a map for oxygen

​It happens when I catch sight of her name – artwork others have made in her honor, or a necklace with her birthstone, or the church bulletin clipping held to the fridge with an alphabet magnet. Or when Rosalyn whispers in awe, “Oh, a baby!” as she marvels at a stranger’s infant. Or when someone says something stupid and insensitive and never seems to realize the damage they’ve done. The world spins and I grip the grocery cart in front of me, trying not to be whipped into a sharp pile of jagged thoughts and spaces in time. I will smile for them but never have the corners of my mouth felt so heavy.

I think about Rosalyn and the sisterhood stolen from her. It cuts me freshly every day.

I think about the number of times I’ll have to forgive the small but wounding transgression that is a pair of eyes darting quickly down to my empty belly and back up to me. As if they’re seeking visual confirmation. Yes, she is gone. Still. Why the fuck are you doing that to me?

I think about the NICU team. And how when it was time to deliver they stood dutifully by the premature bed and equipment, ready to receive a baby they knew they could do nothing to save. They knew and still they came. They couldn’t save her, but perhaps they could save me. Perhaps they could share even a droplet of my agony and grief. How many babies have they seen go from this earth? How many times a day do they feel helpless but gather their strength for the mothers? They knew Margaret Olivia Redmon would make their death toll creep higher. And still they came.

I think about nurse that greeted me in L&D and led me to my room. How she paused after learning I was only 22 weeks along. How I looked at her and said, “I know. It’s OK. Just tell me.” I felt I should comfort her. You’re not the first to break my heart – don’t worry, we can do this.

I think about how badly I wanted a VBAC, but not like this. I think about how much more intensely painful contractions are when there’s no amniotic fluid to cushion the blow. I think about how it took four incredibly skilled medical professionals and countless needles to find a vein for the morphine that did nothing. How I still had to go under anesthesia because I couldn’t deliver the placenta. How it all seemed like a sick cosmic joke and I actually laughed. There comes a point where there’s so much pain coming from too many directions and you just stop feeling.

I think about how she was perfectly fine in there. How her heart kept beating until my body forced her out.

I think about how much time has passed since I last thought about her. It’s getting longer. I think about if that’s good or bad. I think about how people must be getting tired of me. It’s been years after all. No, wait – it’s been a little over two months. Fuck.

I have tried to compartmentalize, tried to keep the wreckage pushed into the corner. Somewhere I can visit when I want to. But somehow I keep stumbling and bruising myself on pieces that have drifted out in the open. I put another band-aid on and drag it back to where it belongs. Lift with your knees, not your back. Before I can return I have to rest, seated amongst the rubble. If I dig deep enough I can still find embers.

There’s nothing else I can do. So I sit and I think.

bandages

I don’t like clutter. Too many things in one space is suffocating. It’s easy for me to get rid of, to make space. But I don’t know what else to do but keep every token, every card as proof of her existence. A headstone doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t fit. She never belonged to this earth, only to me. I keep searching for the right thing to do, the right way to keep her memory beating and breathing. And then it slices me open again. The realization that the real answer, what I really want is to not have to do this at all. For her to be tucked up with my insides, safely cocooned until winter gives way to spring; until the ice melts and bleeds into dandelions.

I’m not very sad. Not right now. I’m mostly angry. Just so very angry. I want to punch walls, I want to cause damage. I want to take the pain in my body and release it into the wild, inflicting it on the world. The most soothing mantra I can find goes something like, “Fuck this, fuck you, I hate it all – everything.” Why her? I can still feel her kicking inside of me, phantom and cruel.

When the fury wave passes, the ebb and flow of grief, I find myself on my hands and knees. Picking up the shards and cradling them in my hands. They prick and bleed but I pull them in even tighter. I’m so sorry. I know you’re hurting too. I know, I know. I know. Can you dry tears with glass? I desperately search for some sort of salve to tend to world’s wounds. It stings my raw palms but maybe I need it too? Healing feels traitorous, bandages like straitjackets.

flesh

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I used to dart past mirrors and shop windows. If I happened to linger too long and catch a glimpse I would pause to rearrange my limbs and stomach into poses and shapes more pleasing to the eye. Most days I would cringe, embarrassed to be seen by even myself. Every once in awhile something magical would happen and I would think to myself, “Ok, it’s not that bad.” I was allowed to be happy for the rest of the day; if I was lucky I might even get to eat without guilt, forgiven for my sins momentarily. 

