Where’s My Parachute? – Lessons In Love and Loss (Undercover in the Suburbs One Year Anniversary!)

Where's My Parachute?

“Love is like plunging into the darkness toward a place that may exist.” – Marge Piercy

It took me a long time to let myself love, especially when there were penises involved.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of men now, but the first one I knew made a pretty bad impression.  As a smart, cautious girl, the most prudent way for me to avoid re-creating my dysfunctional relationship with my father was to avoid men until I had had enough therapy to be able to trust myself around them.  Of course that didn’t stop me from re-creating my dysfunctional relationship with my mom.

That’s right, during that time I was avoiding men, I dated plenty of women.  I didn’t call it that at the time because we dated in all respects but one… there was never any sex.  That would be too dangerous.  One can never be entirely certain a woman is not one’s dad wrapped up in the body of a red-head, tomboy.

None-the-less, these sometimes enthralling, sometimes volatile, and always heartbreakingly ambiguous relationships taught me how to love, and how not to love.  I even tried one with a man, eventually.  Still gut-wrenchingly ambiguous, of course. Finally, in my early twenties, I had to admit that I had a problem.  While these relationships were “safe” in some ways, they were mind-fucking me, badly.  Trying to shield myself from intimacy for fear of getting hurt was getting me pretty badly hurt.

So I swore them off!  If I was ever going to be really ready for love, I was going to have to go all in – “plunge into the darkness” without a parachute. But instead, I hid out.  I avoided everyone.  When I was 24, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer.  Just before she died, my dad and I stopped speaking.  I assure you, he deserved it.

After I lost my mom, I felt raw, exposed, and yet opened up from the pain.  I took a lot of time.  I had the twenties I’d missed out on while I’d been researching cancer treatments and battling with neuro-oncologists and brain surgeons.  I traveled around Southern Africa, to Costa Rica, and backpacked for 8 days in a remote part of Wyoming.  I waited tables… very badly.   I applied to graduate school.  I went on real dates with boys who were auditioning to have to acknowledge we were more than just friends.

Almost a year to the day after my mom died, I met Seth.  After all the drama and soul-searching, and years of tearful nights with female friends wondering if there was something wrong with me that would never be fixed, it was… easy.  I had these surreal moments where I’d look at Seth and think can this really be happening, and how long until I lose him too?   A few months before our wedding my Gram died.  We had been planning for her to walk us both down the aisle.  We were devastated.

Around that same time, my father showed up on my doorstep.  It had been three years.  He cried until he was almost sick.  He didn’t deserve my forgiveness, but I knew withholding it would hurt me more than him.  My therapist always said, “We don’t do well without our tribe.”  Why did my tribe have to be so fucked up?

Seth and I’s partnership ceremony was the most authentic, radical thing I’d ever done, and the people in my life accepted it joyfully.  It was so disorienting, I literally lost my balance.  I started having these inexplicable and quite horrible dizzy spells.  It was like my world was spinning on a different axis that my body wasn’t used to yet.  Still, I felt like I was building something, finally, instead of sifting through ruins.  I even invited my dad, and he was strangely behaved.

Getting married for me was like stepping into a strangers life.  It was the first time I felt like I wasn’t fighting like hell just to continue to exist.  Was this what it was like for “those people” I saw walking around in the world?  It finally occurred to me… I did have a parachute.  I was my parachute.  I’d gotten me here.  I’d been the one who padded my fall, got me back up, and plunged again into the darkness.

When Seth and I started talking about children, the idea that I could actually add people and not just have them be slowly stripped out off my life was intoxicating. I couldn’t change the past, but I could create a better future. Then we discovered Seth had a fertility problem.  Then we discovered I had worse one.  We were told we would never conceive.  My husband once read me a quote about your family or origin being your roots and your children being your branches.  I already felt like my roots had been cut off, and now I felt like I’d lost my branches.  The babies that would move like my mother or laugh like my Gram would never exist.

This is my life, I thought.  This is the life that happens to me.  Not the strange, surreal fairy-tale life where I meet a soul-mate, form an egalitarian partnership, and finally feel like I can be who I truly am in the world.  That was indeed some kind of fantasy.  Reality was back, and it was harsh.  My eggs were more than ten years older than I was.  It felt fitting.  I felt awfully old.  We grieved.

