Posted in Uncategorized

What a Good Girl, What a Smart Girl

Growing up, I knew I was supposed to be a doctor. It was my answer, for as far back as I can remember, to every adult’s favorite question. Exactly what kind of doctor would change periodically – when my sister was born, a pediatrician; when my close friend’s brother died of cancer, an oncologist. I thought I would make a much better psychiatrist than the inept buffoon I saw monthly, who couldn’t be bothered to know my name before the appointment, checking my folder when I was already sitting on her couch. And my teenage years subtle rebellion was to plan to become a forensic pathologist. Why not, I figured. I had enjoyed some early dissection classes, already had smartass responses when I was incredulously asked why, and I took the snarky pleasure reserved for teenagers when mothers disapprove.

My mother had grown up in Communist Poland when she was a girl in the fifties. Her father was a professor, then provost, of a university in Warsaw. She took the opportunity to remind me every time grades came out – if I didn’t stay at the top of my class, by eighth grade, my fate as a laborer would be sealed. I would have to work a blue collar job, and I’d never be a doctor; I might not even be able to marry one. While I rolled my eyes through most of the lecture delivered in her heavy accent, the thought of not being a doctor shook me. That was the final goal, the brass ring – I’d become a doctor and she would be pleased. The lines of disapproval that carved down from her lips would soften, and she would be satisfied with me. I would still have to find a doctor for a husband, but surely that couldn’t be as difficult as becoming a physician myself. 

I did not know that I did not want to be a doctor until I was twenty years old. By this time, I had passed off thoughts of other careers as dreams; fleeting, nonsensical visions that lived in the twilight, never given the light of day. I wanted to write, to be artistic and expressive. I wanted to teach and coach and have kids and cook. I had passions and desires, wishes buried so deep with that I could hardly acknowledge them to myself. But those weren’t acceptable, those weren’t in the plan. My sister had the artistic talent. Teachers didn’t make money. Having kids was expected, one day; coaching and cooking would go hand-in-hand with that, something to fill my time with after I came home from a day of medical practice. 

It was a clear day in the early spring of 2006. Everything felt heavy, the chilly New England breeze refused to hint at any warmth as it snuck around the edges of my basement windows in my dorm room. I was a sophomore; I was hunched over my laptop trying to tease out a midterm paper from a deep well of apathy. My desk lamp was on, a spotlight over the only action; the watery light the high windows let in did nothing to push back the gloom. The shadowy room showcased my depression and I wanted to see the evidence as little as possible. The dorm was on the far reaches of campus, and was set up as an apartment. It boasted an actual kitchen, bathroom, and two separate bedrooms. It was meant for upperclassmen, but the campus housing lottery had shown us favor this year. It was a great starter apartment, a set up to adulthood; you lived on your own and were responsible for your day-to-day, but you still enjoyed utilities included, on-site cheap laundry, and professional building maintenance. To get past the real-world isolation, I had to cross the tracks and walk ten minutes steeply uphill; and, of course, half my classes were at the other end of campus, up more inclines and culminating in 55 stone steps. 

I had a roommate to start the year; she spent little time in our apartment and moved in with her girlfriend partway through first semester so at 19, I had the apartment to myself. My boyfriend spent a lot of weekends with me. I wonder if the powers that be chose twin mattresses to reduce cost or to dissuade technical teenagers from exploring their sexual autonomy, out from under the parental gaze. But, like you do at 19, we made the skinny mattress work. When my roommate moved out, we dragged the mattress off the built-in box springs and filled the floor in her room with both, and rolled around the wall-to-wall bedding like puppies. 

This particular spring Saturday, I was alone in the apartment. My boyfriend hadn’t stayed over in a while, as he was figuring out his own situation with school and transfers. I had slowly given up on things like dishes or laundry; the dirty plates and flatware overflowed the sink to cover the tiny counter and stovetop. My clothes were in piles of “probably clean, I dunno,” and “whatever, it doesn’t matter.” My shelves were in disarray, books scattered; notebooks and pens wherever they landed. Rings from coffee cups circled every surface, and the dregs in forgotten mugs looked like overgrown petri dishes that had escaped the lab to live freely in my squalor. 

