That Which Is: A Lesson in and Resolution toward Pain and Gratitude

My day typically goes like this:

Morning: obsessive googling with keywords “when is this baby coming out” and “is ______ a sign of labor,” coffee, procrastination

Afternoon: Activity, OCD, long doggy walk, pregnant? I’m not pregnant, I can do EVERYTHING

Evening: Crying, exhaustion, everything is horrible, why isn’t this baby out yet

And looking at those keywords aloud, I realize: as an ambitious person, I’m constantly asking myself, “what’s next?”

  • What’s next, in terms of today, and how do I get through the rest of the day?
  • What’s next, in terms of life, and what goals do I want to accomplish?
  • When’s the next time I can go to the grocery store and replace the yoghurt that we ran out of?
  • When can I finally replace my glitching phone with a newer one with more harddrive space?
  • When am I going to finish my damn book so I can re-submit it already?

It’s a double-edged sword, of course. On the one hand, it’s great to be ambitious–after all, isn’t this how the world’s problems are solved? Perseverance and obsessive-compulsive disorder? On the other hand–it’s also a symptom of never-enoughness. Which–despite everything I have in life–is difficult to distinguish in terms of whether things are really never enough or whether I’m just imagining it.

And that becomes a question of “need” vs “want”–something I’ve always struggled with. Do I need to buy yoghurt because I’m out of it? Not if there’s other food in the fridge. Do I need a new iPhone because mine is glitching? No, I just need a way to communicate with people.

Our dishwasher broke a few weeks ago. Did we need to replace it? No, but we could afford to, so we did.

Most people in a capitalist culture would say–and have said–to not worry about it. To not feel guilty about replacing a dishwasher, or buying a new phone, or replenishing the damn yoghurt. If it’s within your budget, why not make life easier? Why not indulge in the comforts of life?

And on some level, there’s nothing wrong with this thinking. It’s annoying for things to not work, or for them to be inefficient. But I think for the past few years, inefficiency has become something that eats at me so much that correcting it has become a need and not a want–or at least it feels that way in my head. And as granular of a concept as that sounds, it’s significantly affected how I’ve been handling this pregnancy and life in general.

As someone with an anxiety + OCD combo, there are times when I feel like I can’t function unless things are in order. Therefore, I’m constantly looking at the world as something to be fixed–as opposed to something that simply is.

When we went through our miscarriage last year, I kept trying to fix the pain. Which–as anyone who has ever watched someone go through substance abuse knows–is the absolute worst thing you can do. When you look at pain as something to be fixed, as opposed to a part of life to be experienced and endured, you’ve automatically placed pain in the “wrong” category. That turns into a need to fix it, instead of a want.

Pain becomes unacceptable.

A word that’s used in pregnancy a lot is “discomfort.” I think this is bullshit because pregnancy is a 40-week marathon that involves creating an entire human from scratch and that shit is fucking emotionally and physically painful, and women are historically so used to their pain being undermined that I think people overuse the word “discomfort” to minimize the concept of the pain that goes into creating a new generation, which is typically only physically felt by . . . well, women. It’s also possible, though, that “discomfort” is used so that women don’t get too used to the relatively minimal types of pain they experience during the bulk of pregnancy as compared to the excruciating experience of thinning and ripening the cervix, which is a mostly passive thing that happens to women, much like plenty of other painful things that happen to women that we chalk up as “inconvenience” moreso than outright wrong or unacceptable. So perhaps this is another reason why I classify “pain” as “unacceptable” in my brain–because I’m tired of the historical tendency for women predominantly experiencing it and no one recognizing how agonizing that can be.

But if I’m looking at pain in the history of human existence, and I’m looking at it from a survival perspective:

Pain is necessary.

Pain is how humans learn and grow. Pain is how we gather lessons from our ancestors and develop new technologies and civilizations and methodologies of living longer and better, and it’s how we figure out how to have less pain in life. And perhaps this is why older generations look down on newer generations as time goes by: because the newer generations don’t experience the same pain the older generations do. Of course, in actuality, it isn’t necessarily a lesser amount of pain; it’s simply a different kind of pain that the newer generation experiences. It’s a new pain that the older generation isn’t used to, and therefore it’s discounted as insignificant.

But everyone experiences pain. It’s the great commonality of the human experience. And we discount our own and others’ pain because we spend so much time focusing on how to not have pain and being jealous over how others aren’t experiencing the same pain that we are.

But really what we’re doing is focusing on lack.

It’s what I’ve been doing, anyway. And I’ve been doing too much of it.

Enough.

Today I choose to focus on the glass being half-full. Today I choose to focus not on how uncomfortable pregnancy is but how that discomfort means I’m closer to labor, and closer to meeting this kid–this stinking, wonderful, wanted kid that we’ve been waiting for for such a long time. Today I choose to focus on how making a human is fucking magic, how nature is fucking magic, how crazy and awesome it is to be able to feel this other human prodding along the walls of my uterus and be all nestled and comfy but also learn about the world around herself. Today, when people ask me “how are you?” I won’t focus on how much I hate that question but on how grateful I am that people care enough to ask, regardless of whether they mean it or not–because when people take others’ words seriously, regardless of how they’re intended, that’s where human connection can ignite.

I mean, my dog gets it, and he’s not even human.

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Things Are Okay: Pregnancy Sucks, but It’s Not All Bad

One thing I haven’t remarked on very much in this blog is this:

Things are okay.

I’ve definitely talked about dealing with anxiety while pregnant before, and while that still holds true, it’s definitely not the end-all-be-all experience of pregnancy. It’s just one component of the entire journey, and damn, this is a multi-faceted journey.

