On Baby-Mama Yoga And Being Someone I Don’t Know If I Am Yet

I’m going to baby-mama yoga tomorrow with my friend Sita. And I am so, so nervous. Yesterday I worked up the courage to ask Sita how the baby-mama yoga was focused. What I really wanted to know was, was it a baby-mama class, or was it a class for mamas with post-birth bodies, who happen to have babies in tow? I framed the question, “Is there a focus on the post-natal body?” She responded right away, that usually, yes, but that the teacher had lots of experience with all kinds of adoptive and surrogate mothers.

Why are surrogate mamas always in the same category as adoptive mothers? Why am I bristling at being in the category with adoptive mamas? Aren’t they as much a mama as anyone else? Yes, I know intellectually, they are. But I am bristling because I also know, that in the mommy-blogger world, and in the social media world, and in the world writ large- they are not. 

And I know I am a real mama, because I am sitting in front of this laptop with two sweaty babies on my chest, and two boppys at my feet, and there are half eaten bottles and folded up diapers strewn about, and I know I am going to wake up to feed and cuddle these girls, every two hours tonight, and I would do just about anything for them, because they are squishy and cute and silly and weird and mine. 

But sometimes I feel like I am not enough of a mama to take up space in a post-natal class that has a focus on post natal-bodies. Just the word postnatal makes me nervous, highlights my alterity, makes me feel like I am not enough, because I am not post-natal. And yes, I know this is about me, not about the discursive life of the word post-natal, or its placement in the yoga class title, or even the mamas who are post-natal. And sometimes also, I feel so incredibly sensitive around people who don’t know, especially others who don’t know me and don’t know the story, and ask all kinds of endless questions that have SO MANY assumptions built into them, assumptions that cut to the heart of why I feel so awkward and sometimes, so sad, and occasionally, feel the need to lie about how I got these gorgeous twins.

New moms chatter away about birth stories. They talk about how their vaginas are torn to shreds and how their nipples are cracked and bleeding, and how their jeans still don’t fit. Just FYI: my vagina is not torn to shreds, my one normal nipple is normal and my other one has no feeling so I don’t know how it is, and the only problem with my jeans is that I made them all into cut-offs. And so, despite the fact that I have a really freakin awesome birth story that I’d be de-lighted to share if they asked, I feel weird, like I am not enough. Like I am not a real-enough mama. Like I won’t fit in. Like the popular girls will turn their backs and like no one will play with me because I can’t understand how it feels to have your body experience total disorientation because of a spectacular event like the making of a person. I do understand how it feels to have your body experience total disorientation because of a shitty event like cancer. But it’s not the same, and I also understand that.

I am nervous because all the other mamas are not like me. I am nervous I am taking up space that is theirs- postnatal space. Space written into existence because they needed it, because they didn’t have it. I’m enough of a feminist scholar to know, that women’s body’s have historically been seriously marginalized and that this kind of space is sacred. I’m enough of a critical pedagogue to know I don’t really fit. I’m sensitive enough to know I could disrupt this gentle balance.

My friend Sita asked what I was worried about.

Everyone who knows me, who knows the story? Insanely kind. Kind to the tune of doing yoga with me, kind to the tune of giving me their extra breast milk, kind to the tune of sending me boxes of their old baby clothing. So, so kind. Even people I don’t know well, who just know of my story.

But people who don’t? The woman who whispered to me, “breast is best” as I poured formula into a bottle? I looked her in the eye, and told her my doctor said breastfeeding would kill me. It’s true. The many who inquire if the twins are “natural?” Can someone please tell me what kind of baby is unnatural?!?! Like what would that even look like? A wooden baby, like Pinnochio? The people who inquire after how much we paid the surrogate, who balk at a baby costing too much, as if a person has a price tag. All these people are people I don’t know well. All these people are people who don’t know my story. Every. Single. One.

On the other hand, I was so reassured by a self-declared “so passionate about breast feeding” mama, who said to me, “what you’re doing is amazing. It would have been a triple full time job to induce breast feeding. What you’re doing is perfect.” Yah, triple full time job, especially with one tit, two babies, and a set of hormonal supplements that most likely have killed me. A triple full time deadly job.

And so I worry. I worry about how I will be perceived. I worry about what they will think. I worry about going into the baby-mama class.

I am the most worried about being in the baby-mama class, and about the grief hitting me, slamming me, cracking my heart wide open, making my eyes fill with large, juicy tears. Because you know what? I may never be done grieving the fact that I didn’t carry these two beautiful girls. I am at peace with the fact that someone I love dearly and respect more than I can explain in words did carry them, and I am eternally grateful: but I’ll always carry the grief that I couldn’t do that for my own sweet daughters.

The teacher of this yoga-baby-mama class told my friend Sita, her assistant, that she couldn’t promise no one would say any of those painful things to me, but that she doubted anyone would. Again, I bristled. What I heard was, “you needn’t be so worried, no one here would do that.” The thing is, whenever anyone says anything insensitive and I recount it later, it sounds wildly inappropriate. But in the moment, it never seems that way except in my heart. And really kind, really politically aware, and often really awesome people can say things that cut deep without even knowing it, without ever meaning to, without considering that what they assume about a mother and her babies, and the questions they ask with the intention of bonding could cut so deeply, so painfully, so harshly. I needed everyone to recognize, I was scared, and it was possible.

But my friend Sita urged me to tell the story, urged me to build community, urged me to be open and raw and honest. And she promised she’d be there to support me.

