Monday, April 21, 2008

A Song of Double Poison

Last week began with debilitating menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding which kept me tethered to a hot water bottle for two days, making frequent trips to the bathroom. When the cramps and flow finally subsided, I sunk a shovel into a long-abandoned garden bed in the backyard. It was warm and I was restless, wearing shorts for the first time this season. Before long I was sweating and up to my forearms in dirt, excavating subterranean boulders, ripping out snarl after snarl of tenacious mystery roots.

Tuesday night, cramps were easing away, nausea was easing in, and my eyelids were beginning to itch. By Wednesday it was obvious that I was suffering from a stomach bug or a bout of food poisoning. It was also becoming undeniable that the mystery roots I'd battled so heartily were not so mysterious after all: they were poison ivy. My face, my arms, my entire torso, my inner thighs, all erupted into angry itchy rash. My eyes were swollen almost shut, the very follicles of my eyelashes itched furiously. My wrists and my fingers, and in between my fingers, were a mass of red oozing blisters.

When J~ came home from work, I vomited into a soup pot. I slathered my erupting skin with cold oatmeal, calamine lotion, the clear gooey flesh of my aloe plant. He looked at me with a pained expression, brought me tea and bath solutions, shook his head, wondered if there was anything more he could do for me. Mostly, there was not.

And now, another week is beginning. Menstrual cramps are ancient history. Thankfully, the nausea is behind me too. And the rash is gradually subsiding—I can tolerate clothing again, even underwear, for hours at a stretch.

I will continue to heal. I'll work in the garden again (but not THAT bed). In a few days I will ovulate yet again. Who knows what else might happen.

Life's rhythms are so predictable, but the melody is always changing.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Naked Truth

"Oh, so are you in graduate school now?"

The question came from J~, a new friend, prompted by a passing remark about my application process. I had met her for the first time that afternoon at K~'s house, where she and I and M~, another mutual girlfriend, had gathered. After traveling to Northampton together to see a band (the Wailin' Jennys at the Iron Horse) we were making the long drive back. J~ had her neck craned around in the front passenger seat, and in the slanty headlight beams of the car behind us, her expression seemed bright and eager.

Instead of a straightforward response, I blabbed on and on about my tortured decision to apply, and to which and how many schools, about the pregnancy and miscarriage in the midst of it all, and how I felt okay, actually, about being waitlisted, even though my chances are extremely slim. I've been holding my life open for a child for four years, I said, and hearing this from my own mouth, it felt suddenly weighty and true. Memories flicked through my mind, all the branches of my life's path I did not explore for fear of losing my chance at motherhood. Suddenly the underlying emptiness felt undeniable, unconcealable.

I'm considering being an abortion counselor again, I went on, but I'm not sure that would be good for me, psychologically speaking — or a doula, or a miscarriage doula, if such a thing is possible, but I have internal arguments against those, too...

When I finally stopped talking, there was silence. Nothing but dark highway and a collective, carefully controlled deep breath. J~ unscrewed her neck and said to K~, our driver, "Speaking of babies, [Jane Smith] had her baby."

"Oh she did? What was it?" K~ asked.

"A human," J~ quipped, and the two laughed and bantered about this friend I don't know and her humanoid boy-or-girl offspring. M~ joined in as the topic shifted to more people I don't know. I sunk into my seat, feeling awful.

It was a simple yes or no question. I don't know why I answered the way I did. Maybe it was the novelty of having such animated, genuine attention from someone who didn't yet know my story. Maybe it was shame about the anticlimactic truth. Or maybe it was all the gorgeous mournful music we'd been listening to, loosening the drawstrings around my heart.

I keep insisting that I'm happy. I keep siting all the blessings in my life. But in a moment of weakness, the floodgates had opened and I was as surprised as my captive and unwitting audience at the stinking slurry of sadness and confusion that issued forth. I felt like I owed them all an apology, not for the truth of my feelings, but for subjecting them to it without ascertaining consent, or at least giving fair warning. But it didn't feel right to claim more group attention, so I did my best to let it go.

Here it is, people, the naked truth: as much as I'd like to think that I can root my engagement firmly in the myriad blessings of this present moment, cordoning off the wounded areas of my heart like a crime scene, sometimes I trip over the police tape and fall flat on my face.

But eventually I always get up and stumble around again, and inevitably I remember my belief that the key to emotional resilience is robust, honest emotional process. In other words: grieve to make room for joy.

It occurs to me now that perhaps the opposite is also true: If you take in enough joy, you crowd out the sadness and grieving becomes inevitable.

After saying thank yous and goodbyes in K~'s driveway, I climbed into my car and cried all the way home.

For the time being, anyway, I felt much better.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Stepping It Up

Long time readers of this blog may recall my affection for Thich Nhat Hahn's advice to tend one's inner garden. (See this post, for a refresher). Well, people, I am stepping it up, at least figuratively speaking, by tending my real-life backyard garden.

Thus far, my garden has been little more than a snack-stop for deer and a grand litter box for my neighbor's cat. I've become discouraged. No more! It's time to make my boundaries clear.

I've resisted the idea of putting up fences - so ugly, so expensive, so much work! But I want more greens, more tomatoes, more beans and squash and basil. (Well, maybe not more squash). And I realized that the also-ugly decrepit old swing set we've been meaning to take down could be repurposed, at least in part, as fence posts.

In the last couple weeks, I've gone happily crazy, cutting gargantuan brambles and pernicious maple saplings out of the previous owner's raspberry beds, grapevines, lilacs, and hardy kiwi. (Oh, hardy kiwi, how I love thee!) I've plotted out a fencing plan, squared up my previously vaguely heart-shaped plot into tidy raised beds, and begun a massive garden expansion. I've enlisted J~'s help knocking down the old swing set, and begun repainting the posts. Oh, yeah, and I also pruned the apple tree.

Here's a glimpse from a day's work, two beds so far:

And from another day, six beds in various stages, five more to go:

All this craziness has even spilled indoors, where I've been cooking and prepping vegetables for yet more cooking, cleaning like a mad housemaid/laundress, and decluttering like there's no tomorrow.

What does all of this have to do with Babies or Not? Only this: I've often felt like a creature caught up in an instinctive nesting compulsion, preparing for babies that never come. I prepare and prepare and despair and despair. It's pitiful and depressing. But then it dawned on me: to enjoy this moment, I have to live this moment. So I might as well embrace this seemingly ceaseless nesting energy, enjoy it, see what might come of it. If you build it, he will come, right? (If you don't know that reference, then you missed a really good movie. Go out and see Field of Dreams immediately. I insist) And then get busy embracing life. This is your moment.