Then things started happening so fast I could barely catch my breath.  Just a few short months later I found myself wandering around Soho, confused and delirious, my hippie gynecologist’s words echoing in my ears – “You have a line.”  I must have sat there looking stupefied for a good half hour, while the doctor and phlebotomist tried to impress upon me that I was pregnant.  A few weeks later, we saw two yoke sacs on an ultrasound.  Twins.  “Whoo-hoo,” I heard myself cry.  Fear be damned, this was probably my only shot, and I was more than okay with a two-for-one deal.  Who knew how long this stretch of miracle would last!

This isn’t a post about loss.  It’s a post about how loss can make it hard when you don’t lose.  For eight weeks I held my breath every hour of every day.  I wasn’t just scared to miscarry.  I believed I would.  That’s what I’d been told.  When the doctor at the fertility clinic found out I was pregnant she looked at me suspiciously, like I was some kind of witch or something.  When I hit that Sunday – 12 weeks – I had that dizzy feeling again.  Can this be real, I wondered?  I was already showing.

There I was in that other woman’s life again.  Like all those pregnant women who’d made me cry inside just a few short months before.  I began to open my heart to my babies.  I could feel them kicking, hiccuping, and squirming.  At 16 weeks I was told I had a boy, but the other little stinker was hiding.  That was a long week.  Then I was told I had a girl.  I wept for joy.  I think I knew that was the closest I’d come to getting my mom back.  I saw every little body part at my twenty week ultrasound times two.

Then one day we went to brunch with some friends.  In the bathroom I saw two tiny spots of blood.  Every little twinge I’d felt for twenty weeks had me panicked, but this was different.  This was the real deal. Then the waiting game started again.  Counting down the hours, until they became days, until they became weeks.  21 weeks – I may not get to keep them.  24 weeks – still hardly any chance I’ll get to keep them.  I remember my OBGYN giving me a stern talking to – warning me that my cervical shortening was unpredictable, and there was no guarantee I’d make it two more weeks.  28 weeks – hallelujah, I will probably get to keep them!!

My babies were born healthy and strong, almost 5 pounds each and breathing on their own, at 33.5 weeks.  We were told numerous times they were the healthiest ones in the NICU, but the reminders not to get too hopeful were everywhere.  I’ll never forget one night during their 19-day stay.  We were leaving very late with some family.  The babes were already in the step-down unit, and as we walked back through the main NICU, we could tell something was very wrong.  A huge crowd of doctors and medical personnel were huddled around a tiny little girl.  You could tell by the looks on their faces the situation was grave.  The next day, the little girl was gone.

Now take these babies home and love them.  Love them like none of this ever happened, like you weren’t told you’d never have them, like you didn’t almost lose them, like your mom didn’t call you that day from the hospital and ask you if the plumber came to the house before nonchalantly adding, “They found a brain tumor.”  Take these babies home and love them like you have no idea that every moment of life is spent walking on the edge of death- like every path toward the light hasn’t led back into the darkness.  

This post was inspired by a post called It Took Me 18 Months to Fall in Love with My Daughter.  Sure, I loved my babies from the moment they were born.  I loved them even before they were conceived.  Why else would I have grieved so hard when I’d been told they were never going to come.?  I love them so much it terrifies and sometimes paralyzes me.  On the other hand, a part of me feels like I’m letting myself love them little by little everyday as I slowly let go of my fear.

The past two years have been like a roller coaster ride back through all the things that terrify me.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve been holding my breath since they told me about that “line.”  After 9 months, I finally felt like I was getting out of survival mode.  I was doing it.  I was keeping them alive, and myself sane.  My worst fears hadn’t come to pass.  I even found myself having fun now and then.  Seth and I marveled at the two stunningly perfect lives we created.  “Our roots are a bit gnarly,” we agreed,” but our branches are spectacular.” Then it happened… another “line.”