People talk about the miracle of childbirth without really thinking about all the shit that goes into it. For many people (and this is a narrative I hear more often from men than from non-men, but it’s definitely not exclusive to them), pregnancy is this thing that happens to you without really trying, and then there’s nine months of hormones, and then–pop! Out comes baby, after lots of labour. But when you break that down–the whole trying-to-get-pregnant saga in the first place is its own book, as is each day of the nine-and-a-half months of hormones. There’s body horror and crippling self-doubt. There’s insecurity and uncertainty. There’s loneliness and togetherness, sometimes at the same time, and in that moment you can feel like everything is totally fine so why on Earth do you feel like everything is wrong?

I could spend–and I have spent–all day talking about how horrible the pregnancy-and-childbirthing process is. But I’ve also spent plenty of time marveling at the concept that there is a human inside me.

It’s both real and unreal. I can’t believe it but I’m witnessing it at the same time. No, it’s not pleasant, but there’s a human that started off as a couple of cells and then became a zygote and then an embryo and then a foetus and will soon be a baby–a real-live breathing, eating, shitting human who, with any luck, will grow up to have personality traits and likes and dislikes and talents and potential disabilities and will work within the confines of her own flawed human chassis. And it’s pushing back against the insides of my belly, making what I’m sure are internal bruises to her content, reminding me that she’s there.

As awful as I feel about being pregnant sometimes (maybe 20% of the time, or 80% of the time I remember that I’m pregnant), I’m always grateful that I’m able to be. After losing our first pregnancy, and after talking to so many friends and family members about their loss and infertility experiences, being ungrateful for the opportunity to be able to make a fucking human like I’ve always wanted to do is just stupid.

I do get into the weeds a lot. And it’s important to get into the weeds and break down things that would otherwise not be broken down. But equally important: be in the moment and zoom out. I am here and now in time and space, and the here-and-now Rie is building body parts like a boss.

We Should Treat Everyone Like They’re Pregnant

Something really fascinating about walking around as an obviously pregnant person has been how many people ask me how I’m feeling–and genuinely want to know.

Personally, I hate the question “how are you?” because it is generally a waste of breath. (In fact, I hate it so much that I turned it into a flash fiction piece that was published in 2013.) Most people ask this question out of habit, expect the recipient to say “fine,” even though 90% of the time that answer is either inaccurate or a straight-up lie, and then move on. I typically gloss over the question, not bothering to answer it, because it doesn’t mean anything and me having to go reflect for a few moments on how I’m actually doing and find a noun for it (I am the WORST at nouns!) is effort I don’t feel like expending when the person talking to me is only asking how I am out of social obligation.

Sometimes, people notice I’m not answering their question and I come off as rude. But about 60-70% of the time, they don’t notice. I say, “good to see you,” in response, closing off the conversation, and that does the trick.

But when you’re pregnant, people ask you something different. They add that word–“feeling”–to the end of the question, and suddenly that changes the entire conversation.

They want to know if I’m nauseated, if I’m craving any particular foods (answer: no. I am craving all the food, all the time, because I’m constantly hungry, but my doctor has warned me to be careful about my weight gain, and also eating is a chore a lot of the time because I can’t fit much into my belly now that this kid is so big, and then I just feel sick after I eat and then sick if I don’t eat and it’s really not AS BAD as I’m making it sound but it’s very annoying so I am complaining, okay). They want to know if I’m exhausted, or if I’m sleeping okay. They want to know if I feel energetic or shitty. Ultimately: they are invested in my experience of pregnancy, and want to know what it feels like.

They actually want to know.

Now, from what I can tell, the question is still a bit selfish. People want to know horror stories because they’re interesting, or they want to know what it’s like because they’re going to go through it soon, or they’re asking because it’s societally rude to not ask a pregnant person how they’re doing. And admittedly, I’m still a little bored of answering this question for people I don’t know well, because at the end of the conversation they’re going to go back to whatever they’ve been doing and more or less forget our conversation entirely. It’s just air, it’s just words.

And when you ask the question, “how are you?”–shouldn’t you be asking because you want to open up a sense of a safe space for the recipient of the question? Because you want to provide, for that person, a chance for them to unleash everything they’ve been going through, because you want to be there for them?

Otherwise, why even bother asking?

Despite all of the horrors that happen to pregnant people throughout the United States (and, of course, elsewhere), I’ve actually been treated stellarly. This is probably because I’m a white-passing, straight-passing, masters-degree-holding woman in Southern California working for a group of absolutely fantastic individuals who take work-life balance more seriously than the work itself, who have pretty much all been through their own processes of child-rearing and family-building, and who genuinely care about, you know, laws that they’re supposed to follow. They also care about, like, their people. (This may seem obvious to some of you–probably particularly male readers–but it’s really a novel concept compared to my previous job and compared to my spouse’s former jobs, as well.)  It’s also because I have a family that is economically solid (the most modest word I can think of to describe it) and a supportive community of friends and family and colleagues who have done everything in their power to keep me happy and healthy. It’s also because I’ve got healthcare and a solid, consistent place of employment that pays me fairly. I have a house (one that was not affected by the recent wildfires in SoCal) and a car that runs and enough income to provide for my child and my spouse and myself (and our awesome dog).

Remove any one of those factors, and I’d be totally screwed. I’ve had every advantage in the world and pregnancy has still been a difficult journey for me. And let me repeat that, a little louder for those in the back:

I’ve had every advantage in the world and pregnancy has still been a difficult journey for me.

But people have given me a sense of safety, and that has made all the difference.

Because pregnancy is difficult, inherently. And for some reason, people have treated me better after they’ve discovered that I’m pregnant. They’ve cared more. They’ve stopped to listen and provide empathy when they ask me how I am. They’ve offered to make things more convenient for me, to bring me food, to help me with chores, to drive me around.

