Sunday, September 27, 2009

Take Two by Shelley Gillespie

When my partner Jeremy and I called his father to tell him we were engaged, we first heard Necip's congratulations and blessings. In the next breath he said, "You know the divorce rate is very high," and he proceeded to rattle off statistics with percentages in the 80s. My soon-to-be father-in-law knows something about divorce. And so do I. He's been married four times and in a recent email he listed his marriages: "first 5 yrs, second 11 yrs, third 2 1/2 yrs, and NOW! 21 yrs, still going strong and stronger." The fourth time has been a charm for him, it appears.

I got married the first time on the seventh floor of the El Paso, Texas municipal building with Justice of the Peace Tom Rosas presiding. Arturo and I signed the waiver on the forty-eight hour waiting period. We had a Spanish-English option for the ceremony. I wore what I'd put on that morning - an A-line skirt with a colorful floral pattern, a light green t-shirt, my huaraches with the soles made from recycled tires. I don't remember what Arturo wore. I do remember that after Tom Rosas pronounced us husband and wife we exited into the streets of downtown El Paso, jubilant. Arturo turned to the first person we passed, an elderly woman with elegant white hair pulled back from her forehead, and pronounced "We just got married," in Spanish. He translated the woman's blessing for me. I don't remember if she wished us happiness or a long life but we were thrilled, walking hand in hand.

We hadn't planned to get married that day. We'd planned to cross into Mexico as we ventured south to Costa Rica to settle in Arturo's home town. The Mexican border officials scoffed at Arturo's visa; he'd over-stayed a U.S. student visa by three years. They wanted money if we wanted to continue into Mexico. Arturo refused and he stomped out of the immigration office. We sat in our Isuzu Trooper loaded with everything we owned and decided to cross back into the U.S. I didn't have a valid driver's license. Arturo drove; his license was from New Jersey but he had no visa, no residential status. We explained to the first border official that we'd just been in Mexico for the day. La-te-da the hippie couple just wanted to see Juarez, inhale the diesel fumes and drive around in the jammed traffic for the day, you know. She glanced at our packed car and asked us to pull over. I felt jittery. The second border official opened the back end, peered at our stuff, had us open our cooler and said, "Go ahead." We waited until we were a few blocks into El Paso before we erupted with laughter. Arturo had just crossed the border illegally right in front of their faces. What were we going to do now, though? We could get married. Get married? Sure. I loved this man deeply and was now deciding at the age of twenty to leave my studies and follow him to rural Costa Rica.

Getting married didn't help Arturo's immigration predicament. We could have done research to figure this out beforehand but you have to understand, we were in bold, adventurous, passionate love and what could stop us? Someone at the U.S. embassy told us the best thing would be for Arturo to go to the Costa Rican consulate in Houston. On our way there in the middle of borderland desert, we drove straight into a border patrol check point, helicopters flying, dogs sniffing, idling car fumes spewing. The Chicano offical asked Arturo, "Where are you from?"
"Mannasquin, New Jersey," Arturo said,fidgeting with the gear shift.
"Where did you go to school?"
"Mannasquin, New Jersey."
"Where do your parents live?"
Suddenly, Arturo's entire life was solely based on New Jersey.
The official switched to Spanish and told us to pull over. He asked Arturo to get out of the car. In the meantime, another official approached me on the passenger's side and questioned me. He loomed over the rolled down window. Where are you from? Where is he from? What are you doing? I told him we'd just gotten married, that we were traveling. Our marriage certificate in the glove box at my knees. I didn't want to show it to him - it stated that Arturo was from Costa Rica. After a few minutes,I broke down and told him the truth. We were really trying to leave the country. To leave! Meanwhile, Arturo had done the same. They took him into an office and decided to give him a docket, allowing him fifteen days before he had to leave the country.
We eventually crossed into Mexico and drove toward our new life.

Our new life became our organic coffee farming life,
our happy life,
our mountain side shack life,
our divided between Costa Rica and the U.S. life,
our new house life,
our farm turned export-import business life,
our seven day work week life,
our city fighting life,
our rural patching over the pain life,
my life of yearning for balance, for my voice being heard
our business as our baby life,
our life of misunderstandings. Six, seven, eight years passed. In all of those years, I rarely ever called him my husband. We never exchanged rings or articulated any intentional commitment through ceremony. Our love grafted itself onto a dream, a business, a striving to build a right livelihood. I gave every part of myself to this love and its multiple manifestations - our home, our land, our work. We were married for immigration and even while our love existed,I never fully adapted to the words husband and wife.