This time I was equally thrown but for totally different reasons.  This one wasn’t planned, and I knew on some level I’d been holding back connecting emotionally with my babies.  I was already overwhelmed by trying to love more than I ever had despite all that loss-baggage.  But I’m already fucking up with the ones I’ve got, I thought to myself. Miscarrying was a major set back.  It didn’t just set me back to when my babies were born, or even when I’d been terrified of losing them.  It set me all the way back.  Back to when I was terrified to jump at all.

Suddenly, I felt completely unsafe.  Unsafe in my marriage.  Unsafe with my babies.  Maybe this was all a big mistake, and the universe knew I wasn’t supposed to have them, either?  I think on some level I believed I’d killed my baby, and I was poison.  Perhaps I thought on some level that the clarity of knowing for sure that I was dangerous and deadly would feel better than accepting the randomness of when I’d lost and when I hadn’t and when I’d been told I would but didn’t.

I wanted safety, even if it hurt.  Even if I risked destroying everything  .I spent the months after my miscarriage working together with my husband to drive our relationship to the brink, feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped with my friends, and becoming way too dependent on a friendship that I eventually also ended up nearly destroying.

In the midst of all this, I was still trying to figure out how to be queer.  I guess I always thought by time I had kids I would have found myself.  I didn’t realize finding oneself happens again and again.  If we’re lucky.

Turns out I didn’t lose my parachute last winter at all, I was just falling faster and harder than I had in a long, long time.  The truth is it was there all along, because as close as I came to the edge, when it came down to it, I did the work I needed to do, I stuck with therapy, I held my marriage together, I was there for my kids, I realized just in time that my focus wasn’t where it needed to be, that I was acting out of terror and had lost clarity, and I started slowly, slowly pulling it together.  This blog was born a year ago today, during a time of darkness and loss, only a couple short weeks after my miscarriage.  I did give birth to something after all, this blog turns out to be Baby C.

In my first post on this blog, I talked about feeling like a snow-globe with all the parts of me shaken up, not knowing where they would land.  Motherhood will do that.  Over the past year, Undercover in the Suburbs has helped me reclaim and re-order those parts.  The truth is when we become uprooted (as we inevitably do when we become parents), when we lose ourselves for any reason, as I did last winter, when we find ourselves again, we are never quite the same.  I’ve lost a lot in my life, and sometimes it’s felt like losing myself.

Still, I feel the most fully me I’ve ever been right at this moment.  Perhaps the truth is that every path into the darkness eventually leads back to the light.  Undercover has helped me find that light.  It’s been a chance to come back home to writing, to feminism, and come home for the first time to being queer.  It’s helped me let go of damaging cultural notions of motherhood and define the role for myself.  It’s a space where all the parts of me can co-exist, peacefully for the most part.  It’s a space where I can connect with others who are travelling similar paths, and be comforted, and learn from those who’ve made different choices.  It’s a space where I can make myself more whole, recover from my losses, and thus make more room for love.  I’m still working at it.  That’s what I’ve learned.  I will always be working at it.  For me, love may always feel like plunging into the darkness, but I’ve got this parachute.  Me.  I’m the parachute.  Thank you for reading.

So what will the next year bring?  Integration.  My next step must be bringing my “real” life more in line with Lyla Cicero’s online existence.  Stay tuned this year as I work toward that integration.  Stay tuned for posts on coming farther out, honoring my inner teenage lesbian, battling mono-sexism in myself and the outside world, egalitarian/feminist/non-heteronormative parenting on a collision course with SCHOOL, and thus, the large society, and many other subjects.  

My main goal for the blog this year is to get more of you involved.  Despite the catharsis of writing these posts, the greatest joy and fulfillment I get is from reading your comments, getting your emails, and dialogue-ing with you.  I hope to get more folks reading, and more of you commenting and making your voices heard.  Undercover isn’t just for me.  It’s for anyone searching for themselves and working to create a more LGBTQQIAPK-friendly, sex-positive, identity-fluid, gender-egalitarian world.