I have a theory that this is because pregnant people are in a position where they’re providing hope for the world. A new person means a new member of a group, new energy, new blood. Limitless potential for whatever their agenda is, be it feminist or religious or politically partisan or environmental. People are excited for this unknown person for the very reason that they don’t know that person yet. The newborn is a shapeless form of clay just waiting for the influence of others, and people know that they could be those influences.

Also, babies are cute, and they also contribute to populating the human race, so, you know. Species survivalism is a factor, too.

But I’ve wondered, many times–

What if people reached out to non-pregnant people the way they reached out to pregnant people?

Pregnancy is a visible thing, most of the time. People can tell that you’re pregnant and it’s taboo to harm a person growing a life. (Most of the time.) But also, for whatever reason (perhaps a combination of the suggested reasons above), people tend to feel compelled to care for pregnant people and the lives within them. So I ask: what if we reached out to people who aren’t visibly growing a person?

What if, when we asked people how they were, we actually wanted to know?

What kind of effect would that have on people’s mental health? How might that affect mass shootings, or community violence, or philosophical extremism, or suicide?

What kind of effect would that have on the safety of our immediate neighborhoods?

What if, when we asked people how they were, they actually told us?

Prenatal Yoga is Basically a Bunch of White Ladies Sitting and Breathing (But I Do It Anyway)

It’s hard to deny that there’s something about a bleached-out yummy mummy storming her spandex-clad ass full-speed into a yoga studio, Starbucks travel mug in tow, that just completely slaughters the idea of love and unity.

–From this Vice article, which seems to be written by a white person and is missing some basic punctuation occasionally but is mildly hilarious

First of all: workout videos on the internet are generally awful. They’re like those ’80s jazzercize videos featuring a bunch of people who are ridiculously more fit than you are but pretend like you can be.

Lies. They’re all lies.

This video in particular is both hilarious and extremely culturally appropriating with its “b-ball” white ladies (with the one occasional token black woman to prove that they’re “diverse”) snapping on a choreographed beat in Lakers’ jerseys, completely ignoring that jazz both is specifically from American black culture and focuses on syncopation, improvisation, and communication–essentially, everything that that video is not. The modern equivalent of jazzercize is Popsugar videos featuring celebrity trainers and “workout host”s promising in the title that you, too, can look like a Victoria’s Secret model.

As retired dancer, of course, I’m hyper-aware of how toxic such thinking can be to one’s health. Working out because you’re trying to look a certain way–instead of working out to feel healthy and energetic–leads to eating disorders and injuries. Western culture consistently focuses on how we look as a way to motivate us to move: whereas earlier societies required movement for staying alive, our modern society no longer requires regular movement for basic survival. So instead we use vanity as a motivating factor. We ask ourselves:

Don’t you want to be beautiful, as defined by our constantly shifting, unrealistic standards of what bodies should look like, hyper-sexualized and airbrushed?

–to which the only societally acceptable answer is yes. We shame ourselves into exercising. We shame ourselves into contorting our bodies into ways our body is not naturally meant to be.

It’s worse with mirrors, and modern Western culture is full of those. In ballet, they’re expressly used to perfect your alignment, to show where your butt is sticking out or whether your hip isn’t rotated outward enough or to expose how low your arabesque is, and, by proxy, how underdeveloped your lower-back muscles are. In ballet, it’s good if you receive corrections, bad if you don’t.

Put another way: a teacher pointing out your flaws and telling you how to fix them is a student’s primary goal in ballet, making sporadic praise feel substantial and euphoric.

The environment is competitive, aided by the mirrors: you’re in class not to feel good, but to achieve an ideal at least as well as everyone else, if not better. You’re there to challenge yourself. You’re there to make the impossible possible.

It’s no wonder dancers have such a high rate of eating disorders. We’re practically handed systematic low self-esteem on a plate. There’s a neverending pursuit of “perfection,” of taking overt control over your body, of coaxing it by force to do incredible things, and the elitist draw of knowing that you’re among the exclusive batch of people who have the power to do so. Athletes consistently undergo this kind of self-traumatizing thinking, all with different goals in mind*.

Plenty of workouts-for-the-modern-person focus similarly on this self-esteem thing. (I went to a bar-method class once and was horrifically appalled at how I was essentially being trained to injure myself; this writer was turned off from the lack of results and the emphasis on achieving “perfection.”) Working out is about amplifying and enhancing our bodies, not about working with our bodies to make sure they’re strong enough to survive, limber enough to move and adjust with old age, and participate in life.

Therefore, I felt lazy when I started pregnancy workouts. There’s a more limited range of motion that’s considered “safe” for pregnancy, and the first thing I learned about working out during pregnancy is that pregnancy isn’t the time to push your body, because your body is already pushing itself.

Which brings me to yoga.

Ironically, immediately after pregnancy, it’s all back to normal: barre-method-style workout shops even advertise directly to new moms in hopes of luring them back to “getting fit” by shaming their new mom-bods:

baby bounce back

Fun customer quote, featured on their website:

“These last 10 pounds will probably be the hardest to lose but every week I feel like I’m looking a little bit better and better.”

The class’s description focuses on the weight-gain women experience while, you know, growing an entire human. It implies, much like Justin Timberlake implies that I’ve lost my sexy and that he has to bring it back, that you’ve lost your body:

Here, some Pure Barre studio owners and new moms themselves share insights on how the technique has helped them — and many clients — get their bodies back.

But you know what? I don’t have to get my body “back,” because my body never left.

THAT’S RIGHT, JT. SEXY NEVER LEFT. STICK THAT IN YOUR JUICE BOX AND SUCK IT.

Anyway, back to yoga.

