Hurricane Laura

No Overarching Themes: Pure Miscellany

Long story short: I had a miscarriage 2 weeks ago today.

On May 10th, I had a D&C to remove the fetus I’d been carrying for almost 9 weeks.  There was no heartbeat, and my body had yet to initiate a natural miscarriage, but I knew I’d go mad carrying around my dead baby, so I let the doctor talk me into removing it.

I don’t know how to start this story – it is one of the most heartbreaking periods of my life, and the hardest part is that I’ve largely been silent about it.  Few people even knew that I was pregnant and very few know that Jon and I have been dealing with infertility for the last year and a half.  At the beginning of this, we were silent about it because neither of us had the language to talk about it.  I still feel like I’m struggling to explain it to the outside world, or even just to myself.  The initial diagnosis came last year, and when it happened, it was such a sharp, world-changing moment that I still feel a deep inhibition about putting it into words.  I’ve described it to a few people as a raw, animal grief – I feel as though I mourn it involuntarily sometimes, like my body just vibrates with sadness without my being able to control or predict it.  I did not realize before it happened how much I wanted children, and how terrible the loss would feel when it appeared I could not have them.

Since the diagnosis, we have been through a special kind of hell – as one friend put it, “welcome to the club that no one wants to be in.”  I’ve been through two uterine surgeries, both easy enough to deal with on the day of each surgery, but with complicated recoveries and the constant fear that the scarring from each procedure will make it impossible to conceive.  I also live in constant fear that I’ll need an emergency hysterectomy and it will all be  over.  We’ve discovered that our families are not really able to understand our grief or support and comfort us very well, so this has only increased the sense of isolation we’re feeling.  The culture we live in also has a variety of negative and insulting things to say about the infertile – I won’t repeat them all, but I’ve heard everything from “Maybe God doesn’t want you to have children” (meaning, I’m somehow less worthy than people who can conceive easily) to “Your problem is that you just can’t relax – relax and you’ll get pregnant” (meaning, this problem isn’t as big a deal as you think it is).  Go to any infertility website and you’ll see a list of insensitive, cruel and hurtful remarks that people make to infertile couples – sometimes they come from members of your own family.  And the worst thing you often get is silence and avoidance – I have one friend who changes the subject or abruptly ends the conversation when I bring up the subject of my struggle with infertility.  In general, I feel like I’ve become the focal point for the unease, fear and hostility that surrounds the darker side of reproduction.  I represent what a lot of women are afraid of, so afraid that they can’t even bring themselves to admit it, so they just want me gone, out of the room, off the screen, out of their lives, as soon as possible.  I’ve had a lot of moments where I feel like I’ve been silenced, shunted aside, and pointedly ignored, for fear of what I might say or what I might make someone confront.

And then there was the pregnancy.  It happened out of nowhere – first it appeared that I magically started ovulating again (after the doctor told me I had stopped some time ago, and if I didn’t start again, there was nothing she could do), and then while we were in the middle of testing and evaluation of our options for treatment, I discovered I was pregnant.  It felt like the whirlwind inexplicably stopped, and we could see a way forward for the first time.  I will also admit:  I fell in love with that baby (to me it really was our baby), impossibly small as it was.  We saw it on the ultrasound at 6 weeks and heard a heartbeat – that’s not something I think I will ever forget in my life.  I tracked its progress every week, and even though I felt wretched, I welcomed it.  I told myself I’d happily throw up for nine months if only the little tadpole would stick it out with us.  I talked to it sometimes, telling it how much we wanted it, how loved it was and would be, thanking it for coming to us after all we’d been through.  Feeling hope for the first time was very painful, but I let myself feel it – I would cry and talk to the baby, saying please stay.  Please make it and live.

Around 8 weeks, I started to think it might just work out for us.  We told our families.  We picked out some names and dared to discuss what our child might be like.  I scheduled a maternity tour and a birth class.  It felt impossible, amazing even, that we’d had this lucky break after so many months of grief and disappointment.

