m like Midas, only instead of a daughter made of gold I’m going to permanently have a three- and six-year-old, along with this ball of cells. Fifty years from now, I am going to be so sick of these ages. “Why can’t you be more like the ball of cells?” I’ll say to Ben and Birdy. “You don’t hear it arguing about the compost smell!” I always thought this wish was an improvement over my childhood wish—that I not have seen the terrifying Injun Joe cave scene in the Tom Sawyer movie—but now I’m not so sure.

I had not pictured adulthood as the crazy derangement of joy and sadness that it’s turning out to be. The children are lost to us over and over again, their baby selves smiling at us from photo albums like melancholy little ghosts of parenthood past. Where are those babies? They are here and not here. I want to remember the feel of a warm little hand in mine, or the damp, silky weight of a naked kid in my arms straight out of the bath. When I prop Birdy on my hip, she still slings a little arm around my shoulder, jaunty as a boyfriend—but she’s so heavy. The kids grow and grow, they grow right out the door! Like creatures in a Dr. Seuss book about people you love and love and then they move out and leave you and go to college like jerks, marry other people and refuse to live at home with you who love them so much, who loved them first. (Assuming you can even keep them alive that long.) Loss is ahead of us, behind us, woven into the very fabric of our happiness. I don’t wish nothing would change as much as I wish for the absence of more loss.

This, now, is change and loss. We didn’t even want a third child. I will give you a secret piece of advice. Ready? If you are ever kneeling above me with a wrapped condom in your hand and I say, panting, “No, no, we’re good, it’s safe”? We’re not good, and it’s not safe. Just, you know, FYI.

Birdy is three and Ben is six, and I don’t want another baby. I fear change, for one thing (see above), and for another I am starting to be not tired, which is intoxicating. The problem is that, also, I do want another baby. I have always loved to get pregnant, by accident or on purpose, in a way that I can’t really describe or explain. I don’t mean that I always knew I wanted to have kids, although that’s true too. I mean that since I’ve been having sex, I have always, and sometimes secretly, hoped to get pregnant from having it, even at times in my life when I fervently didn’t want to get pregnant. This is as crazy as it sounds. After some poorly-contracepted sex with my high-school boyfriend, I was terrified that I might be pregnant. And by “terrified” I mean something more like tantalized. It would have totally screwed up my track season, but I wanted to be pregnant anyway. The excitement is definitely part of it—the reproductive equivalent of a bee buzzing against your classroom windows, and everyone screaming or running out of the room. A break in the routine! Something fabulously different from American History, even if you end up getting stung! I got my period, between classes, in the third-floor bathroom with the big silver radiator that never turned off, even when it was broiling out. “Phew,” I said from my stall, sweating, to my best friend. “A total relief.” And this was and wasn’t true.

It is not new to me, ambivalence, and the pregnancy desire has not always matched desire itself: I have gotten pregnant with a bonfire raging in my heart, and I have also gotten pregnant with the matter-of-factness of boiling an egg or tripping over the flipped-up corner of the doormat. I have gotten pregnant using birth control well, using it badly, and using it not at all. Which is, you’ll notice, more pregnancies than the number of children I have. And yet every time, I have thrilled to the peed-on plastic stick with its baffling system of symbols: plus, minus, yay, nay. I always want to be pregnant. And even the losses have satisfied an odd craving, like a  hook on which I’ve hung the heap of despair piled up inexplicably on the floor of my psyche. I don’t always understand my own sadness. Me and my Achilles heart.

Did you see the final episode of MASH? Do you remember Hawkeye and his flashback about a woman choking a chicken to death because it was making too much noise on the bus and they feared for their lives? Only then the memory came into focus, and it wasn’t a chicken, it was a baby? In this story, mine, the miscarriage comes into focus and it’s actually an abortion. Only it’s not this miscarriage, it’s an earlier one, which left behind the same agony of emptiness. But that’s not the story I’m choosing to tell you here, although it’s part of this story, the same way old bones are part of the milk in your baby’s cup.

After the red ectopic herring, the numbers drop to zero, and turn this into a plain old miscarriage. Uncertain as I am about the baby, I will be bereaved by its goneness. I will be alone, drinking the bitter reproductive blend of privacy and shame. “You have to remember to ask me about it every day,” I will cry to Michael, whose body will not offer him gory reminders of the wreckage. Later that week, Ben will crawl into bed with us after a nightmare and, moments after Michael whispers, “Tell us all about it, sweetie,” we will hear him gently snoring—which will make Ben and me laugh, but will also make me want to kill him. I will be furious. I will be depressed. Everybody around me will be suddenly hugely pregnant, teetering around on little feet like circus performers. I will take a lot of baths. I will buy a lot of maxi pads. I will kneel on the floor to fish a dark shape out of the toilet, then scrub my hands before touching my living right-here children. The would-be baby will fade into a melancholy background hum, a kind of pale outline that fills in on its due date, on its birthday a year after that. We will try again, but without conviction.  I will start to feel old, to doubt my ability to bear anything other than a phlegmy little clump of cells, to doubt I have the energy to rock the clump to sleep every night.

On medical forms, I will write a number for “pregnancies” and a number for “live births,” and they will not be the same number. I will be indignant. “Live births? Are we guppies?” Eventually, I will be almost entirely happy again, under only the faintest shadow of doubt. Birdy will tell us that she remembers when they took Ben out of my belly. “I was already there, and they saw me there, and they took Benny out, and they closed you back up!” she’ll explain. “I had to wait.” “You were so, so patient,” I’ll say, and she’ll nod smugly and shrug. “I was.”Catherine_Newman-Author20Photo20Catherine20Newman20Credit20Ben20Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir Waiting for Birdy, and the blog Ben and Birdy. The above essay is a selection from her most recent memoir, Catastrophic Happiness, which can be ordered here. She is also the etiquette columnist for Real Simple magazine and a regular contributor to the New York Times Motherlode blog. Her first middle-grade novel will be published in 2017. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her family. 

 

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

depression, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Not Waving, But Drowning: Pregnancy & Depression

February 25, 2016
depression

By Anonymous

As I idly looked at the prescription bottle of sertraline, I realized that one of the light blue warning boxes on the label read: Third trimester use can cause health problems. Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist. My third trimester started yesterday.

Since adolescence, depression has been a presence in my life. When I say depression, I’m talking about the kind that is clinically significant enough to warrant a low dose of antidepressants, but never interfered with my life to ruin a job or school. When I am overwhelmed with responsibilities or work, I take on more. And fulfill all of my obligations. Well, I might add. But when I got the news about my fertility last January, I went off my antidepressant, thinking I would get my body as “healthy” as possible for conception.

I made the decision to become a single mother by choice after getting the news that my ovarian reserve was very, very low. This pregnancy was planned meticulously. I had always wanted to be a mother, fiercely and desperately.

Things went well, until I started progesterone for the second half of my cycle every month for a luteal phase defect. The progesterone caused dark moods, irritability, and depression. Then Clomid gave me mood swings. When I got pregnant, I had to take an even higher dose of progesterone, twice a day, for the first 13 weeks, in order to improve my chances of keeping the pregnancy. That, along with the stress of not knowing how my family would respond, caused me agonizing, crippling anxiety and depression. Constant nausea and bone-crushing fatigue beginning at 6 weeks only added to my depression.

