X is for Chemical X

Chemical X
Sugar. Spice. And everything nice. These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect little girl. But Professor Utonium accidentally added an EXTRA INGREDIENT to the concoction…. CHEMICAL X. Thus, the POWERPUFF GIRLS WERE BORN

In April 2008 my daughter was born. She was exactly 8lbs, had all of her fingers and toes, she was perfect. A c-section helped.Asha42508_zps40ff6b64

 

A small note about c-sections, I don’t understand why anyone would get one voluntarily. I’d choose the pain over and over again. My daughter was breach despite every effort to shift her. I was strapped down and I couldn’t hold this baby that I was getting to keep, it broke my heart. Thankfully it was a sad whisper among a joyful noise.

My room was filled with people and gifts and smiles. I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome for this new life.  Spring, sprung in during the time I was in the hospital and everything seemed to of flowered to welcome this child destined for sunshine and warmth. It was  a stark difference from how alone I was the first time, or how very sad I was then. Instead of loss and heartbreak, this was all about love and life.

5660_148663340751_3041154_nI named her Asha which means “Hope” in Sanskrit and “Life” in Swahili. It seemed apt. I think names are important, they are one of a mothers’ first gifts afetr life and I hope hers’ shapes her well.

When I spoke with The Boy after she was born, he asked how much she weighed (he was 8.6) and he was quick to point out he was bigger. I brought her up to see them when she was 4 months old. It was probably one of the easiest visits I had ever had, as the dynamic began to shift.

I was only a few years older than their oldest niece and nephew, yet I was not a peer for those kids or for the adults, it had always been an 1113_51130610751_8253_nunsettled place to find footing, along with all of the rest. Now, a decade later,  I was a mother in the true sense, and it was new unblemished ground.

4503_110684995751_3927311_nI still don’t know if it’s accurate to say that Gretch and Gwynn started speaking to me differently or if I just started listening better. The shift felt massive to me, but again, who knows? I spoke to them about baby stuff and they happily shared their experiences. I didn’t have this anywhere else, there was no mother, Auntie or grandmother to call with questions. I don’t want to give the impression that they were my go-to, because I was never that comfortable (which is on me) but they were a touchstone that I didn’t have anywhere else. I’m sure they would of answered had I been willing to reach out.

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I was the first of my friends to have a child, and they assumed I’d just figure it out, I had always been that type of person. I do not know what parents did before Google.  I was at a loss and in the ER, for diaper rash, more often than I would like to admit. My daughters first year, like the rest of my life was a lot of trial and error.

When I had left the hospital with her, I remember thinking “What is wrong with these people? Why are they letting me leave?? I have no idea how to take care of this tiny person!”.

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Most days, I still feel that way.

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T is for Transition

T

tran·si·tion
tranˈziSHən,-ˈsiSHən/
noun
 1. the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another
~ a passage in a piece of writing that smoothly connects two topics or sections to each other.
~ a momentary modulation from one key to another
~ a change of an atom, nucleus, electron, etc., from one quantum state to another, with emission or absorption of radiation.
verb
1. undergo or cause to undergo a process or period of transition.

5660_148663100751_7830631_n

I realize that until now I have not really spoke of The Boy and there are reasons for that. I have always been liked by children, which is weird because I don’t really like children. I like individual children, much as I like individual dogs or cats, both can spur deep and loving relationships for me, but either way I don’t like them just for the mere fact of their existence. I have never cared if a child liked me, which is why they might like me in the first place… much like a cat. I cared if The Boy liked me, and therefore have had no way to be comfortable around him. I am not comfortable with caring; I don’t know how to talk about him.

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I have worked with foster kids, and I get them, they are a mess in many different kinds of way but, I understand their “crazy”, I recognize it.

