A Western babymoon, with friends

june artHalfway through our Out West vacation, I realized that DH and I were having our version of a babymoon—one that was high on adventure and low on pampering, and that included lots of socializing with friends.

Vista de la LunaWe had what is becoming our typical co-traveling experience: A wide variety of activity and color, each day distinct from the next. Our honeymoon, a little over a year ago in Culebra, was even more adventurous. I packed only carry-on for that, and certain coworkers at the time were aghast: Only carry-on for your honeymoon? But I spent the whole week in my bathing suit and no makeup, my hair a wild mane. This time, we did, at the end, splurge hugely (for us) on The Medicine Bow Room at this B & B, two nights for $179 a night (gulp) but worth every dollar. Absolutely gorgeous, perfect, luxurious. With a balcony that went on and on and a panoramic view of the prairie, mountains, sunset. And a pebble-stone shower fit for giants. We saw a large herd of wild antelope galloping just outside that balcony, right before we left. A lovely sendoff for a week well spent.

Elle and Keith’s used bookstore, and homeMy friend Elle, whom I’ve talked about a lot on this blog, and her husband, I’ll call him Keith, built a used bookstore and coffee shop from the ground up in their small town in Wyoming. I love that place. I’ve been visiting them for about eleven years now and I’ve watched that bookstore grow from a closet-sized space to a two-story homey used bookstore that serves every coffee drink imaginable and gluten-free goodies. It’s the kind of place where you want to hang out forever. Just like their house. Which is a two-story yellow farmhouse with rugs and comfy couches, a piano and wood stove, gardens and chicken coop, two kitties leaping around.

Donor twins, and genetic inheritanceTheir twin daughters, I’ll call them Rhonda and Jen, are the ten-year-old girls who were conceived via donor sperm, whom I’ve written about before. I did  not know about the donor until very recently, and in fact, this is the first time I’ve seen them since Elle told me. It didn’t change anything, of course. As expected, the donor wasn’t on my mind at all as I observed their family. They are so clearly Keith’s daughters, attached to him in a beautiful way.

The only time I thought of the donor was when Elle described to me some of Rhonda’s continuing emotional problems. Rhonda has always been very sensitive and prone to tantrums, even while she is the gentlest, sweetest kid ever. I’m very drawn to her, and always have been. Like her, I too used to be horrified by change, scared to try new things, shy and easily hurt—and look at me now. I couldn’t be less shy, and my life has been adventurous and ever-changing. So I don’t see the way she is now as necessarily an indication of how she will always be. But her tantrums sound a little scary. She did have an episode when she was seven that was pretty wild, one that caused them to take her to therapy, and to go to therapy themselves.

“Do you think her psychological problems are genetic?” I asked Elle. She said yes. “Do you think…it’s from the donor?”

Elle shook her head emphatically. “No,” she said, pointing a thumb at herself. “It’s from my line, I think.” She proceeded to tell me about the mental health issues in her extended family, and the fears she has that Rhonda could develop something as serious as schizophrenia. Unfortunately, SCZ has developed pretty late in some women in her family—thirties—and in one case, it was triggered by having a baby. Wow. The minefield of genetics.

Jen, on the other hand, has the polar opposite personality from her twin, has lots of friends, and might just breeze through life. You just never, ever know. Our baby boy might get DH’s genetic/environmental anxiety (see diathesis-stress model), or he might not. He might have some unknown combination of genetic factors from the donor that are triggered by his environment, or he might not. Donor or no donor, you never know exactly what your child is going to face, psychologically. In my family, my brother and my three maternal cousins were all diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Why am I the only one who escaped? Was I inherently more resilient? If so, how so? Why wasn’t bipolar present in our extended family before our generation–because doctors weren’t diagnosing it as often back then? Or was there something in the environment, something as happenstance as a chemical in the water in our collective area, that triggered the manifestation of the disorder, which was hanging out latent in their genes?

How’d I get into this? Anyway, back to the West!

Jubilee Parade, swimming, feasting, dangerous geodesic-dome livingAnd it was the authentic West, complete with a Jubilee Parade through the main street of town: cowboys, tractors, little girls in sparkly boots riding beribboned horses and waving. DH and I watched the parade with KL—my novelist, triathelete friend who happened to be roadtripping through at that time, the reason I jumped on making a trip there now, to coincide with her visit—and then we went to a great rec center with Elle and the girls. I got to wear my new red polka-dotted maternity swimsuit, which leaves nothing to the imagination: in it I look exceedingly pregs. We swam, dove, and lazed around the lazy river on noodles. I swear I could live in a swimming pool.

