Let’s Talk About Sex…or Lack Thereof


When my partner and I met, we were all about chemistry. We christened every room in the house, as well as both of our cars…many times. We made love in a sunny Arizona field and in the shade of a redwood in a public park in Vancouver. We went at it for hours on end and accomplished many, many big O’s. The pull was so strong and intoxicating that it lured me away from another man I deeply loved. We simply could not keep our hands off each other. 

Fast forward 8 years. Two small children, 6 years of cohabitation, 1,001 dances, 357 arguments and reconciliations, one million shared laughs, 5,467 cups of understanding, 34,784 mixed buckets of compromise and acceptance, and a countless number of adventures later. I feel as united with him as ever, closer to him than I have ever been with any other romantic partner. After going through childbirth and parenting with this wonderful man, I feel like we’ve been to war together, and this solidifies the ties between us like blood, making him my family as much as my mother or brother. 

And I don’t remember the last time we did it. 

Yes, we are currently 6 weeks postpartum. And yes, we have a very curious and combative 4 year old under the roof. Of course, I’ve heard all the stories that the healthy sex life disappears with young children in the mix. I’m not unrealistic enough to expect the unrestrained passion of our early days to survive the many years of our partnership. The mystery is gone, and all that jazz.

I don’t want a sexless marriage, but honestly, I don’t really want sex. In my head, I really, really do, but at the end of the day when the brief moment of opportunity presents itself, I really don’t. 

The last time we attempted sex (yes, it was only an attempt), I was in my third trimester. It was late at night, and we tried to sneak in a quickie. While we tried several different positions in an attempt to accommodate my humongous belly and simultaneously pricked our ears for any signs of awakening from our 4 year old in the next room, we somehow lost the desire halfway through. To say it was frustrating is putting it mildly. My partner complained that we are always rushing and there is no longer any foreplay. My big, giant pregnant belly didn’t make me feel sexy; nor was it a turn-on for my man. Sex felt more like work, something we had to do in order to, as my friend’s wise mother puts it, “grease the wheels of marriage.” 

Soon after this, D left town for a couple of weeks. I got a yeast infection. I gave birth, and I needed time to heal. I’m experiencing some kind of pelvic prolapse (sorry for the TMI, but isn’t this whole post a bit of that anyway?), and I am now a bit freaked out to have sex, at least until after I go to my postnatal follow-up appointment. I feel very far away from sex with my partner. I don’t know how to get there. I suggested we start massaging each other to “reaquaint” ourselves, yet once again, I would much rather read a book or tune into Netflix when the evening rolls around. He is starting to show me some desire, thank God, which I think will push us in the right direction. However, when I think about the act of sex, it still feels like something I should do, instead of something I want to do. 

When did sex become work?

I remember a time in my life, about a decade or so back, when I went through a sexual liberation phase. Not that I was going around sleeping with everyone or anything; I did more of that in my early 20’s before I was really sexually liberated. I read about the erotic, talked with my friends a lot about sex, generally pushed myself to become very sex-positive in every way, and explored in a very open way with my one trusted partner (or two consecutive partners, the second being my current man). I felt so juicy and inspired during this time, and endlessly enthusiastic about sex.

I want that back. I need to create space for that. I don’t know how, or when, because I just don’t have that kid of open-ended time to relax into the nectar of slow sex with little munchkins around. It is so hard to shift into an erotic space when one has only small pockets of time and very little energy. Yet, I think if I can pull it off, it will give me twice as much energy as I have now.

Maybe I need to cancel my Netflix account. Maybe I need to erase me Facebook profile, and dedicate my limited time to increasing intimacy in my partnership. Maybe I need to take it easier on myself, give us more time to adjust as a family, and understand my passion is directed towards small children during this time period.

I am really not sure. Please, tell me about your sex life post-kids, or post several years of marriage, after the shine has worn off. Let’s have a frank discussion, people, let’s talk about sex!

 

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38 Weeks — My Love/Hate Relationship with Pregnancy

I have two weeks to go, and I realize I have been failing miserably at keeping this blog updated. Of course I’ve been busy working and mothering and being pregnant and all that, but I think what I am really struggling with is not knowing what this blog is about. Is it a semi-professional blog where I share information and tips on gaining psychological wellness? Or is it a personal tell-all journal that I use to process my experiences? So far it appears to be both, and I am not sure how and if they fit together. Because of this, I’ve been confused about what to write, how much to share. I have been completely neglectful, and I have come to realize I just need to write. Whatever. Just write. I can create different blogs later, but in the midst of the lack of clarity: Just. Write.

On my plate now is this miracle of a pregnancy. After two failed attempts, I am now in the home stretch. And what a stretch it is, literally! With my first son, I never enjoyed being pregnant. I was sick through the second trimester, and then constantly experiencing heartburn and discomfort through the third. This time around, I am experiencing both the ups and downs, so I thought I’d share my two lists: how much I love and hate being pregnant, the pros and cons if you will.