And then, it just ended.  When you work so hard to get pregnant, you take nothing for granted – every twinge, every change in your symptoms, every pain is examined in detail for any sign that something might be wrong.  When my morning sickness abruptly stopped, I knew.  I didn’t want to believe it at first, but I called my OB’s triage nurse, “just in case” I told myself, and by the next day, I had an ultrasound and they confirmed that the heartbeat had stopped and the baby had died.  I felt like such a fool, for hoping like that so early, for daring to believe it might actually work out, for loving something that much that was so small and fragile.

The actual process of removing the baby was a complete nightmare.  I don’t even know that I can write it all down yet, but I will describe one moment:  as they were wheeling me into the operating room, I began to panic.  I had this wild feeling that there had been some terrible mistake, that they’d missed the heartbeat and we were about to destroy my child in a terrible error.  I began to gasp and whimper, the whimpering became crying, and the crying turned into a small scream.  Instead of stopping to let me recover, the nurses and doctor held me down.  “This is for the best,” one of them said to me awkwardly, “Just let go of it.”  They strapped me to the table and as I wept and thrashed around, they forced the oxygen mask over my mouth until I passed out.  That’s the last memory I have until I woke up in the recovery room, the very last image of my pregnancy.  Sometimes I don’t know how I am still walking around with that moment in my head, how I am not destroyed by that.  Often I wonder if my pregnancy wasn’t some horrible dream or a joke someone played on me.  How does a person hold that kind of thing inside her without flying apart?

In the two weeks since then, I realized immediately that silence was no longer possible.  If only to save my life and preserve some sanity, I need to start talking about this.  I don’t really have a great support system – a few dear, loyal women who know and keep me afloat, a therapist who props me up every week, and Jon, who is dealing with his own version of this devastation.  Family members have really not offered us very much, and since the miscarriage, they’ve either ignored it or said the worst possible things.  If I am going to move on from this and get pregnant ever again, or make my way through the landmines of adoption, I am going to have to find another means of coping.  I am going to have to write my way through this, or else give up completely.  So from here on out, we’re going to try this and see if it helps.

There’s an Emily Dickinson poem I’ve been reading, which I think explains better than I can, how I feel about the loss of our child.  I’ll end this post with that:

Of all the Souls that stand create –

I have elected — One –

When Sense from Spirit — files away –

And Subterfuge — is done –

When that which is — and that which was –

Apart — intrinsic — stand –

And this brief Drama in the flesh –

Is shifted — like a Sand –

When Figures show their royal Front –

And Mists — are carved away,

Behold the Atom — I preferred –

To all the lists of Clay!


I Will Take Any Chance I Get To Bring Up ‘The Human Centipede’

A college classmate of mine helpfully posted a link to this article in the NY Times  on her Facebook account today, and it provided me with so much amusement, I ended up reading it out loud to my husband in its entirety.

The article is a profile of the wedding of David Friedlander and Jacqueline Schmidt (described as an “ethereal redhead” in the first paragraph, a harbinger of snark to come), who decided to turn their wedding not just into a moment to celebrate their commitment to one another but to proselytize about “the world of creativity and social purpose that they inhabit.”  I hate to cast aspersions on a non-traditional wedding, since mine certainly lacked many elements of tradition, but I also think it is really the wrong place to push a lot of your philosophical musings on people.  They want to see some folks get hitched, enjoy a little free booze, and get to the buffet line quickly.

Instead, what guests got when the attended the Friedlander/Schmidt wedding was a Powerpoint presentation “on subjects of interest to the couple – ecological efficiency, neuroscience, holistic healing.”  I love how the poor writer assigned to this beat described this event:  “Few events have so perfectly distilled the essence of a certain New York lifestyle as it is practiced right now, one steeped in proselytizing, bohemian entrepreneurialism.”  Oh, I feel like I lived down the street from these people in Brooklyn.  Although, that can’t be true, because I’m sure these folks have so much more money than I ever did.  They downsized because they thought it was good for the earth; I did it because my apartment was the size of a cockroach’s suitcase.