Arriving at my 20 week ultrasound and OB appointment by myself, the tech exclaimed, “All alone?” I said yes, and climbed up on the table. I was more interested in the actual fetal anatomy than any cute pictures – which, to be honest, I didn’t fawn over, nor did I think were cute. In the waiting room, another patient was there, along with her husband, her parents, his parents, and various brothers and sisters, poring over their ultrasound pictures. My pictures were folded up in my bag, and all I wanted to do was go home and sleep.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Don’t Tell Me It’ll All Be Worth It

August 9, 2015

By Abigail Rasminsky

When I was 14 weeks pregnant, my husband and I flew halfway around the world to spend Christmas with his family in rural Nevada. We live in Europe, and by the time we sloughed off our coats and boots at his aunt and uncle’s doorstep—I cannot even begin to tell you how many flights later; I sobbed for most of the journey—I was a wreck. I managed to wave hello to the 10 or so people in attendance, and disappeared into the spare bedroom for most of the visit.

I’d had debilitating nausea since Week 7 and although I’d been told it would dissipate by the end of the first trimester, I woke up every morning pressed firmly against another wave of it. I couldn’t grasp that my decrepit state could, in six months, culminate in something joyful. Although the baby was planned and very much wanted, I seemed to be the only person in my life who wasn’t thrilled by the pregnancy.

On one of my infrequent visits out of the bedroom, my mother-in-law sat down across from me while I took slow bites of a peanut butter sandwich. She raised three boys largely on her own and is one of the very sweetest people on earth, but she seemed puzzled by my state. “It’s all worth it,” she said. My husband’s aunt, also a mother of three, who was bending over backwards to make me feel at home despite my fervently anti-social behavior, chimed in: “Yes! It’s totally, totally worth it.” This became their mantra for the week: It’s all worth it.

Now that I have a child—that child—an absolutely delightful almost-two-year-old whose very being structures and enlivens (and frustrates) my days, I, of course, know exactly what they were saying: This part, this short part, ends—and then the rest of your unimaginable, irrevocably changed life begins. Then you are a mother, hopefully forever. Then you will feel how completely your heart can be turned inside out. Then the pregnancy will be but a blip on a vast and textured landscape.

Pregnancy, however, is all too often treated simply as a gateway—something to get through on the road to the real event, the baby’s birth; not as a momentous, life-altering, and emotionally and physically treacherous event in and of itself. It is rarely something that women are allowed to experience and enact—to speak of—in all its nuanced complexity. Continue Reading…

Anonymous, Grief, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Summer Solstice

June 24, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anonymous

Scout was conceived during the New Moon and was lost during the Summer Solstice. Before I even got the bloodwork results, I felt her leave me as the thunder stormed through the shortest night of the year. Which is silly, of course, since she was only 4 weeks and 2 days.

But I swear, I knew I lost her.

A “chemical pregnancy, “ they call it, since there would be no sac visible on ultrasound that early. To me, there was nothing “chemical” about it. The two pink lines, clear as day, over and over and over – two days’ worth. The nearly immediate instinct to rest my hand on my stomach. After months of trying to be a single mother by choice, two months of Clomid and three of progesterone, I was finally part of that club I envied; those women whose bodies were doing what they were supposed to. Mothers. I walked around, amazed that my life was changed so much already, but no one else could tell. I looked up my due date. February 26, 2016. I wondered if I would have a leap year baby.

When the spotting started hours after the first lines appeared, panic swam through my veins and soaked through my skin. I tried to tell myself it was normal implantation spotting. Instinct told me otherwise.

The next morning, bright red blood spattered the toilet paper and my insides clenched in horror. It kept coming, insistent and scarlet, on the toilet paper, on the pad; later, there were clots. I called the midwife and was sent for bloodwork. I bled through pad after pad. Asked the cab driver to please hurry, this is an emergency. Tried to quell the alarm that was quickly overwhelming me. Laid on my back with my feet up.

I talked with her. Pled with her to stay with me. The night before the positive test, I drank for the first time in months, since the pregnancy test that day was negative. Scout I’m sorry, I know that’s not the best way to start our relationship, but I swear I will never do it again. I feel guilty already; welcome to motherhood, huh? I prayed to Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, Hannah – infertile women of the Old Testament who were eventually blessed with a baby. I begged Yemaya, a goddess of fertility and motherhood, to please help me stay a mother. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

A Bend in the Light

June 18, 2015
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

 

By Aileen Weintraub

It was the morning of my son’s eighth birthday and I was having trouble getting out of bed. In three hours, fifteen family members, including grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, would descend upon my house to celebrate. I pulled the cream colored sheets up to my chin and then tucked the thin tattered quilt firmly around my shoulders to make sure I was wrapped tight. It was a habit I had retained from five months of pregnancy-related bed rest leading up to the birth of my son. The last eight years seemed to have flown by, but when I think about those five months, it still feels like a life sentence. I ignored the familiar pang in my chest that accompanied the memory. Even now, so many years later, I still struggle with remnants.

I had made a promise to myself all those years ago: if this baby survived, no matter what, I would will myself out of bed every morning to care for him. By now I knew that I could face the day, as long as I eased into it. I ticked off a list of to do items for the party: prepare crudités, defrost burgers, clean bathrooms. I gave myself two more minutes under covers, watching the shadows dance on the wall, another habit I had picked up from what I came to refer to as bed rest purgatory. Maybe it was the way the light hit the wall this morning or the fact that we had come so far, but something inside me triggered details I had tried unsuccessfully to cast aside.

It was right around my twenty-ninth day of bed rest, at which point I had become an expert on two fronts: light patterns on varying surfaces and the direction in which dust swirls before it settles. That particular afternoon was a hot June day, and I lay in bed watching the sun streaming through the window making rainbow prisms on the wooden floor. The pressure in my lower belly was unbearable and I raised my hips up onto a yoga block in a poor attempt at relief. Even now, thinking back, I can almost feel the summer’s breath caress the curve of my neck as it passed between the crinkled white curtains. What made this day different than the previous ones is that by then, all the hoopla of bed rest had died down. The phone had ceased ringing, there were no packages in the mail, and I was undeniably alone. The hustle of setting up my space and receiving visitors had held the sadness at bay for the first few weeks. But then, the house fell silent as all the well meaning people went back to their workaday lives. I was unsettled because the very next day would mark the one month anniversary of the emergency sonogram that showed I had three monster fibroids invading my uterus.

Fibroids are bulbous growths that form on the uterine wall. One of them was pressing up against my cervix causing early effacement. Most of the time they are relatively harmless, unless of course they are trying to escape. There was a battle inside my belly, and I was told in no uncertain terms that the fibroids would likely win. The doctor, whom I now only remember as a bleached blond with Louboutin heels and bright red lipstick told me with her head still between my legs that I’d be lucky if my baby made it to twenty-four weeks. I had been eighteen weeks along at the time. Go to bed. Don’t get up. Wait. That was the only treatment she offered. And there I was on that twenty-ninth day, just skimming the surface of the first full month.

The initial shock and fear eventually simmered, leaving in its wake a hollow shell of guilt. In the space of the silent afternoon, just around the time when the light pattern darkened on my bedroom wall, I began to obsess. I worried what people thought of me and I judged myself against other pregnant women. No matter what anyone else had to say, at the time, there was only one way for me to see this. I had failed at the very essence of womanhood. I was an incubator, a stationary vessel in the truest sense.

My mother, in her well meaning way, told me to keep busy, and, to get my mind off my situation, she would send care packages. But once the mail had already arrived, or the UPS driver hadn’t shown up on his morning run, I had nothing left to look forward to for the rest of the day. The afternoons were ruthless.