What I Hate:

  • So easily fatigued…so much to do and so little energy.
  • Nausea, of course. Thankfully it left (mostly) at 14 weeks this time around.
  • Insomnia. I am so tired, yet some nights I cannot sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time…all…night…long. And those nights are incredibly long.
  • The damn round ligament pain. Every time I go from sitting from standing, or sometimes when I am just walking, the sharp shooting pain in my groin. Ouchie!!!
  • Needing to pee constantly, and drink water constantly, and pee again, and drink more…
  • Pregnancy rhinitis. My nose is so stuffed up, I wake up gasping for air. I have to sleep sitting up to not feel as though I am suffocating. I am going to try some nasal strips tonight. Pray they will help.
  • Heartburn and indigestion. Again, I have to sleep sitting up. There are so many foods I need to avoid, but it doesn’t matter, because I am burping all night every night anyway.
  • So many doctor’s appointments. At this point, I feel like I live there.
  • Body constantly on display. Sometimes I just want to blend in, you know? Yet, anytime I’m in public, people stare, ask questions, and make very personal remarks about the shape and contours of my body. The worst is when strangers think it is okay to touch my stomach.
  • Constricted lungs. This combined with the stuffy nose often makes me feel as if I am going to suffocate. I feel trapped in this too full body, and there is absolutely no escape…just time to get through.
  • Hemorrhoids. Need I say more?
  • The kicks and stretches that push my body beyond what I thought its limits were = the opposite of comfort. Little guy is getting crowded in there.
  • Anxiety and worry. Even if I hadn’t experienced two miscarriages, I would still be the person obsessing about everything that can go wrong. Life is completely miraculous. How does anyone survive the myriad dangers we face every second? There is this little being inside of me. I have so little control over how he turns out, if he comes out alive and healthy, or if something goes fatally wrong. Yet, he already means so much to me. Being pregnant, beyond all else, is such a lesson and reminder of how little control I have over pretty much anything.
  • The anticipation. Not knowing when or how labor will go down. Not knowing if complications will arise. Not knowing how I will deal with any of it. Not knowing.

What I Love:

  • Maternity leave. I just started, and am really getting to enjoy this. Sure, I’m busy as hell preparing for this huge life change, but I am pulling in, focusing on my family, having time to reflect on how I want my life to look in the long-term. Invaluable, this is.
  • Smiles and kind words from strangers. Sometimes I don’t feel like being invisible. And during these times, I really appreciate the warmth that flows to me from so many strangers. I love that feeling of connection, that hope in the sharing of the sacrament of new life. Humanity can be so beautiful.
  • My changing body. I glory in the roundness and fullness. The veins I see crisscrossing my belly and breasts, carrying life blood throughout my body. Embodying the Goddess. What could ever top this?
  • The kicks and motions inside of me that remind me there is a little guy in there. I love feeling those jabs and trying to guess the body parts.
  • The miracle and mystery of this life growing inside of me. Where does it come from? How do the cells know to create this infinitely complex body and all of its parts? And the soul. Where does this come from and how does it get inside of me? Yes, I know: sperm and eggs and DNA and all that…but, the consciousness of this little being. The mystery.
  • The anticipation. It is better than a thousand Christmases. The best surprise ever. The greatest gift. I don’t know when or how, but I know it will be soon, and I hope it all goes well.

The Breakdown:

As you can see, the list of cons is much longer than the list of pros, but obviously the pros greatly outweigh the cons. Yes it’s a hassle, and it’s about the most uncomfortable thing, and I’m not even talking about labor! BUT. When it comes down to it, I think I would put up with almost anything for this payoff. Bringing new life into this world is something that goes way beyond me, and of course I have very little control over it. This is new life we are talking about, people. What an honor and what a privilege. I am humbled and in awe.

And to those of you who want this so much, but aren’t yet here. Please know I have been there as well. I have hoped and lost and grieved and wept. I have watched others go through it, and wondered if it would ever be my turn. I’ve felt that empty barrenness that is so lonely and bitter. And now I am here. Freaked out as hell that something will go wrong, still, and especially now when the stakes are so high, when I am completely and utterly invested in this new life. Please pray for me, and I will do the same for you. May we be blessed with these greatly desired babes in our arms. And most of all, may we be at peace with whatever hand we are dealt. May we find the blessing and the medicine in each lesson.

How to Create Freedom? Embrace Limitations.

Life is so full of paradox, isn’t it?

My entire life, I have done my best to deny, run from, and rebel against limitations. My hippie parents taught me that the rules didn’t have to apply to me, and I still sometimes find myself believing in the fallacy of that sense of entitlement. I’ve always looked for ways out of the grindstone, and I have often found them.

I dropped out of high school after my junior year, took some time off to party and work and party some more, then I went directly to college. I’ve taken many extended vacations to travel and “find myself,” and my family repeatedly gave me a place to stay while I got back on my feet financially after each of these extended leaves. I didn’t experience consistent rules and consequences as a child, and learned to walk all over my mom as a result.

