Cody

It’s taken me awhile to get to a place where I felt I could talk through my feelings about Cody’s birth on this blog.  I’m still not sure I can definitely say one thing or another about it, except it changed everything.  I look at the smiling, gentle, happy baby he is and I am utterly astonished at how happy being a mother has made me. Though I am extremely sleep deprived, still 20 pounds heavier than when I got pregnant, and trying to find a balance between work, baby, my husband, and myself, I am still – above all – happy.

I feel as though pregnancy did not in any way prepare me for my feelings here and now, or during labor, or really anywhere in between.  My pregnancy felt surreal to me, and the fact that I would have a baby and be a mother at the end of it all was an abstraction I couldn’t fully comprehend.  Even now, I’m not sure I fully comprehend the ramifications of motherhood, but what I do know is that an element of choice is gone from my life now.  If Cody needs me, I will be there for him.  It’s not an option to be anything but.  Truly.

I hear about Mommy wars and these massive rifts over how best to raise a child and I sometimes wonder how anyone can so rigidly abide by any one parenting style.  I think what it comes down to is more or less what feels right.  And, more and more I’m learning that what feels right and is MY truth, is not always what I’d anticipated – right from the start.

When Rick and I decided to go off birth control and let nature take its course, we really anticipated it could take a while.  In fact, I was so sure that I wasn’t really at all worried that our “trying” coincided with my job search.  Well, neither the job search nor the trying took long to come to fruition.  Before I knew it, I was pregnant and starting my first day at a new job. Scary!  But, wonderful all the same.

My entire life prior to begin pregnant I predicted I’d be an absolutely horrible pregnant person.  I’m a terror when I’m hormonal and when you couple that with feeling fat, there really was no way (I thought) that anyone would want anything to do with me while I was pregnant.  In truth, whatever hormones that were coursing through my body made me mellower and sweeter than I normally am.  I was calm, happy, and rarely moody.  It was shocking – and wonderful.  I’m not going to claim I loved being pregnant, because I did not.  But, I was amazed at how comfortable and happy I was through the process.

I spent my time during my pregnancy preparing for birth.  I read Ina May Gaskin constantly.  I fully embraced the goal of having a natural childbirth without drugs.  I immersed myself in my hypnosis scripts – intent on having a peaceful, drug-free hypnobirth.  In truth, nothing about that plan went the way I anticipated.  Eleven days after my due date I was still pregnant as can be.  I tried everything to bring forth my baby – sex, pineapple, spicy food, evening primrose oil, black and blue cohosh, eggplant, tea from the apothecary, acupuncture, massage, yoga, stairs, dancing, and even the dreaded castor oil.  They all failed me.  I cleaned the house.  I meditated to prepare myself for my baby’s arrival.  When the time came to talk induction I pushed back on my doctor over and over again.  But eventually, 12 days past my due date, I went in for an induction.  It was very sad to me.  I had attached such meaning to the act of birthing my baby and beginning the process with an induction felt like a failure from the start.  Yet, on the flip side, failure or not, I was excited to see what the process would hold for me and eager to get it moving along. Our induction started off on the wrong foot when I requested the cervical softener cervidil in place of cytotec.  The nurse on duty pushed back on me, essentially telling me I was uninformed.  Then she told me about how she induced for both of her babies because she wanted their birth dates to fall on specific days.  I wasn’t impressed.  We were not of a similar mind (which appeared to hold true for all but one of my nurses (and I had about 6)).  Cervidil is administered overnight, and in my case that meant that Rick and I spent the night in the hospital together, which is the least romantic place to spend the last night you’ll ever have with just your husband.  Just sayin’.