400814_2694603999053_1171432951_nThe Boy is not crazy, he is a perfectly well-adjusted child, with nothing but full confidence in his abilities and intelligence. He is smart, and funny. He is sarcastic, sensitive, interesting and is worth having a conversation with. He has played piano, sax, trumpet and drums with OntheFerry_zpsf576ecc5varying degrees of interest and passion. He is gifted in math, science and engineering. He has been on the local radio station learning the ropes of engineering and production since Middle School and recently produced his first solo show. He skis, sails, hikes and has done various other sports over the years. He builds robots and battles them. He is a very tall black kid in a white family that seems totally well-adjusted and can mock the absurdity of himself and life in general, with adult aplomb.  His moms have never been able to get him to do chores, and he is spoiled in his own way. He is smart enough to consciously recognize that an intelligent argument paired with unending persistence will overcome any resistance from his very reasonable pacifist parents. I may be one of the few people who joyfully says, no, to him. He can be quite charming when he chooses. He can also be quite annoying.

5660_148663085751_6685996_nAll of this are just pieces of achievements and small hints at the kid that has been growing up within a world filled with grace. He doesn’t have questions about his story, because he’s always known it. He has never known true loss, or complete failure, and though I hope he never does, I figure he’ll be alright when and if that happens. He had had the chance to try his hand at whatever has crossed his path and many things have and will continue to do so. His world is vast and not narrowed by restraints.

He knows it, he knows how blessed he is. How many of us were aware and appreciative of our family and our blessings as a pre-teen? I haven’t known many. He is no longer a child, but we haven’t quite gotten there in this tale. There are many reasons for my growth as a person but one of the biggest catalysts is wanting to be someone worth knowing, to this boy who is almost a man.  I know from my own tale that the accident of birth isn’t enough.

This whole story is about transitions but the most amazing one I have seen is of this child growing up. He amazes me; as does the family, that has made the life he has been given, possible. I am not really a part of that, but I am lucky enough to play a supporting role.

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I mean, I still don’t always like kids,  but I guess he’s okay.

 

 

J is for Judgement

J

judg·ment
ˈjəjmənt/
noun
1. the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.
2. an opinion or conclusion. a misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment.

Four years of Mothers’ Days, birthdays, care packages and mourning had passed and it was August 2002.  I was going to Maine to see their home, meet the rest of their family and see The Boy for the first time since he turned one and they came back to finalize the adoption.sideview mirror

I was living with a girl, but it didn’t occur to bring her, she was not someone I was proud of. I wasn’t either, but what can you do? I takes about 6 hours to get from Jersey to Portland, ME. I have always liked long drives, it lets you get used to going from one place another at a pace I could appreciate though this trip seemed to go by more quickly than I was prepared for.

Gwynnie and Gretchen had set me up at a local B&B, and I was thankful. I didn’t think I could stay in their home, there wouldn’t be anywhere to hide. It was the first time I had a hotel room to myself and that little pleasure was celebrated by jumping on the bed and laughing at myself.

Screenshot 2014-04-10 at 12.45.40 PM (1)I met them back at their house later. It is one of those big Victorians, with wide steps that lead to a porch wrapped around it. Each step felt heavy. Then, he was there. We were unsure of each other. It felt like a punch to the gut that you have to smile and say nice things, through.

Most people can look in the mirror and see the parts of them that come from this or that relative. The small ears from Nanna, full lips and pert nose from mom, that troublesome widows peak from dads side of the family, I have never seen myself in another’s face.  Though I had lived with my mother’s people, I look little like them, though I did have my grandmother’s ears. In pictures I resembled the small brown child some infertile member had adopted from an island nation.

There was no mistaking where this child came from. He was my darker version. I had anticipated the possibility of pain and the hardship of seeing him at all, would entail, but this came as as shock. I had seen plenty of pictures and knew intellectually that we looked quite similar, but the reality almost felled me. I rarely saw beauty in myself, but in him, I could see nothing else.

I think that they tried to limit the amount of people who might overwhelm me when I walked in the door, but still when we convened in the big bright kitchen, I was overwhelmed. The house was owned by three families, Gwynnie and two of her siblings had bought it along with each of their significant others. Her sister Penny and her husband Paul had the back half of the house. Her brother Matt and his wife Lisa had the third floor. Gwynnie and Gretchen had the front, and each portion was distinct to their personalities but somehow smoothly connected to the lives that inhabited it.

