Category Archives: Life

ABORTION- Writ Large

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Twenty years ago today, I had an abortion.

The thought struck me as I drove home from work, or rather, as I drove to my seven year old daughter’s science fair at her elementary school. The thought came again, once I went home and made supper for my eleven year old son, my daughter and her dad still at the science fair.

Twenty years.

Somehow, I am at a point in my life when I measure things by decades.

Trauma has a way of either binding or erasing memories from our memory. It is an actual chemical process that happens in our brains.

On that particular day, twenty years ago, moments were seared into my memory as if someone held a tattoo gun to my grey matter.

I wore a pink sweater and black pants. I carried an alpaca shawl with me that I’d been sleeping with for years and named Mr. Snuggly. Even after the nurses made me change into the johnny, I still had Mr. Snuggly draped around my shoulders. They made me take it off when I went in for the actual procedure. I felt so suddenly cold.

Have you seen the Netflix show Sex Education with Gillian Anderson? There is an amazing abortion scene in that. My abortion was partially like that and partially not. I watched that series not too long ago and found myself thinking wow…  they got it right...  but then when I thought about it today, about my experience, I thought about all of the ways it was different for me.

The strange, awkward camaraderie of the women as they waited their “turns” in the show was totally resonant with my experience. I’ll never forget the women who told me stories and tried to comfort me. But I got suddenly sick to my stomach and a nurse made me go into another room by myself to wait on a bed with bleached, white sheets. Maybe the nurse thought the other women, who had been through it before, scared me. They didn’t, to be honest.

To this day, I remember those women and feel the wave of comfort they imparted to my pale, conflicted soul.

Ask me anything.

Ask me if I was scared; the answer is yes.

Ask me if I was sad; the answer is yes.

Ask me if I felt certain; the answer is yes.

Ask me if I cried the entire time so hard, the nurses threatened me that if I didn’t stop the doctor wouldn’t do it and would make me come back another day. Yes.

Ask me if I wanted to die along with whatever bloody tissue they scraped out of my uterus that March morning. Yes. 

Ask me if I regret what I did. . .  the answer is no.

At the time, my boyfriend, and I use the term loosely because I learned later he cheated on me during our entire relationship, was a Marine. We had been together for a little over a month when I found I was pregnant. He was menacing, and became even more so after I told him I was pregnant. He doubted the pregnancy was his. He accused me of being unfaithful and deceitful. He told me I was ruining his career and his life if I continued the pregnancy.

Then he decided we would make great parents and he said he would allow me to keep the baby. That lasted for about two days. When I couldn’t make up my mind in the market over something minor, he berated me. He told me I’d make a horrible mother. He brought me to tears with harsh words, then soothed me, as he proved his point I was an unstable human, unfit to have a child.

But that was not all.

Statistically, abuse increases for pregnant women in domestic violence situations. I was part of this statistic.

He’d squeeze the tender flesh above my knees or my elbows, then scream at me when I recoiled in pain.

I found a grenade in his closet one night when I was hanging my clothes for work the next day.

A grenade.

He told me not to worry about it. It wouldn’t actually kill me; it would just create a shattering force to concuss me and render me unconscious.

Then there was the night he dumped a gallon of ice water on me in the dark. Out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting it, so I screamed. I swore. He grabbed me by my hair and dragged me into the next room and told me to get my filthy mouth out of his house and to never come back. Soaking wet, he threw me out of his house.

At that point, I realized I could not have a child with this man. I was terrified for my own life, but even more for the life of an innocent infant that I might bring into the world.

Of course all the pro-life people will rail against me and tell me what an evil harlot I am. I should have considered so many other options. I should have worked it out. I should have left.

Well, when you are being dragged by your hair and when you are staring at a grenade sitting above your freshly ironed blouse, options seem rather scarce.

You may not understand or believe my reasoning, but at its crux, my decision to have an abortion was about being a parent.

It was about being a parent to that little cluster of cells that had nested in my gut way back then in that unfortunate winter, and about the world into which I did not want to bring it.

And it was about being a parent to the children I would eventually have– to Jack and to Emily. I shiver to think of how my life would have been irrevocably altered had I carried that pregnancy to term. In some subconscious part of me, I knew to become a mother at that part of my life would have subjected me to unspeakable trauma that would have ruined not just my life but the life of an innocent. I never would have been available as a human to parent other wonderful, spectacular, complex, humans.

He was thrilled. He promised he would stand by me. He became unspeakably kind.

I made the appointment. He drove me there.

He drove me home and made me a sandwich. He left it on the bedside table, and then he left me. I saw him maybe one or two other times again in my entire life. It was a blessing in disguise.

Ask me if twenty years later I still feel such a profound mix of emotions that I am reluctant to admit I had an abortion; the answer is yes.

