The last time I breathed fire,
I sat in his grandmother’s townhome
My knees pressed together
As my stomach buckled
As my lungs reached out their
Fingertips seizing any oxygen
To stop the burn
I sat in his grandmother’s living room
Admiring her below the knee skirt
And beige mules
That slapped the floor as she
Scraped a broom across the
Saltillo tile floor with a
Permanent layer of the desert air
Clinging to its surface
I watched the sky
Float with red ember and
A spectrum of gray ash
Saw the vibrant volcano
Popocatépetl filled with rage,
Spewing his disdain and anger
Across Mexico City
My knees pressed together
I clutched my stomach
Knowing your heartbeats were
Racing deep inside me
Praying to El Popo
That his wrath didn’t take
Your spirits up the air
To fly with the fire
As my stomach buckled
They raced me to the naturopath
He searched through tinctures
Found the right glass tubes
And blended together
Magic in a bottle
Flowers squeezed and pressed
Into droplets like dew
As my lungs reached out
I lifted my tongue
Flooding its soft underbelly with
Sugar, earthy liquid
Savoring rainbow meadows
Tasting the gentle warmth of sunshine
And the refreshing cool of misty rain
The droplets escaping the
Corners of my parched lips
Shaking off the wet residue
As I sit, waiting
For the fire inside my chest,
The burning suffocation
To finally ease and lift
To stop the burn
I mistook for romantic love
I travelled 2250 miles of road
Alone, but not really,
To sit on your grandmother’s fabric couch
Just to watch us slowly
Go up in flames
Ever since Texas passed its recent law banning abortion, all I’ve been thinking about is women. All the beautiful, talented, and tremendous women I have known who have faced excruciating decisions day in and day out regarding their future. How they looked ahead and decided that they didn’t have enough to give beyond giving to themselves, and how that should be accepted without question rather than facing an imposed barrier.
People who oppose abortion like to present it like a Rorschach test: black and white with crisp edges and clear design. But it’s never simple, or without muddled, blended, overlapping considerations. Rather, it’s like a watercolor without boundaries where the colors bleed into each other without abandon, emotions running across the page, not knowing where they begin and stop. I have known women who have chosen abortion for many different reasons. They weren’t stable and prepared for the experience of parenthood, or they have a family they didn’t want to grow, or they were the victims of sexual assault, or they simply chose themselves for the unforeseeable future. Any response a woman has to a decision that requires commitment and follow through for the rest of her life is valid. Period.
In college, I faced the potential of this decision when I had a pregnancy scare with a boy that I couldn’t see myself dating the next week, let alone sharing the commitment of parenthood for life. One of my mentors, a woman of strong faith, very gently and kindly told me in no uncertain terms that if I was pregnant, I should consider abortion. In retrospect, she could envision the life that I would have to live mapped in front of me that I couldn’t quite see clearly at such a young age: the 19 year old still learning to be responsible having to bear the burden of raising a child when she was still one herself. The relief that came when the test magically displayed a minus sign was palpable, and I was spared having to make such a hefty decision. The agony of facing that choice, of having to determine what I would do if confronted with such a decision, was a burden I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
I have also known women who didn’t choose abortion because they felt powerless. Women dominated by partners or family to go against their gut. Women fearful of the tenants of religion and scared it would make them unlovable in the eyes of their faith. Women who were so worried about letting down everyone else around them that they forgot they count too.
I once was asked to spend time with a woman who was struggling to bond and nurse with her newborn, because the staff didn’t have time to sit bedside and figure out her resistance. I sat in her room with her in silence as she held the infant at arm’s length, picking at the blanket she was swaddled in. It was not her first child. It was one she never wanted. After holding space with her for a time, she shared that she didn’t feel she could handle another baby but it was against her faith to have those thoughts, and her family and spouse had convinced her having the child was the only option. Her face was stony and defeated, like the last vestiges of joy had been pushed out with the delivery of her daughter. As if she had birthed a future where she no longer existed to herself. I could see the black space she was slipping into, slowly, the depression gathering strength. No place in this world should prevail where women have their light extinguished by outside expectations, where peoples’ words become torrents of water that slowly kill off the flame of personal existence. I continue to be haunted by how, or if, she survived.