It’s been commonly established that Western modern yoga–particularly in our watered-down exploitation of this 2,500-year-old Indian cultural practice for body-building and “ab-flattening, waist-cinching, booty-strengthening” purposes–is a form of cultural appropriation. But the best part about yoga is that it’s intended to be all-encompassing. As first-generation-American yoga teacher Rina Deshpande writes in Self:

Growing up in Florida as a first-generation Indian American, I was raised to practice yoga, but it never required breaking a sweat, nor did it involve special attire or equipment. My family learned yoga by lecture and practice, but mostly it was embedded—hidden, really—in everything we did. This is because true yoga is not just a workout. Yoga, meaning “union” in Sanskrit, has many forms. But classically, it is an ancient Indian philosophy espousing an eight-limbed approach to conscious living.

I feel really stupid, a lot of times, practicing my YouTube-style yoga as a white-passing pregnant woman in my Pasadena living room. Yes, I do use yoga primarily as a form of exercise–but for the most part, I take it as a way to also practice mindfulness. It’s a form of self-acceptance, of daring to love oneself. And it’s changed how I feel about exercise in general. I’m no longer exercising to build specific muscles or to shape my body in a specific way, especially because I no longer have a full-length-mirror-lined room with which to judge myself.

Instead, I now exercise with my baby in mind: because she is connected to me, and not by her own choice, I have to choose to provide health for myself so that she can receive that same health. I cannot let my anxiety rule me or run me over. I cannot criticize my body, and despite my last couple of posts, I absolutely must find a way to make peace with it.

It’s helped me focus more on being than looking like I’m being. And that’s the most radical thing I can do–for both myself and for my child.

I’d like to try to learn more about the history of yoga and reading more from yogic texts. Thank you, India, and thank you to Indian immigrants for bringing holistic mindfulness and whole-body, whole-spirit energy to the US, to people like me who so desperately need this kind of culture. I apologize on behalf of our (yours and mine) country for ignoring the tradition from where this revolutionary-to-Americans practice comes.

I hope that the love-yourself-and-your-body-for-where-you-are-right-now mentality of prenatal yoga lasts well into motherhood. At the very least, I can try to make that happen.

 


*Unrelated, but: I always think it’s funny how you see plenty of YouTube videos with American-football players doing ballet and realizing how tough it is but you never see ballerinas on the field playing American football. This may be because of the risk of muscular or tendon tears, since football players are significantly higher-paid and have ridiculously better healthcare than professional ballet dancers, and such tears can be career-ending and leave ballet dancers in poverty whereas an injury for a football player may have much lower consequences. Regardless, I have a theory that a bunch of professional ballet dancers playing football would be hilarious not because of how dainty it would look but because of how rough-and-tumble ballet dancers are and how surprised football players would be that dancers won’t stop for things like blood or injuries.) 

“The Second Trimester is Amazing!” and Other Pieces of Fuckery: Mental Health & Pregnancy

Someone promised me that the second trimester would be all roses and sunshine, and to that mystery person, here is what I have to say:

Fuck you.

I mean: I’m glad you had a great second trimester, or your partner did, or whatever. But mine has been a totally different story, and I’m convinced that the second trimester isn’t really that you feel the best you’ve ever felt in your whole life but that you’ve been so worn down from the first trimester that finally feeling some sort of relief makes you feel so grateful that you’re willing to call it “great.”

It’s like an abusive relationship in that way.

Physically, they were right–it hasn’t been terrible. (Though “roses and sunshine” is a far cry from “not the worst thing I’ve endured, but that’s a separate conversation about what women put up with.) But emotionally and psychologically–baby, this has been a whirlwind.

I talked in my last post about this feeling of what I’ve been equating to body dysmorphia as I’ve been pregnant, and how miserable it is, and how I can’t escape the feeling. Worse yet, I can’t find the vocabulary to quite describe it, nor can I find an online community of feeling people the same thing. Or rather–my lack of vocabulary might be blocking my ability to find an online community of people feeling the same thing.

This is psychological, you might tell me.

Well, no shit, Sherlock. I’m in therapy. I have a psychiatrist. I’m on medication. And I’m feeling this stuff anyway.

Therapy’s approach typically is: identify the feeling, then look into your childhood/past to see if you can find a source for why you might be feeling that way. But when you can’t come up with words to accurately describe what you’re feeling, you can’t really identify things with words, can you?

So in desperation, I kept scouring the internet. I tried all the search terms I could think of, including:

  • I hate being naked
  • I don’t like my nipples being touched
  • I hate how my body feels
  • Pregnancy body dysmorphia

I found a sort-of-shitty set of Whisper (whatever happened to PostSecret??) posts in a BuzzFeed list; I found a bunch of pregnant woman saying “lol” with too many exclamation points (WHY. DO. MOMMY. GROUPS. DO. THIS.–note to self: write a post on the cutesiness of pregnant woman in the face of extreme pain and horribleness, bc pregnancy is NOT cute). I found a lot of people complaining with no real solutions.

Then, I found a how-to article: How to Stop Hating Your Body. It wasn’t too helpful, but it got much closer than anything else I found to really being a solution to what I was feeling. Particularly when the author said this:

I was reading through comments on a site recently when I came across this statement from a young woman: “I don’t know how to stop hating my body.”

That really hits the nail on the head, I think. So many of us are tired of hating our bodies, and know we deserve better. But when it comes to actually changing our relationship with our bodies? We’re not quite sure what to do.

I’ve cried to my therapist: “I want to be done feeling these things. I’m ready to stop feeling them. Tell me how I do this.”

But talk therapists really aren’t equipped to tell you what to do. In fact, they’re not really supposed to tell you what to do, because that would be prescriptive and not inquisitive, and talk therapy is supposed to be about getting to the root of problems, not telling you what your problems are. There’s supposed to be an acceptance from the patient that the patient accepts and understands that they do have a problem, and that they’re taking ownership of that problem, and how are they supposed to do that if the therapist is telling them what their problem is?

So this makes sense, but when I accept a problem and I’ve identified it and I want to just fix it already (although me-fixing-things was another psychological issue that I hadn’t identified, so the talk therapy was actually really useful on that front)–not that helpful.

