Browsing Tag

pregnancy

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

Water Baby

May 19, 2017
MISCARRIAGE

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Hanna Bartels

It started with red and it ended with water. And in between, I waited at the Starbucks counter and I rested my fingertips on the contour of the beginning. A habit, a protective hand. But the baby beneath that barely there bump stopped growing the day before. My baby was now just my pregnancy and the next day would be just blood and tissue.

I rubbed my thumb against an angel pinned to an impossibly small blanket in my pocket. Over a bead of blistered plastic at the bottom of the left wing where the mold opened too soon and hot resin seeped out.

When someone you know dies, you mourn the loss of them. Their smell, the sound of their voice, how your days transform without them. But when you lose a pregnancy, your life doesn’t change at all. Your belly should swell, your house should fill with bouncers and swings and carriers and bottles and dirty diapers. But instead, you drink your coffee and the world spins on its axis.

The warped angel was a reminder: I was pregnant once, and now I am not.

***

Four days before, I’d noticed a spot of red on my toilet paper.

I rummaged through my medical file, searching for the number the nurse had first starred and then circled at my first prenatal appointment.

My mother-in-law called down the hall, good morning and cheerful, asked if she should make coffee. She was in town for a cousin’s wedding and my husband, a surgical resident, was at the hospital.

Just one second, I told her, I’ll make it.

I pushed aside flour and sugar in my cabinet to reach the coffee I hadn’t touched in months.

I just had some spotting, I told her as I scooped ground beans into the filter. Continue Reading…

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…

Child Birth, Guest Posts

Flip

December 19, 2016
water

By Haili Jones Graff

I stand at the edge of the pool, my feet swollen and pale against the water-darkened concrete. Inching unpainted toenails closer to the lip, I line my insteps parallel, then flex, arches arched, seeking strength and propulsion in my stance. At thirty-eight weeks pregnant, I am nearing one hundred ninety pounds, at least twenty of which jut from my midsection in an arc that I’d expected to be smooth, spherical, beachball-like, but which is often distorted by the shape of the small human pushing out—even as he has occupied all regions of my interior space, so now his skull, knees, feet, fists send their impressions outward, strain against, almost through and past my taut, stretched skin, a skin that appears drum-thin sometimes, barely able to contain the force within it.

Sounds bounce off the walls of this damp, echoing room and commingle, filling my head—the plish-plashing of swimmers in other lanes, wet feet slapping cement, the murmuring of two lifeguards kitty-corner from me across the pool, all strangers with trim bodies, goggle-clad with short hair or hair slicked back. I am goggle-less, thirty-two years old, at nine months pregnant the very antithesis of thin, my dry hair almost to the middle of my back in disarray. I am interested in them, these other swimmers, only insofar as they are interested in me. Are they curious? Watching me with awe, or maybe pity? I project onto them my own cacophony of feeling, but it doesn’t matter. I have only one purpose here. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, infertility

What The Body Knows

December 10, 2016
compass

By Emily Stoddard

Hysterosalpingogram. There is not enough space in my mouth for the word, yet here I am on the exam table, having the procedure that I cannot say. They fill my uterus with dye. On the X-Ray screen, I watch the fluid expand. I think of it as a sort of carbon dating. We are here to decide how authentic my uterus is.

I remember when I prayed for blood from my uterus. In the back of my middle school journals, I hid a list of girls who had already gotten their periods, according to recess gossip. I knew I was one of the last to start. The knowing held me like a map: You are here.

And now, we are deciding whether my uterus is only a diorama, an altar to something imagined, like those names in my seventh grade journal. We send fluid back, inward. I send small prayers with it. For a new map. Now for different reasons, but also the same reason—to be like the other girls.

The dye flushes deeper, into the fallopian tubes. Fallopian. It sounds as distant as an ancient civilization, until a flare of pain reminds me that Fallopian is within me. Part of my body. I had been tracing the X-Ray screen and wondering what languages they speak there, what weather they have.