When I finally got my driver’s license at the age of 18, I learned that if I ignore tickets, they get bigger and bigger, and they turn into arrest warrants. This was when I began to learn that the rules do in fact apply to me. Still, I continued and continue to look for ways out. How can I support myself, make good money even, without having to work a grueling 8-5 job? How can I make a lot of money working just a little? How can I manifest a permanent vacation? I know it’s possible, and I am just the special person who will figure it out.

Not.

The longer I live, the more experiences I have that teach me the responsibilities continue to grow. More and more people grow to depend on me. What I considered stressful 10 years ago would feel like a vacation now. I’ve come to accept this little by little, yet I still fight it at times, in subtle ways, like in my habit of always running late.

Cut to an EMDR training I attended last weekend. Trainings are great in a therapist’s world, because not only do we learn new skills to help us become better practitioners, but we also get therapy in the process. We practice on each other, which is awesome, scary, and exhausting.

I can share more about EMDR at a later date if requested, but right now I just want to share my process as it relates to this post. As the “client,” my job was to come up with some kind of stress or trauma trigger that is current in my life. I chose the recurring experience of driving in traffic while running late. I create this scene in my life A LOT, and I am so over it.

The process: track my “therapist’s” fingers with my eyes as she moves them quickly side to side in front of my face while I hold the mental image, feelings, and negative belief about myself that correspond to driving in traffic while running late. After each set, describe what I see, think, or feel, “go with that,” and continue sets until I come to a place of resolution (or run out of time). Sounds strange, I know, but the shit works, and is evidence based to boost.

This process took me all over the place, from issues with my parents, to core issues with myself. Basically, it took me to the root of why I tend to run late. Here is an abbreviated version of my mental movie stream of consciousness: Running late, yelling at myself in my head, I’m a bad person, I always do this. That critical parent part of me yelling and the small child cowering in a corner. The rebellious adolescent popping up, yelling back at the critical parent, this is all bullshit. Fuck limitations anyway. I don’t need to deal with any of this. Tired. Don’t want to fight. This isn’t the way. Maybe this inner critic, that looks and acts like a monster has something valuable for me to learn, and I should try to listen. Don’t want to. Try. Try. This monster wants respect. This monster is here to teach me about limitations. Limits are real, and they do apply to me. I can be friends with them. When I work with them, life is better. I have more choices and mobility. This part of me that wants to throw them off and be on permanent vacation is dead energy. I thrive when I honor my commitments. Running late is how I try to deny limitations. That is dead energy. Life is less stressful, more relaxed and free, when I give myself extra time, when I respect and honor limitations.

I am an alchemist. I can manipulate limitations and create freedom. I am part of this web of life, but I am not trapped in it. I can move all around. It is a sacred honor to be responsible to others, to have that trust placed in me. And I am not alone. I can let go, and let others support me and help me. Limitations have to do with being connected. Rebelling against them is actually antisocial. Life is a dance of shared responsibility. I want to be responsible and I can still rest. Interdependence.

By respecting and learning to manipulate limitations, I become a magician, creating exactly what I want in my life. I build skills, which brings more cash flow into my life, which gives me more mobility and freedom. I can do all of this in an effortless manner, because I have support just as I undertake the joy of supporting others.

So you see: the paradox of limitation and freedom. One does not attain freedom by shirking off the limitations. One attains freedom by diving into the limitations, getting to know them intimately, weaving one’s own web of interconnectedness.

And so it goes. 

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Do Expectations Ruin Relationships?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much it is fair to hold our friends and family to our own standards. On the one hand, it is a matter of self respect to expect certain qualities from those we love and choose to spend time with. On the other hand, who are we to say how other people should behave? They probably have a perfectly good reason for their behavior, and I don’t want to lose otherwise good friends because they disappoint me sometimes.

Of course, this topic is different when you look at family as opposed to friends. Take my brother, for example. I love him without end. He is horrible at returning calls or responding to invitations. Seriously, he is deeply faulted in this way. We never know if he is going to show up to family functions. Therefore, we can’t plan for him, we don’t know what he might bring to a potluck, and we don’t know if we should cook enough for him. It is incredibly annoying. It is actually quite disrespectful of him to not consider any of this. How hard exactly is it to pick up the phone, or send a quick text or email? If I think about it, I get pissed.

Thankfully, my sister helps me keep perspective on this. How? She gets extremely angry and vents about it to me leading up to almost every family gathering. She threatens to write him off completely. She is so vehement, in fact, that I find myself sticking up for him. And I find myself coming to the conclusion that I love him, he is my only brother, and I cannot change him, so I may as well accept him as is.

Is this codependent. Am I enabling his behavior? I don’t know. What I do know is that I enjoy the time that I spend with him, and I spend a lot less time being upset if I don’t expect him to function in ways in which he just seems somewhat handicapped.

Another example. I mentioned a friend who I felt really let me down in a recent post here. After we lived in the same town and were really close friends for about 10 years, she divorced her husband and moved an hour away. I didn’t expect our friendship to change because of these events, but boy was I wrong. She almost completely fell off the grid for quite a while, and has never since been available to me as she was before. I felt abandoned and took it really personally, so much that I considered writing her off, and wondered if she had ever been my friend at all.

