Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Defrosting the Placenta

Placenta Prints

The other week, we finally planted Cedar’s placenta. What? Yes. It’s been in our freezer wrapped in a bread bag for almost two and a half years. I had planned to plant it right after his birth, under a young tree or plant, to mark the occasion, to join a part of our bodies with the earth, then watch the plant grow bigger each year. But, as you might imagine, other things took priority right after he was born—like nursing and sleeping and recovering from surgery-- and so it has sat, frozen in waiting.

Our friend, Amy, who was at the birth, gave us a small lilac plant in the weeks that followed. We’d wanted something that puts out fragrant blossoms in the spring around late March, when Cedar was born. Lilacs bloom a bit later, more like the end of April, but whatever, that’s close enough. Matthew and I both love their scent.

The lilac was tiny and we weren’t sure it would make it, so we kept it in a pot on our deck and watered it for the last two years, while the placenta receded further into the back of our freezer. (Is that a flank steak? A block of raspberries?) Then last week, since we were sticking around all day doing house projects, and it was a beautiful, sunny, early fall day, it struck me as the perfect opportunity to plant it. By now, I didn’t need the planting to be done on some particularly auspicious day—like Cedar’s first, second, or third birthday. At this point I just wanted it out of our freezer and the lilac in the ground before it died without ever even having the chance to flower.

A giant cedar tree had come down about a year ago, opening up a big exposed hole between our yard and the neighbors’, so we had a perfect spot for the lilac which may eventually grow quite large. First I let the placenta defrost--just a bit-- in the sink. Somehow it struck me that it should not be rock hard frozen, that I wanted to see its juices touch the soft dirt. Then I began to dig the hole. Matthew helped me make it deeper, then cut out some roots and filled it with homemade compost. Cedar then dropped in a couple small trowel’s full of fertilizer (his usual job when helping me plant flowers), and I cut open the bread bag, gently shaking loose the placenta while trying not to touch it.

Despite the fact that you may already think I’m weird for keeping it in the first place, I was not exactly eager to touch or smell the placenta. Still partially frozen, I didn’t readily detect any odor—and nor did I sniff it to try to locate one. Yet the blood had begun to seep onto the plastic and the hard, dark red mass was indeed revealing itself for what it was: a bodily organ. This is why the hospital was required to label it ‘hazardous waste’ when they gave it to me, sealed in a white plastic bucket. And this is why the whole process struck me as both slightly disgusting yet profoundly cool.

After I dropped the placenta into the hole, Matthew shook the root-bound lilac out of its pot and shoveled more dirt around its edges. How strange, I thought, that I could still see and touch the actual blood of my body, blood of our birth. I go through each day now so tightly bound to my son, 24-7, in touch with his rhythms, listening for his calls, responding to his needs. We are as connected as ever, morning till night, eating the same foods, running the same errands, going on walks, playing in parks, befriending sets of mothers and sons. But the memory of Cedar’s actual birth has grown faint, usurped by the constant forward momentum of our lives, our growth, our balancing acts, lessons, and needs.
So now, two and a half years later, to spontaneously decide to unfreeze, unwrap, touch and plant the very organ that once physically connected us, that gave him life while he was in my womb, felt beautiful in a quiet and unassuming kind of way. It wasn’t an overwrought ritual. We were just planting another plant, something we’ve done all summer long. But in other ways, of course, this was a very special plant indeed.

My sister and her baby, Avery, a mere two months old, happened to be here to witness our planting and snap a few photos. She asked if we were going to explain to Cedar anything. “He won’t understand,” my husband shook his head. “Maybe, we’ll see,” I said, wanting to leave it up to the moment. In the end, all I said as I shook out the dark red form from the bag was, “This is very special fertilizer.” And then: “This is a lilac plant. It will grow purple flowers in the spring. It is Cedar’s special plant.” 

This felt like enough.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Rant, Three Sighs, and A Plea

Life has been a little hard lately and I need to vent. I’ve been busy, giving a lot, emotionally drained, and with never enough time to do it all—to cook, to clean, to answer emails, to plan classes, to advertise, to write, to edit, to write, to love, to pay attention to my husband, to honor his needs, to be kind to my family, to keep in touch with good friends, to reach out to new friends, to cut down on screentime, to keep the plants watered and the weeds from taking over, to pick up the fallen fruit before it rots, to get a haircut, to EXERCISE and feel good inside, to cut back on wine, to be kind to myself, to drink enough water, to remember to speak Chinese, to keep submitting old works, to think about marketing my book, to worry about marketing my book, to try to stay positive, to remind my husband about his chores, to keep up with my own chores, to not let any one place (the toilet, the kitchen floor) get too disgusting, to apply for a writing residency, to remember the projects on the back burner, to keep up with the blog, to remind myself that I should really update my website, or make a whole new one altogether.


This is, more or less, the stuff that churns through my head all week, changing emphasis depending on the day or state of my domestic neglect, the state of my creative neglect, or both.

And when I get too tired, when I’ve had a terrible night’s sleep-- or going on several since Cedar still wakes a couple times a night, and I am now the lightest sleeper in the house, actually hearing him rustle as he get out of bed (in my half-asleep state) so that by the time he is standing at my bedside, I’ve already looked at the clock and am sitting up, ready to lead him back to his own. Anyway, when I get too tired to tackle anything on my to-do list, or to feel particularly positive about anything, then there’s always wine and Facebook, or wine and Netflix, or wine and walking around the yard. There’s always the act of just giving in fully to fatigue, just zoning out until I’m dead tired and ready to sleep, dear dear sleep. Of course, I never remember to drink enough water, then drink a glass near the end of the night, and spend the whole night getting up to pee. But I wake up in between almost every sleep cycle anyway, because my body has been trained by a little boy named Cedar and a little thing called Motherhood to do this. Because-- although I have not studied this to offer proof—I’m pretty sure that our sleep cycles are still intricately connected even if he now sleeps in his own bed in the adjoining room.