Now, I laugh as I am poked and prodded, squished like biscuit dough by the curious hands of a toddler. Her eyes are wide and thoughtful as they take in the different shapes and details of my body, her father’s, her own. I draw circles around my stretch marked belly and tell her how she grew there, how her sister grows there now. It has been swollen with hate and emptied out by hate again. But this? This is love. Some fear and trepidation, too – but mostly love. 

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I am not a force of nature, I am Mother Nature incarnate. Minuscule ravines carved out by continuous and determined pressure. Constellations of dimples and pores splayed out. Not smooth but rough like bark; bags under my eyes like the age rings of an oak. 

I make no excuses, no justifications. My body looks like it does because of what it’s made of and what I’ve done in my life. It apologizes to no one. 

(Although, sometimes I do.)

At more than one point in time my skin has burst from the containment of life – another person’s life separate from my own. The magnitude of that is often lost on me but I only need look in the mirror. 

For as much progress we’ve made as a society, we are still very uncomfortable when someone (particularly a woman) doesn’t say sorry for her physical presence. When I talk publicly about my body and my experiences it is often followed by some sort of offer to fix it. “Oh the poor dear, look at her putting on a brave face. Here, I will give her what she really needs.” I have and will always decline your magic potions and pills. You cannot wrap and dehydrate yourself to greatness, to goodness. My heart hurts. We squirm at others because we are at unease with ourselves.

My daughter looks at me with awe. She inspects every freckle, hair, scar, and tattoo – each one receiving the same amount of reverence and fascination. My body is other worldly. Marked and marred, so different from her own brand new blank canvas. Her opinion, unfiltered and unaffected, is the one I take to heart. 

So if you don’t mind, I’ll be over here – a worn, happy bag of bones and torn flesh – occupying space just as I am.

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on unplanned pregnancy

Are you still there?

Is this still a safe space?

I keep a list in my heart, of those I know who are trying or hoping or hurting. I carry it with me – heavy – every day and in everything I do. Like a precious heirloom locket I hold it closely, protectively and whisper fervent prayer for each of their names. Small breaths of love, the only thing I can offer them. I’ve been there and I know.

To those, warriors of women, I can only hope my words do not claw at you and sting. But if they do, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

I hate being pregnant.


My skin crawls and turns to ice at the realization that my body is not my own for the next two years, at least. There is an ever present lump in my throat, threatening to turn my churning stomach inside out. My hips and back ache as my body swells and shifts to create room, to create a home. I try to swallow back the acid bubbling up and out over my tongue. Vivid nightmares filled with guns and babies and bullets wrench me awake each night; I shake and tears burn my face as I try to come back down to reality. I have panicky flashbacks to the traumatic birth and newbornhood of my first. I wonder daily if we will bring home a new member of our family or if I’m walking through hell only to return empty handed.

My depression, anxiety, and eating disorder start to pull me down as I mourn control; I see my daughter watching my every move and try to find some sort of resolve – No, they cannot have her, too. I will not let them.

With Rosalyn, every week that I progressed and remained with a tiny heart still beating within my womb was celebration enough to carry me through. I wish it were enough right now. Right now, as I work my way through the third month all I can see is the miles that stretch out before me and I just. don’t. want to do it. I know (I hope?) that this will change as we move forward. It has to. For both our sakes.

This fruit-sized, unknown babe is taking everything I have. I end most days in tears at the thought of having to wake up and repeat what I’ve just done. Barely able to make it through work, nauseated beyond relief, completely unable to be present for my toddler or husband. It’s too much. I cannot possibly continue on.

Yet, that’s what we do, isn’t it? We keep on. We get up and just fucking do it, every day. Sun up to sun up we keep running.

How dare I, though. Complain about this gift and privilege. Not choose to focus on my blessings. Consider this honor an inconvenience or a bother. Guilt consumes me.

I’m in a dark place right now. But it will change. It has to.

snapback

I look rough these days.

That’s not fishing for compliments, I promise. I’m not getting down on myself – I’m not even saying it with a negative connotation. It’s not a falsehood nor is it a problem needing to be fixed. It just is.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having an awesome time with my small family of three. I can’t remember what we were doing. Or what day it was. All I remember is that it was a really bright, happy moment with a lot of love and laughter and, “This is exactly where we are supposed to be.” I felt in love with time and space and all the particles that make us up. It was glittering goodness.