I was carrying an average of about 70 in chemistry lab, but half that in the class itself. My first midterm in the class I had earned a 17. I had no idea that it was possible to score so low. All my life, I had been told I was gifted, talented, brilliant. I could not understand why I was doing so badly. I don’t remember my grades in other classes that semester; I’m sure they were absolutely fine, but all I could focus on was my failure. I didn’t dare tell my mother. My father had completely lost ability to communicate, but I couldn’t face the disappointment that would show in his eyes as they tracked me around the room. I was convinced I would fail out of school and have nowhere to go. My mother would never let a dropout move back in, she had made that clear. School had become a razor-edged rock façade; if I slipped off the precarious cliff, I faced nothing but the abyss. I didn’t know what life could possibly look like if that happened.

I had come to realize what so many others in my class already had: I was not gifted or talented, and certainly not brilliant. I had fallen; I no longer led the pack, but rather wallowed in mediocrity. I lost all motivation and all self-esteem. Depression took me up in her gentle jaws and carried me back to her lair, a lost cub that had grown homesick on its adventure. I could not be a doctor if I couldn’t even pass pre-med chemistry. I was finished, and I had barely begun.

That Saturday wasn’t special. I don’t remember the date. It was after most of the snow had melted, but rugby hadn’t started yet. I don’t remember what other classes I was taking.

But I remember slowly straightening up, lifting my head from its proximity to the keyboard, one cheek every so slightly warmed from the heat emanating off the laptop. My back straightened; the muscles in my neck tensed in a new position. Every cell of my body, every fiber in my muscles was on high alert. My breath hitched and came quicker. I could almost feel my pupils dilate; my hands stilled and my calves flexed above my cold feet. I felt the adrenaline pump in my blood and the activation of my fight-or-flight response.

I did not want to be a doctor. 

The anarchist thought flashed red on the ticker that wound its way along the contours of my brain.

I did not have to be a doctor. 

I stood up quickly, pushing my chair back with nothing but the surge of my legs. My fingertips pressed the desk on either side of my laptop. 

I was not going to be a doctor. 

Heart pounding, I stood there in the heavy gray room, my hands and wrists lit by the desk lamp, trembling.

I was going to do something else.

I don’t know what caused this revelation. The aftermath of it remains soft and blurry in my memory. I didn’t immediately come out of my depression. I wish I could say that I felt like I woke up from a fugue and didn’t recognize what had become of me. I didn’t start cleaning. I didn’t start anything. I don’t think I finished my term paper that day, but I don’t honestly remember what I did. Everything I had believed about my life trajectory and what I had worked so hard for was shattered, a table of glassware upended at a yard sale. The pieces of my identity, so long dusted with acceptance, refracted blindingly. My mind wheeled with fear and trepidation; but there, slowly, rising up through the layers of shock and disbelief, was excitement. There was possibility. I did not yet know where I was going, but I knew that it wouldn’t be med school. On a chilly spring day, I left the safe harbor of a life planned out for me, and found myself in uncharted seas of the unknown.

Posted in Beliefs and Practices, Uncategorized

Witchy Woman, She’s Got the Moon in Her Eyes

I was raised Catholic by my off-the-boat Polish mother and mostly agnostic father. Every Easter, he would don his sport coat and mention converting in his soft-spoken way. He had been raised Methodist, I believe. He didn’t practice anything; he would sit in the truck reading the paper while I rolled my eyes and reluctantly attended Sunday school at the Catholic college in our hometown. I would often be rushing to finish my homework for the class right before, or on the cold dash of the old F-150 as Sunday morning country oldies played over the speakers. Because it wasn’t academic, my dad would shake his head and simply remind me to be more timely in my work before going back to humming along with George Jones. 