When she did make time for me, she was often very distracted. When my mom died, I expected her to be there for me, as she had lost her dad a few years back. I expected she would empathize and understand what I needed. I expected wrong. She actually completely blew me off for months after my mom’s death. I was hurt and pissed, and really didn’t want anything to do with her for a while.

Then, I received a condolence card from another good friend in the mail about a month ago, which was also months after my mom’s death. I was pleasantly touched and surprised by this gesture, and it made me examine how i had no expectations of this friend to be there for me. I wondered why. It’s not that I consider the other friend a better friend; I actually feel very close to the one who sent me the card. The only difference is that we have never actually lived in the same town and been involved in one another’s lives on a day to day basis. It’s a different kind of relationship, I guess.

I also remembered that this friend had also lost a parent, and I had never even bothered to ask her the details about this loss. Granted, she lost her dad as a child, but this again gave me pause and made me wonder how good of a friend I am. Would I measure up to my own standards? And why do I hold some friends to higher standards? Do I really want to write off a great, old friend just because she isn’t meeting my expectations? Who am I to judge anyway?

I realized then that I need to move my first friend into another category of expectations, which is the category for friends who live out of town. We can go for months without speaking. I don’t expect them to check in regularly, but when we do get to spend time together, it is like no time has passed. This shift really helped.

Incidentally, this friend did recently contact me, and we spent a great afternoon together. A week later, a plant that she gave me a year ago bloomed with bright magenta flowers. The plant is very low-maintenance, yet incredibly rewarding with its bright and colorful display of vitality. Much like our friendship.

What standards do you hold for your friends and family? How accepting is too accepting for you? do you think it is fair and productive to have expectations of those close to you? Let me know; I really want to hear!

 

How to Support Loved Ones in Grief

ImageGrief: an experience that many of us don’t know what to do with or how to react to when we come in contact with it. Before my recent experiences with grief, I really didn’t have much of an idea of how to support others in grief. I had my therapeutic training, but that only goes so far and doesn’t always translate to being there for loved ones. It seems to me that in Western culture, at least in the U.S., we are so far removed from the concept of death that we become extremely uncomfortable when it touches us. For this reason, I wasn’t surprised when many of those close to me had no idea how to support me in my grief after the loss of my mother. For those that did give me support that worked, I was pleasantly surprised. For those that didn’t, I mostly understood.

Below I have compiled a few pieces of advice for those close to someone grieving. These are things that did and didn’t work for me while I was (and continue to be) marching down the grief highway. They may or may not be true for others!

  • Do call and check in regularly. Ask if I need anything, including practical things like food or childcare. Keep calling after the loss happens. Keep checking in and offering help, regardless of whether or not I call you back. Don’t expect me to call you back. Hearing your voice and knowing you are here for me is worth so much, even if I don’t respond to you.
  • Don’t say you “can’t imagine” what I am going through. I know I’ve been guilty of saying this to people before I experienced major loss in my life. Having now been on the receiving end of this one, I can see it really doesn’t help. For me, when I heard this, I felt isolated and separate, as if I was going through it alone.
  • Do express to me your understanding that death is a natural and normal part of life. A friend of mine simply said about my experience, “We are all going to experience that.” Even though he hasn’t experienced it yet, and maybe can’t imagine it, I felt his solidarity with my experience. I felt supported.
  • Do share your grief stories with me. This has been one of the most valuable forms of support to me. Seeing other people who have come out the other side of grief helps immensely.
  • Don’t pay me unexpected visits. Give me space to be in my cave. Call if you want to visit, and wait for my response.
  • Do show up for me, especially if you are a close friend. I was really dismayed that a person I had considered one of my closest friends barely acknowledged the loss I experienced, and simply did not show up. I even confronted her about it. She promptly apologized, explained herself, and then continued to not show up. I was especially disappointed because she is one of the few people I know close to my age who has lost a parent, and she is someone I have felt very comfortable with in expressing these difficult emotions in the past. I can only guess that she either A) hasn’t dealt with her own grief around the loss of her father a few years back and is therefore not comfortable showing up, or B) is not as good of a friend as I once thought she was. I haven’t felt very compelled to reach out to learn which one it is. Okay, excuse the rant! Any feedback will be appreciated.
  • Don’t give me the sad face the first time you see me in passing after the loss. Seriously, this is the worst. I’m at the grocery store, in a great mood, weeks after my mom died, her death being the last thing on my mind at the moment. And there is my friend, who sees me and immediately associates me with all things tragic. The overly concerned, “How are you?” Well, I was just great, until I ran into you! I am absolutely sure I’ve done this in the past. I remember bringing it up to a friend who’d recently lost her dad the first time I saw her out at a concert after her loss, and she told me straight up not to talk about it. Understand, with grief come myriad emotions. It is not just about depression and despair. For me, there has been a surprising amount of joy in the release of my mom’s spirit. So, don’t project your idea of what grief is onto me. Instead, when you see me, greet me with an uplifting smile. Let me know how happy you are to see me. Tell me you heard about my loss and are available to talk or help out in any way. Pay attention and respond to my response. If I just nod and smile and say thank you, move on to the next subject.
  • Do share your memories with me. In the time of my mom’s passing, family and friends gathered together on several occasions. It was such a treat for me to hear stories about my mom from those in her generation, stories I had never heard that helped me get to know her in ways I never did before. Another extended family member sent me old pictures of my mom. These stories and mementos are such a sacrament, like healing salve on an open wound.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Please gift us with your contribution to this list, because I know that everyone has a different experience with grief. Thanks for reading!