What I was immediately reminded of, as I read the description of their heavy-sell bohemian Powerpoint presentation, was another similar presentation in the soon-to-be-classic horror film, “The Human Centipede.”  In it, the evil doctor presents to his victims his vision, which involves him sewing them together mouth-to-anus.  His victims watch in horrified abject despair.

Here's what will happen if you don't recycle!

Now here’s a photo of the wedding Powerpoint presentation:

Downsizing means not all of us get our own anus.

I feel like these two decided to create a metaphorical version of the Human Centipede experience and bring it to the people!

Comments have been closed for the article, another telling sign.  Also you really get a sense for the reporter’s bedraggled perspective when she acidly comments at the end, “Their strain of progressivism never feels convincingly divorced from ambitious self-promotion.”  Much like the doctor in the film!  Any hitchhikers or stray travelers on the road become victims for his disturbing experiments.  Really, these people might find more adherents to their world view if they insinuate that anyone not in compliance will find himself at the wrong end of a scalpel…

Why I Am An Atheist

I wrote the piece below as a part of PZ Myers’ series “Why I Am An Atheist” on his excellent blog, Pharyngula.  Well, according to his most recent update, he has over 700 submissions for this series, so my chances of getting posted there are slim at the moment.  I decided to just throw it up here, since I do want it to exist somewhere digitally, and this old dusty attic is better than nowhere.

I’m still processing how I feel about the death of Christopher Hitchens – despite his moments of misogyny and his wrongheadedness about war, I still loved the man for taking on right-wing Christian bullies, who were after all the bogeymen of my youth.  His book, God Is Not Great, while accused by some of being a bit derivative, is still in my opinion an excellent and necessary polemic about how theism poisons civilization.  I think the only thing missing from that book is a chapter about how theism poisons the lives of women.  I’m still waiting for a female thinker along the lines of Hitchens to come out swinging about how the world’s religions have maligned and abused women.  Hell, maybe I’ll write that book myself someday.

So, without further ado, below is my (abridged) account of why I gave up believing in any god.  For any family or friends reading, I realize you might object to this or feel that events happened very differently.  That’s fine.  But just remember that I’ve kept quiet about my thoughts about this for a long time, out of a desire not to cause any trouble, a desire I now realize was part of the problem I discuss below.  For good or for worse, this is a big part of who I am, and you can take it or leave it, but I think it is important to be true to myself.

Why I Am An Atheist

I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, in Tennessee in the 1980s and 1990s.   Although I was only dimly aware of it at the time, this was a period when the virulently fundamentalist wing of that church slowly began to take over from the more moderate members, systematically driving them out of the Southern Baptist convention altogether.  What this meant in terms of my religious upbringing is that I was exposed to more liberal and rational people – like my parents and some of their friends – and I was exposed to more conservative, dogmatic people – like a Sunday School teacher who once read us a “story” about how we would all have to march to heaven with all our sins visibly marked on our bodies, making us repulsive, until we got to the gates of Heaven, where Jesus would wash us clean.  (You can only imagine the effect this had on ten pre-teen girls, already insecure about our bodies and our appearance.)

As a result, I was exposed to a variety of religious perspectives.  I can remember once watching a teenage boy in my youth group vigorously object to a visiting preacher when he spoke about the evils of homosexuality.  I can also remember hearing another teenage boy tell a group of girls that one particular girl, whom he liked but who didn’t reciprocate his feelings, was “chosen for him by God” so if she objected to his advances, she was actually opposing God’s will.  We were lectured endlessly about the evils of premarital sex, but when once asked about whether or not masturbation was evil, my mother (a Sunday School teacher at the time) told a group of girls that she didn’t feel it was a sin.  The common thread running through all of these experiences, however, was the constant message that God was watching me – he judged my every behavior and thought, he insisted I worship him and pray to him, while at the same time requiring a “personal relationship,” which was often explained to me by other Christians in such a way that made it sound like Jesus was supposed to be my controlling, neurotic boyfriend.

