Thursday, April 23, 2015

When Birth is a Portal to Your Self

When my son was born, I felt rocked by the event.  Traumatized, even.  But it was a confusing sort of trauma, because there was nothing I could point to (thank goodness) and say, "That.  That there is what caused these strange feelings."

For a while I chalked the dissonance up to the fact that he was born just ten months after his sister's stillbirth.  But that explanation never felt complete, or completely true.  Partially true, sure, but it was never the whole of it.

And then this new baby, the one still nestled within me, came along, and I suddenly felt like I was living on the side of a steep mountain, and everything was sliding down around me.  At first I resisted this, even resented it, but the farther I've gotten in this pregnancy, the more I've realized that this is not a random, senseless state, but a time of necessary shedding, of decluttering to make room for this new little life.

In the last few weeks, it hit me.

Here it was.  Here at last, perhaps, the source of the sensation of trauma at my first son's birth.  I was shedding then, too.  When I gave birth to him, I gave birth to me, too.  The woman who I was, that skin sloughed off, some at once and some not for awhile, but the process had its inception in his gestation and birthing.

 * * *

I don't know if I'm saying this right.

But how can I say it?  What is it about birthing that is such a portal, such a rite of passage, unlike anything else I can think of except death? 

I've gone through so many gateways, so many checkpoints in my life: my own birth, puberty, my entry into adulthood, marriage, the eating disorder.  But none of them has been as transforming as birth.

There is a certain, special, weird sort of alchemy there, and once your baby's crowning out of you, no matter how it happens or what comes before or after -- once you've pushed forth that tiny being, your own being is irrevocably churned up, and all that's left is to see what comes clear as the thrashing waters settle.

* * *

Of course, I experienced this with my girl's stillbirth, too.  How her death and birth were a portal, how I died with her, how I birthed my own new self with her still form.

But I thought that experience was singular to tragedy.  To the births where the room is silent, or the births that happen far too early, at home in your bathroom.  Or the births where the adoption falls through, or the hopeful treatment that never leads to fertility. 

I never expected to feel that in a live, healthy, normal (for lack of a better word) birth. 

* * *

So now I am waiting.  Waiting for this second son's arrival, of course.  But waiting, too, for my own arrival.  

I am so tired from all this shedding.  I am eager to know what's been composting, what will push forth out of the loam of my soul in a week, or a month, or ten months, or more.  What's waiting for me on the other side of this portal of our lovemaking, of our son's coming-into-life?  I want to see if expecting the changes in my self will help with that odd sense of displacement I felt at my first son's arrival.

The only way out is through, I keep telling myself.  The only way out is through.

And so, I wait, and rest, and ponder, and choose hope as I can.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

All I Can Do is Hope {The Final Weeks of Pregnancy after Loss}

33 weeks at our maternity photo session with MDK Photography

Sometimes I wonder if I should hold myself back, if I should stop expecting so much.

After all, with our daughter, I expected life, and we got death. 

But then, with our first son, I braced for death and found my arms filled with the sweetest, squirming life.

And anyway, I can't help it.  In these moments when doubt arises, I just can't.  I can't let myself go there.  I can't/won't/can't let fear rob me of this sacred time of waiting and hoping and growing.

Things are challenging enough without dipping into that fear.  Because this pregnancy has been the most physically difficult and uncomfortable of the three.  Nothing bad or unhealthy, no problematic diagnoses, just feeling painfully huge and kind of awful.  This third trimester has crawled by as I struggle with this reality and try to reconcile it with the beautiful gift that I know pregnancy to be, all while taking care of one amazing little boy who doesn't understand why his mama has slowed down so much.

This last trimester is crawling by . . . and yet, I'm so close to the end, to the end that is the beginning, that I feel like I'm on a roller coaster, on that last screaming, exhilarating, terrifying, embodying plummet toward the finish.

And I can't help it.  I'm so excited.