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The Perfect Birth

Recently, I read this great lady’s birth story, and it inspired me to write my own. I had a natural birth, a home birth, something you hear very little about in this day and age. Some people think it’s a crazy thing to do, and can’t understand why anyone would choose this, since hospitals are so much “safer.” Me, I felt so much safer at home. Hospitals scare me. They are for sick people. Pregnancy and childbirth are not illnesses. It probably helps that I was born at home, caught by my father. Knowing my mom could do it gave me confidence that I can, too.

I want people to know that birth without medical intervention is possible. Not always. I have many friends who wanted natural childbirth, but circumstances didn’t allow it. I was blessed in this way, to not have any complications. I pray my next birth goes as well. I truly believe that it really, really helped to be in my own home surrounded by a team that completely supported me going at my own pace and reinforced the belief that my body knew exactly what to do. I also want to say that perfect does not mean effortless. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. And also the most rewarding.

July 12, 2009:

My due date. I am scared and excited and so over the constant heartburn. My boyfriend, Danny insists that we buy a birthday cake to welcome the little bean. I go along with his idea, because…why not? We head to the local bakery, where he special orders a mocha cake. We stay in that night, watch a movie, and eat some cake. I go to bed late as usual, because I’m a night owl. I don’t go into labor. I didn’t expect to. It’s my first baby, and everyone is always talking about how first babies tend to come late.

July 13, 2009:

I awaken at 5 AM to cramps. I’ve been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for weeks, but this is the first pain I’ve felt. It feels like strong period cramps. I throw up and wake Danny to tell him I think I’m in early labor. I can’t get back to sleep. The cramps come every 10 minutes, last about one minute each time, and they are difficult to sit through. This pace remains steady all day. I watch a few movies, and try to keep my mind distracted. I remember my midwife’s advice, to try to go about my life normally and ignore early labor as much as possible, because it can last a long time. I don’t go for a walk. I don’t want to even leave the house. It is really difficult to ignore what’s happening, and I don’t feel in any condition to face the world. I throw up a couple more times this day. I am a puker, as my midwife says. I had morning sickness until halfway into my pregnancy, and continued to vomit sporadically throughout the remainder of it. My midwife warned me that women often throw up in early labor, and that it is important to keep myself hydrated and nourished. We call her at some point, and she urges me to eat. I eat turkey BLTs all day, because it’s the only thing I want and can stomach. When we call her again towards the end of the day, she tells me to soak in the tub and maybe drink a half of a glass of wine, so I can relax and sleep tonight, as the labor doesn’t seem to be picking up. I follow her advice and get to sleep around 11.

This first day of early labor is one of the hardest parts of labor for me. I feel like I am about to fall into a rabbit hole, and I can’t fight it, and have no idea where it is going to take me, except that it will be painful, very painful.

July 14, 2009:

I wake up at 4 in the morning to stronger contractions that are happening closer together. They are too strong to sleep. After suffering alone for a while, I wake up Danny and tell him I think it’s picking up. I sit on the yoga ball, and he works pressure points on my lower back through the contractions. It hurts. We are timing the contractions, and they are happening three to four minutes apart, lasting from 45 seconds to a minute. Sounds pretty active, right? Well, we think so, and call my midwife around 5 or 6 to let her know. I’m on the phone with her, describing what’s happening when I feel a contraction coming on. She says she’ll hold on until it’s over. I breathe through it silently, as I’ve been doing to manage the pain. When it’s over and I get back on the phone, she asks me if I had the phone on mute. I tell her no and she says, “You were kind of quiet. I didn’t hear any moaning or anything.” I tell her, yes, I was just breathing, and she replies, “You’re not in active labor yet. I know it’s hard, but try to get some more sleep and call me in a few hours.”

I am amazed and disillusioned. If this isn’t active labor, how bad is it going to get? I gather a mountain of pillows and lay in a kind of elevated child pose on top of  my bed. I keep breathing through the regular contractions. I actually manage to sleep for a few hours. Gradually, I find myself getting into a zone. I wake up for the contractions, breathe through them, and then go back to sleep until the next one. By 9 AM, I am on the floor of my room, with pillows, still in child pose, still sleeping between contractions, only now I am moaning a low hum and counting slowly through them, because they are definitely getting stronger. Danny keeps timing them, and checking on me. He suggests several times that we should call the midwife again, but now I don’t want to. I don’t want to see anyone or deal with anyone except for this. I am in it. I put him off again and again, fine to be on my own alternately sleeping and moaning through unbearable but transient pain.