Overnight, I began having contractions and by morning they were coming on semi-regularly.  We asked my doctor if we could allow labor to progress naturally, and she said yes. We were thrilled.  We also asked that she massage out some scar tissue on my cervix from a LEEP and colposcopy I’d had several years before which was inhibiting dilation for me.  Once she massaged out the tissue, my cervix popped open to three centimeters after holding steady at a half centimeter for weeks. Internally, I cursed the doctors who never mentioned this side effect during my previous procedures.  This is truly something that women and other doctors should be better informed about given how prevalent LEEPs and colposcopies are to treat unusual cell formations that show up on pap smears.  But, moving forward, my contractions steadily increased in strength though their frequency continued to be irregular.  Before long I opted to try laboring in the tub, where my sister and Rick alternated in reading me hypnosis scripts. We bounced between the tub and bed for a while, my doula came, and before long several hours had passed.  By mid-afternoon they checked me again, but alas my dilation was stalled at 3 cm.  My doctor gave me two choices – break the waters, or begin Pitocin. Because I was group B strep positive, breaking the waters posed more risk, but I REALLY didn’t want pitocin.  We bargained for an hour to walk the halls.  After the hour was up and nothing had changed my Doctor stated playing hardball.  She spent about 10 minutes on the phone with Rick,  mocking us for all the reading we’d done and our strong distaste for Pitocin and interventions.  She threatened to send us home.  She dripped condescension and rudeness.  We all were left with a horrible taste in our mouths over the whole thing.  And after weighing all the options, we decided to try Pitocin at half strength. I labored on Pitocin for 7 hours, during which time my contractions increased in severity tremendously.  I needed all three of my helpers – Rick, Max, and my doula,  to rotate giving me supportive hip squeezes to ease my back labor.  I fell to the ground from pain during some of my contractions.  I uttered these guttural noises I’d never though possible.  I started vomiting from the pain.  Finally, I passed my mucus plug, and then my water broke.  It was such a relief to have at least one part of my labor happen without direct intervention!  Finally, contractions were getting so severe I was sure I needed to use the bathroom.  This, we all took to mean I was in transition – somewhere between 7-10 cm dilated and soon to start the pushing phase.  So, we asked for a pelvic exam only to find out that I was only dilated to about 6 cm.  After 7 hours of laboring on Pitocin, and about 14 hours of contractions before that, I was considering the epidural.  Soon, I was hit with about 5 contractions that just about leveled me.  I looked at Rick and told him that despite all my earlier wishes, I wanted the epidural. If I felt bad now, I didn’t think I could handle transition without it.  So, off they went to line it up – only 30 minutes to wait!  This of course, was the worst 30 minutes of my life. They could hardly get a window to insert the epidural as my contractions bore down hard and unrelentingly.  But alas, soon the sweet epidural kicked in and  though my heart rate dropped and they needed to administer me oxygen, I was the happiest lady around.

And thus began my epic saga of laboring with an epidural – which necessitates a catheter because you’re stuck in bed (even though I could move my legs and kneel, etc.).  I slept for about 3 hours once the epidural took over, but then I was back awake.  At this point I’d been in the hospital about 30 hours from the beginning of my induction. Rick and I were able to steal a few precious moments to ourselves in the middle of the night as everyone else slept.  We lamented the turn of events, but were giddy to finally meet our baby. We continued to labor (slowly) for another 15 hours or so.  I changed positions several times to see if that would help progression.  It didn’t.  Nurses came running in to make sure the baby’s heart rate was steady several times. It was.  They packed me full of a gazillion saline IV bags until my whole body was swollen to twice its size.  Then they pronounced me nearly complete.  9.5 cm dilated about 45 hours from the beginning of my induction.  They warned that the worst was ahead and left us to think, reminding us that the baby could weigh 9 or 10 pounds based on our last ultrasound.  I listened to hypnosis scripts for about an hour and prepared myself to begin pushing when they gave me the go. But, after an hour an armada of nurses entered my room with my doctor. My doctor explained that they were all very worried about me.   My contractions were no longer regular, even on heavy Pitocin.  If I forged ahead, I could be pushing for hours because they determined my baby was asynclitic (head cocked) and posterior.  They said they’d ordered extra blood for fear I’d hemorrhage or need an emergency C-section.  They left me to talk it over, but made sure the c-section consent form was within arm’s reach.

I looked at Rick and my doula and admitted I’d been bearing down for the last hour, hoping to speed things along.  Rather , it left my cervix swollen and less dilated than before.  I was ready to meet my baby, and to stop these interventions which were doing very little.  I was also scared.   I was ready for the C-section.  We agreed to do it, sadly. I signed the forms.