The advice that the article above mentioned is overly simplistic. It’s extremely surface-level. But it’s also completely useful as a starting ground to where I want to go.

I remember the video I saw once where best friends wrote down the things they hated about their own bodies, swapped papers, and then read them aloud to each other. I even quoted it in my own damn blog post about my sense of self-worth when I gained a bunch of weight around the same time that video came out. and I tell myself now: why did I forget my commitment to myself to treat myself the way my best friend would treat me? I made a decision, in 2016, to treat myself with respect. And I lived up to it for a while, but with the rush of everyday society, sometimes that commitment wanes.

I think the sense of self-worth has a lot to do with my sense of hatred for my own body. Because that’s really what it is–my anxiety disorder has to do with my own sense of lack of self-worth; my depression is a result of not feeling worthy; my OCD is a result of trying to fix the feeling of not being worthy. It’s a chain reaction that–when I don’t get down to the root of the problem–my freaking self-worth–I just keep hurting myself further and further and further. It’s like when I was 16 and I injured my groin, and then stopped physical therapy halfway through, and then I got a piriformis injury (which is giving me grief now during pregnancy, along with some sciatic pain) as a result of not healing my groin injury, and then I ruined the cartilage in my knees because I didn’t heal my piriformis injury. When we’re broken and we don’t heal the root of the problem, we overcompensate and create more problems. And then we create coping mechanisms for those problems, too, but those aren’t healthy, either, and on and on the cycle goes, where it stops–

No.

I’m not going to finish that thought.

Because where it stops, I know. decide.

I found another site that provides real, free exercises, thoughts for disrupting my own thought patterns, particularly as pertain to my OCD. One line that struck me was this one:

The OCD Trick is this: you experience doubt, but respond as if it’s danger.

I found this site because I somehow linked myself to information about depersonalization, which I thought might describe how I was feeling. But ultimately, it wasn’t quite matching how I felt. I started to realize that everything I was feeling–

  • an obsession of cleaning my house,
  • the need to have things be symmetrical,
  • my obsessive skin-picking,
  • the feeling that things are always out-of-control,
  • my fear of abandonment,
  • my constant need to put more things on my plate that I can’t necessarily handle,
  • my lack of being able to relax,
  • my compulsion to get involved in battles I know I can’t win,
  • the constant feeling that my friends and family are going to stop loving me,
  • feeling that my twelve-and-a-half-year-old dog doesn’t get enough love,
  • feeling like I’m never doing enough,
  • feeling like I’m never enough

–these are all things that have to do with anxiety.

My brain identifies fear as a threat, and it panics. Which leads to me feeling panic without a legitimate danger being in place. And according to this article, my response of trying to identify why I’m feeling it and resist the fear is only making things worse.

Ah.

Click.

I read further:

The Five Steps of AWARE

The five steps to overcoming panic attacks are:

Acknowledge & Accept

Wait & Watch (and maybe, Work)

Actions (to make myself more comfortable)

Repeat

End

I’m feeling out-of-control, so identifying why I’m out-of-control is less helpful than doing something that makes me feel in control. And as counterintuitive as it is, accepting that I feel out-of-control is more helpful to deciding to be good to myself.

wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Okay, so. Acknowledgement. I tried this two days ago when I felt so horrible about my body that I didn’t want to eat my whole dinner (which, as you know, is kind of detrimental to infant development. My OB later told me that part of the reason I feel full and uncomfortable so quickly is because my baby is moving around my internal organs, pushing them into my diaphragm, so that’s fun). I took my time eating and that helped, but I literally cried when I felt so bad about my body because I felt helpless.

I did yoga later that night (Yoga With Adriene is my hero, and her Yoga for All series going on now is both free and transformative thus far). The theme of the video was Notice, which significantly helped me actively provide an awareness to my body, with some thoughts when I got to a place where I felt exposed and negative about my body. I placed my hand on the parts of my body that felt exposed, and I acknowledged that they were there, and I tried to get used to the feeling of my hands on my diaphragm, on my breasts, on my belly. And I told myself:

  • This is my body, and I am controlling it.
  • I feel uncomfortable right now, and that’s okay.
  • This feeling will pass.
  • I am here.
  • This is my body.
  • It’s mine.
  • I choose to share it with my baby.
  • I choose to use my body to help my baby grow and develop.
  • And I love this baby. I love you. I never want you to feel this way about your body.
  • I love you.
  • I love you.

Of course, as you can imagine, I was sobbing while I said all of this aloud. And that was part of the trick: saying it out loud. Hearing myself say these words to myself. Hearing myself provide radical empathy to myself, just like I’m so used to doing for others.

I did this again this morning when I started to panic about my body after I got out of the shower. I told myself, I feel anxious, and that’s okay. The discomfort will pass. 

And you know what?

It was okay.

A pessimistic outlook on bodily autonomy

There’s this strange feeling, when your body is shifting, that it’s not really yours. I had this feeling when I gained about 20 pounds two years ago, and I just remember being completely miserable that my body had changed so much. It was unfamiliar, like it belonged to someone else. My stomach frequently fell over the waistband of my trousers and my breasts fell over my stomach.

I wanted to cry when I looked in the mirror, or when I ate a meal, or just in general. I felt exposed and miserable and out of control. But once I got off the medication I was on and my body returned to normal, things felt better. I felt in control of my body again. I felt normal.

The feeling of exposure didn’t go away, though. In fact, it was there before I gained that weight. I keep going back to this moment when I was twelve and my grandmother’s brother told me, as I sat across from him in my super-cool blue cotton nightgown with no bra underneath (I was flat-chested and I felt dirty with bras on), that boys only want one thing.

I started to cry.