The nurse breaks in to report: “Sometimes, we just need to clear the dust bunnies, to get the tubes to behave like they should.” 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, infertility

Napalm Picnic

September 22, 2016
infertility

By Alex Behr

Note: Names have been changed.
I picked up the thermometer by the bedside table and shook it. Every day I took my temperature and recorded it on grid paper, trying to determine when I was ovulating. Sam and I lived in a Victorian split long ago into an apartment on each floor. Our bedroom was off the kitchen, with a tall, gated window covered by a curtain I’d sewn.

My primary care person, a nurse practitioner in San Francisco’s Castro District, had told me for years not to worry, but I did. The notebooks I stored in a suitcase in the closet were filled with my fears. My FSH levels were normal—I was new to infertility-related acronyms. I never said that word, infertility, in my mind. I was way too superstitious and optimistic. Basically, normal FSH levels meant I wasn’t struggling too hard to produce the follicle-stimulating hormone necessary for ovulation.

Every annual checkup, I’d walk past the stacks of HIV prevention pamphlets in the office and lay down for this nurse practitioner. She told me my breasts felt good—soft and healthy—almost like she was evaluating their allure. I put my feet in terry-cloth-draped stirrups so she could feel my uterus. Good, good. No STDs. Regular sex. Healthy. Good genes. No problemo. She massaged my breasts for nonexistent lumps and said, “There’s a population crisis.” Who was I but one more woman adding to the problem? She said, “You’ll get pregnant.”

After three years of hearing me worry, she told me to get a test to see if my tubes were blocked. I’d never heard of tubes damming up, much less this test.

The thermometer hit the edge of the bedside table and broke, shattering glass. Tiny silver spheres tapped across the wood floor. I swore and knelt down to dab them in a Kleenex, feeling like I was bringing bad luck to myself—to my body—mercury poisoning was not good for primping the body for pregnancy.

I wanted this blood token. I wanted a baby of my blood—of Sam’s blood. Make something of our misfit lives. I was well-rounded and grieving each month. Drip. Stain.

Motherhood wasn’t a desire out of frustration, but a longing from childhood, from kindergarten, at least, when I echoed my mom in a drawing: she had her baby in a baby carriage (my sister); I had my baby doll. An introvert so shy that I didn’t speak in kindergarten, standing in the room, not joining the finger-painters and the tights-wetters, I always knew I would be a mom one day. I would create a blood tribe for comfort and silliness and intimacy.

I printed out the driving directions to Kaiser from the front room of our flat. The dial-up modem buzzed and fussed by my computer. I wanted to slide up to Sam, feel his warmth, and have sex. Instead, I picked up an invoice from my desk and killed a silverfish.

At Kaiser I saw pregnant women throughout the waiting room, as if they were my personal mocker, as if I sat in a room of Pulitzer-prize-winning authors with stringy hair and bad skin wearing pink hoodies and sweats with white stripes up the sides. Kaiser accommodated us all. We weren’t San Francisco’s brightest and finest, just women struggling in our bodies. It was 2000, but I’d dropkicked the diaphragm and sperm killer in 1997, having finally convinced Sam to try to get me pregnant—that everything would work out—that we could still play music, and he could still do kung fu; he’d have plenty of time for himself.

I waited for my name to be called. I knitted a green blanket for the baby I knew would happen if I tried hard enough. I was always poised to have my name called, as any delay in putting my yarn away or picking up my purse would cause them to move on to someone else in the waiting room, someone with life inside her.

Sam, wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and Converse sneakers, waited in a plastic seat. I picked up his hand and ran my finger over the homemade tattoos he’d given himself as a teen-age punk. The two tiny lines were markers of good luck to me. The nurse called my full name, “Alexandra Behr?”

Sam said, “Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, stay here,” I said.

I held my arms together against Sam’s chest, and he wrapped his arms around me. What if the nurse left without me? What if she called someone else? “Watch my stuff,” I said.

“Good luck,” he said.

I left Sam and walked through the doors to go through an infantalization process: stripping and putting on a blue poly/cotton covering that was large enough to accommodate me at nine months’ pregnant.

I was about to have radioactive dye injected through my vaginal canal and through the Fallopian tubes. Canal. That word reminded me of Venice, the murky waters. The romance. The pollution. All my eggs had existed in me since I was born on a snowy Easter weekend, but I wasn’t able to get pregnant and I didn’t know why.