There was homemade bread, fruit picked at local farms and an endless stream of faces I couldn’t remember the names for.  Cousins, Aunts, friends, neighbors, I think everyone wanted a turn to meet me.

“We are so grateful for what you did”

“You are so brave”

“Everyone loves The Boy so much, you made them a family!”

“ You were so young and so selfless!”

“ OH WOW, you look JUST LIKE HIM!”

Rinse and repeat

I saw Gwynnie and Gretchen looking between our faces, along with everyone else and wanted to hide behind my fingers like a small child who believes it will make them invisible. I was not brave, or clever, or selfless, I was a train wreck with enough common sense to know it. I was afraid to look to closely at The Boy, I didn’t think I could touch him and I didn’t have the words to react to this kindness deluge. I wanted to trace his features with my finger and marvel at him. I never thought I would feel so broken and so full at the same time. I smiled and tried to find appropriate words to the words they sent my way. Even the deluge was easier than looking at The Boy, so I did my best not to be a blathering idiot in front of these people who were so nice.

This kind of home, this family, their friends, it was like visiting an alien nation where I didn’t have the language or the tools to navigate. I felt their judgement of my angelic deeds and saw no resemblance in the mirror. I wasn’t a nice person. I said inappropriate things, sometimes laughed at funerals, I slept with too many people, I had a free-flowing sense of morality, oh, and I curse like a fucking sailor. All of that was on a good day, and had nothing to do with the past four years spent on less than virtuous pastimes.

Broken clay heart

 

F is for Farce

F

farce
färs/
noun
noun: farce; plural noun: farces
1. a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations.


I met Lucas while I worked at Whole Foods; I worked in the bakery and he was a regular at the store. I would later find out he was a fine amateur chef. Later still he would become a professional, but that was some time after us. When he showed interest in me I told him I was 2 months pregnant and in the process of an open adoption. He asked for my number.  Our first date was on Valentines Day in 1998 at a nice Italian place with great lighting.  He was older than me, by 29 years, which didn’t make me blink but caused it’s own kind of tension outside of us.

To say I was rough around the edges was an understatement and I still have no idea why we worked, but we did. Lucas lead his life in a very singular fashion. It didn’t matter if he was by himself, there would be a full dinner, seating, and candlelight. He seemed to live in a different era, well beyond the age difference. He taught me about wine, food and opera. I gave him tickets to NYC Metropolitan Opera’s Lohengrin for his birthday and he spent hours going over the translations with me, so I understood and could appreciate it when we actually went.  He went to every lamaze class and OBGYN appointment. We made each other laugh.  His friends thought he was insane and were varying degrees of hostile with one or two exceptions.  It would take me another decade to realize how totally bizarre and uncomfortable the whole pairing seemed from the outside.

I have never had a family to deal with and my friends had drifted away in the face of our lives disparities. They worried about curfew, grades and allowance, and I worried about my electric bill, work schedule and birth plan. It wasn’t malicious, we just didn’t have any common ground. He became a lot of my life and I enjoyed his passion and patience. Lucas always had a child like joy about the world and whatever thing he was focused on.

 

When I finally gave birth to the boy, Lucas was there. Afterwards he took me away and I think that simple distraction allowed me to stave off the initial insanity. We went to California and visited San Francisco, Carmel, Big Sur and Napa Valley.

sanfranhouses In San Francisco we stayed at a B&B on California Street. I remember laying in the giant tub, that was so big,  I had a hard time not sliding under.  I looked through the water at myself and my hands explored a landscape I didn’t recognize.  MY breasts were full, swollen and hurting; sustenance with no mouth to feed. My belly was a war zone. The boy had not dropped until the very end and my skin had no stretch marks prior to that event. All of the sudden, seemingly overnight, it looked as if some giant clawed creature had played with my skin, making dark purple rivulets from my just above my belly button to the top of my pubis.  The skin was flaccid, sore and felt dead to me.