Ask me if any day of any week I can tell you how old it would be. Yes.

Women are shamed for all sorts of choices.

Women are shamed for having sex. Women are shamed for not having sex. In extreme cases, women are subjected to violence for their choices.

Today as I drove home from work and realized it was the twenty year anniversary of my abortion, I realized I no longer felt shame.

It took me a long time to make peace with the images of that day imprinted on the coils of my mind. It still makes me feel a bit sad to think of the rainbow socks of the woman in the recovery chair next to me, how they were those socks with the individual toes.

For so many years I sanitized my abortion with euphemisms. I’d say, oh I lost a baby. Or, I had a pregnancy loss. Maybe those things are true. But it is also true that I had an abortion, and it is no less shameful.

You know, many years later, some time after becoming a mother to my son, I got pregnant again. The pregnancy was not viable. I tried to miscarry at home, and I ended up hemorrhaging in a grocery store because some tissue got stuck in my cervix. It was violently ugly and utterly traumatic.

The so called miscarriage was nothing more than science to me. I was only eight or ten weeks pregnant and I understood that the fetus was not biologically sound. But the horrors that my body endured as a result of that event was just not expected or safe. I wound up on an operating table having what they call a D and C. Basically, it is the exact same thing as an abortion. They scrape out the contents of your uterus and you go on your way.

At that point, it had been 13 years since my miscarriage, but I remember feeling triggered by the procedure. It brought back a flood of feelings and thoughts that were unpleasant and unwanted, unlike any of the times I’d discovered I was pregnant. I’ve been pregnant four times and I have two children. All of my pregnancies were wanted; they were all just not tenable.

So.

Here I am. Twenty years after my abortion. No longer scared. No longer ashamed, but still feeling things and still wanting to hug those crazy, generous women who were there with me that awful morning.

Abortion was a gift to me on that fateful day, just as it was 13 years later when it saved my life during my miscarriage. I didn’t know it at the time in 1999. It took me a lot of years to be able to see it for what it was and to get past the trauma, not of the abortion, but of the circumstances that brought me to that point.

Abortion should not be a dirty word. Nor should it be a gift. Abortion should be a right for every woman who needs or desires one. If you don’t want one, don’t have one. If you want to adopt unwanted children, go do it- there are plenty. But please, do not judge, blame, ostracize, or malign women who need or want this medical procedure.

This is my story. It is mine.

There is so much more to it. This is just the tip to the iceberg.

But this is what I wanted to share today, on this anniversary. Because I am no longer ashamed or afraid, of the word abortion, or of my story.

Compassionate and thoughtful comments are always welcome here at Momaste. Please note comments on this post will be moderated. Anything hateful, bigoted, or obviously written from troll land will be deleted. Take your Pro Life agenda elsewhere. If you have sincere questions or need support please feel free to connect here in the comments. Much love and thank you for reading. 

 

 

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Butts and Privates in Art, or, the Joy of Visiting a Museum With My Child

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Over the weekend, I took my six year old daughter to the Museum of Fine Art. She wanted to go on a mother/daughter outing and who was I to argue when she suggested one of my happy places.

I allowed her to lead me through the galleries. She pulled me along at just under breakneck speed, and I surrendered to the experience of viewing the museum from her perspective.

Paintings and photographs swirled past us, everything melding into a sort of impressionistic blur.

Every once in a while she would stop to admire something.  A portrait of a baby.  A painting of a sunset.  A sculpture of a dog.

We found ourselves in a replica of a 14th century chapel. My child stopped short and gasped at the enormous cross on the wall, and the strange sensation of being in a small room of its own within the giant museum.

We are not religious people and my kids have almost never been to church. But my daughter has a weird fascination with Jesus, maybe because he’s like a celebrity baby and she loves babies. Anyway, there was a serene and sacred vibe in the chapel. We whispered to one another to look at this and look at that.

There were some relics in a glass case. My daughter pointed to a small statue of the Virgin Mary nursing baby Jesus. “Look Mama!”

It was indeed a sweet little artifact and we spent a moment admiring the tenderness of the mother and child bond.  I snapped a pic with my phone at Emily’s command.  As we wandered through the rest of that particular gallery, I noticed several portraits of the Blessed Mother nursing Jesus.  I pointed these out to Emily who found them charming.  She also enjoyed the bare butts.  In one, Jesus was full frontal and she gasped, “OMG Mama, I just saw the private!”

“Yes, Dear,” I said indulgently.  “There are a lot of butts and privates in art. It’s sort of a thing.” So for the rest of our visit, she pointed and laughed at butts and privates.  I felt like I had sort of done my part at educating her on art, reinforcing the normalcy of breastfeeding in everyday culture, and joyfully normalizing all different body types (including their privates) without any shame.