And when I think long and hard about the people I hold so close to me, the people who help me with the hardest things in my life- I realize I cherish those relationships because I have told my story, built community, been raw and open and honest, and supported the people around me to do the same. Because Sita is going to be there, and because I need other mamas, and because if I get hurt I know that my cancer-peeps Aimee and Kristina and Ashley will get it and support me, I am going. But I am scared.

In the middle of all this worry, all this uncertainty about whether I should take up this space, this fear I wouldn’t fit, this needing to tread lightly around the grief that comes from surrogacy that is rooted in cancer, I found myself in a flurry of text messages with some of my nearest and dearest cancer buddies- young women I would do anything for, young women who get me like no one else, young women whose friendship I cherish and hold close. There are four of us, and we have an epic group text going, that is a literal lifeline.

The text message that resonated somewhere deep inside of me popped up in one of these epic group text conversations. In the context of how our lives would be different if we hadn’t had cancer- and not the obvious stuff like marriages and babies and stuff we ALL know would be different, but the more core belief stuff around ethics, personality, and dreams- Aimee texted:

“It’s weird. Whenever I’m in a group of new people, it pains me that they don’t know what I’ve been through, because I feel that it makes me ALL of who I am. Kinda sad.”

She got it. One hundred percent. Someone finally articulated exactly how I was feeling. I didn’t want people to know, but I didn’t want them to not know, either. I wanted them to know who I was, but who I was was so fundamentally shifted because of cancer. My fingers flew. So often, in new groups, I feel the need to explain….

But I used to be more driven, but cancer. But I used to publish more academic articles, but cancer. But I used to win awards like the Vanier, but Cancer. But I used to know exactly what I had to do to get exactly where I dreamed of being, and I used to know exactly where I dreamed to be, but cancer. I wouldn’t be living in my mom’s old house, but cancer. I wouldn’t have moved back to the Bay Area, but cancer. I wouldn’t have had a surrogate, I wouldn’t have fed formula and other peoples’ breast milk, I wouldn’t have spent hours and hours decorating breast casts, but cancer. I would have taken a tenure track Assistant Professor position anywhere in this whole wide world, but cancer. I would have been ruthless about the job search, but cancer. I would have had my own pregnancy, but cancer. I would still be the person I always thought I was, the rigorous, sharp, cutting edge scholar with an artist-musician partner I love madly and big giant dreams and clear visions and constant travel. 

The truth is, I still kind of wish I was that girl, I still kind of want those others mamas to know I have the stuff she had, I’m made of the fire that burned inside her, I’ve got her moves and desires and jokes. Except it’s not true. I’ve re-evaluated. I want to be closer to family, closer to the land I grew up in, closer to the really old friends, closer to the dry heat, closer to the Bay. I want to spend afternoons with my babies and don’t have the same iron-rod commitment to being an academic such that I will move anywhere. Still, I want to be that girl, that professor, that smart feminist with tons of journal articles- but I want to be her on my own terms. And my terms have changed. I just have to get used to the new terms, practice saying them to myself, become comfortable in the skin that isn’t who I always thought I’d become. And I have to think about maybe, explaining myself to those new mamas knowing that maybe now, we share something more, even if I still yearn for a girl who never was, because as much as the chemotherapy killed the cancer cells, it also slashed and burned and killed something else, and underneath, a new person emerged.

So who will I be tomorrow, at this baby-mama class? I am going to try to build community. I am going to try and speak out loud and clearly about who I am. I am going to try to be raw and honest and real and hopeful.

And even if it doesn’t work, it’s OK, because Aimee got me a t-shirt that says “Don’t ask me if my twins came out of my vagina.” And how can things not be OK, when you have friends who get you t-shirts that say that?

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Purging the Cancer Art

During the time I spent having cancer, being treated for cancer, and then healing both from the cancer and the way the treatments that saved my life ravaged my body, I made a lot of art projects. I wrote a lot of blog posts. I needed ways to express myself, and so I made things. I made paintings and little books filled with words and sculptures and masks. And when we began to pack our apartment up into a crazy amount of boxes that we hauled with us to California, all these little projects began to surface. They hid between novels on the book shelf, they were tucked into drawers I emptied, and they were tacked to bulletin boards.

I made a big pile of these colourful artifacts of all shapes and sizes. I couldn’t muster the desire to pack them together with my books or clothes or other things. These things embodied my cancer time, my sick experience, the months I spent processing and healing. I wanted to leave them behind, but it seemed cold and heartless to throw them in the trash with the bathroom rug that we didn’t want and the broken lampshade.

The pile grew. On the top corner of my bookshelf, I found a plastic bag full of my hair. I cut my long hair before chemo began, and I had the stylist cut it so that I could donate my hair so that it could be used in a wig. But then I found out all this scandalous stuff about the organizations, like Dove and Locks of Love, that run those programs, and so the hair languished in a plastic bag on top of my bookshelf and I forgot about it until we were moving. Add to the bags of hair little boxes with hearts on the top of them containing all kinds of secret notes, sculptures of babies I wanted so badly and of my body with a hole in the place of the left breast, booklets filled with words blurred with water colour, sticks with stories engraved on the side of them… the pile was big. I debated about adding the basketfuls of pills still in my hallway closet, and eventually did add those pills. I was mortified at the number of bottles full of medicines I had amassed.

And now what?

And then I knew. I packed it all up, made Sam and the babies come with me, and we marched down to Jericho Beach. A couple months ago, I made this fake left tit out of clay and buried it at Jericho in a bra I cut and sowed together to make a pouch, which I nestled in a box I decorated with yarn and fabric. Because you know, they threw my left tit in the trash. So this was like a reparative thing, where me and some others cared about what happened to that left tit, and it should have been like it was when I buried it at Jericho.

