I Am The Luckiest

When my partner & I set about to have a child, I assumed the process would take about 9 months—in total. We knew from the start that there would be other people involved in the process; I had a pretty good understanding of biology, enough at least to know that two girls couldn’t have a baby without some sort of outside assistance. So, yes, a donor, a doctor, maybe the occasional nurse. Easy peasy.

At the point we began trying to conceive, I was still drinking. Like a fish. Not often. Only once or twice a week. But copious amounts—of beer or whatever else could ease the itch I had to escape from myself. Consequently, I went to every insemination for over a year hungover. I must have smelled like last night’s regrets at every insemination appointment. But I figured plenty of people got knocked up when they were drunk. A little hangover shouldn’t matter too much.

But it did. Also, my first doctor had shitty timing and often insisted on performing the insemination after I was sure I’d already ovulated (spoiler: that won’t work at all). Between those two factors, and the breaks that we took from the whole process so I could emotionally regroup, the adventure that was supposed to take 9 months—in total—had now stretched out to 18 months with zero results.

Two important things happened next: I got sober. And we found a fabulous doctor. I got pregnant immediately. And at 7 weeks, I miscarried. 7 weeks is early. But it was long enough for me to have hopes and dreams for the child residing in my body. And it was heartbreaking to let that go. And, because I am me and felt entitled to be pregnant and to bear a child, it was enraging. What the hell was God thinking? I had gotten sober. I was doing the intense emotional work that comes in the first year of sobriety. I was being good, towing the line. What the fuck was the problem?

God and I had it out a couple times. I thought about writing him off entirely, but I’d really bought into the God loves me bit. So, I leaned in. To God. To my helplessness. And I began to accept that this may not happen at all the way I’d envisioned it. To say this wrestling with God, with my own lack of control, with surrendering my hopes was painful serves only to minimize the agony I felt then. It took a few months, but I started to accept reality. It didn’t look like I would be able to carry a child to term. So, I switched gears and wholeheartedly embraced the idea of adoption. Gay couples were prohibited from adopting in Florida at the time, so we plotted our escape to North Carolina. We scheduled a trip to fly up and look at houses. I was ready.

We had one remaining vial of sperm left in storage at the doctor’s office. We did the last insemination (although I didn’t want to) because wasting that much money seemed foolish. But I’d moved on. Instead of waiting anxiously for two weeks to find out if I was pregnant, I forgot about the insemination completely. Literally. Until 13 days after the insemination. When I felt… different. And I knew. I knew I was pregnant. And I was pissed. Holy hell was I pissed. I’d gone through all this agony to accept not being able to have a child. I had switched gears. I had accepted, for fuck’s sake. And now, well, it felt a little like a dirty trick God was playing on me. I mean, I know I have control issues. Do they have to be toyed with constantly?

I know this reaction to a much desired pregnancy sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to me in the retelling. But I was scared. Scared I would lose this baby, too. Scared of loving it at all. I wanted to protect myself. But my partner cracked the façade a bit when she cried and yelled and hugged me when I showed her the positive pregnancy test. I continued to be cautious. We didn’t tell many people until the 11 week ultrasound (where all looked well.. and it looked like a girl!). I didn’t want to buy anything for her until after the 20 week ultrasound. My partner saw my crazy for…well… crazy. She carried on excitedly, dragging me along with her.

Once I could feel the baby move, my resolve cracked. It was like she took her little heel (which she was always jabbing into my ribs) and broke my heart open with it. She would snooze all day while I taught Freshman Comp at the local state university and do crazy in utero acrobatics while I tried to sleep at night. She hiccupped frequently, which I found absurdly charming. And those hiccups helped me bond with her; I’d hiccupped so much in utero that my mom called me “Scooter,” since my hiccups caused me to skid (gracefully I am sure) around inside her belly. This baby already acted like me in some small way, and I loved it.

As we got closer to the due date, my partner and I tried to settle on a name. Parker seemed like a good choice to us, a slightly more gender neutral name that we were sure would fit our child who we swore would never wear pink (even though her closet was already awash in pinkness after our baby shower) and who was bound to be a strong feminist from birth. And then, two days before I delivered, I ended up in the OBs office for an ultrasound; they turned on the 3D, and we could see her. We knew exactly what she would look like. And she looked nothing like a Parker. Shit. So we shifted gears and (after a few lengthy discussions) landed on Elizabeth Jane.

On January 28, 2011, after 14 hours of labor which eventually wound down into an unplanned C-section, Elizabeth Jane was born. She entered the world with what would become her usual flair: as soon as the doctor made the incision, Jane stuck her little fist straight up and out into the world. She’s always had a mind of her own, that one. Even from her first moments in the world, she had the most alert, curious brown eyes. After they stitched me up, I was wheeled in to the recovery room where Jane being held by her Bobby. I loved that after I’d gotten to carry her right beneath my heart for 9 months, my partner was the first to hold her in this world. It seemed right. Even now, Jane will insist that Bobby was her first parent, because he was the first to hold her after she was born. I love the bond they share, their little world of whispered secrets, crazy roughhousing and endless silliness.

Jane brings a tremendous amount of light to the world. She is kindhearted, curious, smart. She rarely meets a person she doesn’t immediately befriend. She feels things intensely. She makes me laugh; her facial expressions alone are enough to crack me up in mid conversation. And she teaches me. She has been teaching me since before she entered this world. I’ve learned to let go of my need to control to make more space for joy. I’ve learned to say yes—to experiences, to spontaneous moments, to life. She’s pushed me to become a more compassionate, patient person. I strive more than ever to be authentic, loving and whole because that is what Jane deserves—a parent who is all in.

