3 Things That Were

A gritty, honest exploration of change, loss, and joy as it’s unfolded in my life.

I was a drunk. Before I took the first swig of cheap whiskey, this was my truth. But its burning release convinced me that salvation resided at the bottom of a bottle. I was a drunk and so I tracked my ovulation obsessively, discussing pregnancy probabilities over happy hour drinks. I was a drunk and a lesbian, and so I borrowed some sperm off a friend’s husband, inserted it into my vagina—with a syringe. No turkey basters here—and then downed bourbons to celebrate my first step toward motherhood. My partner and I agreed to refer to the embryo-in-waiting as Tank. If it survived that level of inebriation, it’d surely be a rough and tumble little guy. I was a drunk and so I popped Clomid with cocktail chasers. I’d spend plenty of time—9 months of it—sober after I got knocked-up. No need to over-achieve. I was a drunk and so I planned on boozy playdates, if the damn kid would ever get here already. I was a drunk and so I went to inseminations hungover, the previous night’s indiscretions emanating from my freshly scrubbed skin. I was a drunk and so I believed I could wash off shame, hide it, hide me. I was a drunk and so one day I walked into a mish-mash of strangers, sat down, surrendered, and 12-stepped my way back into sanity. I was a drunk. And then I wasn’t.

I was pregnant. Blood draws, inseminations, peeing on sticks. Jockeying to order frozen specimens for perfectly timed delivery. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Ticking off days. Willing my way to two weeks. Then, trepidatiously peeing on a stick. Bargaining with God that if this time it would be different… I never finished that promise. What could I offer God, after all? I’d wait the requisite two minutes, add an extra 30 seconds on for good measure, and then look down. NOT PREGNANT. Such a bold proclamation. So impervious to my begging and pleading. Sometimes, instead of a NOT PREGNANT insult from a pee-soaked stick, I’d wake up a day or two before our interminable two week wait to a torrent of blood. Bright red. My own body mocking me. But one time, this one time the gods of the pee-stick gave in. PREGNANT. I waited. I pulled out another stick. Peed again. PREGNANT. I was pregnant and so the torrent of blood work started. HGC levels. Were they rising? Yes. Yes. I was pregnant and so check again. Check again. Poke. Prod. I was beatific. I was pregnant, and so we scheduled our first ultrasound. 5 weeks. Woosh. Woosh. Woosh. That heartbeat made me believe. Finally. I was pregnant and so, we scheduled the next ultrasound. 7 weeks. Woosh. Woosh. Woosh. But fainter. The sonogram tech called for the doctor. They measured the images. A little small, it seemed. The embryo seemed a little small. But there’s still a heartbeat, they cheered. The air left the room. I nodded when they asked me to come back in two weeks. They’d check again, they said. Maybe it would be okay. I was (still) pregnant, so I made an appointment. 9 weeks. Silence. I was pregnant. And then I wasn’t.

I was married to a woman. We fell in love over loss—I’d lost my way. She’d lost her brother. We sat in a bar, proding our wounds. “Will you always light my cigarette for me?” I asked. “If you’ll always look at me like that,” she responded, coy. We lost ourselves in each other—lustily, drunkenly. Then, like children reprimanded for impropriety, we agreed to set about playing house. The play was a farce. I was married to a (drunk) woman, and so 5 years later, we packed up our (emotional) baggage and shipped it off accompanied by all the whiskey in the house. We showed bits of ourselves timidly to each other. Sober felt stark, devoid of blurry edges. We, at long last, knit together enough hopes, dreams, Clomid, and donor sperm to make a baby. She came into this world, pulled out of my belly, fist high in the air. An indomitable spirit. Four years later, the woman I married said, “I am not who you think I am. I am not who I thought I was.” I was married to a woman, and so began a season of becoming—of transition—for us. I was married to a woman. And then I wasn’t.

Photo Credit: Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash

3 Lessons from Loss

I don’t think about her often, this baby that would’ve been my second child. But sometimes the missing of her will sneak up, unexpectedly. Sometimes.

I knew, when I lay back on the table, that they wouldn’t find a heartbeat. Even though I still felt sick all day, every day, I knew it was over.