So, obviously, all these projects should be buried with the tit. And so the babies came in the stroller, and I tossed in a giant bag of pink powder leftover from the video shoot, and then while Sam waited I dug into the shallow hole where we buried the tit and unearthed the corners of the box and the bra fabric- it was still there! And then I arranged the pony tails of hair and collage-masks and little boxes, and then I dumped the hundreds of pills on top of it, and covered it all with the hospital gown I wore in the music video, and finished it off by dumping the entire 5 pounds of pink powder on top. I covered it up with a few leaves, dusted my hands off, and felt really awesome about it. So, I stood up and kicked a few more leaves on top, and marched out of the under brush to where Sam was waiting, and we went for a walk on the beach.

It’s absolutely mind blowing, to me at least, how incredibly powerful making things, and doing things with the things you make, can be. Like really, burying all those projects made me feel so light. And when I was making all those projects, they helped me move through. And then, leaving them behind and walking away from them- my feet just felt so firmly planted on the ground, and my shoulders felt so square, and I felt so in control of my life, my fate, the world, my world.

And it was awesome. I felt renewed and so much lighter. It felt like the cancer was over. Like at least, the really shitty parts. And besides, if I ever need that fake tit or collaged mask, I know where they’re buried. Can you imagine if someone found that collection of stuff? They would be like what the fuck….? 

So that’s basically a really long preface to sharing these weird photos, which I love but would make no sense without all this explanation. Maybe later I’ll post the stop mo I made from the boob burial, too. That was cool, but too intimate (or so I thought at the time) to post here. So, without further ado, the photos…

The Twins Brought Into My Life…. Lies and Boundaries?

As soon as I step out into public with Luna and Sienna in tow, other women comment on my body. They tell me I look fabulous, they ask me where my stomach is, they claim I must have the secret all women want. It never occurs to them I didn’t birth the babies because I had a surrogate because I had breast cancer. It’s not even in the frame of reference. It’s like any boundary you might have around asking about others’ bodies disintegrates entirely when there is a little one burping on your shoulder.

When I’m feeling fiery and sassy and annoyed, I respond, “Do you always comment on the bodies of women you’ve never met before?” When I’m just not up for sass and sizzle, I nod and smile. The first is a conversation shut-down. It’s a sparkful boundary, one I am daring them to contest, to cross, to consider. In part, its done to chastise the other person because I am angry, it’s meant to make these weird, gendered ways of relating visible- its meant to be pedagogical. It’s meant to disrupt, to unsettle, to provoke something other than the everyday. The latter is an apathetic failure to say no, and in failing to set any kind of boundary, its an invitation to converse- it’s a willing participation in sustaining the fantasy of womanhood in which pregnancy and childbirth is so central. It’s a hefty sigh because I’m not part of that gendered fantasy, and it’s exhaustion at attempting to ward off awkward inquiry that centralizes my body as object lesson.

Neither feels right. Both feel like I’m telling a lie.

And the other night, it came up in a way that was higher-stakes than the checker in the grocery line, and while I could have made a feminist retort and rationalized it with language like intersectionality and in/visibility and discursive performativity, I didn’t. I just lied.

I was at a dinner for the faculty in the program I’m teaching in. The wine was flowing and stories were being shared of toddlers and families. And I blurted out, I have twins. And then they wanted to know how old. And then they wanted to know how they missed my pregnant belly in the interview. And then I lied about how I camouflaged it. I didn’t want to explain surrogacy. I didn’t want to explain cancer. I didn’t want to explain. And in not explaining, I was complicit in the way that other kinds of families are hard to see, I was complicit in so much. But I can’t always explain. And so sometimes, I lie. And they probably now think I’m a master at camouflaging very pregnant bellies, and that I’m so good at answering academic interview questions that no one even notices my body! That would be incredible… if disembodiment was the goal. It somehow is the goal– to be seen only as a thinker, a thinker without a cumbersome body— and simultaneously, not the goal, because the goal is to dismantle disembodied thought, and to embody theory and theorize embodiment. So whatever, they think I’m a fashion guru (haha) and that I know how to camouflage a super preggo belly. I’m not a guru and I can’t camouflage an enormous belly full of twins, but I didn’t have to explain surrogacy and cancer to people I hardly know. And later on? Whatever, when we are all #besties I’ll just explain, how I couldn’t explain, because it was too much, and I wanted to be both a disembodied thinker and an embodied dismantler of disembodied thought, all at once. Ah, but really. Mostly, these conversations are with strangers who assume. I used to play in a symphony and the conductor would say, “Don’t assume! To assume is to make An ASS out of U and ME.” She was onto something, indeed.

Sure, I need some boundaries around who gets to ask what about my body and the babies in my arms, but mostly, I need boundaries around my family and the way I live my life as a thinker, lover, writer, mother. I need those boundaries because everything is in upheaval: I’ve got a new job, we are settling into a new (old?) place, we have two newborns, and we moved countries. I’m just coming out of a lengthy healing from cancer process, I am trying to adjust to life post-PhD, and we’ve moved into the home I grew up in. My mom is moving into the newly-converted in-law unit, and we painted the kitchen blue and aqua. I don’t know how long we’ll stay, but for awhile at least, we’re here.

It’s lovely to have family and old friends around. And it’s also challenging as fuck. If you’re alive, you came from somewhere. So love ’em or hate ’em, you know what I mean when I say, it’s challenging as fuck. 