I had dubbed the hours between 1:00 and 3:00 ‘the endless’ hours. Not a single car on the road drove by, television became a wasteland of soap operas and reruns, and this is when the sadness hit the hardest. I struggled to distinguish the physical pain of the fibroids pressing up against my cervix from the emotional pain that dug a deep pit in my middle. I could drown during those hours, turn deep inside, and never come up for air if I allowed myself to slip. By 3:00, I could muster energy enough to reach over and click on the television remote to watch talk show hosts crack jokes that left me cold.

Each day after that twenty-ninth one I continued to observe the slow and relentless disintegration of my body as if it were detached from me entirely. At every turn, something new failed me: first my uterus, then my cervix, my blood sugar, my joints, the list goes on, and soon I had a small army of vitamins, pills, needles, and medications. For the first time I could sympathize with elderly people who lived inside flesh and bones that just could not keep time with their soaring spirit. I realized what it meant to be in pain every single moment of the day and how it could change your entire personality. I imagined each little joint, artery, and nerve ending, blessing them and saying silent prayers that nothing else would fail and that this baby would thrive. Even now to this day I say a prayer, thankful for my life right down to my smallest blood vessel.

It took a while to realize, but sometimes there is simply no pill or procedure, or anything else. Sometimes it’s just you and whatever or whomever you believe in trying to figure out how to get through the next moment. Unlike other people suffering from depression, by the very nature of this beast, I could not change my environment. I could not “take my mind off things” even if I wanted to. It was a test not only of emotional and physical endurance but of mental acuity. It would have been so easy to follow the darkness in its entirety, to go deeper.

My husband was dutiful, making me a cooler packed with food in the mornings and leaving it bedside, calling once a day, and even stopping by with the occasional chocolate ice cream shake or other goody. But he had just bought a lawn and power equipment dealership that, it turns out, we had no idea how to run. As a matter of fact, we closed on the business the very day I was sentenced to purgatory. How’s that for tear your hair out stress? He tried to hold it all together, juggling a sick wife who cried all day and a fledging business. Mostly he came home and vomited from stress.

In the evenings, once he had shoveled a handful of cashews or almonds into his mouth, probably his only dinner, he would make his way into the bedroom and stand over the bed, his tall, slim figure casting a looming shadow. One night he asked me how I was holding up. I didn’t know how to answer so instead we made small talk. Our marriage was fresh and new, and we were not well equipped to deal with the impending tragedy of a child lost. But then again, who is? That night he watched me with love in his eyes, but tempered by a look of pity and concern. That was when I knew he felt as hopeless as I did. From then on, I began to sleep away the days, but even that was not without hesitation because my dreams were riddled with nightmares.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Pregnancy

First Response.

May 19, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Diana Whitney

Nothing makes you feel youthful like walking into your local Rite Aid and asking the pale pimply girl behind the counter where to find the pregnancy tests.  Giving her a casual smile, talking fast.  Trying to keep your composure, as if you were looking for sunscreen or Q-tips, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to conceal.

Of course the people who work in drugstores deal in all manner of products to treat the humiliations of the body—Wart Remover, Pepto-bismol, Ex-lax, Tampax, Depends, Trojans…  At this point in my life I could request condoms without blushing. But their polar opposite? I never thought I‘d need another.

Choose your color—Clear Blue Easy or Disney-Princess pink First Response, which I bought because it was on sale, two for $12.99, and because the name suggested an emergency, and the answer to an emergency.  By now I scorned the promises implied on the blue box, knowing there was nothing clear or easy about my situation.

A slinking, adolescent mood came over me as I made my purchase, trying to camouflage the pink tests among neutral items like soap and Ibuprofen. In the makeup aisle I’d caught a glimpse of myself in a face-sized mirror— cheeks flushed with a girlish glow.  My skin was bathed in a hormone cocktail more potent than an antioxidant facial or a night of orgasms.  Meanwhile my daughters were out in the car listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I’d given them gum and strode off into the drugstore, leaving them free to roam the seats and practice blowing bubbles while Harry walked alone into the Forbidden Forest to give himself up to the Dark Lord for the last time.

Did the counter girl assume I was hopeful about the test?  She couldn’t know I’d gotten the IUD out after almost six years—the copper Y inside me a foreign body triggering torrential monthly bleeding even while it served its baby-proofing purpose.   Goodbye and good riddance, I’d thought.  The doctor had tried to coax me onto the pill right then and there but I stood my ground, feet still in the stirrups—no more hormones, no more chemicals.

You see, Doctor, my man promised he’d get a vasectomy and until then we’d use old school methods like Pull Out and Pray.  We were practiced at this kind of prayer.  Plus, how easy could it be to get pregnant at 40?  With the IUD gone I felt light and airy.  I floated across the parking lot and ambitiously bought a 20-pack of lambskin condoms, looking the cashier right in the eye.

In Chinese medicine there is a fifth season between summer and fall, and in this late August torpor a window opened, blue and gold and loud with cricket-song.  The veil between the worlds parted and I found myself half off the bed, hair grazing the floor.

His mouth on my exposed throat, my mouth on the warm curve of his ear, we moved without thought or effort, fallen gods in a pile of sheets who never paused to peel open foil.  Time collapsed into breath and sunlight, arch and abandon, levitation of pleasure.

A few weeks later I found myself in that unwieldy act of peeing on a bright pink stick for “NOT LONGER THAN 5 SECONDS”—counting one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, etc. Then replacing the cap on the absorbent tip and laying the stick with the display window face-up on the bathroom counter and folding laundry, urgently, for the requisite three-minute wait.  How many absorbent tips have I wet in my lifetime? How this awkward rite unites me with nameless women everywhere, in our common hopes or fears, our shock, elation or despair.

Driving home from Rite Aid I had to pause Harry Potter, unable to bear the boy’s bravery and sacrifice in the face of my impending choice.  In the silence, Ava and Carmen immediately started squabbling over the last piece of bubble gum.

“Girls,” I mused, not for the first time, “what would you do if you had a little brother back there in a baby seat?”

“I’d kick him in the butt!” snarled Carmen.

“I’d HATE him,” said Ava simply.  End of discussion. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Pregnancy, Relationships

I Used To Believe In Magic

April 18, 2015

By Natalie D-Napoleon

My father was an atheist who believed that facts and science were the only thing worth basing your life on.  My mother is a Catholic, and believes in faith and prayer. Me? I used to believe in magic.

###

I’m embarrassed to say I believed Santa existed until I was 11, and my mother had to tell me he wasn’t real. I was the eldest child of four and the eldest cousin of 11, so there were no older siblings or cousins to pop my magic-believing bubble.

From the mystical power of pyramids to prevent cheese from molding and hanging upside down in yoga poses to increase the capacity of my brain I graduated to an interest in tarot cards, Jung and astrology. Jung’s signs of synchronicity and deja vu governed my life for a time, and their appearance I always took as a pointer that my life was going in the right direction; that magic was happening and I was where I needed to be in that moment.

But over time I stopped believing in magic. Magic was lies adults told to children to get them to behave, it was mythology and fairy tales, serendipity and synchronicity. The adult world taught me those things no longer existed, that magic was for children, and for those who wanted to stay children longer than they should.

My father had always been right. Magic was for those who are by nature dreamers, and my dreams had become boring, tedious, painful and adult.