Nesting instincts are beginning to creep in, and I want to get everything ready, to make a place for this new little boy to join us, and I think a lot about birthing him, and how I cannot wait to see his little face for the first time, to see if he has hair like mine or eyes like his daddy, to see if he looks like his siblings or has gone his own way, to feed him from my body and introduce him to his brother and watch his daddy holding him close and inhale his precious baby scent.

Just weeks away now.  Sometimes I am afraid, but mostly I am humming with anticipation.  I hope and I hope and I hope -- against the worst, of course, but also because mostly, it's all that I can do.  All that this soul and brain are capable of.

How different from those last terrified weeks of his brother's pregnancy.  Even with all the physical discomfort, my heart beats a steady mantra -- what a gift, what a gift, what a gift.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Life Lately {Art, Pregnancy, + Parenting Updates}

It feels like it's been so quiet here lately!  And really, I didn't last post all that long ago, but it's longer ago than usual for what I try to do so it seems like f o r e v e r.  Here's a bit of what's been going on . .

Even though I haven't been creating very much, I've been having some #artistlife excitement.  I sold my art at a local craft fair about a month ago . . .

. . . and right now some of my original paintings are currently on display in my favorite coffee shops for the duration of March.  It feels weird to have my art so out there like this.  Vulnerable . . . but good.  In fact, I'm writing this blog post int the coffee shop in question, and looking up to see my heart-works hanging for all to see gives me a little thrill every time.  I look forward to trying to make more of these kinds of things happen further down the line.

I also very quietly launched a new website recently, called She of the Wild.  I'd been feeling more and more like the website you're on right now is not the place for my spiritual experiments, explorations, and questions.  I wanted them to have their own space, and now, they do!  If you're interested in feminist spirituality and the divine feminine, I'd love for you to join me there.  You can also find She of the Wild on Facebook here.  I'm sure there will be some overlap in topics between this blog and She of the Wild, but in general, the blog you're reading now will be more reserved for thoughts on creativity, parenting, grief and healing, self-care, and my life in general . . . with a side of feminism, of course, because women are awesome.

29 weeks, on a day blissfully devoid of puke

All that makes me seem highly productive in the outward sense, but really, most of my creative energy has been turned inward, toward baby-making.  I'm a few weeks into my third trimester, and aside from feeling the most intense and unpredictable nausea that I've ever had in any of my three pregnancies (let me tell you -- hanging artwork in public when all you want to do is hurl is quite . . . interesting), my anxiety hasn't been even close to what it was last time, during my first pregnancy-after-a-loss.

I give all the credit on that front to this guy, who keeps me busy, and who puts up with me so patiently when I can't do more than lay in bed and try not to puke.  He is pretty much the most wonderful boy in the entire world. 

Except maybe for this guy.  They're tied in my book.  And did I tell you?  New baby is a beautiful, healthy, and BIG boy!  I'm excited for brothers, and so so so excited to meet this little dude.  It feels like the 10 weeks until my due date are the equivalent of an eternity, but I'm sure they'll fly by (or, I hope they do, particularly if my nausea decides to stick around).  He doesn't have an official name yet, but we are in deliberations. 

thank goodness I didn't feel ill the day I had to to drink this

That's about it!  Life has been slow and quiet but, aside from feeling sick, it's been good.  I've been learning important lessons in the value of Gentle and Now and Rest and Asking For Help.  I hope I remember them when I'm feeling stronger and life is urging me to go faster than perhaps I need to. 

Your turn!  What have you been up to lately, friends?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Phoenix Soul: Vision is Here!

The latest issue of The Phoenix Soul online magazine (formerly named Sprout) is here!  Fresh off the digital presses, this month's edition centers around the theme of Vision, with contributions from some of my favorite artists, like the fierce Heather Mattern and delicious Carissa Paige (yum yum). 

I've been so enjoying writing for and reading this publication for many years now, and I love how each new issue delights and challenges me.  Plus, they're really, really pretty.  Here's a little sneak peek of what I created for this beautiful issue (of course I had to go all black sheet and write about not-seeing!):

You can learn more about The Phoenix Soul and grab a copy of Vision (and copies of previous editions) here*.