 

Just 2 weeks ago it was filled with life, I was a bearer of life and now my body was as ruined as me.

In Big Sur, we had dinner at a restaurant that seemed to touch the clouds and I wondered fi I could walk out into the sky and disappear into the waves below. I felt like all the beauty was wasted on me.

Sierra MAr Big Sur

Lucas was personified patience and i managed to go out with him but often had to stay in or leave unexpectedly and retreat to our rooms. I just wasn’t capable of the farce for very long anymore.

I had spent most of my life, playing this part, tough, straight talking and above all else, someone who didn’t let emotions rule action.  I didn’t get bullied as a child despite my idiosyncrasies, but I beat the bullies up and collected my band of misfits. I held people’s hands, and made appointments for the clinic, I didn’t pull punches or hide from hard truths. I was a person that viewed sex and love very separately and was considered cold for it.  I could be found in libraries and bookstores, filling notebooks. I was many things, a survivor, a fighter, a hard worker, a smart cookie…I was not this sniveling mess cupping her belly and leaking from her breasts.

I wasn’t this misshapen creature with no idea how to get through a conversation or a simple day from beginning to end without a full on breakdown. I hadn’t cried when my mother died, when my  grandparents put me back in foster care or whenever I found myself alone and lacking resources, I WAS NOT this person.

I broke apart and didn’t know how to put myself back together again. I didn’t know much right then but I knew I couldn’t pretend I recognized myself or the relationship that had sustained me during this period. I was playing at being capable and strong and doing it badly.

We came back to NJ and I broke it off with Lucas. He deserved better and I needed to find less kindness, less patience and less love. I couldn’t stand it.

waiting int he wings

“When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.”

~ Set Yourself on Fire by Stars

D is for Delivery

D

de·liv·er·y
diˈlivərē/
noun
1. the action of delivering letters, packages, or ordered goods
2. the process of giving birth.

I am pretty sure we are all aware enough to know that birth is a beautiful miracle that encapsulates the human experience in so many variations of symbolism, it’s mind boggling. I also believe most people know it is also a messy, painful, sometimes ugly, bizarre experience as well.

BacklaborAt 17 I was delivering my first child naturally and without drugs. I wanted to give this kid whatever I could for this portion of his lifes’ journey.  I had quit smoking right away and changed my diet, and now in the home stretch I took the hit and did my best to get through it. My boyfriend and I had gone through lamaze and birthing classes and had been told that the chances of my circumstances were very low and not to worry about back labor. If you are unaware, back labor means the baby’s head is hitting the base of the spine instead of the cervix, so in short, it hurts a lot more.  I was worried, 5 hours in, 10 hours in, 15 hours in. Somewhere around this point I realized that I had never had such a large audience for my vagina and started giggling. I am not sure if it was funny or pure exhaustion, but it let me discard the thought instead of  obsessing about that little gem.

I had started dating Lucas two months into my pregnancy and he had stuck by me the whole time. He was there in the room equipped with radio, ice chips and pressure point massage. It wasn’t his fault I wanted to hit him, this wasn’t his fault at all, but his kindness and patience was getting on my nerves when usually I loved it.

After meeting them and knowing in my gut they were right, I picked the Maine couple. Their names were Gretchen and Gwyneth, which is almost sitcom worthy in its absurdity and cuteness. They were also in the room, witnesses to my vaginas’ destruction. I don’t hug people often or partake in easy physical contact with people I don’t know well, or really at all and the whole situation was overwhelmingly surreal to me. I didn’t scream or cry, I don’t do that in front of people either, irrelevant of the pain. What would they think of me?