I physically ache when I remember that moment, the silence that filled the room where the whoosh-whoosh of the heartbeat should have been. I don’t think about her often, this baby that would’ve been my second child. But sometimes the missing of her will sneak up, unexpectedly. Sometimes.

I wanted this baby. I’d planned for her ever since Jane was born. And when she was gone, this wanted, planned for, and (already) loved baby, I got smacked not only with overwhelming sorrow but also with the isolation that so often accompanies miscarriage.

And holy shit was I mad.

I was mad that other people seemed to get pregnant so easily. Unplanned pregnancies? Those really pissed me off. And God? Oh, he was in deep shit with me.

I gave myself permission to feel all these things. And, oh, I felt them.

Then, slowly, some other (less rage-y) things began to emerge:

  1. I understood my grandmother more deeply. She lost a child in 1955. A stillbirth. And she grieved that baby. Flowers made their way into my grandmother’s house every year on March 16th, Neva Jane’s birthday. She kept the only pictures of Neva Jane in a little box in her closet. She showed them to me one ordinary afternoon when I’d come to visit from college. In that exchange, I finally saw how much she loved that baby that she didn’t get to raise. It shocked me, the magnitude of her love. And it changed me. So much so that when my little girl was born, I named her Jane.IMG_6014
  2. I realized what a gift my sweet Jane is. It took us two years to get pregnant with Jane. In total, I’ve been pregnant 4 times. I believe Jane fought mightily to get here to be with us. She is my against-the-odds child. And I have been blessed by her and taught by her since our very first interaction (But good Lord, don’t tell her that… she’s bossy enough already). Instead of losing myself in anger about what could have been, Jane led me toward celebrating what IS. And what IS is amazing.14782989940_937a33caa9_o
  3. I saw how shitty our culture is at dealing with loss. I had one friend, who I’d been in daily contact with, ghost me when she found out I miscarried. Apparently, my loss was too painful for her to process. Also, platitudes? They suck. Things do NOT always happen for a reason. It was not God’s plan for me to lose a child. I think God’s plan was more like crisis management… like he was collecting guardian angels to try haul me through this loss. Not planning the death of my child. Because, uh, what kind of God does that? Not one I’m interested in. We can do better than ghosting and platitudes. But it takes opening ourselves up to sitting with people as they grieve, to holding space for their grief. It is emotional work. But it is balm for those who are suffering. The folks who did that for me gave me a place to start healing. And for that, I am very grateful.

When I went to my grandfather’s funeral in south Georgia this weekend, I went to see Neva Jane’s grave. I stood there for a minute, honoring her brief presence in this life. And thinking of my grandmother, who taught me that it’s possible grieve and live a beautiful life–at the exact same time.

Saying Goodbye to My Grandfather

Sometimes grief feels more like empty space. A vague longing for what used to be. It’s a nagging sort of sadness, one that I keep trying to reason away. But reason and grief have never been particularly compatible. So it goes.

My grandmother used to get up before the morning light got strong and bright to make my grandfather’s lunch. He worked at a paper mill, full of chemicals that would eventually make him sick. But back then, my Granddaddy was full of life. Boisterous. Hair combed back neatly. Brut aftershave lingering after he hugged me. I loved him. Very much. It always felt so complete, his love for me. Never lacking in anything. Completely devoid of expectation. Just love, the way love really ought to be.

When I was small, probably about 6 or 7, my grandmother would take my little sister and I to play on the playground just outside the paper mill. It felt special somehow, to be close to granddaddy’s work. Like we were doing our part to support him while he worked hard. Even if he didn’t know we were there. Or maybe he did. Maybe he could always be sure I was close by, loving him real strong. Maybe he could feel that love even inside that big paper mill.

It’s been a long time since I was a little girl. My relationship with my grandfather changed over the years, for complicated reasons. But when I found out he died, the first thing I thought of was that he’d returned again to love—to the man who went to the kitchen each morning to grab his lunch pail, kiss my grandmother goodbye, and tell me he’d see me just a little later on.

See you a little later on, Granddaddy.

 

*The photo is of my mother & my grandparents, who had the absolute best nicknames for each other: Butch & Snoot.