My mother, however, was still very much a practicing Catholic. She was a member of Holy Cross Church in our hometown and would go to Mass on Saturdays, as she enjoyed the music more; the cantor was usually Anne DiSanto, half of the couple who ran the music studio where my sister and I took lessons. While I was young enough, then my sister years later, she would go to the children’s mass on Sunday mornings, but she preferred to attend when the sky outside was dark and the candles shone brighter on the stained glass. She would sing along with the hymns tunelessly, not so much to make a joyful noise, but because it was what one did. She knew the aerobics like the back of her hand and taught me the same, the patterns of sitting and standing and kneeling. I’d be reminded that the kneelers she grew up with had no padding so I should be both grateful and still, or at least quiet. She knew the various prayers and creeds like she knew to spell her name, but still opened the hymnal and read along as if the words were somehow unfamiliar to her. She never talked about faith or religion or even Catholicism with me; church was just a simple fact of life, something routine that did not require explanation, like grocery shopping. 

When I was thirteen, I came out for the first time – I declared that I liked both boys and girls at the table with my parents in the kitchen. They were not rocked by this news; the response I got, as I sat somewhat nervously with my pre-algebra homework, was that it was a phase, followed by a complete dismissal of the subject. It didn’t come up again until after my father had passed and I came out again, as gay this time, to my mother at age twenty-one. 

Growing up Catholic, I never remember feeling the need to go to confession or being worried about going to hell for being “90% gay,” which was the best way I could think to identify, since “queer” wasn’t in my vocabulary at that point. I even went to a Catholic high school (yes, schoolgirl skirt and everything). I never worried about my soul or my education; I was never treated differently because I was out. It likely helped that I had a steady boyfriend  – who did not go to my school – but even if I hadn’t, I think my high school experience would have been just as wonderful. It was a family, a community I came to depend on quickly. When scary and terrible things happened – my father’s ALS diagnosis, 9/11 – it was where I wanted to be. I wanted, needed, those teachers and friends, nuns and clergy. I enjoyed the faith as it was revealed to me – it meant a net woven of unbelievable strength that would break whatever falls the world had in store for us. I became a member of the “God Squad,” the senior peer outreach class who helped put together the retreats for each class and served as alterfolks for the monthly masses. I still get those songs stuck in my head on occasion. I carried my faith outside school as well, becoming a Sunday school teacher as part of my senior year community service. The day I turned 18, I got my first tattoo – the rose and cross of St. Therese, chosen in part for her love of writing and nature. The Little Flower, as she was often referred to, was young and stubborn known for her convictions and passion; a strong choice for patron saint for a teenage girl.

After graduating from my close-knit Catholic high school, I went to Brandeis University, a predominantly Jewish liberal arts college outside of Boston. I felt the loss of community acutely, and half-heartedly looked around for another church. Nothing fit; I already understood that what I was looking for had nothing to do with faith or religion. I was looking for that unquestioning acceptance into a community based around ritual, attendance, and routine.

I found it years later when I started to attend Pilgrim St. Luke’s in Buffalo. By this point, I had long considered myself a recovering Catholic, being too divorced and too gay for their doctrine. I had come to learn much more of the violent history of the church, not just the glossy version presented to us in high school, but how religion has been wielded as a deadly weapon by Christians throughout the ages. I was fed up with the absolute patriarchal institution on every level; politically I was frustrated with the influence of the church in reproductive and civil rights, and personally, I had finally come to terms with my views on death, reincarnation, and the absence of heaven and hell as destinations for once-mortal souls. The Catholic church – as institution and dogma – had long since ceased to make sense; all the preaching and morality and promises of eternal life could not overcome the strata of control, power, and intolerance for it to ever be a place I felt welcome again. But Pilgrim St. Luke’s didn’t care about what the Catholic church had always taught me were sins. Instead, they were open and affirming with their motto of “God is still speaking,” and their extravagant welcome, no matter where someone was on their faith journey. 