I’ve been told this countless times throughout my life, but this moment in particular stands out to me for some reason. Maybe it was because I was twelve and I was in that in-between stage when it came to bras, and this was a family member who was older whom I never really got to know too well, and I felt abandoned in that moment.

My therapist thinks that this feeling of physical exposure–really, physical insecurity–is a physical manifestation of my fear of abandonment. The closest way I can describe this feeling is that feeling I get when I’m supposed to be splitting food with someone and I accidentally eat too much of it, and I can’t just fix the situation by barfing food back up and giving it to them. Or when I kicked my brother in the shin a little too hard on accident and he started crying and I rushed over to comfort him but I was the person who made him hurt to begin with. Or when I called my friend in second grade a witch and instantly regretted it but it was too late, the deed was done. There’s a no-turning-back aspect to this feeling, and it’s full of guilt and dread and the inability to escape the situation that I’m in and the reluctant knowledge that I have that I can’t just speed through the emotional process that’s about to occur. I have to wait it out.

It’s that lack of control again.

I came to understand that as me lacking control over my own body. As never feeling, really, that as a girl in American society, I ever really did have control over my own body. Of feeling like my body wasn’t mine.

And if you think that gets better with pregnancy, you’d be hilariously incorrect.

I’m not quite gaining weight at the same rate I did in 2016 (yet), but my body is shifting and growing and changing and there’s a creature-parasite that likes to kick me on both sides of the inside of my stomach. The kicks are getting stronger, and I love them and I cherish them (though I also fret incessantly that there aren’t enough kicks, and what happens if we’ve made it this far and then we have a baby shower but we have a stillbirth or another miscarriage, improbable as they might be at this stage, and I wonder the best way to handle the social situation of giving baby presents back when you’re already crushed under the worst kind of hurt). But the kicks also remind me of my belly. Sitting up in my desk chair at work reminds me of my belly. Hell, eating breakfast without a bra on with my breasts sagging onto my belly and the skin touching in the most uncomfortable way reminds me of my belly. It reminds me how big my belly is and how out of control I am of the whole thing and how scared I am, all over again, of being abandoned.

I hate the physical feeling of my body shifting in unorthodox ways, of doing things it didn’t previously do, of sticking out in ways I’m not used to. But more than that, I hate the emotional impact of not only feeling this way, but feeling like I’m the only one who feels it, and more than that, of feeling like I don’t understand even how to articulate the desperate insecurity of what I’m feeling to be able to make sense of it.

I hate feeling like my body is so unfamiliar that it’s not mine anymore, but I guess it’s too late for that, isn’t it?

It never was mine, and it isn’t only mine now, and when this is all over it’s still not going to be mine.

It’s always going to belong to somebody else.

Pregnancy is inherently dangerous, and for some reason we like making it more difficult for ourselves.

(Disclaimer: I recognize that many religions–in particular, Christian Scientists–have a drastically different view of medical intervention as a whole, and I respect their approach to such things. This piece in no way intended to focus in on Christian-Science methodologies and responses to pain and medical care, but rather focuses on a secular approach to health and wellness.)

It’s been a whirlwind of events lately. I was in the ER a few weeks ago because in the middle of walking my dog I started to cramp badly enough that I had trouble walking and breathing. That triggered an anxiety attack, and it was all I could do to lie down on the floor and clutch my abdomen and call the paramedics while I waited for the blood to start coming out.

It never did. By the time they got me to the hospital, the pain was mostly gone, but they ran through a battery of tests anyway. They did a transvaginal ultrasound, and this time not only did the wand not come out all bloody, but the angel-of-an-ultrasound-technician showed us the screen and there was Eggo, squirming and kicking and generally being a growing parasite-human.

I bawled. Jon teared up. My friend Laura, bless her, waited with me at the hospital until Jon could get there. My parents showed up to offer their support. It took everything I had to contain myself for the blessing of having a phenomenal support network, and I did not contain myself very well.

But when I got out of the hospital, the only thing I could think about was how stupid I felt.

I could have just waited for the pain to go away, I thought to myself. I could have waited an hour. Then I wouldn’t have had to pay for an ambulance, nor the ER.

I could have just toughed it out.

The funny thing was–everyone I told this to told me I was being stupid. Of course I should have called the paramedics. I was in pain, and I’d had a miscarriage before, and I didn’t know it wasn’t happening again. The cramps were so similar to that miscarriage. There could have been complications, because pregnancy is inherently dangerous.

That’s something I feel that most people don’t understand about pregnancy/abortion/etc. There’s this whole “natural”-childbirth movement that touts the importance of staying away from chemically-induced anything, whether it be an epidural or Pitocin for starting contractions if you’ve been unable to deliver your baby within twenty-four hours of your water breaking. If you don’t have a doula and a bathtub, this movement implies, you’re doing it wrong.

Which is the most toxic thing to ever say to a pregnant person.

Expectant parents just want to do what’s best for their children. They just want to do what’s right for their kids, whatever that might be. But when you zoom out a bit, it’s easy to see that the natural-childbirth movement is a horrific lie designed to put women through as much pain as possible and risk their lives.

This may not be the intention. Or it might be, and everyone at the top who specializes in “natural” childbirthing is profiting madly off of this. I don’t know, and there’s no way to really prove it without everyone shouting “conspiracy.” But something that “natural-is-best” evangelists seem to conveniently forget is that childbirth sans medical intervention historically resulted in record highs of maternal mortality. In the Renaissance, for example, women often wrote their wills as soon as they found out they were pregnant.