###

I was sitting in my Mazda 3 in the parking lot of the university where I worked, on my cell phone, talking to Steve and sobbing.  “I can’t do it. I can’t do exploratory surgery when we don’t even know for sure if that will give us the answers we’re looking for.”

“Nat, I don’t know what to say.  Do you want to get pregnant or not?”

“I do, but…”

“Then have the laparoscopy, don’t cancel it.”

“I can’t. She said in most cases they don’t even find anything. It’s exploratory surgery. I just… I can’t do it.”

I called back the doctor’s office where I’d just finished completing my admissions forms for a laparoscopy and endoscopy in eight weeks’ time, and cancelled the surgery.

###

For two and a half years we had been trying to get pregnant.

We had tried everything.

I’d had blood tests every morning for weeks to track my hormones at a fertility clinic, plastered with pictures of happy mothers and families with babies on the walls; we’d fucked like rabbits in every position imaginable; and, finally we’d tried the Creighton Model Fertility Care System – no invasive techniques for this natural couple.  The CMFS involved a system of tracking cervical mucus using an infuriating and methodical system of checking wiped toilet tissue and recording my cervical mucus consistency, length and color, every day of the month to determine when I was ovulating. All the while we watched my best friend get pregnant, twice, my sister in law unknowingly use the girl’s name I’d picked, Lillian, and attended so many first birthday parties for our friends’ children that they now outnumbered the adult parties we went to.

It was not long after that that I ended up in the bathroom with a men’s Bic safety razor in my hands.

###

Steve screamed from the other side of the door at me to open it or he was going to smash it in.

I hated the fact that I loved my possessions so much and the door of my house so much that I couldn’t stand the thought of it being smashed. Fuck! I hated that money was so tight I hated spending it on anything unnecessary – for the sake of him finding me balling with a shaving razor in my hand.

I unlocked the door. And I sobbed a cry from so deep inside me that I thought I might never regain my “self”.  I wasn’t really going to slash my wrists but I was so desperate for a way out of the thousandth fight/conversation/emotional meltdown about our fertility problems that I didn’t know what else to do.

I was grieving for the loss of my fertility, my relationship, my music career, and my dreams of having a child to play on the lawn we had tended to in the yard. We had dug the trenches for the reticulation with my dad who had also helped us lay the pipe and solder it to the water main. We had spread the fertilizer on the ground, then worked in the lawn runners, watered it every day for the first month, then two or three times a week after that to get the runners to take. The lawnmower guy came over once every two weeks to mow it. And I spent my free time hand-weeding, to make sure there were no pesticides or herbicides used on our property.

The lawn was verdant and lush was waiting for tiny feet. All the while we tended to our lawn I had visions of my child or children running around on the grass, playing, giggling, and falling down.

Being safe, being home.

Instead I was sitting at the edge of the bath tub sobbing; impotent and holding a man’s safety razor in my hands.  There was no magic left in my life only the grinding reality of our infertility.

###

I met Steve when I bought a Rickenbacker on lay-away from him at a local music store.  I had started my first band and we’d just started gigging. When I returned the fourth time to make my last payment I asked Steve if he knew anyone who gave electric guitar lessons. He answered, “Yeah, I do.” We set up a date and a time to meet at his place and I set off with those little moths of impending love beating their wings in my chest.

When I turned up for my first guitar lesson synchronicity seemed to be at work again when I noticed he had a block-mounted poster of Susannah Hoffs from the Bangles propped against the wall in his bedroom, holding her black and white Rickenbacker, the same model as mine. I went for a guitar lesson, we started dating and I and never got another formal lesson from him – a running joke in our relationship.

When we separated I sold that Rickenbacker to fund the first solo EP I recorded, “After the Flood”.

###

We fell in love then moved in together eight months later, just after I turned 22.  He convinced me the guys in my band weren’t on my musical trajectory, so I broke up the band before it had run its course. I wanted to move on and fulfil my musical vision, and I let him convince me we could write better songs together.

The first song we wrote together happened so easily I thought that was the sign confirming that fate was at work once again. The song had a haunting guitar part in open D tuning. I began to sing over the chords and the words of the chorus tumbled out of my mouth, a gift, “My fear of falling eats me and it swallows me up / My fear of falling eats me and it fills my cup.”

After this Steve was never happy unless we wrote a song together. Once we’d started performing together as an acoustic duo, I wrote three songs on my own and played them to him, hungry for feedback. He made no comment on the songs, but instead asked, “What about me, where’s my place in this?  I…I just don’t know where my place is in our duo if you go off and write songs on your own.”

I enrolled in a Master of Arts in Creative Writing and withdrew because he said I needed to choose what I wanted to do, play music or write, because I couldn’t do both.

My problem was I wanted to do everything.

My problem was I was too afraid to follow my dreams.

My partner and I were like idealistic children adrift in a sea of adult responsibility, clinging to each other, yet drowning the other person in our panic to hang onto our dreams.

That was it, the map of what was to become was all there in that first song. The pomegranate had been split open, Persephone had taken a bite. From this song on I would be forever trapped in this underworld of my own making.

###

I wasn’t “ill” but I was suffering physically. Infertility leaves its sufferers in an illness purgatory. I didn’t look sick, but my body was painfully and clearly failing to do what it should: to make a baby, grow a baby, and bring a baby into the world.

There was not a single person in our family or social circle who had dealt with infertility. Admitting our struggle to family and friends only made the situation worse. “You two just need to relax,” became the empty advice mantra, which implied our problems were the fault of our character or attitude, rather than a fault of our bodily functions. So, from then on we vowed to keep our struggles “personal” and by implication secret and cloaked in shame. I took it upon myself to solve the problem by becoming consumed with the task of getting pregnant, and it was the one thing that filled my every waking hour.

Having a child would save our relationship and the life I’d built with my partner, Steve, who I had loved desperately, had imagined growing old with, having children with and continuing to share my creative musical life with.

The doctor we were working with in the Crighton Model Fertility System sent me back to the fertility clinic to get another hormonal blood work up, to track my levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), estrogen and progesterone levels, which involved returning every second day for almost two weeks. The marks on my easily bruised arms covered up by Band-Aids and long-sleeved tops.

I had to believe making a child involved some sort of combination of magic, voodoo and timing we hadn’t yet worked out the hidden formula to. The answer was there, all we needed to do was hang on as we’d been doing for the last two and a half years.

###

“Nat you have to check his phone.” I talking to my best friend Donna and she was getting annoyed with me and the high moral ground stance I’d taken.

“But I can’t, it’s not fair. I can’t go behind his back and do that. That’s not the type of person I am. I’ve asked him, I’ve asked him already 20 times. He said there’s nothing going on with her.”

Then she told me she saw it, a few other people saw it. He was playing with her bracelet at my birthday party at a local craft brewery, and it wasn’t the action alone, but the intimacy of the gesture. This was another incident to add to the list of events that had transpired in the last seven months and cumulated with the bracelet-touching incident.

The phone, his phone had become the thing.

Steve spent most of his free time checking his phone, holding it underneath the table during most of my cousin’s wedding, disappearing around corners to check it, and leaving the table at family dinners. His cell phone’s constant beeping became a background to our home life and he spent most of his time hiding from me, tapping away text messages, searching for a way out.