I have not been back since my father-outlaw’s funeral service nearly four years ago. Today, I have to look up the Wikipedia for St. Therese to remember her miracles. I still carry her mark behind my right shoulder, a little faded from 15 years of summer sun. I still have to catch myself so as not to respond, “and also with you,” when people quote Star Wars, and I know that “Gloria” has 18 syllables. But what I believe has overcome my learned responses and ground me to my core. I believe in the sanctity of the natural world. I feel an undeniable connection to trees and stones and fields. If I pray, it’s to all those who have gone before me. I am not washed in the blood, but the ocean. There is no heaven I raise my eyes to, but the wind and sky. It is not the light of the world that guides me, but the fires left by the witches they could not burn. I am a child of the earth. Maybe that’s why even in high school, when I had to choose a patron saint, I chose the Little Flower. I hope she’d understand that I will always carry her with me, a wildflower through all seasons; she bows her head in prayer as I lift my face to the moon, and we meet on sacred ground. 

Posted in Uncategorized

I Make Lists in My Sleep, Baby, What’s My Sin?

Last Sunday I accomplished very little. I had a migraine, the first since before I became pregnant with Lucy. I have had migraines since I was 4 years old. I was around ten years old when my neurologist told me they would probably go away either when I was pregnant or when I hit menopause. 

As a new parent, I am learning the twisting, tearful roller coaster of trying to determine your child’s needs while their tears break your heart. It must have been wrenching for my parents, watching me scream in pain and suffer. I can’t imagine what I was able to articulate at 4; how I explained the splitting headache behind my eye felt like it would tear me in two, the seemingly never ending cycle of crying and vomiting, the sudden exhausted weakness. I know they feared that horrendous six-letter word was the cause; there were a lot of different scans where I remember needing to lay very, very still. I imagine their relief at ruling out cancer, and their frustration for no real cause. I would be down for the count up to every seven to ten days. I missed a lot of birthday parties and field trips. The doctors played medication roulette; by the time I was ten, I was taking medicine not yet approved for children. I was always on one exclusion diet or another; I can look back and see this as one of the cornerstones of my more disordered eating habits. 
Now, when I stick to a proper sleeping schedule, eat decently, drink a lot of water, and am relatively active, I tend to get about one a month. Having an infant at home? We will see. 

Oscar gave me many precious gifts, including a full year without migraines. Instead I had what I referred to as shadow migraines, days of the month where I would have some of the symptoms but never the full out, catastrophic headache. Lucy followed inn his silent footsteps. That sort of pain stays with you, though, locked in the basement of the brain, ready to break open the bulkhead doors in a rage or quietly pick the lock and creep in again. When I was experiencing pre-eclampsia and my blood pressure was climbing to dangerous levels, i would rate my headache maybe a 4 or 5 on the ten-point scale. Hawthorne wondered if the doctors were taking my symptoms seriously; pre-eclampsia is often described as “the worst headache you will ever have.” For me, it wasn’t. The headache sucked, absolutely, but I had migraines that were indescribably more painful. I knew how much worse the pain could get, and I didn’t want to complain about “off-the-scale” pain, so my measurement was tempered by experience.

On Sunday, though, that reprieve was over. I could feel it sliding through my body, clenching my neck muscles, weaving its way through my brain. I felt foggy, like it was hard to understand. Why was Lucy crying? Why have I sat there, staring into space for ten minutes? Ugh, why is my stomach so upset? I tried to gulp down coffee in the silly hope that this was a caffeine headache. Migraines, as I’ve come to know them, have many masks to fool you away from taking the one medication that obliterates them. In between feeding, changing, and soothing Lucy, I kept running to the bathroom. I finally woke up Hawthorne after an hour that took days to end.