I need to vent, and I need to hike, or power walk, or do zumba, or get really drunk and dance at some club, speakers pounding, heartbeat rising into my own internal flurry of rage and joy, or write and write and write, and have multiple entire days of solitary retreat, not just one every few months if I’m lucky.

I’m sick of having to rush all the time—to rush cooking, rush writing, rush dashing to the café and back home and back to pick up Cedar, rush trying to squeeze in laundry, a phone call to the utility company to request a yard waste bin I’ve requesting since July, rush watering some dying tomatoes and flowers that come September I suddenly don’t care about so much anymore because they are on their last blooms, almost gone.

And so is my fleeting enthusiasm for all things summer, for the promise of new exercise regimes and camping trips and BBQs and overall carefree frolicking fun, which never happens as I envision anyway because even something like camping now is still more like 90% parenting a toddler, 10% enjoying the environment. Perhaps I exaggerate, perhaps I am forgetting a few stellar moments of existential joy I had while in nature this summer, perhaps I am forgetting to remind myself in this moment how good I have it, but dang it, I can still know I have it good and have reason to vent and rage, right?

Rage sounds like a strong word for these things I am feeling, but I swear, a part of this all—a repressed, socially unacceptable, under the radar part—can manifest as rage. The way I fling dishes and dirty clothes about when I am cleaning but would rather be writing or climbing a forested path by a river, sweaty and cleansed by my own breath. The way this “rage” is really just another name for hardened, crusty residue built up from fatigue, too many days without a true break, too many tears that need releasing.  

Yes, a subtle undercurrent of rage manifests when I feel like the thousands of times I pick up a toy or sock or unload a load from the dishwasher goes unseen. Never happens. Is erased the moment my son and husband spill into the room and leave trails of new toys, shoes, cups, crumbs crushed underfoot. Rage manifests when I feel like “my time to write” is actually my time to write, clean, cook, pay bills, plan for my child’s needs, and keep the house from falling apart in general.

I know I shouldn’t complain for I have so much more time than I used to at least, so much more than I did during the first year of motherhood when Cedar was even more tied to me and my breast. These days I get an average of six hours a week from my folks, three to five from trading childcare with friends, plus maybe a few hours on the weekend from my husband—to do “my thing.” Whether that’s a long neglected haircut, a two-hour writing session at a café, a two-hour class to teach, or a sudden desperate need to clean up mold or grime (go figure). Whatever it is, all of these tasks get lumped together into the category called “my time” and the actual writing or editing that I do so often gets squeezed into a mere few hours.

I know I should be grateful that I am able to both stay home with my son AND continue to pursue writing and teaching, but it’s hard to feel like I’m taking writing seriously enough when it gets squeezed into a few measly hours like it does, a token thread of connection to what, at heart, I still consider to be my primary vocation. Never mind motherhood. Yes, THAT is now my primary vocation, hands down, not even complaining (for the most part). What I’m complaining about is the part that’s parceled out to me as “my time.” “My time” that includes not only chores and work for pay, but also any attempt to rest, heal, or otherwise feed my heart.

Why am I so overwhelmed at this particular juncture? Mostly, it’s good stuff, like finally having had a pocket of time (in August) to think about my Searching for the Heart Radical manuscript again, and to motivate to hire someone to give me feedback, which in turn motivated me to write a new introduction and epilogue, to frame the manuscript anew and actually make me excited and proud of this thing again, this labor of love that I cannot shelve, that I still need to somehow send out into the world. Plus I’ve got two upcoming workshops and the necessary preparation and advertising that goes into launching classes on my own. In exchange for this recent flurry of work, I’ve let the state of my home to slide and have neglected to exercise and breathe, never mind interacting much with my husband.


Also, there is the issue of sleep—the return of poor or mediocre sleep should be enough to justify maternal angst alone. It’s getting better again, thank god, but by now I just laugh at the whole subject on some level. We’ve tasted far worse, so I’m done with complaining about sleep.

On top of all this, perhaps a big part of it in fact is that I’ve had some stuff going on that I can’t go into here online, but suffice it to say that it has drained me profusely. Right now, I’m still recovering from the drama that has passed and is barely on my mind, yet I know that the residue of the heart’s emotions that the whole debacle brought out of me is still coursing through my veins, still here, still needing to be exhaled, exercised out, danced out, laughed out, cried out—I’ll take any outlet I can get-- just let me sweat and curse and love it all out.

Pain, my pain, other people’s pain, the world’s pain. And sorrow, so closely tied, often just beneath the surface. Tenderness. Ache. I hadn’t felt my heart literally ache like this for so long, and I was reminded recently of what this feels like-- how everything we take in goes straight to the core of this taut beating muscle. How this is the filter through which we process our well-being, this is the clearest measure of our happiness and state of mind-- whether we realize it or not, whether we feel our heart’s ache directly or are numbed to its’ sensations—how everything we take in is still channeled through this muscle. Everything we ever have done or will ever do can be reduced to how it impacts our heart. And how, when we feel our hearts come alive again—and I’m not talking symbolism, I’m talking real physical sensation right there-- we can remember again the true stakes. How we are all so fragile, how life can be taken in an instant, and how we forget this, all the time, or never really knew it in the first place. Until we do.

If I had one wish right now, it would be that we all have more time to just dwell in our hearts. Our heart’s longing, our heart’s fatigue; our heart’s bruising, and layers of amnesia and neglect. To pause, and sink into that inky, bloody fertile space. To savor the feeling of that pulsing radical impulse in your chest-- to break out, break free, break down, or hold tight, and beyond everything else: to love.


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