Then on the examination table, I had the procedure—the HSG—the hysterosalpingogram. Hysteria in minutes, the dye forced up inside me, cramping. The X-ray test examined the hidden me. The outer me was one that some men had coveted. That I had filled with alcohol, with drugs, with lust, but in private, a rollicking party of two.

The X-ray machine took photos as the dye went its way, but the dye got dammed up. The cramping was intense. I winced and gritted my teeth. I felt like I was being raped by a thin, pressurized knife.

The doctor and his assistants—future infertility gurus—stood by my legs in stirrups, looking at the X-ray screen. I wasn’t the only patient in this room. Others were a curtain away. Nevertheless, the medical people discussed my most intimate parts. The uterus looked great, healthy! But they said the tubes were blocked. The egg couldn’t reach the sperm, those racing gray squiggles in life-science movies. They got stuck, stupid, unable to reach and pierce the membrane and start life.

The doctor pulled and prodded. On the monitor I saw tiny cauliflowers at the end of the uterus. Longhorns. The dye was trapped.

A nurse wiped the ultrasound goo off my abdomen and gave me a sanitary pad to hold between my legs. I got off the medical table, sobbing. I asked questions, wanting to write down the answers, but I was still naked except for the medical gown. I was not processing what the doctor was saying.

When I asked if the tubes were blocked, he said, smiling like a Simpsons’ cartoon character, “Ab-so-tute-ly!”

A friend had recommended this doctor, a man in his fifties with thinning hair and a pinched expression.

“You’re a textbook case for infertility,” he said.

I snotted up and dripped tears. How could I wipe them while holding the gown closed against my ass?

“Yucky news in the dot dot dot of getting pregnant,” he said. “Don’t think back on all the people you’ve been with—with all the recriminations.”

I shook all the way home, even with Sam’s arm around me. But I resented him, too. I felt I was talking him into being a parent. Badgering, as he’d say. He wanted to tour. He didn’t seem as upset as I was. I wondered, lying flat down on my bed, Maybe Sam would get his wish now, and never be a dad.

Barry Glassner writes in Culture of Fear about people’s use of “poignant anecdotes in place of scientific evidence.” Since my friend had gone to this fertility expert at Kaiser who had solved her miscarriage problems, I went to him, too.

For years, I’d been drenched in magical thinking: anyone who did become pregnant after initial difficulties was a role model for me—even though her circumstances (or her partner’s) might have been drastically different. People I confided in told me these stories all the time—they knew of a friend who went to Paris and got pregnant. The Eiffel Tower phallic cure? They tried to give my confidence, even though for years no one—including me—knew my tubes were blocked.

Only with me, the prayers and wishes hadn’t worked. The doctor told me not to blame all the men I had slept with, which, of course, was what I did—and blamed myself, too.

At home, I circled Sam in the kitchen. It was in the back of the flat. There wasn’t a lot of space between the table and the stove, the stove and the fridge, or the stove and the sink. The window gate was bolted to the frame of the six-foot window. The back hall in the alcove by the kitchen led only to the tiny bathroom or the back yard with walls on all sides. We were shut in by metal. Sam could escape only through the front door.

Sam did kung fu. His punches were strong and direct. His knuckles were swollen from doing pushups on them, and his biceps were huge. He punched the table, a wedding present. I jumped and my heart raced. “Why did you rush ahead and tell our families?” he yelled. He felt it was our secret, our problem. He wanted me to not tell anyone that my tubes were blocked, that we might have to do IVF.

“You never do anything,” I said, crying. My face was puffy.

“Why do you get mad at me when you say stuff like that?” he said. He walked out, slamming the front door.

Shaking, I knew I had hurt Sam’s feelings again. Sam knew I meant “never do anything” referred not only his career, but to the infertility problem. He wanted things to remain the same—renting at an undermarket rate from people who hated us, in the best city in the country. I wiped off my tears and walked to the front room, the former parlor, where I had my office. I wanted to research what was wrong with me. My desk was by tall, rattling windows and a built-in bench; streetlights shown through the space above the curtains. I didn’t know which way Sam had gone, but I knew he’d come back.