*affiliate link -- thank you for supporting the blog!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

On the Beginning of the End (Again)

at 28 weeks in my second pregnancy, summer 2012

Well, it's here.  Again.  My third trimester.

I've been dreading it.  Which I know might sound quite awful, because shouldn't every week that brings this baby closer to his birth make me happy?

And they do.  And yet.

My first pregnancy ended in stillbirth just weeks into my third trimester.  My second pregnancy's third trimester saw me trekking up and down huge mountains of anxiety each day, not to mention going on and off bed rest with preterm labor.  Oh, and breaking my elbow so badly it needed surgery and two weeks immobilization just a nine days before my son was born.

I don't seem to have a very good track record with third trimesters.

Not to say that I believe all this means I'm destined for yet another excruciating final trimester.  But I'm not looking forward to tallying nightly kick counts (thanks to my anterior placenta for making this task more stressful) and tracking the contractions that have already been making an intriguing appearance. 

And yet.
And yet

I am really starting to enjoy my sensually swelling belly for the first time this pregnancy (an enjoyment which is coming far later than usual this time).  I am loving how the kicks and jabs and all.the.heartburn. help me to imagine that this little boy is a sweet and feisty dude with crazy hair like his mama.  My feet are beginning to tingle with the sense of waddling treading on holy ground, territory that I do not expect to travel again in this life.

All that is good.  Very, very good.  And I am glad for it.  Grateful for it.  It takes some of the edge off the double-edged sword that is pregnancy after a loss.

* * *

Some days I feel normal, and this scares me.  

Because it feels like so often the day that I manage to convince my brain to release its dark imaginings of worst case scenarios is exactly the day that those fears take on flesh.  Maybe if you worry enough, anxiety yammers, maybe you'll be able to avert disaster.

Of course I know that it doesn't work like that.  But since when could anxiety ever be reasoned with?

And still . . . some days I feel normal.  Like this pregnancy will progress smoothly, that this second son will come into my arms with only the usual amount of blood and moaning.  Like there's no reason to be afraid.  Like I'll get a happy ending as easily as so many others seem to.

And other days, the future feels dark, and I find comfort in contingency plans.  Breathing is a meditation in reminding myself that I'm not the only one who aches/grieves/weeps with terror.  That happy endings are mostly myth.  That life is ever and only a path, that perceived destinations are only way-stations and rain shelters and detainment points

* * *

I really wanted my second pregnancy -- my first pregnancy-after-a-loss -- to feeling like redemption.  But mostly it was an exercise in staying in my own terrified skin.  Sacred, though.  Even with all the fear, it felt sacred.

This pregnancy, I again wanted the redemption, and enjoyment.  I also wanted to feel imbued with divine femininity.  I don't think I've gotten any of that -- being pregnant with a beautiful two year old in the house is way more physically challenging than I expected -- but it has felt normal.  I've been chasing around this gorgeous boy, and feeling like an exhausted, exponentially growing pregnant mama -- a.k.a. normal

I like that.  I mean, when I'm awake enough to really appreciate it.  And I also like how my living son keeps my eyes on, well, the living, instead of all my fears of death and catastrophe.  Lots of mama + cute buddy dates are my strategy for surviving (dare I hope to thrive? let's go with yes) the next 13 weeks.

This life, any life, all our lives -- they're not very tidy, are they?  But they are real and true and full of now and here and a fierce pile of grit, and that's important.  That is something.  Something that matters.

feeling epically huge (even though I'm not really) at 25+ weeks this time around

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Price of Becoming Who You Are?

I thought we were the forever kind of friends.  Family, I called us.  The kind who would be there when days pass dizzy like a maze, or hearts sink as heavy as stones in the salted ocean.