Being a young girl in this environment, I was also given certain information about my gender’s place in this environment:  women were not allowed to be pastors or deacons, we were supposed to work in “women’s missionary organizations” to support male missionaries and their families, and do charity work while waiting for the man God would send us to be our husbands.  I have a lot of stories about this period that now amuse and shock my non-Baptist friends – for example, I was at one point a state champion in the Tennessee State Bible Drill (how many atheists can say that?) and I participated in something called “Acteens” which is a bit like a more hyper-Christian version of the Girl Scouts, except instead of badges, we had a ceremony at the end of the year in which we wore white dresses, processed down the aisle of the church, and received a tiara the first year, a scepter the second year, a satin cape the third year, and a white Bible with our names embossed in gold the final year.  (Sounds like a really creepy mash-up of bridal and beauty queen rituals, doesn’t it?)  Throughout all of this, the fact that we would be obedient to God, and by extension, the male pastors and leaders of the church who interpreted his will on earth, was the undercurrent running through everything I learned about my life as a young Baptist girl.

Meanwhile, my life at home was very different.  I had two parents, both college educated, who valued art, science, education, history, intellectual inquiry, tolerance, and curiosity.  I was never denied access to any book I wanted, including many sci-fi books (whose contents would probably have been deemed blasphemous by some in our church), books about other religions, books about science, and in one particularly fond memory to me now, my mother allowed me to buy a pack of tarot cards, despite her vocal admonition that “this is not Christian.”  My father, whose own religious upbringing was much more casual, often seemed indifferent to church altogether.  Of course, the hallmark of the Baptist church is that they allowed you to choose to be saved (I’m not certain but I think the phrase “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” comes from the Southern Baptist lexicon) and because I was an adolescent being constantly “worked on” by peers, youth group leaders and church leadership, I not only capitulated to this pressure but I spent many a sleepless night worrying that my father was going to be damned to hell, because he had never “accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior” in quite the strenuous way that Baptists seemed to require.  Looking back on it, this is one of the things that I resent the most about my religious upbringing – I shared this fear with youth group leaders, and instead of comforting me that God would never do something so cruel to my father, they assured me that this was a real risk, and I should use my faith to try and bring about his conversion.  That adults would saddle a young person with so much shame and fear is shocking to me now, but at the time, all I could do was stuff down my nagging doubts and try to do as they suggested.

I credit two things with helping me to escape that world and learn to start thinking for myself:  my parents and my education.  My parents, although they might be reluctant to admit this, were the kind of people who seemed to accept the teachings of our church in public, but in private expressed their own doubts, disagreements and even occasional rebellion.  They also insisted that I get a college education, made great sacrifices so that I could go wherever I wanted to, and were very supportive when I chose a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, as far away as I could get from the bible colleges and Baptist universities that many of my peers would attend.  I made one token attempt to attend a bible study my first semester in college, but when I realized that I was free to choose for myself, I abandoned all observance of Christianity entirely and I have never returned to it.

Unfortunately, it took me another fifteen years to shrug off all the emotional and intellectual remnants of a theistic upbringing.  I went through many stages – ignoring religion altogether, flirting with other religions, retreating back to the “there are many paths to God” line, all of these approaches designed to assuage my guilt about “disobeying” God by abandoning the tenets of my upbringing.  The impact of this upbringing was so hard on me that I transferred a lot of my shame and guilt about being a sinful, disobedient woman to my personal relationships.  When a relationship with a man would fail, I would often punish myself, because clearly I had been unworthy.  It took me years – and much therapy, much suffering and one tragic hospitalization for depression – before I realized that I connected my relationships with men to my relationships to God, because this is what I was taught to do from an early age.  When you have a relationship with a (male) deity that fails, clearly you are to blame, because how can a perfect being be the one at fault?