For me, those musings are more to bear than giving someone the option to choose a live they can live with. Ending a pregnancy may not be what I would choose personally, but it doesn’t have to be what I want, or you want, or whatever you imagine the universe/god wants. The person making the choice gets to choose what they can endure, and that seems fair enough in a world filled with a myriad of inequities and cruelties that women already have to navigate and overcome. Having the option to deem one's self worthy of an equal chance at living isn't selfish, or mere self-preservation, it is a supreme, radical affirmation of being. I exist. I am worthy. Take me as I am. Love me just the same.
And if that isn't 'pro-life', how can anything else be?
A Woman Without A Country
I haven’t felt at home in a long time. Longer than long. It’s a disconnection, a sense that where I sit in my present life may not be serving me in the ways that I envisioned, that I have been lost in a sea of promises, hopes, and chances that merely batter me back and forth over the same territory, the same endless waves.
If there is one thing this pandemic has shown me, it is how easy it is to feel utterly alone even when you are surrounded by others. How we can share space and lives but not our truths and our needs. How a 'home' can be a mere skeleton, a shelter, without activating the places in our heart to make it feel like a connected element. How 'living' together can be mere repetition of routine, and not a day to day awakening filled with love and fulfillment. That emptiness, its blackness, creeps in slowly, and it is the worst kind of loneliness.
My life feels rudderless and foreign, as if I am watching it through the lens of another while simultaneously, I am the attraction. I can feel where I am and what I am doing in the moment, yet like an observer, it seems out of reach from any alteration. When you have faced failure over and over and over, making hard choices can feel like a certain death, and the thought of having to bury yet another piece of your soul is all too much.
I waver between numbness and over-saturation. Waffling from a total void to my cup overflowed. In between lies nothingness, but it isn't comfort. Just cold.
The worst part of these moments, of feeling like an outsider in your own life, is not being anchored. Always feeling adrift, like you have nothing secure to lash yourself with, no mooring to keep you from being lost. At best, you aim for salvation. At worst, you hope you don’t drown with a sinking ship.
I don’t know that I have ever felt ‘home’. Not in my body, at times treated as a convenience and object, and that has caused me pain, insecurity, and diffidence for most of my life. Definitely not in a country that aims to police my physical autonomy and where community is an abstract idea rather than a concrete notion. Certainly not in my hometown with its racist, misogynist overtones and predominant religious heritage. I have never really been fully ‘at ease’, even in the healing sanctuary of the desert.
In romantic relationships, I am either too much or not enough, or my expectations fall into the same dynamics. In place of these, I’ve learned to build an international network of people who help shelter me when the storms come, but I still steer alone.
The only time I have truly felt the tranquility of what I imagine is experienced by others is with my offspring. Recently my daughter’s therapist shared an exercise where you find your ‘happiness’ and transfer it into an object. You imagine all the sensations you associate with the memory: what do you taste, touch, smell, see, or hear? Then you take a proxy, such as a rock, and you use it as a gateway to that memory. My children are my touchstones. With them, through them, I understand who I am and who I want to be. And if I forget, they remind me and lead me back into that space. But, as they grow and develop their individual spirits, I know they will soon drift from me too, as they should.
It’s a challenging and exhausting place to be, not having a landing point. Feeling like I can’t truly rest because I never know what’s coming, when the next set of waves will crash or when the next squall will find me.
Never knowing if I will ever be able to say ‘I’m home’ and truly mean it.
Never knowing if my gypsy heart will find peace.
For the second part of this series, I offer a poetry duo exploring that often over-worn, still beating muscle that often acts as our compass and guide to knowing who we are.
For All the Moments I Wasn't Enough
Tonight I’m thinking of all the remembrances that will be missed,
How this misty rain is no substitute for tattooed arms
And how it lingers on my skin a little too long
Unlike the tears that fall fast and furious from my eyes
I’m contemplating stillness, and what it means
To be alone with myself, to cut through the clatter
Of doubt, nonsense, sadness, fears, and grief
How I’m building a monument to sorrow in my heart
I’ve laid out each brick, engraved
With every regret I can list, and some left blank
For that which escapes my memory,
For the interludes I would rather not remember
It will be fantastic, this enormous memorial carefully stacked
By my fists, stained crimson and marred
From all the sharp, whet words you
Threw my way on the nights without any clouds
All those perfect, starry nights when you absently forgot
That my heart, like my hands, silently bleeds your name
These streets are so, so quiet
a motorcycle tire screams on asphalt
my dog’s paws echo in click-clacks along the concrete
there’s a whisper of the stray cat running
the sky yells in streaks of cotton candy
I eavesdrop on the business of ravens
This town is too silent
Your rooms so hollow, waiting
It’s all I can do
Not to die
Of a vacant heart
This is part of three part series exploring three key areas of loss I experienced during 2020, as I steadily approach the median+ of my existence.