My midwife calls me at 9:30, but I don’t pick up the phone until she calls again at 10:30. She needs to let her team know what to plan for the day. We let her know the labor does seem to be moving along. She listens to me through another contraction and agrees. She shows up at about noon, and checks my cervix. When she sticks her fingers in, I watch her face shift from resigned to hopeful to sure. She then tells me that I was only at 1.5 cm, but she was able to pop me open to 4 or 5 cm. She explained that often women may have scar tissue that slows the opening of the cervix, and a little bit of manual touch can help one to move past that. She told me my active labor had just begun, as I was now past 3 cm. I continue to disagree. It had been happening for hours!

From this point on, my memory is very general and a bit hazy. My explanation for this: endorphins. My good friend, Serina showed up soon after the midwife. She is an acupuncturist and masseuse, and she and Danny worked pressure points for pain through every one of my contractions. This didn’t take the pain away, not by a long shot, but it helped. I was groaning a low animal groan through the increasingly painful contractions. They were coming very regularly, and after every one, I would feel so much bliss that the pain had passed.

Let me talk for a minute about the pain. I cannot remember it on a physical level, because of the special powers of selective memory. I can tell you I have never felt anything like it before. In the pit of my core was a pain, a wrenching, a squeezing that was all-encompassing. It was amazing, this pain, and I was completely awed by it. The only saving grace of this pain, the only thing that made it bearable, was that it was transient. Also, my body found a way to deal with it. Endorphins do not numb pain, but they did put me in a trance-like space that got me through it.

My midwife Cindy checked me again, and said I was at 7 or 8 cm, moving right along. Throughout the active labor, I was sitting on a big leather chair under the window in our upstairs hallway. I seemed to not want to move from that position, nor was I able to tell anyone where I wanted to eventually birth. I could not think that far ahead. Eventually, we decided to move a futon to the floor in front of the chair, so I could birth there. Cindy’s first assistant showed up around this time, and we decided to call my sisters, who were planning to come, when it was time to start pushing.

Cindy asked me a couple of times if I was feeling the urge to push. She also said it seemed like I may be getting close because I was “a little less with them.” I suddenly did feel the urge to push, and Cindy said she would check my cervix. Just then, my water broke, onto the chuck pad and leather seat, and it was clear. The urge to push passed for a while, then, which Cindy said is normal after the water breaks.

At some point, my sisters and Cindy’s second assistant arrived. I was naked and surrounded by seven people, completely uninhibited. I could care less what anyone thought of me, which is funny, because I think this is one of the things I was most nervous about before I went into labor. I was afraid of losing control, afraid of where I would go and who i would become, and who would witness this. When the time came, I felt like the belle of the ball. All of these people were waiting on me, and I was this magically amazing birthing woman, as beautiful as I will ever be in my life.

Eventually, the urge to push came back. Cindy checked me again and found a little cervical lip. And the hardest part of labor began. Cindy tried to open my cervix while I pushed once, but my cervix tightened around her fingers, so she immediately backed off, and told me not to push anymore. I guess if you put too much pressure on the cervix before it is fully dilated, it can swell up and prevent the baby from passing. She then told me to go take a shower with Danny. In the shower, I got nauseous and threw up. Luckily, one of the assistants got there in time with a bowl! I got out of the shower and leaned on the bathroom counter.

This is when I got hit by one contraction after another, with no breaks. Complete hell. I wanted to crawl out of my body. I had a very visceral sense of being stuck between a rock and a hard place, squeezed so tight with no way out. There was no comfort, and I couldn’t do it, and it would never end. Then I was anguishing on my hands and knees on the bedroom floor. I remember Tiffany, one of the assistants, saying to me, “You’re almost there,” and I was thinking, “Screw you! I am never going to get there!” Something felt very wrong. This kind of sensation couldn’t be right.

Luckily, it was temporary, even though at the time it felt like forever.

They helped me back to the futon in the hallway, and I panted on my hands and knees to keep from pushing. Cindy kept saying she would check me again, but kept holding off. At some point, I yelled, “I’ve gotta push!” Cindy told me to let it happen if I couldn’t resist, so I did that for a couple of contractions, not actively pushing, but not resisting it either.

After what seemed like an eternity, Cindy had me roll on my back to check me again. She was happy to report that I was fully dilated and the baby’s head was RIGHT THERE! I laid partially reclined on my back, with Danny sitting behind me for support. I pushed for about 30-45 minutes; it took a while to get the hang of it. I had to learn to stop vocalizing and instead focus all of my energy down there. They propped up a mirror so I could see the head, and everyone around got really excited, and kept exclaiming about seeing him crowning, but I could care less, honestly. I just wanted him the fuck out of me.

Finally, I felt a sharp pain, as his head popped out, and tore me just a tiny bit. From there, it was smooth sailing. Cindy turned him so his shoulders slid out easily, and suddenly he was in my arms!