I stared at the computer screen, my breath stuck—sometimes I forgot to breathe. I didn’t want to be one of them, the infertile. I immediately thanked Billy, my boyfriend from the early 1980s, the second person I’d had sex with. I thanked him for my newly discovered blocked tubes. I’d met him when I was sixteen and a half. He was twenty-three.

Thank you. It was a bitter mantra. There’s no logic to blame. Just a sixth sense toward ignored symptoms on his part and trust on mine. Could I go there, or would I be a victim, stuck? Was I a victim, really, or just a nutty girl in love? If you drive to someone’s funeral, as I had, pretending to be a mourner with the headlights on, just to pursue a guy who gets you hot, well …

Billy had waited for me on a brick pathway outside the public library. He was visiting his old hometown—my hometown—a suburb of DC. I pulled down the hood of my winter coat, despite the sting of cold weather, drawn toward his interest in me. And what had I checked out to intrigue him? Maybe Vonnegut? Cat’s Cradle? He’d stolen books from the library. And what did he put under his coat? Something slightly subversive. Burroughs? Kerouac?

I gave him a ride in my parents’ car, a huge maroon Cadillac that my mom had inherited from her dad. His clothes smelled like exhaust fumes and pot smoke. He had long curly hair; we looked like twins. We drove past bare maple and oak trees whose trunks topped electric lines.

He was funny and worldly, and he pursued me with Sylvia Plath poems, stolen Kafka books, jokes about the Ayatollah Khomeini, and his bad boy stories of throwing snowballs at nuns in grade school and doing acid during high school football games. I didn’t tell my parents his nickname was “Billy Heroin.”

That winter, ice licking the branches of the oaks and maples, I got a fuzzy black sweater that I felt would arouse my new boyfriend, though I still had another boyfriend in college. I rarely washed it, fearing it would shrink. I was easy to seduce. I was skinny, wearing a cowl neck shirt, white painter’s pants, and clogs. My gas-permeable contact lenses often popped out, leaving me squinting. He wore boots, jeans and a black V-necked sweater, with curly hair poofing up the neck.

I was hyper. Young. Sixteen and a half. I blithely cheated on Fred, my first boyfriend, out in East Tennessee, because I was happier having sex with someone else—someone more experienced and more deviant. Billy was a community college dropout. I was applying to colleges, getting high before the SATs to skewer my chances of Ivy League schools. I didn’t like standardized tests.

Billy had a fondness for the perverse—debasement, annihilation—very smart but distracted, hitchhiking up and down the East Coast from his older sister’s one-bedroom apartment in the Lower East Side to my hometown near DC, where he crashed in his friends’ loft, a dark, dank slab of wood strewn with sleeping bags. I spent many hours in the loft. I spent my babysitting money treating him to greasy slabs of pizza and colas. I pretended he looked like Jim Morrison, but his nose had been broken too many times in street fights.

Once we went up to New York City and he said, “I know the color of my boss’s sheets.” Fidelity wasn’t a strong point.

At sixteen and seventeen and eighteen and nineteen, through various breakups and reconciliations, I made sure, with my babysitting money, that Billy had enough money for a cab license, for a black leather jacket with vanity zippers, for a black onyx ring. I didn’t care that he refused to wear a condom. I was too loaded on pot or mushrooms or synthetic mescaline or hash or wine and teen-age pheromones to care.

Now, the night after the Fallopian tube test, with Sam still out, I used my dial-up modem to research what had likely gone wrong when I was a teen in the early 1980s and lacked easy access to doctors. I wanted to infer how I’d failed my body.

From Billy, I’d gotten human papillovirus, HPV, in high school. There was no Planned Parenthood in my hometown, if I even knew one existed. The guys bought the condoms, and whether they used them or not was mostly up to them. Birth control pills, diaphragms, IUDs: out of the question. I never talked to my mom about my needs.

I paid to see a doctor in my hometown out of my allowance and babysitting money. My disease was shameful and disgusting, so shameful I told no one except doctors and future lovers, though the virus had then died out, done its harm.

In 1985 I had an abnormal pap smear, caught in time so those cells could be frozen and not develop into cancer. I thanked Billy for that illness, too. But the doctors assured me after freezing off precancerous cells that I would be fine, that I could still get pregnant.