“Opened the door, knew what was me, finally realized, parachute over me.” – Guster

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De-Shaming Female Bodies, Reclaiming Female Power

Me, Only FIVE Months Pregnant with the Twins

I was bullied just about every day in the fifth grade, and much of sixth and seventh too.  I was bullied about everything you can imagine, and most of it made no sense whatsoever.  I was called “fish face,” and “nobody,” accused of “wearing diapers,” told I smelled, and that my pants were too short.  In junior high there was even a creative group of boys who would follow me around singing “flooooooooooood” as low as their little pre-pubescent voices could muster.  The genius thought-process behind that was that my short pants indicated I was, “waiting for a flood.”

You would think I might have taken comfort in the fact that these jabs actually had nothing to do with me.  Ok, my fashion sense wasn’t fantastic, but it wasn’t like they were calling me dumb or ugly or anything that would indicate a permanent flaw.  I was even a little chubby.  Now THAT was something I could have done something about… but for whatever reason, they didn’t go there.  For me, the inexplicable nature of their mockery just made it all the more maddening.  If my face didn’t look like a fish, and I didn’t “wear diapers” and I didn’t stuff my bra, as they vehemently insisted, then their viciousness was utterly beyond my control.

It’s amazing how memory is encoded so clearly and permanently when the emotional parts of our brain, particularly those associated with fear, are engaged.  I don’t remember my fifth grade teacher’s name.  I can’t recall what my school looked like, or anything specific I learned that year.  What I can see clearly in my mind’s eye is the bathroom in which I un-wrapped a maxi pad at school for the first time.  The blue-green-gray stall.  The radiator hissing.  The open window.  The still-oppressive heat.   The door opening, and the shiver that ran up my spine as a face peeked under the stall door to inspect the sneakers of the person opening that wrapper.

I got my period early, especially for back then.  It was a week after my 11th birthday.  My mother noticed some spotting on my underwear and told me I would probably get my period soon.   Sadly she didn’t include an explanation of what that was.  She simply bought some pads and gave them to me.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I just knew I felt ashamed.

It did not help when at school that day the kids were on the war path, trying to figure out whether me or the other poor soul wearing the same sneakers was the girl who had gotten her period.  It never occurred to me at the time how curious it was that little miss tell-all, sneaker-inspector had an uncanny knowledge of the sound of a maxi pad wrapper being opened.  For her, for me, and for everyone in that class, however, the message was clear, female bodies, female sexuality, female-ness was shameful.   I was one of the first to develop physically and one of the first to experience being punished by both the girls and boys for becoming less boy-like (albeit against my will).

Last January two perfect, live, human beings were removed from my abdomen after they had been created there, nurtured, and thrived for 7 ½ months, growing from microscopic to almost 5 pounds each.  In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir suggests sexism may stem from men’s terror with the immensity of women’s power, and their tremendous discomfort with the knowledge that they were created in a women’s body and only exist as a result.  I have to wonder if those little boys and girls were communicating a cultural discomfort with women’s power, women’s bodies, and women’s sexuality.  The message was keep this hidden, experience it as shameful, rather than celebrate this, express this, experience it as powerful.  In my case, my parents’ discomfort with my going through puberty only reinforced these messages.

I think for every woman there is a moment of cognitive dissonance when your experience of the strength and power of your body and soul becomes so incredibly out of sync with these cultural messages that one has to replace that shame with awe.  I have been a feminist since high school.  I was a Women’s Studies major.  By college I was already encouraging others to embrace their sexuality and resist messages of shame.  But it is one thing to protest these messages in theory, it is another to watch a human being be lifted out of one’s abdomen.  It is another to view a sound-generated image of two tiny beings huddled together inside of one’s body, and yet another to hear those two precious hearts beating and realize holy shit… HOLY SHIT, they are ALIVE!

 

Twin Heads

For some women it is feeding another being with your own body.  For some, it is the pain endured through childbirth, through breastfeeding, or through painful fertility procedures.   For others, it is the moment when a 14 month-old shrieks in your ear at a decibel level that literally obliterates brain cells, while pulling your hair and scratching your face and eyes, and you respond lovingly and patiently.  For still others, it is surviving mastectomy and finding a way to still love one’s body, finishing a marathon while enduring horrible menstrual cramps, or having the courage to hold a dying friend’s hand and be present with her until the very end.