About  a half hour later, I was wheeled into surgery with Rick nervously at my side, discussing whether he would stay with me or the baby in the event something went wrong.   I know the “right” answer should probably be that we both would say go with the baby, but I was relieved to hear him say that if anything went wrong he’d stay with me because “he hasn’t even met the baby.” I was touched and honestly agreed it was right.  It’s funny looking back on this, because we care so much for Cody – it’s hard to believe that just a few months ago we would have sort of abandoned him in this way.

When they got me into the surgery room we went over the process of things, and I got some drugs, and they explained how everything would happen.  Before I knew it, I could feel tugging and pulling in my abdomen, which was surreal feeling – but didn’t hurt.  Then they warned me it would feel like an elephant was standing on my chest for a few moments, and it did! But, before long I could hear the commotion of the staff as they pulled Cody out.  “He’s so big!” they exclaimed!  And then, ” Oh my gosh, he’s peeing on everyone!” It was disconcerting hearing the joy in people’s voices as this baby was “born” while meanwhile I lay behind a blue curtain, unable to feel or experience this supposedly life-changing moment.  I felt a few tears well up, more because my emotions were so mixed at this point.  I felt confused and the process was so surreal – yet I was supposed to be joyful at the birth of my child.  Instead, I was confused and, apparently, hemorrhaging.  They held Cody over the curtain for me to see – this wriggling, slimy thing.  He was so skinny and his head was so big!  His eyes were wide and alert.  I remember being shocked that this was the being I’d housed for nine months, but touched at his smallness and tenacity.  They took him for a moment to weigh and measure him, and came back to put him on my chest – a difficult feat with a curtain blocking most of my chest.  Instead, Rick held him near my head and we talked to him – which seemed to awaken a bit of recognition in him.  He seemed to know that our voices were the ones he’d been hearing for so many months – and his wails softened and quieted.  We all observed each other in awe.

As all this was happening, a small commotion was going on.  I was bleeding a lot.  And my blood pressure was dropping.  To the credit of the staff, nobody acted as though this was scary, but they gave me a few meds to help stop the bleeding.  These made me feel like I was freezing on the table, and soon I began to shiver and my teeth even began to chatter.  They couldn’t give me anything but a paper cover to help me stay warm.  It was so uncomfortable.  And, they took the baby away briefly to clean him off and let the staff stitch me back up.  Around here my memories get foggy – another thing nobody warned me about.   The anesthesia they give you, though it allows you to be conscious during the birth, really messes with your memory.  As a result, my first few hours with Cody were a hazy blur.  Rick has filled in some of the blanks, but I don’t remember much.  We were taken to a recovery room and the nurse there seemed more interested in the Cowboys game than me.  I breastfed for the first time, and had NO idea what I was doing.  Eventually someone – I think a pediatric nurse, came in and gave me some pointers – then things began to go more smoothly.  Cody latched well, and immediately.   None of the surgical staff or doctor’s came by to explain the procedure or see me.  Nobody told me I hemorrhaged.  It felt lonely and sterile. They also wouldn’t let my family in for almost an hour.   So, that’s a cesarean birth for you.  Nothing I intended or expected, and nothing I hope to experience again.  I try not to think about it.  In fact for the first several weeks I struggled to even say that Cody was “born” opting for the more accurate and significantly more awful, “Cody was cut out of me.”  I’m still weighing whether to attend the ICAN cesarean birth support group meetings that happen once a month.  Haven’t gone yet, and as it fades into the distance it seems less and less likely. But I definitely see the need.  This surgery is overused, and in my opinion, done poorly and without regard for the feelings and experience of the mother and father.  My incision healed badly and opened back up a few weeks after my birth.  It was hell trying to handle a newborn after abdominal surgery.  It just sucked a lot.