Plus, I wish everyone could read my mind, or failing that, that I could communicate with sidewalk chalk drawings and glitter dustings. Alas, neither is possible. And so I have to tell people what I want and what I need and sometimes they don’t like it as much as they would like glittery sidewalk chalk. But then I look at my two babies and I think, fuck it. I have to say what I need and what I want, and people might not like it, but I am a mama to these two babies, and I just need whatever I need to be able to do that the best I can. And these babies need a mama who pursues creative projects and writes like a madwoman, because I want them to follow those kinds of passions. And these babies need a mama who surrounds herself with people who inspire her, who make her feel alive and hopeful and full of ideas and possibilities.

So I am trying to tell people what I need and what I don’t need. And I am trying to not feel guilty about it.

I still feel really freaking guilty about it. But at the end of the day, I give zero fucks if I lie to the grocery store clerk, or even to my colleagues, because it makes my life a little easier, and the lies to the colleagues can be rectified later on, and we can laugh about it for decades. It’s a little harder to give zero fucks about the intensive guilt surrounding boundaries with family and those really close friends, but I definitely give the most fucks about the babies. And… maybe sometimes those kind of guilty feelings are good, because they mean we’re doing something for our selves instead of because it’s what seems right or what other people need. So, I still feel guilty about it. But I’m doing it anyway.

Lies and boundaries. Two things I’ve done more since having these beautiful, amazing, hilarious, brilliant, fussy twins.

Beginnings, Endings, Circles in Between

Beginnings and endings. My life is filled with them right now. People coming in and out of my life, big openings and important closings, doors left a crack open so the light can seep in and old friendships bursting wide open with renewal.

Eleven days ago we had twin baby girls and they rock and they are called Luna Juliette and Sienna Skye. They are tiny and perfect and pink and funny. They make silly faces and sleep in awkward positions. Who knew you could love someone you just met so much? Who knew? What an opening they are, an enormous beginning, a tremendous amount of light and magic and wonder all flung into my life at once.

Together with these little beings, we are planning a move back to the Bay Area. As we prepare to leave Vancouver  I feel like we have so much to stuff into each day that its overflowing, brimming, so much. Friends to see, apartments to rent, plans to make, U-Hauls to arrange, and on and on. And as I finalize the details of my part time Assistant Professor position at Mills College (yah! when does THAT happen- a part time academic position?!?!? It’s amazing) things have sped up considerably. As in, we are leaving Vancouver, and soon. Leaving Vancouver, leaping into the Bay Area. Finishing up at UBC, heading to a small liberal arts college for women.

Last week I realized that Wednesday was my last ever possible YACN. YACN is the Young Adult Cancer Network group that meets at Callanish monthly and that has, in the face of cancer, pretty much saved my life, restored my belief in the brilliance of the world, and urged me to continue wishing on the stars winking in the sky. YACN is where I met and fell in love with Kristina and Aimee and Ashley, and so many others. YACN is where I found out about the retreat I went on that was mind blowingly amazing and where I met the art therapist that indulged my desire for acrylics and doll-making , and YACN is where I found a safe place, a place I felt understood and heard, a place I could see myself reflected, and a place I could heal.  YACN has blown open a thousand doors for me- I have found healing by telling my story and friendships that I hold so very dearly. And last week, it was, for me, the end of YACN.

The first time I went to YACN, it was January of 2014. I pushed open that door ever so slightly, letting a teeny bit of light into my life, but nervously so. I was newly bald. I debated for hours about what to wear on my head- how to perform cancer, in an explicitly cancer space? Go bald? Wear a hat? Don a wig? Would they think I was cancerish enough if I wore a wig? (Yes, I actually worried about how to look cancerish enough.) Would I look more political if I wore a hat? Would this just be another space that made me feel like raging political, because everyone was talking about how much they learned from cancer? Was it too cold to go bald? Would they think I was weird if I went bald? How could I perform cancer such that I could fit into this cancer group, because I didn’t fit anywhere else? I was nervous, and I didn’t want to have to make small talk at the beginning, so I I waited at the corner until one minute till starting. And when I walked in they knew my name and greeted me right at the door and offered me tea and I didn’t want to appear to needy so I declined the tea even though I wanted it. There was some other new people, and a couple, and a really funny Aussie who I haven’t seen since. Most people had hair, but there was one who I thought was wearing a wig, and one wearing a hat like me. And in their stories, I saw myself. They nodded when I spoke. They got it. It was overwhelming, all these young people with stories like mine, and I soon realized they probably wouldn’t care if I wore a wig or a hat or nothing at all on my naked pate.

What a beginning. It took me a few months, but slowly I figured out that I could fit into this space, and once I figured that out, I fast made friends, I fast figured out how to pour out the stories living inside my heart, and I fast figured out I should go as often as possible, because it was so healing. Since then I’ve gone to YACN almost every month, and my hair has grown back, and I don’t care if I’m performing cancer or not, or how I’m performing cancer or how I’m not. Since then, I’ve gone to YACN and I’ve made some of the best friends of my life, people I would literally jump in front of a speeding buss for, people who I can call on when I feel sad and who will immediately and always listen  and let me be upset, and who will laugh and love and gently remind me of the hopeful sparkle in my world. I mean really, when do you meet three young women like that, and become so close you imagine yourselves together as old, wrinkly women drinking spiked lemonade in rocking chairs after we have outlived our oncologists, in a period of fifteen months?!?! When does that happen? I a grateful for these people. So insanely grateful.