Many people asked me, What happened? I gave the diplomatic answer, We grew apart(fourteen years separated us in age). I gave the angry reason, I could never count on him to be emotionally stable. I never gave the whole reason with its emotional complexity. It took me forever to leave. The slow painful process of separation dragged me (and him) through its muck. Divorce is dismal terrain and those who've gone through it know what I mean. The pain of divorce embedded a fear in me. Relationships all fall apart. The fear dictated and I listened. I sought solitude and found it in a little cabin with a view through the trees of Mt Rainier.

When Jeremy showed up in my life, I was guarded. I went to a New Year's Eve party alone. When he walked through the door, my heart busted out its break dancing moves. I hardly said three words to him. He called me the next day, launching our dating into the new year. He made great breakfasts. I'd forgotten I liked that meal.Working my social work job that dragged me out of bed too early, breakfast wasn't something I paused over anymore. The weeks built themselves into months. I mastered different story lines for us with endings that always resulted in pain, in separation. I told him as much. This is exciting, I told him, it's like writing a fiction story in which you don't know its ending but you know there is an end. He was patient through all of this talk.

Jeremy's love dissipated my fear, is dissipating my fear. His love is a verb and with his sensitivity to the full spectrum of emotions he has guided me to a place in which it is exciting to embrace a commitment to making a life together. The life he has helped me to see is such a sweet one, a real one, worthy of a ritual with all of our friends and family.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

First Trimester

I am pregnant. This is all that has been on my mind lately. I haven’t wanted to make this fact public until now, except to those who are closest to me—and so the long silence from me on this blog. Soon enough now, the extended family will know, as will my Facebook friends, and all of you—whoever you are.

I’ve made it through my first trimester. I’ve had a couple months to process, research, visit midwives, cry, sleep, journal, feel sick, tired and moody, and otherwise obsess about all the decisions we have to make in the months ahead. Now, I feel myself coming out of the intensely private early stage of comprehending, “I am pregnant,” and more willing to let this secret into the open. It has felt like a secret. Like a slowly evolving mysterious new reality to hold, feel, and nurture within silence and solitude. To celebrate—and to mourn—the end of one phase of my life and the beginning of another. I’ve wanted this, I’ve fantasized about it, felt ready for it, and yet “it” could only remain abstract until I started to feel the changes in my body and to embrace the changes in lifestyle-- feeling the tenderness of my breasts, cutting out alcohol and a host of other things, and letting this new reality sink in day by day: my life is changing, and will continue to, in a huge way, for the rest of my life.

My belly has been growing (I guess I am what you call “showing early”), my appetite has been finicky (enjoying a spaghetti dinner one night and feeling repulsed by the leftovers the next day), and I’ve been nauseous (although I haven’t actually thrown up, and I’m happy to report the nausea is going away). For weeks I had to eat something every couple hours to stave it off, and only certain foods appealed (I’ve eaten huge amounts of cereal, toast, and nectarines). My mom’s leftover Chinese food almost always tastes good, but a similar stir-fry that I made myself made me want to hurl. Meat can completely disgust me, or else I can wolf down a Dick’s cheeseburger and fries in minutes. Like any woman who’s spent much of her life watching her weight, I don’t want to inflate beyond the necessary baby weight gain-- but when you must eat to not feel sick, you eat whatever you can.

My cat was the first one I told. I was home by myself with a pregnancy kit and my husband was out of town traveling. “I’m pregnant, Miles,” I said, just so I could say the words aloud, the words I have heard so many times in movies, the words I have imagined saying to my husband, imagined what it would feel like inside. I laughed and shook my head, then called Matthew. I wanted to whoop and cry, but he was in the middle of dinner with another couple and I felt his reaction stifled which stifled mine in turn. “I knew it,” he said. He had thought I was based on my growing, rounding breasts, and his suspicion had helped to trigger my own. “I’ll call you later,” he said and left me to sit on the couch and spin with the news by myself.

It happened so much faster than we’d expected—I’d only gone off the pill a couple weeks before the night I believe we conceived. Matthew had predicted it would happen quickly, but I’d figured it would take a little while-- at least a number of months-- and I was braced for much more. So even though the “ideal” time to get pregnant (by my calculations) would have been a couple months later (so that I could take on a job that lasted the school year, then give birth in the summer), we decided that we might as well start trying, however passively, now. I was eager to start charting my cycles, figure out when I ovulated, let my blood flow in its natural rhythm again after years of being on a pill-regulated cycle. But I didn’t even get to have a period. Before I had a chance to engage in any welcoming rituals or time the perfect night to conceive, I was launched into the reality of my new-found status. No more wine, herb, or that rare, but deliciously indulgent, cigarette. No more sushi or tuna fish or turkey sandwiches (yes, lunch meats are banned due to a bacteria called listeria). One cup of coffee a day was okay, but it was better to cut it out if possible. What am I forgetting?