To this day I’m not sure whether the C-section was needed.  I know he was posterior and asynclitic and those conditions often result in cesareans. But could it have been different?  I still don’t know if things would have progressed better if I’d resisted the system more or if they had identified that he was posterior earlier.  I wonder often whether my next deliveries will end the same way and whether I’ll ever know the experience of birthing my child the natural way.  When I think hard about it, it makes me very upset.  I try not to think about it too much.  Which, is easy because having a newborn totally upends your life, especially if you’re also healing from a cesarean.  There isn’t a lot of time, or mental capacity, to reflect.

It’s odd.  I expected that labor to go smoothly and to be the one part of pregnancy that I would handle well.  In reality, it was a disaster.  But everything before and after has been smooth sailing.  Cody and I have rocked at breastfeeding.  He never even lost weight in the hospital they way most babies do.  His pediatrician told me that some moms make milk, and some make cream.  I am in the latter group.  I know that sounds like I am bragging.  I am.  It is something I feel good about, when everything else about his delivery went totally off-plan and against my wishes.  I am clinging to this one piece as evidence of success in carrying out this transition to motherhood.  I thought I would suck at breastfeeding and that it would be really hard for me.  It was hard, and incredibly painful in the first few weeks.  I got a blocked duct, mastitis, and then it turned into an abscess.  It’s been hard for me – but Cody has been packing on the pounds and we have both had such an incredible opportunity to bond. I love breastfeeding and hope we can continue for a long time.

Now, 11 weeks from his birth, I have this perfect baby.  He laughs and smiles and babbles baby words at me all the time.  I am so smitten with this little person who leaves me absolutely sleep-deprived, unable to fit into my clothes, covered in spit-up and poop,  and exhausted.   During the first few weeks it felt like the stress of a newborn could tear Rick and me apart – we were so tired and unable to come up for air, so to speak.  Now, we have established a routine.  We can balance our needs and make time for each other.  We both feel blessed and have found a renewed sense of purpose in our lives.  Cody has been a life-changer and made me totally re-evaluate all my assumptions, but yet here I am, happier than ever.

 

 

 

Sweetness to me

Light filters softly through our bamboo blinds as I slowly became aware of myself enveloped in grey flannel sheets, curled on my side, warm in the embrace of a thick down comforter.  My eyes flutter open, and I look down to see, nuzzled in the hollow of my  body, a perfect nearly bald head pressed against my chest, delicate hands and arms loosely grasping my shirt contentedly in sleep.  I stare for a moment — at times the adjustment to this reality takes a second — and then I listen for the soft gurgle of his breath.  There it is. There he is.  This little, delicate human, snuggled into the hollow of my chest and belly, next to my heart – a spot he’s already called home for many months.

Our mornings look like this. Rick leaves us early in the dark, often as I feed the baby.  We say sad parting words, for it really is a tragedy that Rick must leave us each day to be with other children.  We finish our feed, and snuggle into a short morning sleep for a few more hours.  Addie curls in the crook of my bent knees, Cody curls in the crook of my body.  Soon we fall into a rhythm of slowed breathing and drift to sleep for a few more blessed hours, joining legions of other women through the ages who, exhausted and in love, collapse into a sweet delicate sleep curled around their babies. Now, as I type, he inhabits the same space in a different form.  Tied snugly to my chest in a wrap, he sleeps peacefully. Looking down I am struck, as always, by the perfection of his skin – a pink and ivory expanse, criss-crossed with pale blue veins on his skull.  I know his future will be filled with sun-soaked days and that this perfect ivory skin will soon be populated with hundreds of freckles.  Now, it is a doll’s face I look at – utter symmetry, wide cheeks, a button nose, beautifully curled rose lips.  The palest of blond eyebrows, and slightly darker lashes, growing longer by the day.  In sleep, his perfection absolutely stuns me. I wonder often, how two normal-looking people could create what lies here before me.  Awake – his perfection morphs into something more like wonder.  I stare at his bright blue eyes.  Since the day he was born, they have tracked on people and objects displaying an alertness that I think both his parents lack.  He wrinkles his nose, or raises his eyebrows over and over as he breastfeeds with each gulp. He smiles when you scratch under his chin or make a silly face.  He cries when he is hungry or needs a diaper change, but rarely for any other reason.  In fact, I’ve noticed he seems mainly to cry when he is left alone – almost out of boredom or loneliness.  And I’m both proud and touched that these seem to be the main reasons he needs me – entertainment and the simple act of loving and touching him, holding him to my body where our breathing and heartbeats are closer together as they were before he was born.