During this week the intensity of his phone use increased, and the woman I suspected he’d been texting had been away in Europe for that week with her boyfriend visiting family. I knew it was her, but it couldn’t be her. We’d been camping together, had couples’ dinners together, I had worked with her just before I left the college.  She had a handsome, gentle, intelligent boyfriend who loved her. She’d been to my house and admired my things, picked up my grandmother’s blue 60’s Jeanie bottle, touched it and complimented me on my taste. The two of them had been working together at the college for seven months, in a job I’d gotten for him since another of his musical ventures had failed and I’d moved on to ESL teaching.

The next morning was a Saturday; while Steve had a shower I got up and grabbed his phone off our cream linoleum kitchen bench. I opened it quickly before I could second guess myself again and read the first text. It was from her:

“I L U & I miss U. Can’t w8 2 C U again. XXX.”

And one before from him, “1 wk 2 go til I C U again. I L U. XXX”

Just like that a knife had been taken to my heart and popped the magic believing bubble that held our love and our life together.

Babies lost, a lawn untread by children’s feet, songs never to be recorded and falling, falling with nowhere to land.

A line from ‘Fear of Falling’, the first song we wrote together, echoed through my mind as the room began to move, “Eve felt it too, that cold, wet, dark drop / Eve felt the fall before the apple dropped”.

I grabbed the edge of the kitchen sink and as if in some Lifetime B-grade film the walls of the room closed in towards me, the ground beneath me seemed to ripple. By the time I was able to breathe again I bolted to our en-suite and shoved the messages in his face as he stepped out of the shower naked.

He had no lies or excuses left. I knew; I had known all along. Our relationship was over. Like watching a structurally unsound high rise building get demolished by explosives the trying was over. It felt good to know where I stood once again. The walls stopped moving, the ground stood still and I knew from this moment on that there would be no more shame or secrets or lies. Only the solid ground I chose to walk on beneath my feet.

###

After we separated I continued seeing the couples’ therapist we had been to. One afternoon I went in for a solo appointment and told her about a dream I’d had that morning.

“I was underground, in a tunnel. This strange man had captured me and had kept me there for a long time. I was in a foreign country, somewhere in South-East Asia, maybe Malaysia. And all I had to eat was noodles. He gave me the same thing to eat every day. Noodles. The strange thing was, when I ate the noodles he let me go above ground, where we would eat in an outdoor restaurant, with a thatched roof, by the roadside. That was the best part of the day; I liked that, being out of the dark tunnel. In the dream I decided I’d finally had enough, so I told him, ‘I’m sick of eating noodles. I don’t want to eat the same thing anymore’. And I just got up and walked away into the street, disappearing into a crowd of people. I didn’t look back and he didn’t come after me or try to stop me.”

“Well, I don’t think you need me to tell you what that means,” she smiled. “I guess you won’t be eating noodles anymore.”

###

What happened to magic? The answer is I still play music, but I learned to ignore the voice that told me I couldn’t write songs or perform alone. I recorded an album of songs I wrote in the United States called “Leaving Me Dry”, with the help of a group of like-minded musicians. I began writing again and recently re-enrolled in a Master’s of Writing. I met a man, Brett, who helped me heal, who is kind and gentle and lets me be the person I need to be. We eloped and got married in California. Then, when we were ready I scheduled an endoscopy and laparoscopy.

Two days before the surgery I received an email from Steve. The subject of the email seemed neutral enough so I opened it. Inside the email he told me that the she of the text messages and he were married and pregnant. For the last time I put aside my pride and hurt, and the feelings of fear I had for the wolf at the door. I opened the door a crack and replied, “Congratulations. I’m sure you’ll have the happy life you deserve together. BTW in two days’ time I’m going in to have a laparoscopy and endoscopy”.

It was no surprise to me when he never replied to my email.

When I had the surgery the surgeon discovered five lesions of endometriosis and a benign cyst on one ovary that he removed.

One month later, after I’d recovered from the surgery, I took the fertility drug Clomid, to help stimulate ovulation and increase egg production. Then I made myself a little shrine in my room, with a picture of the Virgin Mary, a Buddha statue, a rock of amethyst and Brett’s favorite sea shell. Then I prayed to a higher power for the child I’d always dreamt of. I told my mother we were trying, and she said she’d pray for me. I didn’t say anything to my father, I knew he’d say it would all come down to science and medicine, and that it would be up to sperm and eggs and fallopian tubes and mucus to function in the way they were meant to.

I fell pregnant the first month we tried after the surgery.

I no longer dream of running through dark tunnels.

I started eating noodles again.

Sometimes magic comes when you call it, and sometimes no matter how hard you try, even magic needs a little help from fate and science.

Natalie D-Napoleon was raised on a farm on the outskirts of, Perth, Western Australia. She began writing poetry at ten years of age to cure her childhood insomnia. For 20 years she toured and performed as a singer-songwriter playing shows from Sweden, across Australia and in the United States. Currently, she lives in California and works as a writing tutor at a community college while completing a Master of Arts in Writing. She has had short stories, poetry and editorials published at The Manifest-Station, Literary Orphans, LA Yoga Magazine and The Santa Barbara News-Press.
The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 25th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 25th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Mother's Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being.  Click photo to book.   "Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing. She listens. She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you. Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening. And what her kind of listening does is simple: It saves lives." ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Mother’s Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. Click photo to book.
“Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing.
She listens.
She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you.
Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening.
And what her kind of listening does is simple:
It saves lives.” ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

 

Featured image by Joe Longo.

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood, Pregnancy

Letter To My Fifteen Year Old Self: For Every Pregnant Teen Who Feels Alone.

April 4, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Alma Luz Villanueva.

(For every pregnant teen who thinks, feels, she’s alone.)

San Francisco, the Mission Barrio, 1960-

I see you standing at the very edge of the rooftop, gazing down into the darkness. The garden below. Where the roses are blooming. Your step (real) father, Whitey, tends these roses. Your mother doesn’t believe in roses. You lean into that darkness. No fear. Not really. You were the tomgirl who jumped/leaped roof to roof to avoid the streets for blocks. And just for fun. The thrill shot through your body. You leaned. You leaped. Sometimes barely making it. Barely landing. Fear. Then laughter. Your tomgirl pal following you. Roof to roof. San Francisco, the Mission. Your childhood city.

Why are you leaning at the edge of the rooftop, gazing down into the darkness? The roses blooming. No scent from the edge, but you can see the blood red petals shadowed in moonlight. Some are fully blossomed, ready to shed their beauty. To touch the earth. Die, transform. Some are tight, baby blossoms; tiny slivers of blood red barely revealed. Still in the womb. They sing their whisper song of blood red. Beauty.

You’re pregnant at 15, gazing into darkness. Listening to the songs of the blossomed roses, and the whisper songs of the baby bud roses. Still in the womb. You’re pregnant at 15, alone, at the edge. Leaning. Into the darkness.

Stars pulsing overhead. Some brighter than others. Alive with light. Your favorite place. The roof. View of the city lights. Silence. You sit down at the edge, letting your feet dangle. Night breeze on your sweaty face. You wishing, suddenly, that you still passed as a boy on the city streets. Your night time visits to Dolores Park, sitting high in the pepper trees. The Bay Bridge a shiny necklace across the dark water. A few times you had to run for it when a pervert spotted you, perched so high and happy. Sometimes you sang the old Baptist church song, “I have a joy joy joy joy down in my heart…” And sometimes you sang parts of “Canta, No Llores…Sing, Don’t cry,” the parts you remembered that Mamacita knew by heart. You whisper sing those parts now, your sandaled feet dangling over the edge. And you smile because you see Mamacita, so clearly, in the alive stars, lifting her long skirt. Dancing. You join her, dancing.