It was all worth it immediately. I fell in love with his little face, and could not stop saying, “He’s so cute!” I had been a little bit afraid to meet this little being growing inside of me. I’d never been comfortable with newborns, and was afraid I would feel weird with him, and that he would be blue and cone-headed and ugly. It was kind of like a little alien growing inside me. But that all changed the moment I saw him, completely. I was surprised that he was pink and his head was a normal shape and he was perfect. Complete bliss, as I have never felt before, oceans of love engulfed me.

And they have never left.

The placenta came out painlessly with the next contraction. Once this was complete, Cindy relaxed, and stated with satisfaction, “The perfect birth!” After I held our baby skin to skin and got him to latch on for a bit, they had me hand him off to Danny so they could sew up my small tear. They brought me food, which I ate ravenously, with the hunger of a starving animal. I had eaten very little all day (maybe some yogurt and ice chips basically), and if you’ve paid attention, had slept very little for days. I was famished and exhausted like never before.

My mom and stepdad came over after I was sewn up and showered. We weighed the baby, and then celebrated with champagne and the rest of the birthday mocha cake. Gradually, everyone left, and Danny and I were alone in the house with this tiny little being. And then the real adventure began…

Gavin, 3 days old

Gavin, 3 days old

 

A Little Thing Called Hope

http://ciderandfaun.blogspot.com/2011/02/hope-grace.html

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope.”
–Barbara Kingsolver

It’s been two months since I wrote, friends, and I’m not sure where to begin. My last post was about the death of my mother, which is an event that I continue to process. I feel a lot of relief that the hard part, the end of her life, the suffering is over. And I feel sad that she’s gone, whenever I realize it, because I seem to realize it again and again. I think on the one hand, I just don’t want to believe it. But on the other hand, she had been gone a long time already. The person I knew as my mom was taken by Alzheimer’s long before she died. Now, I am free to remember her as she was before. And I do feel her presence, all the time. My last thought here: the dying is so much harder than the death itself.

There are some other things happening in my life as well. Yes, my life, that continues onward, hopefully for a long, long time. The biggest news….I am pregnant! I am at almost 15 weeks now, and this is probably the main reason I haven’t been writing, because I have been sick and tired and tired and sick. Besides working and parenting, I just want to read or watch movies, anything to comfort me and take my mind off feeling like shit. So far, the prenatal appointments have been good. Strong heartbeat, low chance of genetic problems according to the first screening and NT scan. It has been such a scary ride for me due to my past miscarriage and subsequent partial molar pregnancy. I rented a Doppler so I can reassure myself at home between doctor appointments. I have used it twice so far, and have heard a heart rate of 150 both times.

The other big news has to do with my partner. Danny has a condition called retinitis pigmentosa. This condition affects his vision. He has always been night blind, and when I say this, I mean he is truly blind if he does not have good lighting. It also affects peripheral vision. People with RP get tunnel vision that gradually gets more and more narrow, depending on that person’s progression. For Danny, it has always been a struggle, as he needs a guide at night. He can never drive or go out alone after dark. In the winter months, he has to work short days in order to make it home before dark. He has been lucky for a long time, because his vision has seemed to be relatively stable rather than getting progressively worse. However in the last few years, his eyes have been shifting, but we mainly attributed this to him being in his 40’s and needing reading glasses. Then, in the last few months, he started getting blurred vision that’s been making it hard for him to function at work. Uh-oh.

This is the life of my little family for the last few months. In June, Danny started feeling the shift in his vision. It freaked him out, but he did not tell me what was going on for a couple of months! He thought maybe his eyes were tired, or he needed a new prescription, but nothing was helping. In July, I found out I was pregnant. It was such a surprise, because we hadn’t started trying yet. My mom was on her deathbed, and we were gun-shy after the last pregnancy losses. One week later, my mom died. There was the grief that hit like a tidal wave and the burial and the memorial and the gradually worsening morning sickness. Danny stepped up as the main care provider for our 4-year-old son.

About a month ago, Danny finally shared with me what was going on with his vision. We started researching, and found that people have actually been treating his very condition since the ’80’s with something called micro-acupuncture. They stick needles into one’s hands and the soles on one’s feet. I felt like kicking us for not learning about this sooner. A crazy synchronicity: Danny has always been into astrology. Years and years ago, his astrologer told him that traditional chinese medicine would help him with his eyes. Acupuncture comes from traditional chinese medicine, so go figure!

To make a long story short, we have traveled across the country to work with one of the handful of people who offers this treatment. We chose the man who has been doing it for the longest, and has trained several others. It is a shitload of cash, but we figure if it helps, it’s priceless. On the first day, Danny underwent vision tests for acuity and visual field. Then he had two days of treatment, with five sessions each day. Today was day 3. He had to do the vision tests again this morning to see if he is a responder to this treatment. With no improvement he would be sent home. To our elation, there was improvement! So, we will be here for two weeks to continue the intensive treatment.