For me, it was last month.  My hormones still off balance from my miscarriage, I was standing in my shower bleeding what felt like buckets of blood and thick, bundled clots.   As I stood there thinking, ‘I will survive this,’ my mind was suddenly filled with all the other things I’d survived:  the shaming, the crippling cramps, the wishing my breasts would disappear, the infections, vulvodynia, and all the other vaginal drama, sex in all its permutations, pleasures, and confusions, carrying my mother through cancer and death, being told I would never conceive, fighting, and fighting harder, the pregnancy, three months of bed rest, childbirth, the first four months with twins, the miscarriage… and now this.

Moments later, still dripping from the shower, my hair soaked, having had time to put nothing on except a Depends adult diaper, I would pass out on my bathroom floor.  I would wake up to find my nanny and two male police officers staring at my almost-naked body, still rolling with baby fat, my breasts drooping, my stretch marks showing, sporting a grown-up sized diaper… but there would not be a shred of shame!  I was powerful.  Incredibly powerful.  I would survive this… and anything else.

So when my daughter begins to bleed, you better believe we will celebrate her power and her strength, not because my son is not powerful or special – it is not an either or thing – but because my daughter is.  Her body holds the power of the entire universe, every cell in every living thing on this planet.  And you better believe when I send her off to school that day I will tell her to hold her head high.  It won’t matter whether she tells anyone at school what’s happened or not.  What will matter is that she holds onto her power, and shields herself from shame.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com.  All Rights Reserved.

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Baby Brain Made Me Do It (True Mommy Confessions II)

If I wasn’t a person with unusually high self-control who tends toward over-thinking and extreme caution, I’m quite sure I would have left my husband or at least be cheating on him by now, and my only excuse would be “baby brain.”

What is “baby brain?”  Before having children, I would often hear new moms referring to “baby brain,” mostly when they were forgetful.  I read that mothers actually lose brain cells in the more logical, memory –oriented parts of the brain and gain them in areas related to emotion and instinct during pregnancy.    But it wasn’t until after my babies were born and I was well into severe sleep disruption that I had my first full-scale encounter with “baby brain.”  For me it was an awkward sense of being unable to think.  The only comparison I can make is with feeling like you can’t breathe.  It is only when we feel short of breath for some reason that you are suddenly aware of trying to breath.   I would have the distinct sensation of having to actually try to think, usually with poor results.

It was particularly apparent in the area of memory.  I could only hold onto a thought for a few seconds, and then it would just be gone.  I would be aware of some mental empty space, but I just couldn’t get it back.  I would think, ‘I need to clean the bottles.’  I would lose it.  Then I would go through the same mental process I had just gone through in the first place.    The babies are crying, it’s feeding time, they must be hungry, there are no clean bottles, I need to clean the bottles.  Then I would lose it again and start all over.

For months I blamed this on the cognitive deficits that have been well documented in the sleep deprived.  Adequate periods of REM sleep are required for the brain to function optimally, and I was sleeping 2-3 hours at a time.

At the end of that sleep deprivation period, I felt my first urge to make a grave error in judgment.  All of a sudden it came over me – the powerful, undeniable urge to buy a house in the town where I grew up (a place I would normally NEVER want to live).  I took it so far, we were under contract before my husband sat me down and got it through my head that we couldn’t afford it.  A few months later the whole incident felt utterly surreal.  I could no longer understand those powerful feelings that left me driving around in tears looking at houses I couldn’t buy while my babies napped in the back seat.

It is now just about a year later, and aside from some temporary bouts of insomnia, my sleep is normal, but my brain is most certainly not.  There was the sex-crazed phase in the fall when I became super-horny.   I then decided I could no longer stand being in the closet, and needed to out myself as a pansexual.   Urges to make grave errors in judgment also continued, including the very strong desire to respond to my husband’s and my marital stress by having an affair with a woman.  In my defense, I did become pregnant again four months ago and miscarried, so my brain has been hit by a double whammy.