I’m not sure that motherhood changes people.  I think motherhood brings out what has always been there, by putting a face and name on something that probably has long been latent in many of us.  For me, it is a softness that I don’t always show.  It is a sweet, protective, caring side that only those close to me ever really see.  I have always been an older sister, a caretaker and teacher to my siblings.  I have always deeply loved animals. The logical leap required to know I’d take to motherhood is small.  But yet, I am amazed by the whole thing. Amazed at the naturalness of it – the instinctiveness that comes from within, and also the memories that come back to me of my childhood and helping my mom with my two younger sisters.  I’m amazed at the joy I take in staring at Cody as he sleeps.  I’m amazed that Rick leaves in the morning and comes back in the evening and my day has disappeared between diaper changes, feeds, and snuggling with my snoring baby.  Nothing gets done, and though it bothers me, I don’t want to put him down to do something else.  (Thus, the hiatus in my blogging.)

I sing him all the lullabies I know.  I have revisited every camp song I’ve ever sung.  On my trip back from Telluride with him, he cried for the last hour, despite multiple stops to feed him and change his diaper.  He was bored and sick of driving, so I sang to him.  It was all that would quiet him down.  And soon I ran out of songs.  So, I sang the Star Spangled Banner over, and over, and over again until I nearly lost my voice.  Each time I stopped, he would slowly begin to fuss again.  And so I sang on.  And this is motherhood.  It is truly giving up yourself in so many ways, but I hope to do it with grace.  At times I struggle to accept all the changes – I have had a hard go of it, physically: 47 hour labor, a C-section, 4 days in the hospital to recover, then a blocked duct, mastitis, and abscess, breastfeeding pains, my C-section incision got infected and re-opened. I have had to go on two courses of antibiotics. My teeth are suffering, and I may have broken a bone in my foot while walking. Pregnancy is no joke.  It is HARD on your body.  Bringing someone new into the world is, I suppose, a responsibility not to be taken lightly or underestimated.

When I first saw Cody, held above me on an operating table – a slimy, wriggling little thing – I didn’t immediately fall in love.  But when I looked into his eyes as Rick held him near me while they stitched me up, and saw this little guy just trying to make it, he touched my heart.  Each day as we have built our relationship together, I fall more in love with the little man he is turning out to be.  A bright, alert, smiling child who wants to be held and loved and snuggled.  He makes me happy to come home, and gives me drive and renewed purpose.  He is sweetness embodied.  When I hold him, he holds me back and I know he needs me.  I am his mom.  It is the most special, exultant thing I could hope for.

Going deep

Delving into the intricacies of one’s relationships, spirituality, and personal interpretations of the world can be complicated territory as a writer and someone who blogs.  I’ve often struggled with how to use my blog to interpret and delicately communicate these issues to my audience without sharing too much of myself or appearing to be gossipy.  I believe that our relationships past and present are crucial components in making us the people we are, and I’d like to talk about mine in greater depth.  But it’s a struggle that often ends in me writing about the schedules and events of my life over the feelings and emotions that color my personal perspective. I hate that.  I think that privatizing and shielding our experiences and reactions – the joys, sorrows, and lessons – is denying ourselves.  Not everyone agrees with me that our feelings and experiences deserve so much time and space.  But, if I am honest with myself, I truly believe that our feelings, joys, and struggles are what makes life the adventure it is, and I want to document that.

Life has been tumultuous of late.  Rare is the moment of calm in my current storm.  Between home renovations in Denver, having family in town for weeks, traveling to visit other family, interviewing at a blistering pace across the west, moving cross-country without knowing whether it’s temporary or permanent, and beginning to consider longer term plans for home ownership, etc. – there has been a lot to think about!

So, we’ve been busy.