I read more online, feeling nauseous. Chlamydia could cause blocked Fallopian tubes. Maybe Billy had given me that, too? I might not have had symptoms, or might have thought—just a bladder or yeast infection—awful but temporary—leaving no lasting damage, like a cold. I’d had a few over the years. The nurses on the phone just told me to get over-the-counter medicine.

I was separate from my body, not wanting to acknowledge a problem. I had wanted to split lust from duty, obligation, habit, tasks, and now I couldn’t. The dye had pressed hard enough to try to force the tubes open, but they refused.

Billy had overlapped relationships and stuck his lovers into little cubbyholes of disease. The sex-advice columnist Dan Savage has a stock phrase about how older lovers should treat younger lovers: they should view the relationship like a picnic, and when the relationship ends, leave the campsite area in better shape than when they found it.

Billy, the second person I had sex with, the person who should have left a clean campsite, instead (I believed) hosted a napalm picnic on my body. My tubes were blocked, laced with adhesions. But I had to forgive them, the tubes I was born with, the tubes that failed.

The funny thing, the ha ha ha ha thing, was there weren’t that many lovers in my past, and it could’ve just taken one. Viruses infected millions of us. They had the knack. Condoms could’ve stopped them. But as a default, I had to choose one person to blame beyond my stupidity, and in my heart it was Billy’s fault.

Our bedroom was tiny, the back of our five-room flat. The curtains I’d made were always shut against our neighbors across the alley. It was the quietest room, farthest from Waller Street. Our roommate had moved out years before, so we’d moved into his room, off the large kitchen.

I drank a beer. I heard the door open. Soon Sam would come to bed with me and his warmth and breathing, sleeping, snoring sounds would end the day. In my futon bed, with my knees curled up against me, I listened to a NPR radio report on the Lockerbee, Scotland, terrorist attack: about the bodies being hurled through space from the airplane. Two girls were found strapped to their seats, their arms around each other, and their fingers crossed.

alex_behr_2015_crop

Alex Behr is a writer and musician in Portland, OR. “Napalm Picnic” is an essay from her unpublished memoir. Other memoir pieces have appeared inNailed, Oregon Humanities, Watershed Review, Lumina, and Propeller. Her fiction has appeared in Word Riot, Portland Review, Propeller, and VoiceCatcher,and two stories were performed in LA as part of the New Short Fiction Series. 
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.

Join Jen Pastiloff at her Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human in London Oct 1st and Dallas Oct 22. Click the links above to book. No yoga experience needed- just be a human being! Bring a journal and a sense of humor. See why People Magazine did a whole feature on Jen.

 

Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

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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.

 

***************************** Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, The Body, Vulnerability

On Being Photographed (Mostly) Naked

September 7, 2016

By Kate Suddes

Mama, why are your boobs like that?
Can I count the pimples on your face?
Why do you have lines on your tummy?
Will my body look like yours when I’m older?

These are all good questions.  And someday, my baby girls, you may wonder why I chose to be photographed in a bra and underwear for (some of) the world to see.  Someday I’ll be gone and you may wish we had some of our conversations in writing.  About many things.  One of which may be bodies.

My body is never the same size.  It’s never made up of the same things.  It changes in an afternoon, in a night’s sleep, after a snack.  Bodies can look any number of ways.  You will be told that your body is your primary currency.  A tool to negotiate, persuade.  An advertisement (totally and completely, at that) for who you are.  For what constitutes your soul, your mind, your heart.  You will be made to think that your body can prevent you from doing things, from loving people, accepting love from people.  You will be asked to stay small – even if you are literally small or big – especially big.  But what your body says about you to others (are you listening?) is 100% totally and completely about them, their bodies and what they have been taught about bodies.  It is not about you.  It is NOT about you.  It is not about YOU.  (Kate, are you listening too?)  When you pass up a third cookie, you are not good.  When you have a fourth piece of pizza, you are not bad.  You are good and bad for a million other tiny reasons.  None of them have to do with food or your body. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

The Real Horrors

August 7, 2016
miscarriage

By Lisa Quigley

“Write about what scares you.”

I like the way this sounds, what it implies. But there’s a problem: I don’t know how to write about the real horrors.