I didn’t think I would grieve my uterus. Never thought I would miss the heart shaped organ that lovingly stretched and carried my children: my beautiful, sweet progeny. For all it has given me, it has also taken so many moments, stolen much of my youth, and caused me so much pain I had no idea what it was like to live without it.
We had a complicated relationship that began when I was 12 and got my first period. I remember taking generic classes in school about menstruation that liked to pretend that menstruation was something that shouldn’t really be discussed. ‘Special time’, ‘Your monthly bill’, ‘Aunt Flo’. Anything but the red river that flowed, weeping from my body, reminding me what the world perpetually saw as a ‘woman’s place’: to breed and continue what was begun long ago.
With that stream of crimson also came waves of excruciating pain. Spasms and contractions of that tiny organ that would wreak havoc on my body. By the time I was in high school, I regularly missed days of school each month. If I started bleeding in class, the crushing waves of discomfort would ebb and flow as it poured between my legs, and I would have to call my mother or grandparents to come rescue me. At the age of 16, I was taking high doses of Anaprox to get a semblance of relief and could do nothing more than lie in bed with a heating pad, reading, if I could focus through the pain. I remember finally telling the male pediatrician I saw and him asking me if I masturbated, and me wondering what the fuck that had to do with the monthly discomfort. My senior year of high school I missed 22 days. I was told that when I became sexually active it would abate. When that happened in college, it did, for a short time, then reared its head with a vengeance. Then I was told it would abate when I had children.
After the birth of my first babies via Cesarean it returned after a few years, now with even greater, excessive, blood loss. I became anemic, prescribed Mirena to regulate my body, and suffered the discomfort and agony of watching my hormones change my body and make me feel puffy and bloated all the time. As someone who has struggled with body image and weight issues since the age of 5, it was horrifying. I wasn’t staining my panties every month, lying in wait for the moment it would trickle into a gush, but it was a untenable trade-off. I lasted less than a year before I had to have it removed.
Following my third child, I decided the copper IUD seemed like a better choice, no hormones, but my bleeding became worse and worse, and I could feel it sitting in my uterus, like an unwelcome friend who would never leave. It had to go. I never wanted or trusted birth control pills and the weight gain/moodiness they were known for, and so I would just muddle through, knowing that a week a month I would be partially incapacitated, although I had learned how to cope and push through to function and appear ‘normal’.
My fourth child came and still the agony was a fixture in my life. Because I bled so much so fast the first few days of my period, including clots that would fall from my body like fruit from some cursed tree no one would ever touch, I could never wear tampons. Pads with absorbency weren’t my friend either, as the chemicals in the gel solutions would make my skin break out into rashy welts. I resorted to wearing cloth pads I could launder, although it made planning for outings a highly organized event: carrying a wet bag, and extra, bulky fabric. I couldn’t own small bags or purses to carry my things. Eventually, I just took a backpack everywhere.
I continued to live in this menstrual prison cycle, slowly watching it worsen. Four years ago, I found an OB who finally listened to all my symptoms and ordered an ultrasound. It appeared that I had areas of tissue in my uterine wall where it was heterogenous, or thickened in the lining in places where it shouldn’t be, and I finally got a diagnosis for what had likely been ailing me for 30 years: adenomyosis. Unlike endometriosis, which is more known, where the tissue lining of the uterus grows on the outside of the organ, adenomyosis occurs when the lining of the uterus grows inside the walls of the organ itself, causing heavy bleeding, incredible pain and a host of other issues, such as disruption of fertility and miscarriage. The fact that I had four children without issues with conception or maintaining my pregnancies is nothing short of a miracle.