And yet, yesterday I said goodbye to Ashley, one of these incredible friends. We realized in horror that she wouldn’t be back from her trip until I had already left Vancouver. And so I drove her home instead of dropping her off at the Skytrain, and lots of tears fell onto each others’ shoulders even though we both swore we never cry at goodbyes. It was a sad end. An end to being close physically, an end to knowing she’s a bike ride away, an end to having this young woman with whom I have survived cancer, really close just in case I need someone to talk to or hold the babies. What heartache. Ashley and I bonded when the folks that (wo)man Callanish opened up their arms up really wide and took both of us under their wings. I am insanely grateful we found Callanish, and that we both got wrapped up in the embrace.

Those women at Callanish embrace so many of us, even when we are bald and angry and snotty from crying, and even when we can’t smile and when there’s nothing to say and our nails are cracked from treatments or our bodies decomposing from hormone therapy and when what we need most is for everyone to shut the f*ck up about how its all gonna be fine, and even when the news never gets better. But once you’re in that warm embrace, then you’re also allowed to celebrate like crazy when something goes right, and everyone is beyond overjoyed for you- like really, just genuinely, hopefully, lovingly happy for you- when dreams manifest. It’s a kind of palpable love that is there in the best of times, and in the worst of times, and that surrounds you and lights up with you when bright spots start to glow and twinkle and wink. And because they took us in when we were at our worst, their caring and joy at the best of times feels like unicorns pooping rainbow candies as they frolic across the sky and goblets overflowing with warm, syrupy, golden liquid. It’s a glorious love, one all humans deserve to be surrounded with, one that makes me a better person.

But this too, has an ending looming for me. Next month when YACN rolls around I’ll be jealous of my buddies who get to bask in the unicorn-syrup-golden-goblet-love, and I’ll sadly miss the company of the girls who get it the most. They’ll be in my heart, for they’ve changed me. This last YACN, I convinced Sam to come with me, and to bring Sienna and Luna. I emailed and asked if it was OK, and she said we must come, and we must bring the babies. And so we did. And so we bundled up the girls, and we picked up Ash, and we headed to Callanish. The Art Therapist Who Presides Over Acrylics and Sparkles and Sand opened the door for us, and the look on her face as she hugged us and cooed over the sweet four day old bundles in our arms warmed my heart. Janie The Wise, too, kissing and loving. Our babies were getting surrounded by the golden liquid flowing from goblets while unicorns prance love, and it was awesome. We settled in for our two hours together, and they were really special.

And during that last YACN, we all got to sit together, and the babies snuggled in, and Sam was there, and everyone shared. And I sat close to Sam and to Ash and to Aimee and to Kristina. And I sat across from Gretchen, The Art Therapist Who Presides Over Acrylics and Sparkles and Sand, and to the side of Janie The Wise and diagonal from a few less familiar faces. I ached to hold those less familiar faces in with Kristina and Ashley and Aimee and I, to tell them we love them and invite them to dinner, to make sure they felt loved– but I also knew this was my ending, and they’d have to forge those friendships without me, make them happen even though I was far away.

My heart broke into a thousand pieces when a dear one said she realized what a loss it would be when I left. My heart broke into a thousand pieces again when Janie The Wise spoke so beautifully about my participation in YACN and how she would miss me. My heart broke into a thousand pieces each time someone spoke and I could relate, each time I looked into the eyes of my comrades and I could see myself, and each time all I wanted to do was surround each of these beautiful beings with love and magic and all the friendship in the world. My heart broke into a thousand pieces each time I realized, again and over again, that this would be my last YACN, the last time I got to love these people in this way, at least for a while. My heart broke into a thousand pieces again when Sammy spoke. My heart broke for me- for these relationships, and for my friends- for their tough times, and for my future- for the shining beacon this group has given me. My heart broke for my baby girls, who will only know these awesome people once in a while, if we make it back to Vancouver, and through photos and stories.

And so it goes- we keep saying goodbye, and the endings break our hearts wide open, cracking them to reveal what’s inside, and it only hurts because there is so much love pouring out. And with each goodbye, we acknowledge there was a special beginning, something nascent we nurtured together, something that became so special it needed a heart-broken goodbye. With each goodbye, we step a little closer to the new beginnings, to settling with our babies in California, to always holding these people and this place close, but to a life in which we have to fly back to visit. Vancouver has been so good to us, and YACN has made my life richer, more full, and enriched with friendships.

So here’s a few baby pictures, which is why you’re actually reading, I know.

On Silence

We are still waiting. And waiting. And waiting. My patience skills are way underdeveloped. I’m crappy at waiting. And so I thank goodness for the trips to the river and the pile of interviews to code and the silly texts between friends and for my sweet Sammy who makes me see movies like Mission Impossible that don’t even pass the Bechdel test (that the movie has at least two woman characters in it that talk to each other, about something other than a man. Mission Impossible didn’t even have two women characters that ever spoke to each other, and one of them was on screen for only 10 seconds). Anyways, so we wait.

And as we wait, I’ve been thinking so much about silence. Some people in my life have recently approached me with utter silence. They have dropped away completely, to the tune of no response to emotion-filled texts and no responses to missed FaceTime calls. Sometimes, that’s welcome. Some kinds of silence make me feel safe. Silence from drama is generative. The ability to turn away from people who stir tension and worry feels really fucking good for right now, for this sensitive, raw, time in which we are waiting for our sweet baby girls. And sometimes, there is an echo in the silence, an echo of “why on earth is there so much silence?”

