loaves and fish: on showing up anyway

I don’t know. I don’t know their names or their faces. Or why or what home they come from. I don’t know what they’ve been through or when or if they’ll go from here. I honestly don’t even know how we’ll do this at all. All I know is that we have to.

The day I found out I was pregnant with Margo I knew something was wrong. Hand to God the very second I looked down at those devastatingly blue lines, these words scrolled across my mind: “Something bad is going to happen.” But I swallowed them down and opened the bathroom door and on shaky feet brought the test to my husband. Five months later when we went to the hospital because I was leaking, the midwife tested the fluid and looked up at me. Not a breath passed by before once again, I knew. “We’re going to lose her. She’s not going to make it.” I knew, I knew, I knew and it did nothing. Knowing does nothing.

Two days later I sat empty and sad, hollow and soft in the thin, starchy, pink gown. The one with buttons for nursing your alive and well newborn. Hours before I sat crying alone in the dark, my arms wrapped around myself like a prayer. Like maybe if I held on tight enough I could stop my backstabbing uterus from contracting around my fragile daughter. Eventually my ever so steadfast crisis mode clicked on, the tears stopped, and I stood to pack my things for Labor and Delivery. And somehow my heart kept beating. Ever since that day it has been a whisper and an ache in my bones – foster. 

I don’t know how, but I know I have to. There have been things in my life that I wanted to do. In fact, my anxiety makes anything I want to do something I want to do badly; I don’t like waiting. Even with all that urgency in my veins I have never felt anything like this. This is not a “thing I want to do”. I mean, it is. But, it’s not a thing. It is a calling. I like that word. Calling. I use it a lot in regards to my faith. We are called. We are called to do that, and that, and that. I am called to do this.

Call. It has become a heavy and fervent word.

Since beginning the process to get our license I have second guessed myself a thousand times daily. Save for the days when everything is magical and easy and I think to myself, “Oh hell yeah I’ve got this. Look at me – parenting the shit out of this tough cookie. Well done, Rachel.” Very quickly however, the universe realigns itself back into chaos and I wonder as minutes and routines pass by, “Where is a stranger’s baby going to fit into any of this?” At 8pm when my toddler is running naked through the house, being chased by her father wielding a toothbrush, I look inward and upward to ask, “How?” Faithfully the answer always comes, “Just show up.”

And you know what? Thats exactly what I am capable of doing. I don’t get it perfectly. A lot of the time I don’t even get it well. I curse and I shop at Target too much. Our house could use some new carpet and we have frozen pizza every week. But I can show up. Ragged, but here. This has become my mantra when I can’t possibly understand how my meager offerings will be enough. Just. Show. Up.

Just show up. With your store bought muffins and your dying plants. With your endless fatigue and no bra. Bring your OCD, your anxiety, your depression. Come with your car on it’s last legs and your walls with peeling paint. Bring your debt and your yoga pants. Show up and watch God feed the multitudes with your tiny townhome pantry.

They are here now – right now. They don’t have the time to wait around for perfect people. But they can make do with me.

“Learn to do right; seek justice.

    Defend the oppressed.

Take up the case of the fatherless;

    Plead the case of the widow.”

Isaiah 1:17

dear daughter: a letter to my wildfire child

Dear daughter, the world cannot and will not love you like I do. It is simply not possible. You see, your veins are continuations of mine. When I was growing in my mother’s womb I held you already inside of my own, matryoshka nesting dolls of women.

Dear daughter, you are golden like honey and also flame. People will try to consume you then pull away, scorched. Do not let them douse you to ashes. Do not let them have your sweetness and not your heat.

Dear daughter, you are not broken. At least, not any more so than the rest of us. You are not to be fixed. You are to be taken whole and loved entirely.

Dear daughter, I have patience enough for you and when my stores run low I will dig deep and find more. You are worthy of time and understanding and effort.

Dear daughter, know your flaws but neither justify nor apologize for them.

Dear daughter, listen to the voice in your belly when it prods you to speak louder. Understand that passion can scare people who are not ready for it. Get loud anyway.

Dear daughter, there is peace and goodness in silence, too. Understand that reserve can scare people who are not ready for it. Be still anyway.

Dear daughter, do not subscribe to the mistakes of the world. Intelligence is far superior to beauty. Pretty is not your purpose.

Dear daughter, do not subscribe to the mistakes of your mother. Kindness matters far more than intelligence. Superior is not your purpose.

Dear daughter, know that God is love and love is God’s work and above all, above all, above ALL it is what we are called to do. Your self, your family and friends, the man who cut you off in traffic, and the people you cut out for your own peace and health. Let love humble and restore you with the rise and set of the sun.

Dear daughter, balance is a facade. Behind its serene mask a toxic perfectionism is haunting. Let yourself bounce freely and at times wildly from one state to another. Label your days good or bad but never yourself. Allow yourself to be human – hung intentionally between animal and divine.

Dear daughter, remember wherever or however you wander there is a place for you by my side or in my arms. Come what may, I have always been and will always be a home.

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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