He presented me with a few solutions: try an IUD again, get a uterine ablation, or hysterectomy. I agonized over this decision, unsure if I felt I was done with the option of creating new life, or if I wanted to preserve the option for the next few years. Favoring the least invasive, I opted to give Mirena one more go around. Once again, several months later, I felt my body’s hormones became disorganized and my body confused, even though the oceanic flow had come to a halt. I no longer felt like me, and I had it evicted.
With the removal returned the terrible bleeding. An endless deluge of blood monthly that left me weak, pale, shaking, and exhausting. My OB had moved away, and I found another one that was okay enough (it’s so hard to find one that isn’t just okay). I discussed an ablation with her, a procedure when the lining of the uterus is heated, burned, and scarred so that it can no longer release the lining, ceasing bleeding altogether. I was still unsure about it until a flight to Kentucky found me calling her office during a layover in Dallas because I was bleeding so rapidly and heavily that I thought I might die, running to the bathroom every 30 minutes to change my super absorbency pad. On the second leg of my journey, a crowded flight to Louisville, I walked straight to the back of the plane, pulling aside the airline attendant, Cat, and asking her if there was enough space, could I please lie in the back row to elevate my legs as my doctor suggested. In the secret language of women who understand these things, her eyes flashed with recognition and she held the space of that back row like my own personal bodyguard, funneling anyone who tried to sit by me into different rows. They were the only extra seats on the flight, and she made sure I had everything I needed. It was one of the greatest kindnesses anyone has every bestowed on me. When I finally landed an hour later and got to the hotel, one of my besties from grad school took me immediately to an urgent care, to make sure I wasn’t losing too much blood. We missed the opening night dinner, getting to say hello to all those we hadn’t hugged and loved for 6 months or more. The program coordinator was immensely understanding and kind, and with some dedicated rest in between residency events I finally felt human again three days later.
After that experience, I was ready for any kind of relief. I had the ablation a month later, and officially said goodbye to my childbearing years. My OB’s office messed up the scheduling and forgot to put my procedure on that date (for the second time), and when I arrived, I was already medicated. They delayed the procedure, which delayed the height of the medication, and when she finally placed the electric wand inside my uterus with rough hands, I could feel a tiny corner where she hadn’t anesthetized my tissue quite enough, and the burning session of feeling my flesh sear from on the inside took away any grogginess. I went home to rest, and then woke to prepare for an event for a business incubation program I was part of, where I couldn’t miss more than two events and had already missed one while at residency for school, because as a woman there is no allowance for such things. By the end I was exhausted, sore, and badly in need of pain medication, which I immensely dislike, and rest, which I found difficult in an opioid haze.
Although my bleeding magically disappeared, a crop of other symptoms slowly crept up in its wake in the months that followed. Instead of just monthly bloating and discomfort, my weight began to pile on, and no matter how healthy I ate, how much I swung a kettlebell, how much I rested, I couldn’t shed the pounds. I felt like my body was bursting with fluids all the time, my ankles swollen and my fingers sausage-like. My hormones began flying in every direction, like the Mirena but 10x worse: I was weepy, sad, angry, and much more anxious, sometimes all at once. I realized that I had begun to feel pregnant all the time even though it wasn’t a possibility. Without the shedding of its skin, my uterus seemed determined to hold on to whatever blood it collected, growing bit by bit by bit, becoming ‘boggy’. I went to a general practitioner that was more ‘holistic’ and had test after test taken, all of it appearing normal, although I felt nothing but. He put me on the whole 30 diet, mansplained the concept of nutrition, exercise, and calories, and I never returned.
I began researching weight gain and adenomyosis and discovered so many other women who suffered the same unexpected increase after the procedure, and the same frustration over not being able to get the body to relinquish its cushion. I also discovered that in other countries, ablation is no longer recommended because studies have shown it can make the condition worse, including worsening pain, fatigue, and overall ill health.
After asking some reliable care providers, I was able to get a solid referral for an OB in a town 30 minutes away. During our first meeting I told her I felt I needed a hysterectomy. Thankfully, she was open and willing to allow me to take charge of my body. She walked me through my options: partial or full, laparoscopic or invasive. She took some tests to see what the best approach would be. She felt I was a good candidate for laparoscopic surgery, and in late summer of 2020, when things began to open up from the pandemic and surgeries were reinstated, I finally had a partial hysterectomy, leaving behind my ovaries so I wouldn’t wake up in immediate menopause. I was in the hospital less than 48 hours, albeit alone due to COVID, with a view of the desert surrounding Espanola to comfort me.