I had two midwives, both present, along with a nurse and a doctor was added after the 15hr marker of back labor torture, was hit. They all conferred and some decision was made before the doctor left and the midwives had everyone leave so they could have a word. Here is was, I was too tired, I needed help holding my own legs up and my eyelids kept falling despite me being very much awake. The doctor wanted to consider c-section. I did not want to consider any such thing. They brought up the fact that I had told the nurse to just cut the baby out and let me go, I wasn’t that important at this point. They laid it out, c-section or I took the epidural and slept so I might actually be able to push, if this kid ever came out. I hadn’t dilated beyond 4 cm and I had been having contractions for two days prior and hadn’t slept more than 2-3 hours in the last 72 hrs. I admitted defeat with very little grace and accepted the drug option.

clock

“On a scale of 1 to ten, ten being a toothache, how much does it hurt” the doctor asked. I kicked him, they gave me the needle and I slept.

When I woke up, everyone had finally taken a break from the vigil and were down in the cafeteria for dinner. The midwife checked me out and I had finally dilated, 8.5cm and all it had taken is my stubbornness being defeated and a nap. I secretly thought everyone leaving helped too. They paged them all up from their meals and said it was time.

I didn’t mind pain. There are all kinds of pain and this one was brutal but there was a finite amount to go around. It would end and I would meet my kid for the first time. I made this life, almost singlehandedly, I had made life and I could manage that kind of pain. I welcomed the pain as the drugs wore off and I was ordered to finally push.

I pushed and eventually after 23 hrs of labor I gave birth to a 8.6lbs baby boy who screamed his little heart out as he was forced into this world. They gave him to me, and I looked at him, still covered in mess, face scrunched up in shock and rage and he was so lovely. Gwynn and Gretchen held him too and I saw them melt.  The nurse took him to clean him up properly and I focused on three things

tiny feet

One, I knew, without a doubt, that I couldn’t be in charge of that perfect needy little life. I was too selfish, untried and stupid at this juncture of my own journey. Two, I really hoped something wasn’t wrong with him, his balls were HUGE, way too big for his little body but no one said anything or looked like it was weird so I was hoping it was normal. Three, I was starving and I wondered if someone would get me a greek pita wrap from Wendy’s.

A is for Adopt

A

a·dopt

1. legally take another’s child and bring it up as one’s own.

2. take up or start to use or follow (an idea, method, or course of action).

3. take on or assume (an attitude or position).

preggers

He was drunk, I could smell the beer and his hand was shaking when he rested it on my belly.

“ Keep the baby” He said, with a slight rise at the end, like he wasn’t sure if it was a question or not or if he had meant to say anything at all. We both knew that we weren’t a couple, he wasn’t a father and this was just an obligatory nod to ideals neither of us had.


 

“ What are you gonna do?” TJ asked. We were lying on my bed together, looking at the ceiling full of plastic stars.

“ I don’t know. Abort?… No. Foster?… No. Keep it?… No.” I said each choice with space in between, trying out the concepts and finding none of them fit. We had done this a few times already.

Disco fries “ Well that pretty much covers all of it”

 “ Yeah, maybe we should go to the diner for disco fries”

 “Okay”


 

“If you’re not going to abort, what about adoption?” The blonde girl in the front office asked. I couldn’t remember her name, maybe Alicia or Alice? Definitely an A.

“I couldn’t just give a baby away and not know how that went, you know? “ I was trying to get away from this conversation, a conversation that seemed to be taking over every waking hour. I was going to be late for class.

“Yeah but there’s open adoption, my cousin went through it, you can pick the family and they send you pictures and letters about the baby”

I stopped, and re-ran that little nugget of information, saying it over in my head.

“ I’ve never heard of that kind of adoption”

“ I’ll ask her for more info and bring it in for you Monday, yeah?” She swung around in the chair as she said it and I left the tiny office feeling a little less hostile, like something might fit this time. I still can’t remember her name.


 

“Spence Chapin! How can I help you?”

“ I am pregnant, and I’m thinking about giving the baby up for adoption, an open adoption, but I don’t know anything about the process” I am sitting in my brightly lit kitchen on the house phone. My dog Honey, is leaning on my legs begging for attention and I am slowly wrapping and unwrapping the cord of the phone around my finger. The woman puts me on hold but comes back to take my information and connect me with a counselor. She is very eager and friendly. I am transferred and another woman picks up, she has a calmer voice, she asks me questions about being pregnant, why I am looking into adoption and if it’s okay to send me some information. I tell her that’s fine and she is sure to use my first name and keep that comforting tone.