And I tried really hard to be a good friend (although I'm sure I wasn't always) -- by which I meant a not-too-much friend, and maybe that's really where things went wrong, at the beginning instead of at the end, like it feels.  Maybe I shouldn't have made my grief so palatable in person, or drained my soul through a mesh so that it wasn't too murky when you looked close at it.  I didn't know how to do that, or that I was allowed to.

But I always thought that our kind of family, the ones we choose, were the always-there kind.  Until they weren't there.  My husband and I left the institution for the last time not knowing, not planning for it to be, the last time, and maybe everyone thought we were angry, or going through a phase, or something, when really we were (are) trying to live true.

I didn't think that friendship depended on that.  On the institution, I mean.  I didn't think we'd lose everyone along with our certainty, which was (is) grueling enough.  But we did, or most of everyone.  The ones who kept walking with us, or came after us, or asked how we were, and meant it, with no strings attached -- they were few, and not all who I thought they would be, and I cherish them fiercely.

Should we have sent up crimson soul-flares of distress?  I thought we did.
Should we have been more clear that we loved our friends?  Yes, I'm sure. 
Should we have assumed less naively that beliefs and love were not dependent on one another?  To which I reply: do we really have to be identical to the majority before we are loveable?

You're not alone, one or two said.  We're here for you, just come back inside.  I want to, I said, but I can't right now.  Won't you meet me out here in the wilds?  And they said nothing else.

My heart bleeds for all the ways that we tried, imperfectly, to love and be loved, ways that now seem wasted, rejected.  Their silence whispers in the aching hours that I am forgettable, problematic, unwanted.  But my soul cries, louder every moment, thank you for listening to me at last.

from Mandy's Secret Message Society zine

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Now of Motherhood

Time is slipping away from me.

As January dawned, I found myself suddenly halfway through this pregnancy.

Just five more months before my life gets really interesting/challenging/beautiful/sleep-deprived, I thought to myself.  What do you want to accomplish in that time?

I meant it as a challenge to myself.  A professional challenge, and a creativity challenge.  How many words could I put to paper in five months?  How many paintings could I finish?  How many new followers/sales/[insert-your-favorite-measure-of-success-here] could I accrue?

And so I began.  I began to work on my novel again, to step it up in the art department, and --

I quickly found myself running out of gas
and caring.

The fire that normally burns within me, begging to roar and light and flare, wasn't.

Because it was busy.
Making a person.

I looked back at my New Year's question to to myself.  What do you want to accomplish in this time, Beth -- in these last months of your last pregnancy?

And the answer that rose from my soul was so unexpected, yet dripped with truth.

I want to enjoy the remains of this pregnancy as much as possible.  To sink into this sacred time.

I want to soak up the last months with my oldest son as the only child in the house, because (if all goes well) it'll never be just him and me, and him and me and his daddy, ever again. I want to build an excessive amount of Lego towers, and play-dough burritos, and go on an extravagant amount of adventures.

I want to rub my belly, and wander through books, and nibble dark chocolate, and wrap myself in soft blankets.

I want to visit with my kindred, to paint when I feel like it, to journal and meditate as I can, not as I "should." 

I want to play.  I want to stretch this aching body.  I want to stare into the widening sky, at the circling of the moon.  I want to lay on the earth and feel her move beneath my bones.

I want to be here, in this time, fully present.

Most of all, I want to not trade this time, this this-is-the-only-chance-I-get time to meet goals whose time will come, and come without such a steep price tag.

It feels strange, to still be learning (or relearning, or learning again for the first time) this after the steep educational curve of stillbirth.  Wasn't that enough?  And yet, I remain human, and sometimes it's hard to soften into my own motherheart, when so many of my beautiful friends are putting themselves out there, creating amazing things with great courage.  I want to be out there, too. 

But not at the price of right here, and right now.  Not at the price of missing this blue-eyed boy grinning at me with the universe inside him, or that baby nudging me from the inside. 

And so, I smooth my palms across my swelling abdomen, and fold my two year old into my arms when he'll let me, and trace fingertips over my husband's grizzled face, and know that this is more than enough.