You remember the morning ritual of sharing dreams, the hot chocolate, cinnamon on top, steaming your face. You almost always woke up to Mamacita praying, singing to the Child Sun in Yaqui. Her rattle. Tears and joy in that strange, beautiful language you never learned. But you loved to hear. She told you it was a song to El Niño Sol, to be born safely every dawn. You thought if Mamacita didn’t sing that song every morning, there would be only darkness. Night. No Child Sun. Birth. Dawn.

You didn’t know what birth was, being born. Except your mother, Lydia, once told you she almost pulled a sink out of the wall, in the hospital, when you were born. That it hurt like hell, that’s what she said. You asked Mamacita once, “Does it hurt the Child Sun’s Mamå when he’s born?” She laughed, “Every birth has pain, niña, but when la Mamå Tierra gets to hold her child, el regalo de luz…the gift of light, that warm little body, she laughs. Now, tell me your dream, mi Alma.” (All conversation in Spanish, Mamacita never spoke English.)

You would tell her your four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten year old dreams, and she would tell you hers. When you were six you told Mamacita you kept falling in your dream. She gently, then firmly, touched your shoulder blades, left and right, massaging them.

“These are your wings, niña. When you begin to fall in your dream, remember them, where they are. Right here.” Left and right, massaging each one firmly. Gently. “When you begin to fall, remember your wings, open them wide.” She’d spread her arms wide, smiling, her eyes on fire. “You’re ready to fly, niña, remember, open your wings wide. Your wings. Right here.” Left and right, each one.

You remember stealing your first bike as the pre-dawn wind begins to chill you on the rooftop. You lay on your back, the old blanket you hide up there under you. Some of it covering you as you gaze at the brightest star, so alive with light. You don’t know the star’s name- Venus, Quetzalcoatl. Years later you would call this pre-dawn, dancing with light, star by name. This night you remember seeing a brand new bike lying on the street by itself. You were eleven. You walked by the bike twice. No one claimed it, so you did. Riding to Golden Gate Park with your tomgirl amiga, sometimes alone (instead of boring school); riding down the final hills to the so green forest entrance, the scent of green, felt like flying. The magical fern forest, as tall as trees, the sun barely peeked through. Damp earth. The tall fern trees, large flowering plants beneath them. Large purple flowers, the size of a baby’s head, always made you laugh. And when the fairies welcomed you- their small, tinkling voices- you knew you were safe. If they didn’t, you rode away as fast as you could. Flying to safety.

You woke up one morning- your first flying dream- the large mirror over the bed you shared with Mamacita. She was singing to the Child Sun. You stood up and looked down at the bed and saw your self sleeping. You felt so sorry for her, that she had a to be in a body, that you knew how to fly and didn’t need her body. In fact, at that moment, her body disgusted you. You didn’t want to return. You looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize your six year old face. What scared you back to life. Back into your sleeping, dreaming (flying) girl body.

When you told Mamacita your first flying dream, she made you cafécito con leche with still warm pan dulce from the store down the street. But you never told her about the girl in the mirror that didn’t need a body- who returned to live. Your life. Who saw your life and stayed. You sipped your cafécito con leche and ate two fresh pan dulces, celebrating your first flight. At six. With Mamacita.

***

You wake up to warmth on your face. The Child Sun licking you with warmth. The bright star fading. You sit up, facing the Child Sun and begin to sing your own song to his birth. And the baby bud roses join you. Still in the womb. You’ll wait for your mother to leave for work, taking your baby brother to his sitter. Then you’ll go downstairs to Whitey’s house (your step/real father), use your key to enter. Fix hot chocolate with cinnamon on top in his clean kitchen Some toast with jam. Go down into the garden to pick some blossoming roses, leaving the baby bud roses to dream. Still in the womb.

(The Birth)

“I can’t marry you. My parents say you’ll have ten kids in ten years.” The boy is crying as you both walk to your favorite restaurant where no one goes. For tea, coffee, a piece of pie. Sometimes the dinner special. He pays. He has two parents and their house is always clean. You go there once. His parents are white and their eyes say, Dirty Mexican. Sometimes you and the boy walk clear to the ocean, talking, laughing, sometimes crying, telling sad stories, and funny ones too. He tells you, “My mother used to tie me up in a chair with clothesline and gag me. She made me stay there for hours and sometimes I’d fall asleep. I learned not to cry or scream, just wait. Till she untied me. When I cried and screamed the rope made me bleed. She’d say, ‘Are you ready to behave?’ I’d nod my head yes.”

Then you and the boy take the trolley back to the Mission, from the ocean. Home. Promising to meet at the corner of 16th and Guerrero. Then one time he doesn’t come. You see him at school and he turns away, his friends laughing. Years later you find out that the word Guerrero means warrior.

Your mother, Lydia, tells a neighbor, “She didn’t want to marry him.” The neighbor smiles kindly into your eyes, “Only the good girls get caught, honey.”

You’re two weeks overdue. The doctor at St Mary’s Clinic, just three blocks from your place, tells you, “It looks like your baby’s small, so that’s okay. Plus, you’re just a kid yourself,” kind smile. But the nuns hate you. They can barely contain their contempt. An unmarried fifteen year old, pregnant, about to give birth in their Catholic hospital. The nuns want you to give your baby up for adoption. They bring in a different nun each time after the kind doctor leaves.

“How do you plan to take care of this baby, child?” Thin lips, contempt. Eyes hard, trying to kill you. You hate them back, refuse to cry. Guerrero, warrior.

“You’re going to suffer for this sin and your baby too. Do you want this for your baby?” You just smile and they finally leave you alone. You also give them los ojos de bruja…the witch eyes. The eyes you’d give to the old church ladies when they’d call you gringita and you knew they went home and broke an egg over their head for protection. You pictured the nuns breaking an egg over their bald heads, and you had to keep yourself from laughing. Guerrero, warrior.

The pains begin around your belly, and your best friend, Judy, is there at your mother’s place. Whitey cooks you special food so the baby will be healthy, and you go upstairs to his place to eat. You also bring your baby brother, John. It’s always clean, some music playing softly, his voice, “Ya look pretty damn good, kid, must be the food so chow down, and your favorite dessert, cherry cake. Hope that baby likes cherry cake, kid,” he laughs.

You’ve been taking care of John, cleaning the apartment, cooking breakfast and lunch. Dinner at Whitey’s. You even go to open house at John’s school, and a field trip to the zoo. When you and John enter the Lion House, just as they’re feeding them, and they begin to ROAR so your bones rattle, he begins to cry. Scream. You pick him up and run for it, like fuck those lions, caged. Their only moment to pretend they hunted, killed that raw mound of meat they’re devouring. That roar. John clings to you, safety. Fuck those sad assed lions.

The pains get worse, so Lydia brings you a ‘screwdriver,’ she calls it, and one for Judy. Orange juice with something funny in it, but it tastes pretty good. You have two. Judy barely finishes hers. You, Judy and Lydia walk the three blocks to Saint Mary’s, joking and laughing all the way. Even the pain is funny (still). John’s with Whitey- “I’ll be up ta see ya, kid, and don’t you worry, women been having babies for-ever!” You think of the baby, the tiny rosebud, trying to be born. Come out of you. You felt her move just once, but clearly, from one side of your stomach to the other. Her foot, that bump. You dreamt her, so you know, her. Her name, Antoinette Therese. You want her to be a queen. You tell no one about the dream, especially the nuns. If Mamacita were alive, you’d tell her of course. But you know Mamacita knows everything anyway. You heard her voice deep in your right ear. Guerrero, warrior, “No te dejas, niña.” She’d toss you out the door when you’d come in crying, to take care of yourself. Fight back. La vida. Guerrero, warrior.