An article from Mental Floss goes on to highlight the commonalities of pregnancy and child/mother mortality rates in early America:

Three women were pregnant when they boarded the Mayflower on its journey to America. One child, Oceanus Hopkins, was born during the voyage and died during the first winter in Massachusetts. Another, Peregrine White, was born shipboard off Cape Cod and lived to an old age. The third child was stillborn at Plymouth; the mother died in childbirth. Such stories were not at all shocking, as a woman’s chances of dying during childbirth were between one and two percent -for each birth. If a woman gave birth to eight or ten children, her chances of eventually dying in childbirth were pretty high. The infant mortality rate was even higher. The chances of a child dying before his fifth birthday were estimated to be around 20 percent, depending on the community (accurate records are scarce). In addition to the fear of death or the fear of the child dying, there was no pain relief during labor, except for whisky in some places. In Puritan communities, pain during childbirth was God’s punishment for Eve and all women who came afterward.

It wasn’t until the introduction of anaesthesia, modern standards of hygiene amongst medical practitioners, blood transfusions, and better physician/hospital practices/standards of care post-1930s that maternal mortality rates plummeted in developed countries. What’s of note here is this startling graph from this paper from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that illustrates how common maternal mortality used to be, and how dangerous it is without the medical standards we’ve become accustomed to today:

Annual maternal mortality rates in the United States, Australia, England and Wales (E and W), Sweden, and the Netherlands, 1925–1950. Data from reference 6.

The thing that pisses me off is not that people want to do childbirth without medical intervention–to each their own–but that they want to judge others for not choosing to do that. There is so much pressure for expectant parents to follow through with as little medical intervention as possible that parents end up making really dumb decisions that lead to otherwise-preventable maternal deaths.

Even worse: people buy into this “goddess myth”–the need to have some sort of perfect pregnancy, perfect labour, picture-perfect goddess-style pushing-of-a-child-out-of-one’s-vagina. Time did an article on this that I read a few months back that I thought was absolutely stellar. Unfortunately, I can’t find a record of this article online, but here’s a response to it so you can get the gist. The toxicity of having a pressured, idealized version of what it means to be a woman, what it means for your body to “be able to handle it naturally,” shames people like me into second-guessing whether they need medical care when their bodies are screaming out in pain.

Especially because the other side to all of this is the ridiculous cost of American healthcare.

Everyone told me I was being ridiculous for second-guessing whether I should have gone to the hospital. But I felt guilty afterward. A hospital visit and an ambulance ride together are something like $1,000 with insurance, unless you can work some sort of magic with your insurance and they deem it a “legitimate emergency.” (You know, as opposed to those fake emergencies that we have.)

A few months after my miscarriage in December, I saw a surprise claim on my health insurance for the hospital where I miscarried. It took me two hours of wading through phone menus and talking to people who had no idea what I was asking about and kept telling me to call other people (who also had no idea what I was asking about) to figure out that my insurance was supposed to have covered this claim after all. It was for something like $500, and it was for the ER doctor who saw me for 15 minutes while I bled out my baby. They told me this while they were collecting my co-payment, but I hadn’t been listening on account of my continued panic about losing my child–apparently, the co-pay for the emergency room did not include the doctor’s services, because doctors bill separately from the emergency room.

To which my only response was: what the actual fuck?

First of all, why was it so difficult to get an answer? Why did I have to call a million billing departments before I could talk to someone? Why the fuck do people still use phone menus for-fucks-sake-are-you-serious-people. Why do hospitals have this system of not billing their doctors directly and including them in on the patient’s co-pay? And why do I, the patient who is still traumatized from the things happening to my body and the loss of my child and the pain of essentially labouring out a gestational sac, have to be the one paying not only physically and mentally, but financially, for something that happens to women so frequently that it’s “only natural”?

If that’s the case, why do we even have a government? Why are we paying taxes if our healthcare isn’t going to take care of us?

There’s no question that healthcare in this country is a hot-button issue. After my experiences in a hospital–twice–and after hearing that some of my friends “only spent $6,000” on healthcare throughout their pregnancies, I am a certain advocate for universal, single-payer healthcare.

But that’s not a surprise. I’m an educated minority Millennial from California. I’m the perfect demographic representative to advocate for such things.

What is a surprise is how we as a country haven’t all agreed on this yet.

Considering all of the above, and given that–

  • The government’s purpose is to protect all of its citizens from unnecessary death in whatever ways possible,
  • The amount that we as Americans pay into our healthcare system is ridiculously higher than the actual cost of healthcare, and
  • Pregnancy is an inherently dangerous activity that is essential to the continued existence of humanity,

–why, then, have we not found a way to protect our women via our government?

Why is this not a standard in the United States yet?

Without a doubt, it should be.

Oh, hai, depression.

Around 9:30 every night I start to become anxious. I think it’s that my coffee has just run out and I haven’t taken my antidepressants yet; I’m tired from the long day and all I can see at the end of the day are my failures. Haven’t folded the laundry yet. My workout today was hardly a workout. Those posters still aren’t up on the walls. Our carpets desperately need to be cleaned. Still need to organize those papers and get rid of most of them. Haven’t made the bed in three weeks; we just re-arrange the sheets before tucking ourselves in every night. And the writing–oh, mercy have me, the writing. I have my one beautiful manuscript, polished clean from the last six years, and now I look at my current work-in-progress (wip) and I’m instantly dissatisfied by its utter gall to be a first-draft manuscript.

I think I’m caught somewhere between depression, anxiety, and apathy. Or maybe they’re all part of the same big thing. My psychiatrist decreased my meds by 25 mg a few weeks ago and it stopped the nightmares I was having but I also seem to have much lower energy. I’m definitely introverting more. I’m definitely less excited about waking up in the morning. I feel like–

–like despite all the goals I have, I’m not really making progress on any of them.

A few years ago I remember getting up at 5:30 to have an hour or so to write in the morning before I headed off to work. It was my secret, special time: just me and the coffee and the rising sun and its subsequent humid morning heat (because let’s get real there was no way I was doing this if it was totally dark until 7:30 AM). I’d put the coffee pot on, reveling in the chortling sound it made as it brewed, smelling the bitter, black warmth it spread throughout my kitchen. I’d sit down with my laptop at the table, bust out a few hundred words, hot coffee warming up everything from my tongue to my esophagus to my gut. Nothing like it. Home.