Finally, I began to realize that the problem was with the presence of the deity in the first place.  Remove God from the equation, and there is just me, and I haven’t done anything wrong.  I have the right to live my life, have sex when I want to and with whom I want to, I have the right to object to authority, particularly when I feel it is illegitimate and used to oppress people, I have the right to speak up (in fact, embracing atheism made it more imperative to me that I speak up, to defend the women being bullied by right-wing Christianity), I have the right to enjoy and learn the facts that science has brought to us, about the age of the earth and the wonderful life that existed on it before we evolved, and most importantly, I am still a moral and good human being without a God.  When I realized that the presence of God was not a requirement for me to be good – that, as Christopher Hitchens once wrote, “human decency does not derive from religion, it precedes it,” – it was the most liberating and vivifying realization I’d ever had.  Believers like to claim that a lack of God makes life meaningless, but I have found the opposite to be true.  My life has more meaning to me now than it ever has, now that I’m focused on the here and now instead of suffering and torturing myself to earn my place in an afterlife.

What is most amazing to me is that, now that I am an atheist, I can enjoy the Bible again, as a work of literature and an expression of what it means to be human.  The world’s religious narratives are nothing more than our attempt as human beings to understand the world around us, to find a way to overcome our fear and connect with the universe in which we mysteriously find ourselves.  These narratives may be outdated, untrue and misguided, they may attract people who exploit them for power and mastery over others, they may be twisted to justify torture, oppression and slavery, but there are also moments in these narratives that are beautiful and very human.  Being an atheist has made it possible for me to appreciate the complexity of the human story without feeling compelled to compromise myself.  It has given me what any good story needs – a sense of resolution and acceptance.

I Forgot This Blog Even Existed

Here’s a funny thing:  I forgot I had this blog!  So the other day when my father asked me about using WordPress, I went and looked at the site to see how it worked.  To my surprise, I discovered that the site recognized my email address and directed me to a blog I had completely forgotten about, that I’d kept for almost a year!  If I weren’t so amused, I might be freaked out about the memory loss.  I can only attribute this to the fact(s) that:  a) I was working full time, b) I was maintaining full-time status as a graduate student in an MFA program, and c) I had just started dating someone and it was getting serious, so I probably forgot all about my silly blog because I was in LUUUUUUV.

Anyway, the experience of re-reading it yesterday was jarring and hilarious.  First of all, for a few minutes I wasn’t even sure I had written it myself, so it was like reading the words of a stranger.  That stranger turns out to be kind of amusing!  I turned to my husband (yes, the dating worked out – we’re married now) as I was reading and commented, “Hey, I’m pretty funny!” which made him laugh, either with me or at me, I’m still not sure.  I also decided that I needed to blow the dust off this old thing and start writing in it again, because a little writing here will probably do wonders for my discipline with creative, off-line projects.  I’ve been working so many hours as a college instructor that I forget to go back and tend to my own creative work.  So here goes, let’s crank a few gears and see if this old clunker has any life left in her….

BBC Headlines: Crisis! Loo Shortage!

We begin with the ever-conscientious British Parliament: MPs take on the cistern. Apparently the public toilets in England need some overhauling.

The best part about that article, though, is one of the pictures embedded in it:

Caption: Phyllis Starkey is on a mission to solve Britain’s loo shortage

That poor woman, forever associated with “Britain’s loo shortage.” Maybe when you google that, you will get Phyllis Starkey’s face…?!?

This next one just shows you that I’m becoming desensitized to the BBC’s terse headlines style. The headline is ‘Policeman praised for mud rescue’. Nope, he did not rescue the mud as this headline seems to imply. He rescued two children from the mud. Prepositions! A dying breed.

When all else fails, the Phoenix tries shake and sprinkle.

And last but not least, the disabled bowler avoids prison, but the lollipop man attacker is imprisoned. Tough luck on that last one.