So what the heck is going on up there anyway?  Sometimes I think they should make public service commercials to warn women.  “This is your brain…  This is your brain on hormones.”  For me the hormones were like some kind of trippy drug that exaggerates everything.  That combined with having been cooped up for so long, first going through a nightmare infertility situation, then pregnancy with twins, bed rest, and childbirth.  All those parts of me that had been hiding out, de-prioritized while all my energy was focused on trying to make my kids, and then trying to keep them alive, were suddenly screaming, ‘Hey, I’m still here!’  Take that cooped up brain and bath it in a cocktail of sexually-charged, impulsivity-driven hormones!  By the time my babies were born I was like a caged animal ready to claw her way toward a martini and a hot piece of ass.

These are the things they don’t tell you.  And it looks different for every mom.  Some have no sex drive at all but experience a burning desire to become a scuba instructor.  Some decide it’s time to follow their lifelong dream of riding motorcycles, or obtaining multiple tattoos.  I’m not saying these urges aren’t real, (I certainly take seriously my desire to be out of the closet), but they are, at the very least, heightened.  How can I be sure whether a given hormone surge is a good trip or a bad one!  I feel all I can do is use caution and wait until I’m certain my brain is back to “normal” before making any sudden moves.

For most moms though, from what I have witnessed, the most dramatic aspects of baby brain, those that might entice us to cheat on our husbands, embezzle money, becomes strippers, etc., go deep underground.  I don’t believe new moms lose their identities simply because they are so wrapped up in their babies.  I think giving up our identities is a reaction to the frightening degree to which our selves are screaming for attention, louder than ever.  Already feeling neglected by the time our babies are born, and driven like motors by brains bathed in hormones, sleep deprived, and perhaps having shifted around some key neurons from the logical to the emotional arena, our brains are screaming for us to be wild.  The screaming is just as loud as the screaming for us to pro-create (screaming that for many of us became deafening somewhere after age 30 to the point where we would have flushed our doctoral degrees down the toilet and eaten our left arms to get pregnant).  The same brains that made us crazy with the desire to parent are now making us crazy with the desire to be everything else we are!

Armed with being an extremely anal, over-controlled person, I found myself able to dabble in real estate transactions and hang out at gay bars fantasizing about lesbian affairs with relative confidence that I wouldn’t do anything I really can’t reverse.  My guess is a lot of other women, who perhaps allow themselves healthier levels of personal freedom, fear these impulses so much that they drown themselves out all together becoming ultra focused on the their babies.  This prevents any problematic mischief from occurring, and has the added benefit of helping us fit the societal image of the devoted mother who is in a state of complete bliss in early motherhood.  Thus, we can squelch temptation at a time when society is telling us we should be desperate to rock our babies to sleep, not desperate to run out of the house dressed like a hooker with a flask hidden in our bang-me boots.

There is one aspect of baby brain I have not yet touched upon.  Dissociation is a clinical term related to trauma.  When human beings experience trauma, in order to protect ourselves, we split ourselves emotionally into different parts.  The most extreme example would be someone who actually develops alternate personalities that do not remember the trauma.  More simply, anytime you realize you’ve arrived at your destination without having been conscious of the drive there you are dissociating.  In essence one part of the brain does not know what other parts are doing.

Let’s be real people, motherhood is traumatizing.  Yes, it’s natural, the most natural thing in the world.  And yes, it’s traumatizing.  Ask women to tell the stories of their attempts to get pregnant, their pregnancies, their birth experiences, and the first year with newborns.  Find me the woman who doesn’t relay a single traumatic event.  Then there are the intense feelings and images from our own childhoods that come flooding back in ways we may or may not be aware of.  Finally, simply becoming a mother is a traumatic assault on the self.  Having our lives go from all about us, to all about another being is a massive, jarring alteration of consciousness that even the healthiest among us will be utterly thrown by.

Further, we are offered no cultural context or preparation for this assault on the self.  As we look around, we see other mothers denying, whether consciously or unconsciously, that they are experiencing trauma.  For some, the denial is blatant.  They are experiencing postpartum depression, their marriage is falling apart, they have urges to hit their children, they scream and lose patience, but they show up at play-dates appearing totally fine and together.