For the most part, these changes have not been a big deal. It’s not hard to go without wine when you have such a strong motivation not to drink it. (Although I admit, entering month four, I am now looking at my husband’s IPAs and Cabernets with increasing envy). And coffee hasn’t tasted good to me, so I’m drinking just a cup of black tea a day, which I don’t think I would’ve been able to do otherwise. If anything, the hardest thing to give up was my goal of becoming a Writer in the Schools this year. I’d so wanted this, or some other part-time job that was challenging, fulfilling, and could supplement my teaching, editing, and writing work. But now, applying for jobs that I wouldn’t feel guilty quitting in six months or so is out. Now, I have a chunk of time ahead of me which is both long and short, where I would like to be making some money and filling in the growing gap in my resume, but the prospects on craigslist are dismal. As everyone always says though, there is no ideal time to get pregnant. You just have to take the plunge, and make it work.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to sleep as much as I need to. I can’t imagine being as tired and nauseous as I have been and having to go into an office each day. I also am grateful I’ve had time to sit, write, read, and process. To research and consider what kind of birth I want-- do I want to be at home or in a hospital, how important is it to me to feel like I know the person delivering our baby, will I feel uncomfortable in the hospital environment, or will the knowledge that back-up assistance is there in case of an emergency make me feel more assured? How much money are we willing or able to spend to get extra care, like a doula? I’ve read illuminating books like Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and watched documentaries like The Business of Being Born that have made me wary of hospitals, and opened my mind to the ways in which home birth experiences can be more desirable for many (decreased C-section rate, the comfort of your own environment, increased knowledge of natural birthing methods by the midwives versus a hospital culture with high intervention rates, many of which could be prevented, etc.). And I’ve been introduced to ideas that resonate with me intuitively—for example, the basic premise that birth is a spiritual experience, perhaps even the most spiritual experiences we humans go through, and that the pain of childbirth can be experienced as empowering, transformative, or even orgasmic by some, as opposed to something to be feared or numbed.

There is so much we can choose and influence about our own birthing experiences—at the same time that there is so much that is out of our hands and that we won’t know until we are in it. There is also so much information out there, so many strong opinions on all sides, so many personal preferences and choices. It’s a lot to take in. Especially when your prenatal care should begin immediately, but you haven’t even decided who you want it to be with. And when on your first visit they give you all kinds of brochures and facts and statistics about genetic testing, blood tests and ultrasounds, rates of complications, rates of having a baby with Down Syndrome or other defects when you are 35 or older, and suddenly, you are faced with choices you hadn’t even anticipated, and huge ethical questions about what would you do if you knew your baby would be born with a defect. You want to talk to people about their choices but then you realize you are skirting sensitive territory—for example, somebody might not want to tell you that they had decided they would terminate the pregnancy (a common choice, in fact, though no one talks about it) if they found out the baby was likely to have a defect. Or, conversely, I might not want to talk to someone who would absolutely not terminate under any circumstance, because I wouldn’t want to feel judged if I’d even consider that possibility. You want unbiased information but soon you realize that everyone has a bias and that ultimately you can only rely on your own interior moral compass.

This is just a taste of what’s been on my mind. That and trying to calculate how long I’ll be able to go without buying an entire new wardrobe. That and trying to figure out how to give birth to my other baby—my book—before the rollicking wave of contractions and labor and non-stop care and awe and newness hits me in ways that will make being pregnant feel like… a long introspective retreat with bouts of tears, reckoning, fatigue, fear, joyful anticipation, and ice cream.

Even though I know I’ll continue to discover new questions and ranges of emotion as my belly continues to grow, I feel calmer now, a bit more informed and confident, less anxious. I feel like I am sinking into a new phase-- and coming out of the shaky-is this real-holy shit-first few months. I want to focus on my health and spiritual awareness, and send my growing baby (currently the size of a two-inch lime, or some prefer the fig analogy) good energy and love. I want to enjoy the extra time I do have right now to write, read, and learn how to be a good mama, instead of feeling disappointed that I’m still underemployed and can’t push ahead with my so-called career in ways that I have otherwise wanted to. It’s not an end to that momentum, but a pause, and a pause that so many mothers and friends have gone through before me. They are my role models. And I know I too can learn to find my own balance between work, writing, marriage, and motherhood.

That said, I also know I haven’t a clue what’s ahead of me. A little seed, embryo, fetus, alien, human being—an evolving soul not my own—in my belly.

I’ve known where babies come from for years, and yet, this knowledge is only now beginning to sink in. A human being is growing in there? And will come out of there? Amazing.


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