I am definitely someone who likes contact. I love group texts. I like to hear voices over FaceTime and am apt to meet up with friends in the middle of the night at the 24 hour cafe. It’s really hard for me to say no to social events, even if my plate is already piled high. I’m sad to miss a musician-friend’s concert tonight and I wish I could have all my dear ones here with us in Nanaimo while we wait. I’d piled them on the futon and make them sleep on the floor, and I’d make us all pancakes and I’d rub their backs with sunscreen while we swam at the river. I like people around. All of them. All of the time.

So sometimes, the silence stings. It stings when I put something out to you- a text, a call, an email, a coffee-date- that describes this joy-filled-hard-as-fuck-really-weird-and-awesome experience, and you don’t respond or you forget to respond. I am so grateful for the many folks who have called, messaged, chatted, laughed with me over the last little while, because I need you. But each of you had a you-shaped imprint in my heart, and I need all of you, and you can’t and don’t replace each other.

So why are you haunting us, silence? Is the person on the other end jealous? Does she feel left behind, left outside of having babies? I think so. But does she remember, that we have a surrogate, because cancer? Can I share with her, how this feels like tearing my heart out and making me whole all at the same time, all at once?

Being and becoming a mama creates wide open gaps among different people, for some reason. Jealousy. Anger that women flaunt their baby making success. Feelings of invisibility. I too felt this, once. When I was mid-chemo, my dear friend Jennie came to visit. Only days later, she confirmed what she suspected: her first pregnancy. At a time when my hair was falling out and everyday felt like someone was slamming my face into the fact that my baby making plans were derailed, I was sad. I told her. I told her I felt jealous. She told me about how things in her life were hard, too. And then after I said it, after I let those words out into the space between us, I could be overjoyed for her. Happy she was expecting a wee one, who she aptly named Grace. Jennie’s enormous, sun-sparkling smile carried us all through. She cared so much, and when it was finally my turn, she was overjoyed for me, and it meant even more because she knew how sad and jealous I felt when I was getting chemo and she was getting pregnant.

It’s not all peachy, this pregnancy. Trust me, I’ve sat with my cancer-friends and raged, oh yes, raged, about fertility. We have screamed because our Facebook feeds are filled with newborn announcements and we feel like we are on the outside, looking through a glass wall, a glass wall that won’t let us through because, cancer. A glass wall that, when we bang on it, doesn’t transmit a single sound of our distress to the other side. A glass wall that makes us mute, our traumas invisible, our desires impossible. It feels like a fucking glass wall, sometimes.

And so we get creative. We claw our ways to what we want. We draw on family and friends. We are relentless and strong and broken and tired, all at once. It’s beautiful and fucked. I still want you here with me, even if you’re hurting. I think it hurts a little less, when you can say, “dude, this hurts and I’m jealous.” I said that to Jennie many months ago, and you know what she said? She said something like, yah, and also…. and then she let me into her life, which isn’t perfect either. And then we connected, because we were both vulnerable and raw and real. It’s better that way. But it takes work. It takes risk. It takes reaching out and wondering, and listening, and being honest.

I don’t know, maybe the silence is moving. Maybe the silence is protective. Maybe the silence just is.

But when a friend doesn’t respond to the calls I make for connection, when the silence echoes and echoes and my heart is in the middle of it, at some point I have to turn inward, to protect myself, and I have to reach instead, for the hands that I know will grab my fingers when I reach out. I don’t do silence well. It’s too echo-y. It’s too painful. I need voices and hands reaching out and little giggles. I need cute emoticons and funny emails and late night visits.

So I’m learning still. Learning about the kinds of friendships I want to invest in, figuring out when I can throw my whole heart into friendship and feel secure that I’ve given my heart to someone who will protect it and shower it with care. I’m about to move, and then I’ll have to build community. And I know who I’ll be looking for. Heart-full, sparkly, thoughtful, safe, creative, joyful, real, complex, silly, honest, full of feeling. It’s what I want, what I need, how I think I’ll be. So communities of mine, I am grateful to you for showing me who to surround myself with, how to build the community I need and love and want, but mostly, I am grateful to you for offering silence only when it’s safe and peaceful- I am grateful to you for being heart-full, sparkly, thoughtful, safe, creative, joyful, real, complex, silly, honest, full of feeling.

Why Not Me?

A few days ago, a cancer-buddy wrote an article, in which she asked, Why not me? about her cancer. I remember the night she Facebook messaged me about her diagnosis. I was like— why is this girl I barely knew in high school messaging me? She was so much cooler than me, what could she possibly want now? And then I read her message and my world began to spin and I dialled her cell phone as fast as I possibly could, and I wished I was in New York City so I could wipe her tears and make her ginger tea, but I wasn’t so instead I tried as hard as I could to be a source of solace, a place of comfort, a friend who got it from the inside. Cue, beginning of a very intense and very awesome friendship, forged mostly over text messages. I now completely adore this girl I never knew in high school. She’s funny and sassy and smart and sensitive.  Thank the goddesses she came into my life, except, she came in because of cancer, so fuck that- but I cherish her friendship. And she’s an amazing writer- and she wrote about the shift the other day, the shift from “why me” to “why NOT me?”

So, turning inward— WHY NOT ME? It’s a really excellent question, especially for me as I stand on the brink of the life-altering event of the birth of our twins.

Why not me, the one who needed a surrogate? My hands smell divine. This afternoon, I gingerly stepped into a circle of five women. My beloved surrogate, with whom I have been brutally honest about why we have chosen surrogacy, and who accepts the frustration and grief about having to choose surrogacy that exist alongside my hopefulness/excitement/gratefulness with open arms. Her doula Lori, who is so whole and present and who with her eyes urges everyone else to be as whole and as present. And Leia, the head of Canadian Fertility Consulting, the company that hooked Angela and I up together in the first place.