That night, Elle and Keith made us a feast of bison, chicken, vegetables from their garden, homemade green chile salsa, and any other fixing you can imagine for soft tacos. They’re such excellent cooks. Elle, Keith, Rhonda, Jen, KL, and I sat around a wrought-iron table outside and ate for what seemed like hours. Elle and Keith talked about the time in their early twenties when they bought a few cheap acres of land out in the middle of the desert, thinking this was a rad idea. They lived in a geodesic dome with a wood stove, just outside a Native American reservation. They froze in the winter, baked in the summer. They hauled in water and cooked on a two-burner propane stove. Crazy people lived out on the lands nearby, people who liked to shoot serious guns. And one hairy bear-man who liked to strip naked in the morning and stand in the sunshine on his makeshift porch, waving to E and K as they drove by. Someone once came by and stole the engine out of their truck. Another time they got snowed in for days. Three years into this adventure, they took some psychedelic mushrooms one night and said to each other: “This is fucking crazy! I’m scared! We have to get the hell out of here!” When they got to this part of the story, we all died laughing.

Hike through the Snowies, and a growing baby bulgeThe next morning, E and K fed DH and me and KL a hearty breakfast, and we were on our way to the Snowy Mountains, where we went to an astonishing lookout point and then climbed along a trail inside the forested mountains. I was winded at first, then got used to the elevation, but I had to walk very slowly and take a lot of breaks. We’d been there for only two days, but my belly was looking conspicuously larger. My pants felt tighter. In photos, I saw that my tank top that fit the previous week was barely covering my bulge.

We talked about many things during that walk, and during the delicious lunch at the mountainside diner afterward. Pregnancy, birth, raising kids, schooling. What it was like for me to visit Elle eleven years previously when she was pregnant with two human beings inside her, and she just strapped on this enormous belt and said: “Let’s go climb a mountain!” at seven months pregnant. She told me about a poem she wrote near the end, when she was on bedrest. The gist of the poem was: I am a house. No, this isn’t a metaphor. I REALLY AM a house.

Around the fire, talk of my pregnancy, my blogThat night, our friends Lynn and Jay met us at Elle’s for grilling bratwurst and marshmallows over an open fire in the yard. Lynn is an astonishing artist (she did the painting featured in this post), one of the few I know who actually makes a living off her work, and Jay is a talented, successful fiction writer. They have a little girl, Sam, whose beauty and smiliness made me fall in love with her, fast and hard.

Once upon a time, when the twins were smaller and Lynn got pregnant with Sam, I was part of a group email in which I wrote, “Hey, maybe DH and I will move out there and live in a yurt and make babies with you all!” Little did I know. Going there now with a baby in my womb was somewhat of The Triumphant Return…

But to tell you the truth, the joy and pride and sense of belonging I did experience were not entirely pure. I was—I am–different from them. My pregnancy does not normalize me, from my point of view. Around the fire that night, they asked about this blog (which I won’t tell them name of, and they understand). I told them what it was like to find a place where I could, in my desperation, begin to make sense of what was happening. A place where I could connect with smart, funny, witty, vulnerable, eloquent, strong, sad, beautiful women who quite literally live all around the world. They were fascinated by our wise tribe. I told them some of your stories, the times I’ve cried for you, the times I have jumped and screamed for joy for you in my living room. I felt proud that I had managed to find a way to tell my story and to communicate it to so many. And I felt love for all of you who have buoyed me up when no one else could, or would.

Describing you, I had the distinct thought: This isn’t sufficient. My friends can never know what this blogosphere experience has been like. It has to be lived to be genuinely understood, like infertility itself. 

Big bottom, weak swing: On another level entirely, talking about my pregnancy was made up of a lot of anecdotes of the physical, the nitty-gritty. The physical changes are so seismic that they have a way of taking center stage…

Case in point: As I was talking about how my abdominal muscles are unzipping right now to make room for my womb, I actually busted through the cushion of the swing I was sitting on by the fire. I mean that my newly large arse popped through the cushion and vinyl seat and I got stuck there, legs kicking. My sweet friends—they must have wanted to laugh. I would have! Elle apologized profusely, saying it was an old, old swing, and helped my pregnant self up out of there. What a sight I must have been!