The recovery was easier than I expected, less painful than my Cesarean or broken ankle repair years ago, but more than having my gall bladder removed. I could feel the stitching on the inside where my cervical neck was removed and sewed together. The bruises splayed across my abdomen appeared in huge purple blotches, prompting me to call and send my doctor photos, but it was just the internal bleeding from the procedure and eventually faded over the following months. I shuffled slowly at first, intentionally, eager to get back to my routine of daily walking. My daughter held my hand, and my son walked the dog. My torso could only move slowly to bend or twist, and it was months before I could exercise. But as that empty space healed, I discovered that I never knew how much torment my body underwent monthly. As I regained activities, I found for the first time that sex, which I had always loved, didn’t have to end in distress, persistent spasms and an ache in my uterus for hours that I always mistook as normal, now nothing more than a bad memory.
In the midst of finally getting the right doctor, I also found the right support in the form of Facebook groups, where so many women suffer daily with this condition. Daily, I see posts from women who beg their physicians for hysterectomies to end the torment, only to be told that they have to try X-Y-Z first and prolong the anguish, or they are too young and can’t have it because they MIGHT want children at some point, or they need to have their spouses agree to the procedure. It’s medieval, these practices of forcing women to live with an affliction that brings torture monthly, or even around the clock for some, particularly those plagued by more than one gynecological issue. It’s a subtle policing of women and their bodies, controlling fertility and childbirth, deciding for us when and how we can receive relief, while men can opt for vasectomies at any moment without any doctor blinking an eye. Women in these groups are longing to find something else, anything, because they can’t get what they want, asking with quiet desperation ‘has this medication or procedure worked?’ and ‘what are the side effects, do you get any relief?’. Time and time again I see posts and comments from women, such as myself, who have finally found the comfort and freedom we longed for only after having to bid our uteruses adieu. The only ‘cure’ for adenomyosis is hysterectomy.
Even though I feel healthier, and finally freed from the shackles of that troubled organ, I still feel a bittersweet pang of nostalgia that I will die without it. I feel sadness for all the moments I missed in life because of its chaos, and recognize that without it, I would not be a parent to four lovely humans. It has been my cross to bear, and the bearer of the fruit I love most in the world.
About a month ago, in one of my groups, I happened on a post from a woman, Antonesa (quillingart4you on Instagram), who creates art from paper that is rolled and shaped into designs, known as quilling. She posted photos of a uterus she created covered in blooming flowers, the ovaries budding, the entire piece wrapped in paper barbed wire, a perfect visual description of how the uterus flourishes with life, and how adenomyosis strangles it. I contacted her and commissioned a piece, selecting the flowers and colors, what represented me during this journey. I’m not sure that I have ever loved a piece of art more or saw myself reflected in something so raw and beautiful that I had to have it. When I opened the box and held it in my hand, I let the tears come in waves. For me, this was a watershed moment of remembrance and a recognition of healing. It represents all that I was and what I can now lay to rest, and it does so with beauty and spectacle, a loving tribute to a part of myself that I have surrendered physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I didn’t think I would mourn a part of myself that brought so much suffering or miss its small presence in my belly. Occasionally phantom pains arrive, and I feel the same tug in my lower pelvis, like back labor, that I endured for most of my life. Or I feel a mysterious cramping where I know my second heart no longer lies. Like other women, I mourn the loss of something that contributed to my identity vis a vis what the world always told me was the hallmark of my feminine being. But now, despite that loss, I get to live beyond the confines of what my body always told me I could be, to get to do so much more than what I have grown to expect. Sometimes we don’t escape our lives whole, our bodies patchwork, bearing the scars of so many moments where it has betrayed our infallible belief that we will always exist as we were born, intact. Yet, in the mending and rendering of what we have yet to become, we get to experience a whole life, stitched with new opportunities and meaning, and we get to surpass what we always felt we had to just endure.
**April is Adenomyosis Awareness Month**
Learn more here: https://www.adenomyosisadviceassociation.org/
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...