It was beautiful. There were rose petals and little bowls of herbs and thoughtfully arranged rocks and shells, and tiny woven dragonflies for the baby girls. Leia and Lorie sat near Angela and I, loving us, while we sat together, our hands on each others’ hearts, and we all listened to melodic, comforting music about motherhood. We sat together, and wrote out our fears and worries, and we burned them in a clay pot. They prepared two hot tubs of water, and massaged our feet, readying us: her to birth me and my babies into motherhood and life, me to receive this gift from her and mother the babies. It was one of the first times, one of the most profound times, that I was recognized as an expectant mother. They held the space for me to express the sadness about how my babies are not inside of me, and they also held the space for me to say, gingerly, that I wanted to let go of that sadness, and that I wanted alongside that letting go, to celebrate how reflected I feel in Angela’s choices, how grateful I feel to be walking this path with a woman who I respect and love and so consistently learn from. They held the space. We listened to each other, and passed a wide-lipped, wooden bowl of salt among us, adding each of us to it’s contents, pouring in herbs and love and essential oils and hope and flower petals and truth and sea-shells and dreams. And we moved our hands through the salt, and we hoped and talked and imagined and set intentions, and our hands smell divine. So why not me, the one who needs a surrogate? Why the hell not?

Why not me, the one who had breast cancer at 29? Sometimes I wonder in awe, at the depth and breadth of community that supported me through diagnosis and chemo and mastectomy. There’s people who cooked. People who flew to be with me for chemo. People who explained pathology reports. People who exercised with me. People who sent cards. People who bought boob cakes for boob going away parties. People who sat with me when I was so distraught through the surgeries and made silly jokes just because we needed some laughter in those tears. People who I found because they got cancer at the same time and/or same age as me. People who treated me normally even though I was bald. People who knew it wasn’t over when it was over. It still fucking sucked hard core like nothing in my life has ever fucking sucked, but there were people. And why not me? It happens to everyone. Anyone. And what am I, but one of many, trying to love and live in this world? It was extraordinarily humbling. It made me look in the eyes of strangers, of enemies, of people who I might have otherwise disregarded (or at least, not thought deeply about) and wonder, what’s going on, behind those eyes? How do they live their lives? Who do they love, and is their heart broken? What is hard for them? Why have the struggled? Cancer made me wonder about all the things I couldn’t see about people, because it felt so impossible that I could be in the world and people (often) didn’t seem to notice I had cancer, or thought the wigs were real hair, or assumed I was some version of “normal.” I used to wonder what they would think, how horrified they would be, if they knew? And so I wonder, what I don’t know about all those other people, then? Besides, there was a person who wrote a song about how much it fucking sucked with me. Who does that- who writes a kick ass song and makes a music video about their cancer? Me. I do that. So why not me? It fucking sucks, but it sucks more to be in the place asking, why me, and seeing everyone’s puppy dog sad eyes, than it sucks to be in the place asking, why not me, and now listen to this fucking awesome song that I wrote with my friend and it totally rocks? I can’t wait until I can say, and also watch this kick-ass music video that will punch you in the gut and make you think about young/er adult breast cancer. 

Why not me, the one who raged with anger and grief about cancer and fertility, almost exactly a year ago at the Callanish retreat? At the point in time during which I went on retreat, all I could do was look around me and rage that, of the seven others, only one was my age. Then there was an age gap of twenty five years before the next person. All I could do was think whhhhyyyyy mmmmmeeeee? All I could say into the circle was, “It isn’t fair that this happened to me at this age, it isn’t fair.” Everything was about my age. I looked out at the other participants and thought to myself, they’ve all had kids, or had the option to. They’ve all had careers, or had the option to. They’ve all had time to love and to travel and to whatever. I was so angry, so jealous, so incensed at how much time they’d had before they got slammed with cancer.

But you know what? Of those others, there was one who was really special to me, and she was more than twenty-five years older than me. I would look at her and think, if I grow up like that, I’ll be all right. She was the one who finally looked at me, her eyes glassy with tears and said, “Chels, it doesn’t matter how old we are. No one wants to die. And yes, it matters that you haven’t had babies yet. Yes, it matters that cancer destroyed your baby plans. Yes, your age matters, but not really. You will be a mama.” And now she is gone. And she already had grown kids and a closet full of hippie skirts and so many afternoons with her beloved. And here we are, a year later, and I wish I could email Char and get an immediate and sassy response, as we lay in wait for the birth of our baby girls. It’s not how I thought it would be, and soon enough, I’ll get those baby girls, but Char won’t be here to smell their baby-smell. So age is just a number and at the end of the day, and it turns out, Char was right- age doesn’t matter. I mean it matters but it doesn’t. It matters, and it doesn’t. Try holding those two things together, at once, compassionately, side by side.

It matters and it doesn’t….Why the hell not me? 

Another Day in Babyland

Yesterday was another day in baby land. The three of us- me, Angela our surrogate, and the doula- sat in the waiting room, waiting for Angela to be called for an ultrasound. We talked of nothing in particular, of the in between spaces that fill up our lives. And then they called Angela. We both stood. And then the technician told me she would only take Angela back. Angela reneged. “She’s the mom,” she explained, “she needs to come.” My heart clenched again and the technician said no, explaining that I would compromise the exam. We argued for a moment, and I told her this is not a normal situation and not appropriate. Finally, I said, “Fine. Give me your supervisors number.” I will email. I will call. I will make sure they change this stupid, stupid policy.