The nuns are shocked, your laughing face. They take you to a room, all by yourself, and leave you there. There’s a window to the street. Guerrero Street. Some trees. You push the window open. Wind. The birds are singing to the Child Sun grown old, tired. Stretches of blood-red-violet. Mamacita had a song for the Child Sun grown old, tired. You hear her voice, the rattle, but not the words. The pain in your belly comes and goes, making you double over and moan. You begin to walk the room between pains and it helps. You’re still a little dizzy from the orange juice drink but fading- no one to talk to, joke with.

You remember how Mamacita floated you when you were sick, so you focus on the fluttering leaves, the sound of the wind, and begin to sing softly- “Old Child Sun, don’t be afraid, go to sleep, dream, in the morning you’ll be born again, Child Sun, don’t be afraid.” Then you double over with the pain but keep floating like the wind, straighten up to breathe the fluttering leaves and walk the room. “Don’t be afraid, old Child Sun, don’t be afraid…”

The door opens. “You should be lying down, not walking around, what are you doing!” the nun shouts. She shuts the window, hard, and leaves.

You get up and open the window, begin to walk again. The pain is like dying lying down, and you’re all alone, but not really. There’s the wind, the trees, the birds still singing, and Mamacita’s rattle filling the room. Her voice. Flotating.

The nun returns, her face full of hate. “I thought you’d be up again, you people!” And you know she means Mexicans, you people. She’s very white, she’ll never have a baby, she thinks God loves her better than you, a fifteen year old girl giving birth, alone. You hate her back, don’t cry. And you think of the baby Jesus born in a manger, his parents poor and wandering. The story goes in the Baptist Church. And you always loved the baby Jesus, and you think of his mother, Mary, giving birth in the cold ass manger surrounded by stinky farm animals. You smile.

The nun slams the window shut, hands you a tiny paper cup. “Here, take these, it’ll make you sleep, it’s bad for you to be walking around like a wild animal.” Face of disgust, hate.

You give her your best malo ojos de bruja and think, sleep. The room is dark, a thin light from the bathroom. Sleep.

You wake up to such pain you scream once, catch yourself and begin to moan. You can’t help it. You wonder how this baby, your daughter you’ve dreamt, is going to come out of you. At this moment it feels like she’s killing you, and, again, how will she come out, you wonder as you moan, the killing pain the killing pain the killing pain…

(Fast forward)

Years later this 5lb 4oz daughter, Antoinette, as Head Nurse Critical Care, will come upon a fifteen year old girl on her rounds, giving birth all alone, screaming. They can’t sedate her. She fights them off. My daughter, to the doctor’s shock, climbs into bed with her, behind her, wrapping her arms around her, telling her, “Breathe, breathe, I’m here with you, you’re not alone, breathe…” The doctor orders her out of the bed. She tells him, “I’m Head Nurse, Dr_____, and you can fuck off!” The birthing girl laughs, relaxes, and gives birth, screaming as the crowning begins, while my daughter holds her tight. “Breathe, breathe, now push…” Later as the girl holds her daughter, she tells her, “My mother was your age when she had me, and you’re going to be fine. You’re a fighter like my Mom, so you and your daughter will be just fine.”

Saddle block. Numb from waist down. They wheel you into a bright, white room. “Turn the mirror, she shouldn’t watch this.” The birth. Your daughter. You’re too young to insist, “I want to watch.” You finally see the doctor holding up a blue baby by her ankles. You felt nothing. Where she came out of. But there she is and she begins to cry, a thin wail. Her tiny body pulsing pink, alive. Later on, your Tia Ruth tells you Antoinette was born on Mamacita’s birth day. A sliver of Mamacita’s spirit, la curandera, the healer, this daughter.

You begin to cry. You want to hold her, but you’re too young to insist. They take her away. He stitches you up. No one speaks to you except for the doctor, once. “Are you glad it’s a girl?” He tries to be kind, but his voice conveys duty. Not the same one you saw in the clinic, whose hand felt warm on your shoulder, kind.

You nod your head yes. The nurse nun says, “She refuses to speak, doctor, don’t waste your breath.” She wheels you into a room with other mothers and she asks, “Do you plan to breastfeed?” Your mind whirls, breast feed, as in how in the fuck do you do that?

“No,” the word comes out of you.

Look of disgust, the usual hate. She returns and wraps thick bandages around your still-girl breasts. “So your milk dries up,” voice cold.

They promise to bring your daughter the next morning- the Child Sun’s warmth filling the room- you’ve been waiting for hours. One nurse nun said she was bringing your daughter right away, but it’s been hours. You finally insist, “I want to see my daughter.” The woman next to you says, “They promised to bring her baby a couple of hours ago. I’ve already held my baby many times.”

“You’re breastfeeding,” the nurse nun says, warmly. Warmly. The woman is older and white, and she later tells you this is her sixth baby, that she’s Catholic. And she asks, “Are you going to keep your baby, hon?”

She’s so tiny, your daughter. You open the blanket. The wonder of her perfect body. She’s perfect, her so tiny, pink rose toes. Her perfect, translucent hands, each delicate finger. There’s a wound on her belly button, still bloody. You open her diaper- a girl a girl a girl.

A young nurse nun brings a bottle of milk- you’ve never seen her before. “What’s her name?” she asks, handing you the bottle.

“Antoinette.”

“What a beautiful name for a beautiful baby,” she smiles. “A friend is here to see you, so when you finish feeding Antoinette I’ll let her in.”

“Thank you,” you smile into the young nun’s kindness. Sweet face. She’s probably eight years older than you, her twenties, you realize, and you wonder if she’ll become a nasty ass nun when she’s older.

As you feed your daughter, your breasts begin to ache under the tight bandages. It would be this way for the next four days, as they change the wet, sticky bandages. The young nun nurse changes them twice, each time tears come to her eyes. She bathes your girl-breasts in warm, soapy water- the other nurse nuns with cold, soapy water- and she strokes your hair.

Your mother, Lydia, finally comes on the third day after work. “You’re a mother now,” she says coldly. Just those words.

***

A week later, when your daughter’s wound on the belly button falls off, you think she’s falling apart. You bundle her up and run to St Marys crying. The kind doctor explains, “That’s where the cord was between you and your daughter when she was inside of you. That’s how you fed her, that cord. She doesn’t need it anymore, so it fell off. Now you feed her without the cord, isn’t that right?” He touches your shoulder, that warmth.

You stop crying, nod yes, and walk back to your mother’s place, holding your daughter tightly. So you don’t drop her, ever.

*

Your daughter would have colic and cry/scream for a long time after you fed her, every hour or so, in the beginning. You found that laying her on your chest, your heart, she’d fall asleep, and so would you.

One night, she was in her bassinet- the one you decorated with lace and ribbons (yes, you stole them from the five and dime store). You woke up to Lydia’s voice yelling, “SHUT UP SHUT UP!” She was shaking the bassinet, hard, yelling. You were up in one movement, throwing Lydia against the wall- you’d not ever touched her this way.

“If you ever touch my baby again I’ll kill you!” you screamed. You picked up the bassinet with crying Antoinette, taking her to the front room with the sad assed couch. Brought your blankets and slept on the sad assed couch with her on your chest, your heart.