Either that or I was totally irreverent and set a really bad example.

Could go either way I suppose.

As we got into the car to drive home, I asked Em if she had a good day.  “Oh Mama, it was the best day ever,” she replied.  I was somewhat surprised that our little jaunt to an art museum was her best day ever, but that’s cool.

I asked her what she had learned about art.  “I learned that there are lots of butts and privates in art,” she stated.  Gotta hand it to my kid, she pays attention.  I guess our next lesson will be about the reasons behind all the nudity in art (pun intended).

Hey, Remember That Time I Casually Mentioned Breastfeeding to My Spirit Animal?

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It’s been over two years since Emily weaned. I don’t write about breastfeeding or nursing anymore, unless it is in response to a comment on my nipple trauma post, still my most popular post on this blog.

It gratifies me to know I’ve left even a tiny mark on the world of breastfeeding health and lactivism.

I miss nursing, but I don’t really feel the urge to write about it anymore.  And unless I am doling out obnoxiously unsolicited advice to a new mom, I rarely talk about it.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

Since I nursed Emily until she was a little past four, when she naturally weaned herself, she remembers her time at the breast.  She occasionally mentions it to me.  She reminisces, and even wishes she could still be a cozy little nursling.

It is also gratifying to know my daughter has happy, safe, sweet memories of nursing and will hopefully grow up with positive attitudes about breastfeeding.

But I digress. . .

What I really wanted to tell you about was meeting my all time musical idol a few months back.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a HUGE Regina Spektor fan.  My obsession for her cannot be stifled.

Regina is a Russian immigrant who came here as a child to escape religious persecution for being Jewish.  She is a classically trained pianist who writes insanely creative songs in the indie-anti-folk-alternative genre.

You might know her as the singer who wrote and performed the Orange is the New Black theme song.  She also recently did a cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps for the animated movie, Kubo and the Two Strings.

Her presence in the world brings me joy and hope.  It’s no hyperbole to say her music changed my life.  It may have even altered my DNA at a molecular level.

Regina toured this past year, and I got to see her three times.  THREE TIMES you guys!!!

I saw her in my home state, and in New York City at Radio City Music Hall in March. Then I got to see her in November in Northampton, MA. Through a confluence of rare and unusual events, a friend managed to obtain  backstage passes to meet Ms. Spektor after the show in Northampton.

OMGOMGOMG!!!  I know, right!!!

It was going to be really hard to play it cool, but that was the plan.  The entire show was like an out of body experience, and she sang Loveology and Pound of Flesh and Flyin‘ and a bunch of other oldies I’d never heard live before.

Oh, and also my friend and I were in the second row, just so, so, so close to this woman who has more artistic energy in a fingernail clipping than most people can imagine in their entire lifetimes! The show was unreal, and even if I’d never met Regina that night, it still would have pretty much been a perfect experience.

So, we stuck our backstage passes on our lapels after the show and waited in the appointed spot for the tour manager.  There were people hanging around who didn’t have backstage passes, and they didn’t even try to hide their envy as they asked how we got “on the list”.

Finally the tour manager came to get us, and he led us down some stairs to a chamber that was all brick and basement and lacking in any glamour or glitz.  And there she was.  Regina Freaking Spektor.  My spirit animal.

She greeted us with genuine warmth and kindness that set me instantly at ease.  She was soft spoken and almost shy.  We chatted about this and that and fuck tRump!

I got to tell her how I’d seen her at RCMH and how I heard her speak about Purim and the importance of resistance and how meaningful and prescient this had been to me at the time.  I shared with her that I worked for a Jewish agency and she seemed truly delighted by this little fact about me.

While we were talking, her tour manager came up to her with a bag of lentils.  She thanked him and turned back to us.  “If you ever need to make a heat pack in a pinch,” she said. “Lentils work great!  Stick them in a sock in the microwave.”

“Rice in a sock works good too,” I added.

“Oh yeah?”

“Sure,” I offered confidently.  “Came in handy during breastfeeding.”  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I was sure I’d said the most flagrantly awkward thing on the planet.  Who meets their idol and starts talking about breastfeeding?  I apologized with a little laugh.

“No!” Regina said with a pleasant and unflappable grace.  “That’s so real.  Breastfeeding is real.  I remember. . .”  Somehow we got on another subject and then she signed my poster for my daughter and me.  Love and peace and fun.

She gave us hugs and we took photos together.

The whole encounter didn’t last more than ten minutes and then my friend and I were on the road back home.

I haven’t posted here in a long while, and I haven’t posted about breastfeeding in a longer while.  It occurred to me that this was a sharable little nugget.