Being Jane’s mom is the most fulfilling, life-changing task I’ve ever undertaken. I love that kid more than I could ever have imagined. A thousand times more than I did the day she was born—even though at the time I would have thought that impossible. I cannot wait to see what she does with this amazing life in front of her. But one thing I know for sure, regardless of her choices, her successes or her failures, she has my whole heart. And she always will.

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Happy 5th Birthday, sweet Elizabeth Jane.

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Nourishment for the Body & for the Soul: Fighting Shame & Anxiety

My seeming unwillingness to eat in high school drove people berserk. My friends constantly tried to bribe me with food from Chili’s, IHOP chocolate chip pancakes, the occasional Big Mac. I took a bite of a few fries (sometimes). Or I’d just languidly sip soda while they ate. I weighed 90 pounds; a strong gust of wind could have blown me away. My stomach constantly ached, and when I did eat, my body rewarded me with excruciating stomach cramps. Food became the enemy for my body, an unwelcome invader. It was miserable. I was miserable.

Now, over 20 years later and at a shockingly normal weight, I am still unsure if I had an eating disorder. I certainly enjoyed being what I saw as lithe and nymph-like (really, I was just shockingly unhealthy). And, later, food became a matter of control to me, a way to regulate my emotions before alcohol became my drug of choice. But, in high school, eating (or not-eating) wasn’t the problem. It was a symptom. One in a mounting number of ways my debilitating anxiety expressed itself. I was emaciated not because I didn’t want to eat, but because I couldn’t eat. Eating around my friends made my stomach swirl and churn until I ultimately threw up. Better to be the skinny girl that caused her friends angst because she wouldn’t eat late night pieces of pizza than to mortify myself by puking in front of my friends.

Two memories keep dragging themselves to the forefront of my mind when I think about high school:

1) I happened upon an article about a girl who had been hospitalized for an eating disorder. She received nutrients through a feeding tube as she began the long journey through recovery. I envied her. I wanted to feel clear headed and present, which I couldn’t do because I was so lacking in proper nutrition. But I needed to be able to obtain these nutrients without having to chew and swallow; the mere thought of going through the process of chewing and swallowing my food was enough to send me into a full-blown panic attack.

2) I once somehow cobbled together the courage to go on a double date. For about one hour, I felt like a totally normal teenager. I didn’t freak out in the car (even though riding in a car with my friends normally triggered my anxiety). I got to walk around, window shop and laugh. And then, shit got real when they decided they wanted to get ice-cream. Doesn’t it sound so benign? Ice cream. I decided to fight back against my anxiety, consequences be damned, and have that ice cream. It was delicious. And then I spent the next 15 minutes throwing up in an alley, with one of my closest friends petting my hair and asking repeatedly if I was okay. I just wanted to sink into the concrete. To disappear.

The situation felt so hopeless to me that I wanted to die. This isn’t even teenage hyperbole. I couldn’t see a way out of my situation. My anxiety raged completely out of control. I once missed a youth group trip (which I’d been excited about for months), because I couldn’t convince myself to board the bus. I couldn’t imagine what I would say to people for the 8 hour bus ride. If I was with them that long, they would see me—and find me completely unworthy. Unlovable. And I would be ashamed. So I played sick. It was better than the alternative of letting them know who I really was.

My senior year, I missed so much school that the administration wanted to hold me back. I watched my world grow smaller every day, constricted by carefully constructed rules I followed to keep my anxiety at bay. I carved out spaces in which I felt (somewhat) safe. I haunted those spaces: the journalism classroom, my part-time job at Target, home. In these spaces I could pretend I was normal, just for a minute. Just to catch my breath.

Mercifully, high school eventually ended. With that end came a rush of relief and a reprieve from the anxiety that held me prisoner for so long. As I headed in to college, I knew something about my life had to shift. I needed space to learn and experience life, without carrying around an oppressive blanket of anxiety like an angsty version of Linus from the Peanuts. And, damn it I needed to eat.

It turns out the cure for anxiety isn’t more fear and hiding, it is vulnerability. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, renowned shame researcher, Brené Brown, notes that shame thrives on secrecy; sharing shame diminishes it, robs it of its power. Sharing shame requires vulnerability. Now, in college, I knew nothing of shame research or the power of exposing secrets to the light. Except that, intuitively, I knew that the secret of my anxiety was only making me sicker. I had the good sense to wait to be vulnerable with just the right person. When I met her I knew she was the right one: with her, I felt like I belonged. I felt loved and worthy (worthiness, belonging and love are all factors that Brené Brown asserts are fundamental to living Wholeheartedly). I was so not ready to love myself, but I could let her love me. And I could trust her.

The unraveling of my shame and my deep sense of unworthiness (which is an ongoing process for me) began so simply. One night, as we sat on her dorm room floor with subs, chips and soda spread out in front of us, she asked me why I wasn’t eating. I took a deep breath. And I told her. I told her about my anxiety, how I couldn’t eat even when I wanted to, that I threw up if I tried. She listened thoughtfully. Then she said, “What about small foods? Like, could you eat just a cube of cheese? What about a grape or two?” Small foods. Oh my God, yes! I could eat small foods! I’d spend years eating only small foods around almost anyone other than her. But I could eat! And I could think. I could breathe. Because, when it comes down to it, nourishing the soul with love and belonging and cultivating a sense of worthiness is just as important for me as nourishment for my body.

Photo Credit: unsplash/Christopher Campbell