Now I hesitate before writing. I second-guess my practice. “Just write SOMEthing,” I tell everyone, “it worked for me,” because it has worked for me. And now I’m abbreviating myself by not listening to my own voice.

Stupid.

I think a lot of it is feeling like I have something to look forward to. With all the recent discussions about suicide and depression, I’m sure many of you understand: having a goal is everything. It’s what gets you up in the morning and makes you feel okay about everything late into the night. It’s what excites you and keeps your friends in the know and fills you with so much hope and energy that you can’t wait to get started, even if you’re slugging through the middle of the project. But right now, nothing really excites me except that sonogram the morning of June 21st. Once I get there, I tell myself, I can start breathing again. My life can re-start.

But then–what am I living for now?

Focus, I tell myself. Just get something down on the page. Get as much written as possible before then. Move your ass. It’ll make the waiting better.

I’m sure it would, if only I could find the motivation.

I’ll try.

Why Having a Miscarriage Made Me Even More Pro-Choice

Pregnancy is like reading a book I can’t skip ahead in. Until I hit that magical twelve weeks, I can’t plan to go on parental leave and it seems like a waste to buy maternity clothes. I can’t plan. I’m a planner: I live my whole life planning. When I was finishing grad school I got through my thesis, managing the compilation and release of a magazine issue, reading 15 books, and finishing the last of my courses by creating a puffy-paint calendar where I could map out every single thing I did at a granular level.

  • Monday: 100 pages of Book 12, finish chapter four rewrite of thesis
  • Tuesday: galleys review, skim through course book for class, imitation piece
  • Wednesday: catch-up day for anything unfinished, +finish Book 12

I mapped out my life for three months and I finished my thesis a week ahead of time. I was so excited. Projects are stressful, but when they’re projects I love, I like to feel like I’m progressing. That’s how I thrive.

If I fell behind on my thesis, I could move things around and catch up.

If I lose this baby, I can’t catch up on its life.

It’s just over.

I know that the picture is bigger than that. Blah blah blah, there was probably a genetic defect, it wasn’t the right time, blah. But aside from the basics—don’t drink, don’t get hit in the stomach, don’t have a stroke—there’s no prevention for a miscarriage. There’s no early-detection of a miscarriage while it’s in progress that will make it not-happen.

It’s like walking a tightrope without a net. You can fall at any point, and the slightest bit of imbalance can send a life hurtling toward its death.

I read somewhere once that there was a woman who was so heartbroken about her own fertility issues that she confronted someone who had an abortion at a conference and shouted at her for getting an abortion. I understand both perspectives: for the abortion side, the world is already stacked against women on their own; adding extra lives for those women to be responsible for on top of the pre-existing discrimination that exists against them is simply cruel. But in defence of the attacker, the inability to create and carry life when you want to is so excruciatingly painful that it’s difficult not to be irrationally, jealously angry at women who choose to rid themselves of the organisms they WERE able to create.

When I first miscarried I was angry. I was jealous. I couldn’t handle people who were amazingly fertile. I felt better when people acknowledged that what had happened was shit, that the unexpected death of my embryo was stupid and terrible and painful, and that most pregnancy was frustrating and difficult and dumb. This comforted me–because negativity tends to comfort anger.

Or, more accurately, expecting things to be bad takes away any semblance of hope that things might be good. So waking up to find that you feel like shit when you don’t expect the world to be great is much easier to explain than waking up to find that you feel like shit when you expect the world to be rosy.

Of course, I’m the same woman who–four years ago–would have sought out an abortion if I’d become unexpectedly pregnant then, because I knew that even as lucky as my spouse and I were to have at least one well-paying job between us, we couldn’t afford to raise a kid then.

What these situations come down to, on both sides, is a lack of control.

Pregnancy is already a circumstance that is all but uncontrollable. It’s painful, emotionally and physically, especially with people who have psychiatric disorders like me, in particular due to this lack of control. Even when everything goes as planned it can be a terrifying journey full of endless anticipation and constant self-reassurance, which is exhausting, nevermind the existing exhaustion from growing a human in the first damn place.

So why are people so hell-bent on insisting that women shouldn’t have even one slight modicum of control such as abortion? Why do we intend to make an unpredictable process even MORE unpredictable, which ultimately increases suffering?

I anticipate a mutiny of responses if any vocal anti-abortion folks come across this, but to those of you who are here to tell me I’m a baby-hating bitch, I ask that you read my other posts. I ask that you read my initial reflection on my miscarriage. And I ask that you react with love.

Everything is fine and also I am hormonal

Heart rate: 150 beats per minute.

hCG levels: somewhere around 60,000 mlU/ml.

The sound of your baby’s heart rate over a Doppler monitor:

Priceless is too cheesy a word. I got the appointment time wrong and it was actually two hours earlier than I thought it was. Jon came over and told me we needed to leave so we could grab food first and the panic settled over me in waves: 1) realization, 2) time panic, 3) situational panic.

I wasn’t ready. But I was. It didn’t matter anyway whether I was ready or not–the kid had a heart rate, and Jon and I laughed in relief, and I said fuck loudly and teared up and so did Jon, and the OB asked if that was a positive sound or not and I just told her I couldn’t believe it, and Jon laughed again.

It was the first time he seemed to really take ownership of the process. It was like it hit him suddenly: this is his kid, my kid, our kid, and we spent the rest of the afternoon giddily bringing up how we made a human and it was real over and over again.

It’s surreal. It’s not real. It’s too good to be real.

There’s supposed to be a five percent chance of miscarriage at this point, and for once I can’t bring myself to care. I just want to focus on this moment and be happy in what it is, in its promise, in its reality, however temporary.