If I did, I might tell you that we lost a baby. Not a real baby, not one that we ever got to touch or name or smell or kiss. I was eleven weeks pregnant when I started to bleed.

At the hospital, I watched the doctor’s brow furrow while she performed the ultrasound. She pressed the instrument into my belly, so hard it hurt, but I didn’t care. I was watching the screen. I was watching because I knew where to look for the baby, and I was waiting to see the round shape of the head, maybe the briefest suggestion of limbs, something that would let me breathe a sigh of relief. But I just saw black in the circle, no white blob where the baby should be. Her words confirmed what I already knew: “I see the gestational sac…but no baby.” Continue Reading…

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…

courage, depression, Grief, Guest Posts, Miscarriage

After The Miscarriage: A Letter to My BFF about my PTSD

December 14, 2015

Trigger Warning: This essay discusses the trauma that can come with miscarriage.

By Jessica van Alderwerelt

There is so much I’ve wanted to say but haven’t been saying because it is hard for me to talk to you about what I’m going through, writing seemed easier. There are a few important things I have to communicate to you that have been going on because not saying them, I think, has created expectations that I am doing better than I actually am.

In hopes that you’ll understand me better, I’m going to share some pretty dark shit with you that I’ve been working on in therapy. I’m chipping away at making sense of my trauma but it’s a process that takes time and I will never be the same as I was before. I wanted to die. I wanted to stop the pain so much I was considering killing myself to make it stop. It was the scariest. Not only was it the immediate trauma related to my pregnancy loss but it dredged up so much past trauma, like my rape and my parent’s divorce, and my mom’s cancer (and my cancer scare), and my dad being absent for all those years. Trauma (and PTSD) is like that. It brings up all the stuff that felt the same, every time I felt robbed, scared for my life, abandoned, etc. Some days I physically cannot get out of bed because there is 2,000 pounds of weight bearing down on me. I can’t lift my arms or head. If I don’t have plans or obligations and no one is watching, I literally do not get out of bed to eat or shower or see the sun. Often for days at a time. I am debilitated.

Here is something I wrote in therapy. Maybe it’ll give you some insight into what I’m going through:

I wasn’t supposed to get too excited about my positive pregnancy test or tell anyone until I was sure and because so much can happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. For me, I experienced 12 weeks of sweating every night, hugging my belly, dreaming about my new future, celebrating to myself that I was finally pregnant.

I was so excited about what motherhood would bring– making plans for vacations to Iceland (where I honeymooned) with my little Olive and her daddy. I bought things for her room– my favorite being a beautiful, small hand-carved and painted wooden elephant that opens with a little latch securing a tiny hiding spot. She would have it on her dresser as a baby with a love note from me in it, she’d hide her diary key in it as a kid, put it on her desk as a teen to store her forbidden lipstick, and she’d move it with her to her dorm room to stash some pot– she would always have Ellie the elephant as a tether to home. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Women

On Wishing Things Were Different

August 14, 2015

By Jessica Zucker

I.

Mourning is hard for her. She’s loathe to sink into the anguish of that time and what it means about the woman who raised her.

Mother.

II.

Rather than feel the grief, she has spent the better part of her life gripping onto hope—an emotional contortionist—thinking that if only she were different than maybe her mother would treat her better, love her constantly, see her. Be there. These are the details that coarse through her unconscious mind day in, day out.

Anxiety.
Loneliness.
Shame.

After repeated emotional mishaps and arduous disappointments, history collected in her psyche, hardening her once soft edges. The antithesis of a wellspring of support, her mother’s behaviors left an indelible mark on her daughter, cementing her impression of what relationships are made up of, and what they are not.

III.

As a child she felt alone. She was alone. She turned her longing for connection into mock group therapy sessions for her stuffed animals, lined at the foot of her bed. “So, elephant”, she inquired, “what do you think about this story? How do you think the characters felt at the end of the book?” This type of playfulness exhibited her imaginative inner life and gave birth to an intimacy and connectedness she yearned for in actuality. Otherwise, in the context of the real people in her home, she felt stranded. Her house was missing key elements that she desperately needed to thrive: attunement, curiosity, reflection, unfettered fun. Continue Reading…