Add to this the unexpected and extremely unlikely scenario of running into my estranged ex-boyfriend and his wife few weeks ago at a hot springs in Montana (where I was interviewing for a job) and a whole extraneous existential element is thrown into the fray. I haven’t really talked about this since it happened, because the whole thing broadsided me so completely.  But, I guess I feel far enough away from it now that I can address my feelings about the exchange.  Plus, it feels inauthentic not to discuss the incident since this blog is devoted to examining life and love through my own personal lens.

I was with my friend Meg in the hot springs on a Sunday night.  We’d been lounging for a few hours after an afternoon of backcountry skiing.  We were preparing to leave when I looked up and saw my ex and his wife walk in.  I knew that during the weekend I was in Bozeman I risked running into them, but by the time Sunday night rolled around, I felt confident that the chances of a run-in before my early Monday flight had narrowed to nearly non-existent. The hot spring was small, so once in the pool they were mere feet away from me. But, it was dark so assuming they hadn’t  noticed me, I continued to soak while I strategized with Meg as to how best to approach the situation over the last of our beers.  I was pretty shaken up by seeing them for a few reasons.  First, I hadn’t spoken to my ex in about 2 years at his urging, with the exception of a brief interaction just days before my wedding where he reached out to me with a long email.  I, therefore, knew that though we hadn’t spoken in a long time, he still cared about my, missed me, and wished there was a way we could still share in each other’s lives some way.  Then, there was his wife, who in her last exchange with me had promised that if I ever saw them again, the situation would not be pretty.  So, I was at once terrified and confused and felt as though the universe had definitely thrown me a curve ball.

But, curve ball as it was, the universe had placed me in the same hot spring as them.  And, I felt compelled to acknowledge it.  Not to her, but to him.  To just make my existence in that space known.  After all, if I was going to have my stomach drop and my heart racing, he should share in my terror too.  Why should I suffer alone?  Rick and I had developed a bit of a strategy for me, in case I did run into them:  acknowledge the situation, say I couldn’t really talk, but say hello, and make my exit.  So, when I saw him get out of the pool to buy a beer, I exited the pool, walked over to him and said his name.  He looked sidelong at me (through an enormous beard), recognized me, and then his face grayed with a wave of what appeared to be terror.  He looked down, his eyes darting back over me again and again.  I said, “I really can’t talk to you, and I know you can’t talk to me.  But, I saw you walk in and thought I’d say hello to you before I left.  I’m just heading out now.”  He looked into his beer and mumbled that he couldn’t talk to me.  Out of my peripheral vision, I saw his wife quickly approaching, nostrils flared.  Seeing his fear and her obvious defensiveness, and feeling like a criminal for that measly conversation, I turned and walked into the dressing room.  From there, I heard Meg jovially say to them, “Bozeman’s a small town, eh?”  as she walked in to join me. And though I was still shaken up, her lightheartedness reassured me that the awkwardness of the exchange was, after all, short-lived.

It’s hard to talk about the situation that exists there.  Nobody is thrilled with the outcome. He was my best friend and my partner for many years. I still deeply respect him and care about his well-being. I know he feels similarly.  I don’t hate him or have lingering negative feelings toward him.  But, we don’t speak anymore.  It was not my choice. He said it was what was needed for him to move forward. Though, it probably is for the best.

Right before my wedding he reached out to me. I was very touched by what he had to say.  It appeared to have been a long time in the making – as such things tend to be, I suppose.  But, I was bothered by his timing.  It felt malicious to contact me and disrupt my happiness just a few days before my wedding. I called him, and told him that.  I told him we had to maintain our non-communication for the sake of our own sanity and our partner’s.  Then I put it out of my mind and went on with my life for a few months. It’s hard to lose a kindred soul, but it is harder to attempt to maintain an extremely complicated friendship.

When I ran into them in the hot spring and had the world’s most weird exchange, it stirred up old feelings about the how and why the situation came to be.  It seemed such an unlikely scenario that after years of deliberately not talking and being on different continents that there in the hot spring we were standing just a few feet apart. To me, the fact of our meeting seemed meaningful in some way, and I did and do continue to wonder what that meaning might be.