Making art with Rhonda and Jen: The next morning, KL hit the road for her new life on the West coast, where she got a full-time professorship teaching creative writing. That afternoon, while Elle worked at the public radio station (her new job—she’s a reporter) and while Keith worked at the bookstore, DH and I hung out with the girls and made art. At first it was a little awkward. Rhonda and Jen are surprisingly quiet and shy around adults, and we had to really draw them out.

I was genuinely dumbfounded by the art that Rhonda made. She makes art like that of Grandma Moses. Landscapes with perspective, clusters of tiny people doing this or that throughout—fishing, talking, eating. A lone ram on a mountainside, with nearly microscopic striped ram’s horns (to ensure we didn’t mistake it for some other animal). She is so talented. People say she gets it from her dad, who is a painter (and who is also not genetically related to her, mmm-hmm). She became really quiet after making one landscape and had to go be alone, for reasons I suppose we can never know. She’s a mysterious girl. When she came back, I decided to move us all out to the trampoline, where there was air and light…

And this was an absolute highlight of the trip. We had a blast.

Rhonda and Jen fairy-tale retellings: Meet Hammy the Hippie and Alien ArielDH and I piled blankets and pillows and art supplies on the trampoline and the four of us ended up looking up at the sky together, imagining what it would be like if the world were made of trampolines. What if the sidewalks were trampolines, and you could hop your way to work? What if airplanes were propelled by the energy human beings make while jumping on trampolines—and if you stopped jumping, the plane crashed to the ground and you died? What if, what if, what if? By the end of our what ifs, we were laughing so hard that anything would have seemed funny. How about a combination waterslide-trampoline sidewalk? Hysterics.

Somehow we got on the subject of fairy tales and Disney movies and some of the completely improbable moments featured in them. “I mean, she cried into his eyes,” Jen said. “I could see crying onto his cheek, or around his eyes, but it would be pretty hard to cry directly into them.”

At this point, the girls play acted crying into each other’s eyes. You can imagine how funny this was.

Then they decided to totally recreate all the fairy tales and Disney movies they could think of. Rapunzel. Sleeping Beauty. The Little Mermaid. Oh my dear lord. I was in pain, I was laughing so hard.

Rapunzel became a guy who was just hanging out in his apartment at the top of a skyscraper for years. The details escape me, but let’s just say that a pizza delivery man shows up four years later, and the guy is so hungry that he eats him, and then he becomes a pizza himself—which he also eats.

Ariel became an alien on the planet Goofmar. She was blue and green and had fins around her face and trampolines (of course) for feet.

Snow White’s prince became Hammy the Hippie, of the Magic Bellbottoms. Instead of seven dwarves there were twenty-four blood-sucking mosquitoes, who could magically turn into hippos—hippos who also wore bellbottoms.

Sleeping Beauty, well she…she became, ahem, Drunk Sally. She met Hammy the Hippie (Hammy doubled as both her prince and Snow White’s—he’s a busy, magically bell-bottomed guy) at a bar. DH and I listened, feeling nervous, wondering, How do we step in and redirect….err??? 

It was difficult. I was breathless with laughter, seriously crying by then, almost worried about the baby I was laughing so hard. Rhonda, who, it turns out, has the comedic timing of Louis C.K., said: “Now Sally, she wasn’t sleepin’—she was just drunk. And Hammy made her a special drink that caused her to—whoosh!—wake right up and want to be with him.”

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.

DH stepped in shortly thereafter with: “But then Hammy helped Sally get into a really great substance-abuse recovery program, where she could get the help that she needed.”

Cue giant snort from me. I was no help at all, being drunk with endorphins at that point.

Ohhh, was that fun. Kids are amazing creatures with unselfconscious imaginations and who know that laughing, and trying to make other people laugh, is pretty much the best way to spend your time.

I wonder what our boy will be like? What will it be like to tell stories with him, to hear him riff and giggle and get lost in his own world? We are going to have so much fun.

Surprise shamanic journey drum circle!I did not know that Keith’s mom is into shamanic drumming and journeying. I’ll call her Ruth. She is also a reiki practitioner and holistic healer. She lives in a tiny house on Elle and Keith’s property, a few yards away from their back door.