It’s not a cure, but it can get him some acuity and peripheral vision back, and halt the progression of the RP. Danny is noticing the changes. Colors are looking brighter and everything is looking sharper. Hopefully, he will be able to continue driving and working on a computer, so he can keep his job. This is a miracle for us. Western doctors will simply tell you that there is no cure, you will eventually most likely be (at least legally) blind, and it is a good idea to learn Braille.

The town we were initially going to come stay in for this treatment was called Mt. Hope. The doctor moved to a new town down the road this week, but the vacation rental we found is on, can you guess, Hope Court. Sometimes, hope is a really hard thing to have, when you have been struck with the cruel limitations that are so very real in this life. I’m not saying I don’t have faith. Even when life hands me a bitter pill, I try to understand the lesson, and I am usually able to somewhat sweeten the bitterness with acceptance. At least, so far. One never knows what catastrophe may be around the corner.

But that’s the thing: one never knows what beautiful spirit-fulfilling blessing may be around the corner either. One just never knows. Right now, I am daring myself to hope. We are daring ourselves to hope. Our tears are out of gratitude rather than despair. I am not of a Christian faith, but as you know if you follow my blog, I am a spiritual person. Maybe it is that we are currently in the South, where there is a church on every corner I swear, and probably it is because we are seeing the possibility of the miracle of answered prayers in our lives right now, but I find myself wanting to run to the nearest hillside and yell out at the top of my lungs, “Praise the Lord!!!”

 

 

The Body Fails Us

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First your mind, then your body. Bit by bit, painfully gradually, faculty by faculty lost forever. I watched as everything faded until you were a mere shell of your body, limited to laying in bed, being spoon-fed, washed and changed by a husband who adored you until the very end.

I remember not long ago, you sang, “Da-da-doo-da-da,” with a smile on your face, playing a creepy crawly finger game with my three year old son, your grandson. He laughed, delighted in it, loving it. Loving you. We all do.

That’s why, three weeks ago, we decided to let you go. It was your request, before the disease hit, back when you worked at the old folks home, feeding people who no longer wanted to be fed. “If I ever get to a point where I can’t feed myself, don’t feed me,” you told us emphatically. We did feed you, for a long time, until we faced the fact that you weren’t going to get any better.

You had already lost most muscle tone, were constantly curled up in a fetal position. Retraction, the hospice visitors called it. Battling ongoing seeping wounds—bedsores, fever sores, not-getting-better sores.

For three painful weeks, we took turns sitting vigil with you, holding hands, rubbing your head, reading, talking to you. I told you how much I love you, how you gave me the greatest gift of all—life. I hope you heard. I hope you understood.

They started chopping the towering eucalyptus trees in the green space surrounding your back yard, making way for development. You sank deeper and deeper towards death.

“She’s going down with the trees,” my sister said.

Your husband leaked tears day in and out, falling into pieces and grabbing on for an anchor as he washed your hair, your body. Some days he felt too guilty to eat, wanted to join you in your fast.

As you faded into dreamland, a skeleton emerged, a husk that once housed your luminous warmth. The displaced birds crowded your back yard fence. A hawk visited one day, cawing and cawing for home.

Your cousin went on a shamanic journey and found you. “Get me out of here,” you demanded of her.

Yesterday you went.

Today we bathed you, anointed you in oils, and covered you with rose petals. We stood in a circle around the vacuum of your body and wept.

“Mommy, mommy,” I want to curl into a ball, and scream. Devastation of the severance of that primal bond. The first connection to this world—gone.

You are in a better place now. That is a cliché for a reason, because  it’s true. Your suffering is over. No more debilitated mind, no more failing body. Your spirit was displaced, flying in circles while your body anguished. Now you are home, in a place that can never be chopped down.

There is no tree. There is no nest. There is no body. There is no you.

Yet you are all around us.

The Afterlife

 Back when I was in my early twenties and did crazy things like eat psychedelic mushrooms, I once had a vision. I found myself on a rock in a secret place deep under the ocean. Around me sat all of my female ancestors, welcoming me with great joy. They were all lounging about on the rock, with no cares, very happy, and completely peaceful. It was light and warm and expansive there. I remember feeling like I had walked into a spa, this atmosphere of profound relaxation, and…immense relief.

I knew in this moment that this was the afterlife. I knew I would be welcomed here when it came time for me to die. In fact, around this same time period, my grandmother died, and I dreamed that I ran into her at an actual spa, and she was vibrant and joyful and free.

I don’t subscribe to any particular religion. I don’t believe in a fixed idea of heaven or hell. I do believe anything is possible, and that there is some truth and some falsehood to every religion. I have also come across people in my life who feel so familiar, and so much like immediate family, that I tend to believe in past lives.

The only thing that I am sure of though, is that I don’t know. I believe that whatever happens after we die is so amazing that it is simply beyond our comprehension. I do not believe it is possible for us to truly understand what happens after death while we are still in our physical bodies, because we have no context to place it within.

Even this vision is diminished when I try to put it into words. I do like to believe that it’s real, though. I like to believe that my mom, who will shortly pass, will land here, welcomed by her ancestors, nourished by this circle of women, and rewarded for all of her hard work here on Earth.

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