Though it ended horribly, that relationship catalyzed such immense pain, growth, and change in my life that I feel it deserves a lot of credit for making me who I am today.  In many ways it taught me how to be a better partner – because I did a lot wrong the first time around.  It eventually led me to better understanding and compassion for others, better delineation of my goals and life plans.  It helped me to become a stronger, healthier, wiser, and more loving person.  Its demise also catalyzed many discussions and learnings that helped Rick and I grow closer and learn to be open and honest in our relationship together.  It helped me understand and to fully be present in our relationship.  I think I never would have been ready for Rick had I not been through what I went through with my first serious relationship.  So, obviously, the run in in the hot spring touched some nerves for me.  In my inspiration to share the feelings that came out of this run in, I am guided by a beautiful quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

Later in the week following the hot springs incident, my mom asked me to clean out my boxes from the basement as I prepared to move west.  In doing so I unearthed about 30 letters from the same guy.  In the letters, as compared to our encounter in the hot springs, he was anything but terrified of me. The contrast was startling.  

As I re-read some of those letters, I couldn’t help but think about the several happy years together, followed by several years of turmoil and drama while attempting to remain a part of each other’s lives.  Our interaction at the hot spring – benign as a passing conversation – was all that remained of my first love and one of my best friends.  All that could survive the fallout.  It was a poignant reminder of the ephemeral nature of our lives and relationships.   It forced me to confront the impermanence of even those bonds that seem to be the most lasting in the moment.

Sure, I guess we all know that life is short, nothing is constant, change is inevitable.  We are meant to be present and enjoy the journey.  And, certainly, I do agree with that.  But, I think it is human to long for something that defies that entropic nature of life – something eternal and unchanging. It made me a bit sad that our brief exchange was all that was left of a bond that had felt so strong at one time.  It reminded me of his words in the letter he had written to me just before my wedding – “I have only the sweaters and boxes and letters to show that you are even real.”  And it is true.  There is nothing more.  And that eats at me in more of an esoteric fashion than a personal one – why do our connections fade away?  What is the purpose of our suffering in life?

Yoga, through hinduism, tells us that the reason for this experience of life is that the universal spirit, or supreme being, seeks embodiment for pure entertainment. Shiva danced the world into creation, and in doing so created the mayas, or veils, within which we perceive reality. To have the omniscient, and omnipotent power of the supreme consciousness masked behind these veils of chronological time, embodiment, and attachment hides the transcendent nature of ourselves.  The universal spirit seeks entertainment in experiencing life behind these veils, so we live with the understanding that time constantly progresses forward, our bodies define our beings, and that our feelings and attachments delineate real barriers and challenges in our life.  But, the masks, the chronology, the bodies that contain us are illusory.  To pierce the veil of these mayas is to recognize our true universal and eternal nature.

I try to remember this as I struggle with these sorts of day-to-day challenges life presents, where you’re confronted with real hurt and lingering sadness that seems hard to shake.  I try to recall this when I get a bit down about lost friendships and the fleetingness of life.  I try to reason that my attachments and perceptions are illusory.  Or, as my friend Katie once said “This shit ain’t real.”

Perhaps this confrontation with my past was simply a challenge to my understanding of the way the world operates.  It was perhaps a test of how much I have internalized the learnings I’ve gathered over the past few years about life, love, compassion, and detachment. Perhaps, it was there to confront whether I really accept life as an adventure of spirit.

But, here I am, mayas notwithstanding, a spirit making its way through this journey, and riding the waves as they come.  That incident presented me with some important questions to answer for myself. But, when I look around me at Rick and the life we’re building, I know I’m on the right path. I smile and feel grateful for the road that brought me here, challenges included.

Up north

My parent's cabin

It’s been a year and a half since I last visited my parent’s cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin.  Then, it was summer and I’d rallied a crew to join me from various parts of the country.  We drank wine, swam in the lake, and enjoyed sunsets to melt your heart.

Now, it’s -16 degrees.  Snow drifts around the house, and the lake is buried under ice and criss-crossed with snowmobile and cross-country ski tracks.  The sound of the woods is silence, broken by the creaking of frozen trees in the wind. The winter sun sets about 40 degrees south on the horizon from its summer roost.