For others, the denial is hidden, even to themselves.  They no longer experience a self, thus shielding themselves from the trauma of losing it.  That part of them has been split off, dissociated, and all that is left is the devoted mother part.  These are the mothers who offer the biggest mind-fuck to those poor fools among us who are actually painfully aware of how fucked up we really are right now!  But these women’s selves will re-emerge, and they will do so with a vengeance.  We can only go underground for so long, and imagine the trauma of realizing one has been keeping herself in captivity for one, five, ten, or even twenty years!

So what’s a girl to do?  I used to joke that I wished there was a pill to turn off that insanely powerful part of my brain that suddenly, at 32, informed me that having children, something I’d never wanted, was the most important thing to do in my life.  But there is no pill.  Our brains are sophisticated and complex, but ultimately ruled by instinct.  It is that same survival instinct which makes our neglected selves run wild after the brain finally gets that baby it so desperately desires.  After all, we need that self to be strong and healthy in order to help our babies thrive.

The best we can do is be real with each other.  Let’s be real so that those women whose brains can’t think about anything but baby understand what they are signing on for.  Let’s normalize that “baby brain” is more than just a little forgetfulness.  It is feelings of depression, or wanting to flee, or almost making, or sometimes actually making grave errors in judgment.  Let’s normalize thinking 30 times “I need to make the bottles” but never actually doing it.   Dissociation means literally one part of the brain can’t communicate with another.  Let’s tell each other the truth about messing up with our kids and having to go back and weed out what part of our own baggage made us do it.  Because facing our demons, admitting we are flawed and trying again and again to do better… that is parenting.

If there was space in our cultural and in our collective consciousness for selves that are traumatized, battered, confused, bewildered, and also perhaps more passionate and creative than ever, perhaps we could free those women who have gone underground.  Perhaps we could all find a little more balance.

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MY GOODBYE TO BABY C

Three days before Christmas a doctor I had just met removed my dead baby from my body.

The procedure was short and painless… too painless.

I had known I was “pregnant” for exactly one month when I was told the baby had no heartbeat and hadn’t grown in almost two weeks.

One month.  Long enough to go from a state of panic, denial, and disbelief, to having re-organized my whole life and my whole heart around being a mother of three.

My baby would have been born in July, 18 months after her twin brother and sister.  I had had the strong feeling that she was a girl.

What had seemed impossible, three children in one bedroom and an au pair in my tiny house, had become routine, along with plans to finish the basement, and gearing up for more sleepless nights.

I found out she had died on a Sunday night from an ER doctor.  My husband was crying, but I felt numb.  I could finally exhale, having an answer about why I was bleeding, but this left me completely empty.

Yes, she was still in there, but the future with her in it had died.

My mind became lost in my first pregnancy – imaging the pain of this happening then lessened the blow.  Without a baby, and believing as I had that I couldn’t conceive, I could only imagine it would have been utter devastation.

But still, I felt lost, afloat, obsessed with determining what to focus my mind on without all that planning to do.  What had I thought about before her?

The next day my little O wouldn’t take her late morning bottle.  I couldn’t figure out why, but then I saw something shiny in her mouth.  My instincts kicked in fast, I swooped my finger in hard and with precision, and removed the object, a jagged, hard piece of plastic.  When I saw the blood on her little mouth I broke down.

The next few days I was full of terror.  The house felt like mine field.  I only felt calm behind the wheel in my parked car with the babes strapped into their car seats.

I had been told I would never have a baby.  What if O and J had been a mistake?  What if some kind of cosmic policing agency had found out that I’d gotten away with something?  Would they too be taken from me?  Paralyzed, all I could do was stare at them and cry at the slightest hint they were in danger.  I hated being alone with them, felt like they were safer with anyone but me.

Saturday came and it was Christmas Eve.  For 48 hours straight I ate until I was sick and in pain.  Guests were a distraction, but underneath was a gnawing sense of dread.

I felt sad, for sure.  Felt like every loss in my life was bearing down on me (as I sometimes did during the holidays anyway).

But I also felt relief, in so many strange forms.  I kept having this flash like I had just barely avoided some kind of accident.  I had the strong feeling that I’d almost lost everything, Seth, the babies, and felt every moment like a giant sigh of relief.