Hawthorne took over with Lucy without question and practically without coffee – which was brewing, at least. I’m not a monster. I took my meds after my stomach cleared out and went to bed. Two hours later, I started to come through it, waking up in a heavy, disoriented daze. It took a few hours for it to fully retreat, leaving me in a body that hurt up to three feet away from me. The medicine feels like you are taking poison; but it’s the only thing that works.

My to-do list sat in my journal, check boxes blank. I had no energy, no get-up-and-go. Every injury my body had ever sustained returned, another lovely side effect of the medication. I hobbled through preparing bottles and changing diapers while Hawthorne played music and kept the fire stoked. I managed to fold the laundry and put it away in only about twice the time it normally took. We took the day to relax and rest up for the coming week.

In the evening, while Lucy took her pre-bedtime snooze and Hawthorne was already asleep, I looked at my journal and all the things I didn’t do. I felt unsteady and unprepared for the week ahead. As I reflected on my day, I waited for the stress to wash over me, my unwelcome evening visitor. But it didn’t. Instead, I realized something. While I hadn’t completed much (the one task checked off my to-do list was laundry), I had done a lot. I had cuddled Lucy much of the day. I had fed her while she grabbed my finger and stared into my eyes. I had paused and relaxed at home, spent time just being with Hawthorne and Lucy. I had pet Ella, given Lucy a bath, and had simply let time pass in comfortable pants.

It strikes me sometimes how, in many ways, I am a product of my parents. My mom never quite got idioms when she learned English in the 60s. While trying to describe my father as anal-retentive, she came out with “He is obsessed with his own asshole!” If I were a blood type, I’d be A+; A for anal-retentive, with a silent O for over-achiever, and since I was raised to believe that A- was not a good enough grade, so I’ve got to be extra. I need tangible evidence of work completed in order to feel like I did not waste time. I have an internal, self-perpetuating drive to be constantly in motion, or at least, my mind must be actively working. Because of all this I find it difficult to relax, I don’t like naps, and when I am unable to complete my often-irrationally full lists of things to do, I have a very hard time.

So Sunday was a day of triumph for me. My body smashed me upside the head with a brick to tell me to relax, and I had to listen. I was unable to function and needed help, and I had to ask. Instead of constantly grinding, I was able to look back on a day full of love and given comfort, of relaxation and baby snuggles, and finally – maybe – understand that not everything important that needs to be done can be put on a to-do list.

Posted in Uncategorized

Love Letter to Loss Mamas

Holidays are different and difficult after loss. I remember how hard this past Independence Day was for me, and remembered thinking what an odd time for grief to be so overwhelming. Even though Valentines Day is meant for love and romance, there is a hole left by those who have gone who weren’t romantic partners. It is not a visible wound, but can still be scraped raw by the Hallmark decorations and red-wrapped chocolates.

I wrote a love letter for the Pregnancy After Loss Support magazine to all the loss mamas out there. Visit their page and check it out at https://pregnancyafterlosssupport.org/to-pregnant-after-loss-mama-love-as-compass/


For anyone who is hurting this Valentines Day, you don’t have to pretend you aren’t. I hope you take this weekend to take care of your own heart.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Ink Aches for the Page

I have put off writing this post for nearly two weeks now. This blog is like a new notebook, chosen for the aesthetics, pages waiting to be filled. Cracking open the cover to reveal cool, smooth lines, waiting for the stroke of just the right pen, the first three pages left blank; a table of contents and title page, surely. Every notebook’s first entry feels momentous; the words that score the page have to be just right, tell just the right story. I can’t use a notebook without carrying it around for a few days. I have to get to know the weight and dedicate some of my inner monologue to deciding what belongs inside. This, with its pixels and graphics and digital eraser, feels no different.