Gay Marriages More Egalitarian

There’s a great article in the NY Times today about recent studies about same-sex marriage and what they suggest about the role of gender in marriage. I’m quite excited about this article, because I’ve been saying for years that marriage, for women, is a bad deal. (I believe the exact, inflammatory phrase I use to upset my more conservative Southern family is, “Marriage is a form of legal prostitution for women.”)

Here’s my favorite bit:

“Heterosexual married women live with a lot of anger about having to do the tasks not only in the house but in the relationship,” said Esther D. Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University. “That’s very different than what same-sex couples and heterosexual men live with.”

Thank you. That is exactly the point I’ve been trying to make for years. Along with all the really good reasons to let gays and lesbians get married — it’s the right thing to do, etc. — there is the additional reason that same-sex marriage will expose the fact that our traditional notions of marriage are not based on any kind of biological, gendered roles for men and women but purely on cultural myths that persist in our society. And that is good for everyone. It is good for gay and lesbian folks because it further challenges this idea that they are somehow “aberrant” for being women with so-called ‘masculine’ traits or men with ‘feminine’ traits. And it helps heterosexuals to understand that a relationship isn’t about “a man does this and a woman does that” which does nothing but further divide and alienate men and women.

Not to mention the fact that I’m looking forward to the Bridezilla battles between women and their former gay wedding planners now looking to book the same venues. It is on!

BBC Headlines: Getting Eaten by Dragons

Ah the weekend. Full of wonderful, weird stories from the BBC.

Like this one, which goes into detail about how likely you are to be eaten by a komodo dragon if you wash ashore on an island, dehydrated and near death. Not likely, if there’s only one or two and you have enough strength to pelt it with stones. Good to know!

And this one: Cancer boy’s stories help charity. Seriously?!?! Cancer boy? This kid survives a terrible disease and writes two books, the money from which he donates to a charity, and all you can come up with is CANCER BOY?!?! I would have at least thrown in some alliteration: ‘Cancer boy chronicles case for charity cash’ has a very nice ring to it.

This one takes a minute to unpack. The headline is: Stab death of porn charge ex-Pc. What’s going on here, you ask? Ok. A former police constable who was up on charges of child pornography was stabbed to death. But I don’t know how you’re going to figure that out from the headline, which is weird and garbled.

I wish there was a picture for this one: Kitten rescued by vacuum cleaner.

And finally for those panda-porn aficionados out there: Giant panda sex secrets revealed. Oh yes, there is video.

BBC Headlines: Oh, Blah.

This picture pretty much sums up how I feel about the BBC website:

You have to read this whole story: Red faces over ‘blah’ drug answer. Someone actually responded to a government request about drugs in prison by writing “Blah.” And it “only occurred in the version sent to journalists.” Someone out there is generating material for the Absurd/Alliterative Headlines Department…

BBC Headlines: Children Brush Alone

This is very troubling: Many children ‘brush teeth alone.’ Unsupervised teeth-brushing is a huge crisis nowadays.

Update on the ear-biter is here. He’s going to jail, obviously. And disturbingly, the article reports that he “invited bus passengers to photograph the severed part.” Yipes!

And finally, sausage saves knife accused woman. Because in this age where our heroes are increasingly discredited, the sausage can still stand as a beacon for morality and courage.

BBC Headlines: Monkey Puzzle Tree

Right away, let me just bring your attention to the headline that BBC Stars are not paid too much. Instead, I would like to argue that the BBC headline-writers are not paid enough!

I mean, granted, this is seven words so a bit longer than the formula, but you can’t deny this is seven words of brilliance: Man bit off and hid friend’s ear. Succinct yet chilling. And of course, this is from Wales.

More bits of poetic brilliance:

Dirty hospital practices revealed!

Church in the sea goes electric.

And frankly, I know you were on tenterhooks about this one, but the monkey puzzle tree decision is due. So calm down already!

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