The next morning the cops came. She told them you threatened to kill her. You told them why, crying- your baby, your daughter, barely a month old. Both cops looked at you with pity, telling your mother, Lydia, to work things out and left. She banged things around; it was Saturday, no work. She didn’t touch the bassinet, but she banged things so loudly your daughter woke up crying.

You took your daughter, your baby brother, up to Whitey’s place. He fixed you all a pancake breakfast with bacon. “You could live here for awhile, kid, I’ll take the couch. There’s no talkin’ to that woman, I know.”

You tell him what happened, why you threw her up against the wall. His face goes red. With anger. “Yeah, you and that baby stay here till we can work something out, maybe your own place.”

You’d go to welfare, holding your daughter tight. You’d stay at Whitey’s for a while, taking care of John, but not going into Lydia’s place. You’d never return to her place again, to live. To trust her. She was your birth mother, that’s all. She was not Mamacita.

When you finally got your own place with a roommate, one year older- she worked as a waitress and she was Mexican like you. You stopped taking care of your baby brother- and that broke your heart, but you couldn’t be your baby’s mother and his at the same time. She would yell, “Shut up!” when he cried and forget he was just hungry. You told Whitey to make sure John ate, especially dinner.

“Don’t you worry none, kid, I’ll be on it.”

“Even when you drink cause I’m coming back to check on stuff.”

“Dinner’ll be ready every night, so you and John eat here, you understand, Pocahontas.” This made you smile, your old name. “I’ll make sure things are okay before I get friendly with Jack Daniels, don’t you worry, Pocahontas.”

Whitey would pay your part of the rent and bring groceries every Saturday when he wasn’t being friendly with Jack Daniels. And when he and Jack got together, he made sure to bring you money before he did. And he’d bring your baby brother, John, leaving him for the day. Your daughter in a stroller, your brother in a swing, laughing. Hamburgers, fries and a milkshake later with the $20 Whitey gave you. Later, he’d give you $60 more for the week.

You don’t tell your roommate, Jeannie, about the Child Sun. She wouldn’t understand. She lived in an awful foster home and ran away. She tells you she was beaten with a belt all the time and shows you the scars, and you cry with her. And sometimes you have to throw out some guys she’s drinking with, and you know you have to move again. One of them grabs you by the arm and calls you a fucking bitch, and you won’t allow them in the apartment anymore. So now Jeannie’s mad at you too- “So what if he grabbed your arm, what are you a princess?” Her scars. The one on her face from the belt buckle.

You begin to plan, the edge of things. But not the roof- you don’t want to jump into the darkness. You want to live in the light, the Child Sun, with your daughter. The blossoming bud rose. Antoinette.

Guerrero. Guerrera. Leap into the light.

**This is part of an in-progress memoir.

 

Alma Luz Villanueva is the author of four novels, most recently, ‘Song of the Golden Scorpion.’ Eight books of poetry, most recently, ‘Gracias.’ Many anthologies, textbooks- including ‘The Best Erotic Latin American Writing,’ ‘Califlora, A Literary Field Guide, ‘Prayers for a Thousand Years,’ ‘Fightin’ Words’ (PEN Anthology). Has taught in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Antioch University Los Angeles for sixteen years, living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the past ten years, returning to teach, visit la familia. almaluz.villanueva@gmail.com   www.almaluzvillanueva.com

 

Mother's Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being.  Click photo to book.   "Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing. She listens. She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you. Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening. And what her kind of listening does is simple: It saves lives." ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Mother’s Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. Click photo to book.
“Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing.
She listens.
She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you.
Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening.
And what her kind of listening does is simple:
It saves lives.” ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

 

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 1st cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 1st cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Guest Posts, Pregnancy, Women

A Week Late

January 23, 2015

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By Martina Clark.

I’m a week late. Not on my rent, for my period. I’m never late. Ten years ago – or five, heck, even one or two – I would have panicked and immediately gone to pee on a stick. But now, just months shy of my 50th birthday, I’m totally confused. Am I pregnant? (We use protection but nothing is 100% sure.) Am I starting menopause? (Did I mention that I’m almost 50?) Or am I just a week late and it is what it is and I should shut up and have another piece of chocolate?

The only thing I know for certain is that this has never happened before – at least not in the twenty years since I stopped using the pill – and I’m not quite sure how to proceed. My sisters – seven and eight years older, respectively – both experienced pre-menopausal symptoms starting in their early 40s and after hearing their stories I feel like I’ve been waiting every month for a summons from hell.

“Ma’am, please step away from the happy times and come with us. I’m afraid you have been sentenced to a decade of evil mood swings, drenching night sweats and flame inducing hot flashes. Any resistance will just cause you more misery and unsightly sweat stains. Welcome to the prison that is menopause.”

And, although I hadn’t really experienced anything to be concerned about, I do remember discussing this with my doctor a year or two back when I asked what kind of signs to expect with pre-menopause. She laughed.

“Martina, at this point, if you have signs, they’re not pre anything. They’re just menopause.”

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

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Anonymous, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

I Could’ve Bought A Baby This Morning.

January 19, 2015

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By Anonymous.

Pregnancy. Even my therapist is pregnant. She tells me this the day after I go to a fertility doctor, whose office is decorated like a unicorn’s sugar fart. It’s lavender, silver, acrylic, has tufted sofas, Barbie’s dream fertility doctor. If Barbie focused on her career for fifteen years and woke up mid thirties needing a haircut and a baby. The décor is the same as Kate Sommerville, where I get facials and once, botox!  After the doctor who feels like she could be related to Melissa Gilbert/Laura Ingalls, explains how my tubes work and how at 38 even if I have buckets of eggs, I still “can’t rest easy because it’s all about age.” They’re old, these eggs. She explains all of it to me. She asks if I want a sperm donor. It occurs to me, while sitting across from her desk, with a savings account, and functioning eggs, I could say yes and be pregnant in a week. It blows my  mind. I say no to the sperm, like I’m saying no to an after dinner cordial. “Oooohhkay,” she says. Like, you’re missing out. These cordials are the bomb. There you are sitting there acting like cordial is just gonna spring up outta the ground like a geyser, well sister, you gotta another thing coming.

“I’m conservative,” I say. Which is code for, I wanna do this with a partner who loves me enough to watch me get fat and stretchy and then hold our little love larvae in the middle of the night when  I am so full of colostrum my teets are a proverbial cheese store. I want that.  She nods, “So do you want to freeze your eggs?” I’d rather dye my eggs than freeze my eggs. “I just want to know how they are,” I said, hoping they aren’t little puffs of ovum dust. She nods, bored by me. I’m her regular customer. I just want a report. I’m not one of the outliers buying sperm or a little Japanese hotel for my eggs to rest in until I’m 47 and defrosting them. She cautions me, “the very best thing to do is freeze an embryo.” I nod, my seventh grade health textbook smashing through my head. “So that means?” “Yes, we would fertilize your egg with sperm from a donor and then freeze it.” I nod. The next scenario rolling out through my head. I meet my husband after doing this, when I really am only ovum dust, and I say to him, “Babe! Good news! I have a future baby waiting for us at a cryobank in Westwood! I’m as old as Methuselah, but you can raise your dream genetically mysterious modified baby and I wont even charge you the sperm donor fee, cause really, you donate your sperm to me, only in a different way, but it still totally counts! Whadday say baby? Babay!”

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…