There is an article circulating about how some people have that internal monologue and some don’t, and each is largely ignorant of the other. I find myself on the far side of the “of course I have an inner monologue,” imagining myself Frost or Whitman studying the trees in detail on my way to work. I hear myself in a voice that is not my own. Rather, it sounds like an even-tempered liberal arts professor supplementing their salary reading books for Audible; it is simultaneously indistinct and familiar, like turning on NPR in a different city. It is all there when I write, too. I narrate the view from my windshield, snippets of descriptions and turns of phrase. I create dialogue, generally using the pet name “dumbass,” to make sure I know I’m speaking to myself. I win imagined arguments with wit and carefully modulated tone, without a single gesticulation; this is how I know these fights are fiction. I turn on the radio to turn off the streaming stories and conversations.

The internet is a soapbox, delivered by ACME. For years now I have felt a powderkeg inside of me, a long fuse lit and sparking. The urge to write began to burn last summer. I was struggling with July. The month had once promised celebration and recreation: Hawthorne’s birthday, Independence Day fireworks, hours of fishing and drinking beer in the river. In 2019, it was Oscar’s first birthday. I remember, acutely, standing in our creek the year before, my swollen feet soothed by the current, skirt hiked and face upturned, maybe a week before he was born. We had found so little literature on queer parenting; the “For Dads” sections of What to Expect When You’re Expecting didn’t fit, and the “mama and mommy” books weren’t quite comfortable either. There’s a niche I could fill, I thought, especially as I devoured Angela Garbes’ Like A Mother. I wanted to write a feminist exploration of pregnancy and building a queer family – and still do. But there are other stories to tell.

I am a loss mom; I will never know what it is to have the chance to parent all our children. Our firstborn, our son Oscar Prince was born still on July 19, 2018. In the weeks and months that followed, we found some resources – other families that had lost children to umbilical cord injuries, congenital defects, and reasons forever unknown. I became interested in being a peer counselor; prior to Oscar, I had no idea how prevalent stillbirth was. I certainly never remember anyone who had experienced that. I’d known people who had miscarriages and abortions, and taken dozens of laboring (or wishfully laboring) women to the hospital in my time in EMS. None of those seemed to have space enough for our grief or for Oscar, all 7.1 perfect pounds of him. Hawthorne found one blog – The Legacy of Leo – that was written by a lesbian loss mom. I made agreeable noises to checking it out, but never did (another story for another time).

When the clouds of grief thinned and anger began to burn, the visceral drive to write returned. I began recording the snippets that came through my head on my phone; I wrote a short piece and shared it with a few of my circle. In June of 2019, I stumbled across the Pregnancy After Loss Support group. They had a section called Bump Day Blog, and a space for monthly articles. Around the same time a former professor and current Catan wizard started a 21-day writing challenge on Facebook. These came together to give me a place, a direction, and accountability. I applied to the PALS blog to contribute monthly. I was surprised when I received a quick response asking if I would want to write for the Bump Day Blog on a weekly basis as I was approaching the end of my first trimester. I did not finish my friend’s writing challenge, but again, that’s another story. I agreed to the weekly blog.

Fridays became a day I looked forward to, a time I knew I would carve out and dedicate to writing. I’m used to putting my wants and needs behind other things – not because I am asked, but because often, I don’t place as much value on my creative interests as I should. I wrote eighteen Bump Day Blog posts, ending abruptly after Week 33 with the early arrival of our daughter, Lucy Danger. It took a couple months to get back into the swing of things; having our baby in the NICU an hour and a half away, then home with a 6-pound bundle of squeaks, and my wife taking the next steps on their genderqueer journey, I was a little preoccupied. I finally submitted Lucy’s birth story to the blog at the end of January. A couple days later, during a 3AM pumping session, I came up with Queer Mama Rising.

I am a queer, witchy feminist, an activist and ass-kicker. I’m a quality improvement nerd and a statistics junkie. I’m a damn good wife, a member of Red Sox Nation. I’m a mama to our starside Oscar Prince and earthside Lucy Danger. I am multifaceted, I am exhausted, and I am writing. I’ve got too much to say to stop now.