I love the seasons here: the falls with their pungency, their color, their sense of tangible resignation to the slow descent to winter.  The springs with turtles rambling about laying eggs, the smell of pine and mud permeating the air.

I have spent many of my most enjoyable New Year’s Eves here, with many other close families, skiing all day, cooking chili by night, all of us trudging through the ice and snow of the lake to celebrate the new year with a toast of champagne under a cold, star-filled sky on a frozen island.  This place holds so many of my dearest, most wild and fun, and some of my most painful memories.  Its fabric is woven into me – the time my dog drowned in the lake and I had to pull her lifeless body out and bury her in the darkening evening as my sisters and I cried and got eaten by mosquitos; the time my boyfriend came to watch me run my first marathon and held me later that night in my exhausted soreness telling me how impressed and proud he was; the time I brought college friends here to hide away before finals and we baked blueberry pies and drank homemade wine after studying all day by the fireside; the summer days when my sisters and I would build forts in the woods and catch crawdads and snakes.

I love this place with my whole self.  It’s an incredible homecoming to be here after our months of self-imposed homelessness.  It reminds me of what matters to me and what I want for my own future.  It is such a great way to recall my memories of family and friends, and tare the scales of my life with my priorities.  Rick is not with me, he is celebrating the new year with his family before we leave to head abroad.  I think for him too, this bizarre exercise we’ve been performing of criss-crossing the country in search of a home, then coming home, then heading abroad, and hoping the pieces fall into place for us, it’s all very confusing, but I think the time back home serves us well to establish a base of where we come from and what we want going forward.

Yuanfen

Over coffee this morning, I skim emails on my phone.  There are always too many and lately, rather than even reading the subject line I simply check all the boxes next to emails that weren’t sent by a person in the flesh and blood, whose face I can picture, and then hit “delete.” But as I skim, one subject line pops out at me–from a philosophy website that I subscribe to but rarely read.

amp;q=10+relationship+words+that+cannot+be+translated” target=”_blank”>Top 10 Relationship Words that Cannot be Translated to English”

This gives me pause, because try as I might, I can’t stop thinking about love.  It sounds strange to say that, but it’s easier to admit to it than closet it away.  I think about it when I cook, when I write, when I sleep.  I wander through the farmer’s market pondering love and avocado.  I run along the river considering Neruda. Marquez.  Lahiri.  Yuknavitch. Roethke.  Lopez.  Cather. Plato.  I wonder what it is,and what it means, and what it entails for whom and for how long.  I wonder at its forms and at its nuances.  I wonder how it can be bent and hobbled;  how it can overcome unexpected challenges. I wonder if one kind of love trumps another, or if they are really, really, all the same,deserving the same reverence.  I want answers.

In a flash of inspiration, I remove the check from the box and keep it as I delete my other junk mail.
Later in the evening, after a day spent settling into the home I am making in Australia, with my boyfriend, far from my real home and from my past, I think back to the saved email.  I grab my phone and fall into one of the mauve, leather couches that we have scored for free from our old hotel.  They’re incredibly comfortable, despite being mauve and leather.  I open the email and read through the first few, until my gaze settles on one description in particular.

Yuanfen:  A relationship by fate or destiny.  A complex concept that draws on principles of predetermination in Chinese culture, which dictate relationships, encounters, and affinities, mostly among lovers and friends; a binding force that links two people together in any relationship.”

In this description, counter to popular conception, fate and destiny are distinct things, which makes for an interesting exploration of love between the fated versus that of the destined.

I think of fate without destiny.   I think of love without destiny.  I think of fate without love– and fate with love.  I think of destiny without fate.  The permutations are startling in their number. This is what yuanfen means, I guess.  The chance of any two people sharing a moment, or a year, or a boat ride, are so small.  Fate brings two people together, but only destiny keeps them on the same course.

I think of my deepening yoga practice and the readings of the Dalai Lama which have been informing my daily routine. I think of relational existence and attachment.  I think of the rube goldberg that is life if all is predetermined in the way yuanfen suggests.  And I look around, and here I am in Australia, and I am happy.

I wonder at yuanfen some more.