I went to the restroom, a smile still on my face. A quick glance in the mirror. My smile faltered. But just for one second because it returned even bigger and I laughed. I laughed at this creature staring back at me. Who even is this person? God, this poor woman. Breathing my air, beating my heart. Her skin sags, tired and worn from stretching and emptying out again. Off-color and rough from lack of sleep, water, good nutrition. Grey-blue-yellow circles drag her face down, down, down to the core of the Earth. Stretchy, comfy pants. Flowy, comfy top. Shaggy hair. Someone wrap this woman in a warm blanket and feed her soup! It’s a miracle she’s even standing without assistance, really.

It was astounding to me in that moment I could look so different than how I felt. Do not misunderstand me, sometimes I do feel exactly how that woman looks. But not all the time. Not anymore.

Sometimes I feel guilty for my appearance not being on my “Shit I Have Together” list (it’s a very short list, by the way). Like I’m doing a disservice to moms everywhere by not breaking the stereotype that we’re all diaper bag toting slobs but-don’t-worry-my-kid-looks-impeccable. Or that strangers (hopefully not friends??) will pity my poor husband for being forever linked to a ball&chain that let herself go. Twenty six is still pretty young, right? Does that mean I still have to be young and cute? Whoops.

The other day I went totally barefaced to work (not a huge feat considering I usually just have mascara and concealer). Do you want to know how many times someone asked if I was ok? You don’t. It’s embarrassing. Someone even asked if I was pregnant again. Fuck.

Once more, I had to just laugh. Like, damn Rachel. Nobody ever asks the cute girl if she’s in her first trimester. And why do I weigh less than pre-pregnancy but still have a pooch? Whatever, it makes a pretty comfy seat for my baby. Snapback? No, honey. My rubber band is broken.

I’ll probably look marginally better when my baby sleeps. But not for long. I cannot escape age. Nor do I want to. Life happens, shit happens and I don’t want to apologize for my soul being in a body that reflects that. I love makeup and I love clothes. But it turns out I don’t mind looking like crap either.

I’m happy, she’s healthy. And my husband still tries to pinch my butt when he thinks no one is looking.

new years eve

As December ticked by and brought us closer to an end and subsequent beginning that is the New Years, I kept thinking on this post from January.

Truthfully, my gut reaction was embarrassment followed by a scoff. How silly of me to think we’d breeze through this first year of parenthood with finesse or ease. Thrive? HA. We barely SURVIVED. Stupid. You were so stupid, Rachel. That’s what you get for making those grand sweeping declarations and predictions like you always do.

For a moment I even considered deleting it, quietly sweeping the evidence of my naïveté under the rug. But for the sake of authenticity I left it and just continued saying mean things about myself as I shook my head. It was a bit like shoving a dog’s nose in their mess. Unnecessary, ineffective, abusive.

I thought about it more and began to wonder what kind of standard I was holding myself to. What should I have done this year that I didn’t do? What about how I lived wasn’t true to the word “thrive”? I had a flashback to two weeks postpartum. My right nipple was torn to shreds by a tiny baby latch so I was nursing on one side and pumping on the other. My brand new girl was sleeping very little and crying all the time. My temperature was slowly rising due to some mystery infection that would later land me in the ER, stump the doctors, and  be filed under, “extreme sleep deprivation and stress”. As The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt marathoned on Netflix in the background, I sobbed under the intense weight of my new life and weirdly found solace in the catchy intro music.

“Unbreakable – they alive damnit!” I sang as tears seared my cheeks. In the haze of my hormone hallucination I felt as though they had written those words for me. “Females are strong as hell,” the television cheered me on to make it through another hour in the day.

Looking back I realize I probably looked and sounded deranged. I probably was, a little bit. But I made it through that hour. And the next one. And the next. And here I am – here we are, nine months later and we’re surviving. Maybe even thriving? I mean, the house is a wreck and we consider sleeping for four whole hours to be a miracle. But we smile and laugh every day. We hug and kiss and hold hands every day. We play and learn and sing every day. The Unbreakble song still makes me smile.

This has been a year of lowered standards. It’s easy to say, “let go of the little things.” But I’m learning how to actually DO that. I feel peace and freedom when I’m able to unclench my jaw, loosen my grip, and let something insignificant slip through my raw, blistered hands. Goodbye, you do not matter to me right now.

When I said, “thrive” earlier this year I meant, “have control over everything.” And it turns out it actually means, “don’t give a shit unless you really need to.” Or maybe something a little more eloquent. But that’s the gist.

I’ve done a lot of really hard things this year. Hard, sharp, grinding things. And I’m pushed and stretched and challenged more every single day. Sometimes I feel run down and not sure I have it in me to do this. And that makes me question if I did what I set out to do – did I thrive? And you know what?

I think I did.

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