My therapist said I was relieved because I did avoid something potentially damaging to me and my family… the pregnancy.  The truth was we were not prepared financially or psychologically for another baby.  We were still reeling from the transition of having had twins after experiencing infertility and me being on bed rest three months.

But this was a burdensome kind of relief.  If only I could un-know the baby, and go back to life before.

But I did know.  I knew I hadn’t wanted her, and then I had wanted her, and I’d not wanted and wanted her all at the same time.  Now that she was gone I felt I had just barely escaped with what was left of my life, and yet I felt that she had been ripped away so cruelly.

The family picture of four that once felt just right now felt empty.  She will always be missing from that picture, no matter how much better off we might be without her.

So I guess most of all the loss I feel is for the innocence of not knowing…  the July I would have had, full of chaos and joy, my babies at 18 months, my arms not feeling empty without her.

Now whatever joy I feel in the attention and time I have for my babies, whatever time I find for myself, whatever pleasure in mothering two, and only two, will be partially because she never got to be.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com.  All Rights Reserved.

Baby C

BABY C (from November 2011)

Today I found out I’m pregnant.

In March 2010, I was told by at least six well-regarded fertility specialists that I would never have a biological child.  One said I had a .5 percent chance of conceiving by any method, including IVF.  They rest were just as dire.

So today, in November 2011, as I announce that I’m pregnant, you might wonder… Is it hers?

Back in March 2010, I was indeed handed paperwork to begin the process of finding an egg donor.

And yes, the baby is mine.

So you say, ‘Wow, it’s been 20 months, and you did it, you got pregnant!  Were you trying for 20 months straight?  What did you have to do: IVF, drugs, potions, acupuncture, prayer, voodoo?’

And I say, ’No… I’ve hardly tried at all in those 20 months!’

I got pregnant having had sex once this cycle, with a condom on the whole time.  And Seth pulled out.

I called our family doctor today, frantic, because I had not been intending to get pregnant at all.  In fact, it seemed so unlikely that I was worried a tumor might be raising my HcG level, causing a false positive.

“Can you get pregnant on one try, using a condom correctly, and pulling out?” I asked.

He said, “In theory no, in practice, yes.”  Huh?!

So you ask, ‘Why weren’t you trying to get pregnant?? Had you given up hope after 20 months?’

Not at all.

See, I left out a critical detail of my story….

I have ten month old twins.

Twins One Day Old

That’s right, I didn’t get pregnant 20 months after being told I was completely infertile.  I got pregnant 2 months later!  

The doc who gave me the .5 perfect chance suggested we do an intrauterine insemination (basically a fancy turkey baster) “for closure” before moving on to the egg donor option.

We did, and against the doc’s recommendation, we did it without fertility meds.  I figured I should try something while I continued to try to find a doc who believed I could get pregnant.

We got pregnant with twins on the first try.  I had been told my eggs were “so old” and of such bad quality that if I did manage to get pregnant, I would miscarry or have a child with a genetic disorder.

How can one’s eggs be older than one’s body, I wondered?

Funny thing is my husband was told he was infertile too.  Not utterly and completely, like me, but pretty bad.  Essentially zero percent of his sperm were shaped correctly, and thus none would be capable of penetrating an egg.

My precious babies were born Jan. 6, 2011.  They are hearty and healthy and
perfect in every way.

But ok, perhaps those slow, misshapen sperm needed a boost reaching
my decrepit eggs, and the IUI provided that.  But considering the fact that TWO were fertilized, I had to wonder if the docs were wrong.

AND NOW, I am sitting here holding two pregnancy tests, and functionally didn’t even have sex this month, and I have to wonder why well-respected doctors are getting it so wrong, telling women who can conceive that they can’t.  How many other women out there with “high FSH,” or other problems, for that matter, have been told this?

There will be more to come on infertility, but for now, let me end by saying, if I can get pregnant twice in 20 months with a “.5 percent chance”, either I’m the messiah, or we women need to really, seriously question our docs – ALWAYS!

Around 30 Weeks Pregnant with Twins

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