I am inundated with pamphlets, folders and general information overload. I now have a social worker who wants to set up preliminary interviews, connect with my doctors and begin the seemingly endless process that seems very far from actually being in contact with anyone that might be a good parent for this baby. The couples I see on the foldouts are all smiling but almost none of them meet my criteria.

1) They must be a same sex couple

2) No extreme religious affiliations

3) A mixed race child must be there first choice

The first criteria is what has them confused, they just don’t have many options, and I am starting to feel like I’m drowning.

I paged through the magazines and picked up Rolling Stone. Little Plastic Castles from Ani DiFranco was being reviewed and I took it with me to a table with my books. At the back of the magazine there were ads and I read them while I drank my tea. “ Pregnant? Looking for a home and family for your baby? Call us, we are here to help you”  or something like that. I ran to the bookstore to hide and I couldn’t even find some peace here, my longtime refuge. I kept reading and the ad spoke about open adoptions with same sex couples. I bought the magazine.

friends-in-adoption-logo

 

 

Not so easy definitions

Family has a lot of definitions. Many of them just aren’t that easy to incorporate into the language we’ve been given. My history doesn’t allow for many, if any, easy answers that work well in banal situation, but most of the people I know have a few of their own too. “Cousins” , “Aunts” , “Uncles”,  that never shared blood. People that became sisters and brothers, where the word “friend” with best in front or not, just didn’t cut it.

Our daughters recent 4th birthday was a big and obvious example of this. 30-40 people showed up, as they do for her birthdays. About 10 were my wife’s family and mine through marriage. One was my son who came with one of his real mommas (I’m his birth mom). The rest? They were mine, they were Asha’s, but they weren’t blood. They are more, and I don’t have the words to explain that to the new people we’re meeting in this new neighborhood we’ve moved too. My very friendly and kind new neighbor asked who was Robyn’s family and who was mine, and I found myself stuck with ” Well, this is my..Christina..um..”

These people are my friends, but they are a lot more, they are my family, they are my daughters’ Aunts, Uncles, Grandmas etc. They have been with me for years, they were all there the day she was born. These people banded together, rented huge storage space and scoured their own networks to fill it to the brim with furniture and baby gear when I had nothing.  They made sure I knew I could have this child and that I had support this time, I had family to give her. They have stood by us no matter what and never questioned if I asked for help.

This year, one of Robyn’s old friends, that has become a big part of our family, made a two-hour trek with three kids to stay with us for the weekend and prepare for this party. She stayed up until 3-4am designing and making belts for the Aquabats costumes my friends/family were donning for this insanity. She herded children and made last minute shopping trips, she costumed up herself and never missed a beat. She’s totally one of my heroes.

Add on to this amazing group, my sons’ family. I gave him up when I was 17. I picked his amazing mammas, and couldn’t have done better had I made them myself. His family has known me since I was a teenager. They have, been the only template I had for what a family could and should be. They are my family as well as my sons’, as well as my daughters. They are kinda heroes for me too. How do you define such a thing to someone in the course of getting to know you, chit chat?

I work with the Transgendered/Intersexed/Genderqueer community, and by work, I mean live, breathe, cry, rejoice and hug them. They are a large part of my life, the practice is small and intimate, we know each person, each family, each tragedy and triumph.  Some of them are also family and friends.

Should I say “These people?  They are brave, loyal, sincere, honest and giving. These people are who I want to be like when I grow up. “?  That’s the closest I can come to an easy explanation and I’m not sure that’s so easy to understand.

It’s a mixed bag with very little that’s easily explained.  Though it might seem cliché, this last weekend, at my daughters party, when I had no words and couldn’t explain or  make it easier for a stranger to get it or understand? All I could come up with was that I was really really blessed because,  all these people?  They CHOSE me, they CHOSE my daughter and my wife and my family. They made space in their lives to make us family too.  How fucking AWESOME is that?? How fucking amazing are they?