They often say, “we’ll bring you in at the end, that’s what we do for the dads.” BUT HELLO, I AM NOT THE DAD. YOU ARE LOOKING AT MY BABIES AND THERE IS NO PARENT WITH THEM. Yes, I know that Angela will look after them. I know she will make the same decisions I would. I know it will be fine. But knowing it will be fine means nothing because still, someone is measuring my babies and looking at the length of their little legs and I am in the waiting room. In case I didn’t detest medical systems enough already, the wild inability to negotiate care with differently configured families makes me want to scream and cry and stomp. Did no one teach these people about difference? Did no one nudge them and say, sometimes we have families that don’t fit our policies, families not written into our regulations, families that don’t look like a pregnant mom and a doting dad and a single baby in the belly? What about queer families? What about families that speak another language? What about families that have a surrogate? Total inability to deal with difference. Total rigidity. Totally fucked.

But it was all ok, because then we came home and had this really intimate time, the three of us, making a cast of Angela’s oh-so-pregnant belly. We casted and smoothed and awed over how her body has stretched and changed and accommodated and made space for two tiny beings to grow inside of it. It was really quite incredible. During one of my breast-casting experiences, one of the women involved noted, “this just feels like something women do to take care of each other, like caring for each other in the way women always have.” And she was right, and yesterday, too, felt like hundreds of women behind us and in front of us, caring for each other. Sure, belly casts are a new fad- but women caring for each other is not. Women carrying babies for each other is not. Women making memories with each other is not. Women transferring knowledge is not. And sure enough, when I told my friend CJ she really taught me well with the breast casts, she reminded me it was, simply, the transfer of lesbian knowledge. From her community at Michigan Women’s Festival to me and mine in my living room the night before my mastectomy to Angela and the doula in the living room of the yoga retreat we are calling home until the babies come. So.

And then we took a photo, and we posted it to Facebook, and a jillion people liked it and commented on it and sent me loving messages. You know, social media gets a bad freaIMG_7637-2 copyking rap. So many people tell me it depresses them, because people only post glossy images of their lives, images that showcase birthdays and perfectly decorated parties and newborns and bouncy puppies and friends in community— and the onslaught of “I’m so awesome and my life rocks” can be depressingfor the person scrolling through the feed. But you know— it’s like anything, I think. It’s an opportunity to appreciate life is going swimmingly for someone you remember from grade school. Sure, I’ve definitely complained to my cancer friends about how my news feed fills up with newborns and international trips, which is insanely painful because I am waiting on the oncologist who is already running late. But really, it’s not that other people are having babies or that I can see their international trips that makes the tears flow. It’s that I harbour an insane amount of grief related to what cancer did to my body, and when I see happy, healthy bodies I feel jealous and sad and overwhelmed because desperately, I wish I could have that and desperately, I wish there was a way to undo my cancer, and desperately, I wish it was not true. See how many “I’s” there are? It’s not about their glossy photos. It’s about the grief that lies just below the surface and makes my heart hurt. It’s about me, not them.

So- back to social media. So we posted this photo, right?  A jillion people liked it. Tons of people commented. Every single person sent messages of love, congrats, hope, joy, utter excitement, awesomenesScreen Shot 2015-07-24 at 9.36.16 AMs, love, silliness, and sparkle. People I haven’t talked to, since, literally, grad night after we graduated from high school and scattered away to college sent love, excitement, joy, hope, and excitement. I have to say, it was pretty overwhelming. And really awesome.

I’ve been so quiet on social media about this pregnancy, because I didn’t know what people would say. I can’t tell this story without telling also, about the cancer. I still feel so raw and heartbroken about the whole situation (and in case you doubted, check out the last post I made) and I knew I couldn’t take any weird comments. I knew I couldn’t take any weird comments and I knew I’d feel really icky if people were insensitive. But it wasn’t like that at all. There were a few comments about how mine is “such a sad story” (womp-womp-womp…. and I promise, my life isn’t “sad” or a “tragedy”) but for the most part, I felt insanely loved and cared about and like people were so freaking excited for us. Which is so freaking awesome.

And then I also got to connect with a few people over text. One young woman, who literally, I have not spoken with since high school. She has a baby. She can’t have another. She thought she’d breast feed, and can’t The details are unimportant. What is important is that she reached out, and she was so kind, and she shared her story, and she wanted to talk about giving her baby a sibling through surrogacy, and even though we were never even really friends growing up we could connect and support and love each other, and it was really freakin awesome. It was all the heart-feelings, all the time, as I asked her questions about formula feeding and she shared her experience and we talked about surrogacy. Like so incredible.

And the messages from people who were on my AMIGOS staffs- people I did wild and crazy things with. So sweet. People told me I meant so much to them and I taught them so much. I was overwhelmed. You just never know how you are touching people, and sometimes you might only find out ten years down the road.

Baby girls, you are going to be so loved. Please come soon. Mama is waiting. A whole wide community of people are eager to see your little faces. Papa wants to play the marimba to you. There is so much in this world to show you. So many sounds to hear and sensations to have and textures to touch and friends to make.

Plus, social media. It can save the day.

Oh and also- in case I didn’t feel loved enough already. Our surromama read the last blog post last night, about how this shit is freaking hard. She sent a text that was so kind about how her heart was breaking for me, too. And I went downstairs to her and we cried together and talked late into the night (10:30 is really freaking late when you’re nine months pregnant with twins), and I felt insanely connected, and she gets it so much, because she’s right here with us, carrying our baby girls in her belly. I felt so connected and loved. That’s all I want. Real connection. Raw feeling. Togetherness.

And then I fell asleep knowing, they will come. And it will be just as it should be. Soon enough.