I’m always searching for ways to integrate all these random bits of myself; to reconcile all of the parts of who I am to make something whole and awesome.  There is me as an artist, woman, mom, wife, worker, and friend.  There is me as someone who hopes and hurts and heals and hides.  There is me as a sexual goddess being, created of life.  There is me who is very private.  There is me who is very proud and enthusiastic.

In a way, it is so totally perfect that I managed to casually weave a thread of one of my life’s greatest passions into my tiny interaction with my greatest hero.  It felt awkward and crazy and just right.  To me, that’s what my integration is all about, and it was received with gracious humor that night.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/stifle/

The Kids Are Alright. . . I Just Have a Lot of Feelings

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It has been a few since I posted.  Days?  Weeks?  Months?  Who know?  I lost track.

I guess the typical myriad of reasons is to blame.  Life is busy.  I’m a mom.  I work.  You can only post so many times about the frustrations of your messy house and kids’ behavior in the summer before you start to hate the sound of your own voice.  Blah, blah, blah.

There was something else. . .

My last post was about depression and frustration with life as a mom trying to balance work and parenting and the ongoing grief of losing a close friend.  I was responding to one of the WordPress daily prompts, and I allowed myself to get pretty far out with my metaphors.  I do that sometimes.  It’s part of my process as a writer, and it also helps me deal with my feelings.

Cuz you guys, I have a lot of feelings.

Like, all the feelings.  All of them.  And lots of all of the feelings.

It’s just how I live.  And it’s why I write.

Anyhoo, a very well-meaning reader commented that she felt bad for my kids because I was so depressed and maybe it was hard for them.  She went on to make a bunch of heart felt suggestions about maybe I should join a group or try feeling better, etc.

I get where she was coming from, and I genuinely appreciated her kindness and concern.

But there was another part of me that felt incredibly vulnerable and frightened.  Like, do people think I’m crazy?  Do people think I’m a bad mom?  Am I a bad mom?  Am I screwing up my kids?  

For a few hours I contemplated taking the post down, hiding it in the stack of posts that feel too raw, real, and close to share with the general public.

But then I pulled the brake on the run away mine cart in twisty recesses of my brain.

No.  I’m not a bad mom.

And my kids are fine.

My kids don’t see me as depressed or damaged or screwed up.  My kids see me as a human with human emotions.  My kids see me as a person with big feels who channels those feels into poetry and art and silliness around the house.

Life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns, and I do not think we should pretend it is for our children.  That is not reality and it doesn’t prepare or teach kids for what they need to deal with the complexities of the world in which we live, or their own emotional landscapes.

This is not to say that children who live with caretakers with severe and persistent mental health issues don’t suffer profound consequences if the adult does not seek help.  That situation is no joke, and I am not writing to minimize it.  But that situation is not me or mine.

I’ve cried in front of my kids.  I’ve yelled and screamed in front of my kids.  I’ve slammed a door once or twice.  I admit I’m not perfect.  But I’ve also taken loads of deep breaths.  I’ve talked about my feelings.  I’ve taken space and counted to ten.  I’ve modeled healthy coping skills for them right along with being my own human self.

Am I screwing up my kids?  Yes.  Of course I am.  We all screw up our kids in one way or another.  And if you think you don’t, then you are living among the rainbows and unicorns and more power to you.

So I left the post up, because here is the other thing:

As moms with mental health issues and needs, we absolutely have to have safe and open space to address these topics.  For me, my blog is my space.  I’ve had decades of therapy and it has helped.  I know the things and the skills.  At this point in my life, writing is the way I process and what I need to do to take care of myself.

Feeling judged and crazy because we are anxious or depressed is a huge barrier for women in admitting and addressing their needs for support and treatment.  Too long have we been told we are hysterical and maligned for simply feeling the pressure of this impossible life.

And oh my goodness, it really is impossible.  Being a mom, let alone a working mom, is the hardest thing I can imagine.  Add into that the facets of anxiety or depression and you have something so real.

So, despite my fear and vulnerability, I left the post up.  I’m no heroine, but if my words resonated with even one other mom, then I feel like it was worth it to put myself out there.

Look.  If you had a cold or a toothache, it would be excruciating to deal with life, to work, to mom, to cook and clean and do all the things you have to do to be responsible.  But would you feel ashamed to say, “Whoa, it’s really difficult to mom and adult today because of this cold?”  Probably not.

I don’t really think it should be any different with anxiety and depression.  Our feelings can get big and become sort of like emotional toothaches.  That isn’t something to feel shame about.

But I did.  And I do.  And part of me still wants to take that post down so that you’ll all think I have my shit together and that I’m a super great mom and that I’m doing okay.

Truth is, I am a super great mom and I’m doing okay.  And my kids are okay.  No need to worry about my kids.  We are all going to make it.

What are your thoughts?  What are your struggles?  I’d love to hear from you!