Right after our laugh sesh with the girls, DH and I went into a peaceful and private little side yard Ruth had created, where there were many windchimes, benches and chairs, crystals and hollyhocks. She had generously invited us to her weekly shamanic drum circle, and DH was about to go on a shamanic journey for the first time.

She gave us beautiful drums she’d made herself. Three like-minded friends showed up. We sat in a circle and drummed in the ancestors, drummed for to heal the earth of fracking and Middle East wars, and finally listened to Ruth drum as we went on personal journeys.

I realize that all of my journeys have been personal. It felt far more enlightened to begin by journeying for the world before giving something to myself.

I have not journeyed since before the embryo transfer, for reasons I’m not entirely clear about. I certainly could have used it. Ruth said that my visit was auspiciously timed. I’d had zero idea that this was going to be part of the vacation, and it was the cleansing I needed right then and there.

Throughout this pregnancy, I have been asking: What do I need to do now? What is my next responsibility in ensuring that my baby gets to live? Am I doing enough? Have I done anything wrong so far? Will I pay for the things I’ve done wrong? Each ultrasound is a green light to the next stage, a green light that I’m not sure I have earned. There is this sense of getting by by the skin of my teeth, even though nothing could be further from the case. I’m a healthy woman with a healthy lifestyle. But RPL can warp one’s interpretation of reality.

So for my journey, I asked: What do I need to do now? And dragonfly came and swooped me up for a very playful ride. I was on her back, a teeny-tiny naked pregnant woman who could fit on a dragonfly’s back!

We zipped around. I hung onto her legs and she dragged me through cleansing waters. She dropped me off in some woods and I grew and grew and grew until I was as tall as a mountain. A giant, fertile pregnant woman with enormous breasts and belly.

Owl came by and flew around and around me until I shrunk back down to my original size. He guided me into a blindingly white and sterile hallway that was perhaps a mile long. Mile-long white tables on either side, where men in white robes sat. We are the Council on New Life, an austere overhead voice informed me.

I walked along the hallway, waiting for my instructions.

Then I noticed that at the end of the hallway was a group of women, smiling. They were women from all different cultures all over the globe, wearing what seemed to be garb traditional to their cultures. My mom and DH’s mom were there, too. All of the women were beckoning me forward, out of the hallway, and into a large geodesic dome filled with plants and flowers, an electric-blue pond of warm water at its center.

They dipped me in the water, and when they did, my skin became transparent. We could all see inside my womb, where the baby was floating in electric-blue amniotic fluid.

“See,” said one woman, grinning. “He’s fine. You’re fine. You got this, woman!”

“You got this! You got this!” the other women said.

“Don’t worry.”

“Now is  your time to enjoy your pregnancy.”

“Now is your time to be doted upon.”

They combed my hair. They bathed my feet in the pond. They massaged me and sang to me. It felt wonderful.

My anxiety dissipated as I lay back against the ground and flowers began to fall from the top of the dome. More and more flowers, until I was entirely covered. The fragrance was intoxicating.

The women held hands and danced in a circle around me, in one direction and then the other. They were bringing on birth. The baby crowned. The baby came into this world. The baby was placed on my breast.

This whole time, the wind chimes in Ruth’s yard were talking like crazy. The wind was very strong that night. I felt as though the wind were filled with goddesses, right there with me in good ol’ Wyoming.

Yee-ha, ladies. Yee-ha to the power of the goddess in all of us.

DH had a journey in which he could feel our boy as a teenager. “I could feel our son’s power,” he said to me. “As I was teaching him muay thai.” What a thing to say. Even just to hear him say “our son” left me speechless. He used to be so scared to become a father. Three years ago, he talked of parenthood with trepidation. Now he says “our son” like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Turtle Rock with Lynn, Jay, and Sam, and major home envy: The next day DH and I went to Lynn and Jay’s home, which they just bought for 200K—$900/mo mortgage, $700 yearly tax, for a simply stunning multi-bedroom house with hardwood floors, original stained glass, high ceilings, and a paradise of a back yard. Yah. This is what one can do in Laramie, Wyoming! I had un-cover-up-able home envy (although when we returned home I had a newfound fondness for our little New England-y place). Jay built himself a writing studio with a tiny wood stove, where he can smoke and write to his heart’s content, and Lynn has a large art studio in the basement. There were floor-to-ceiling plants, a dining table, a chandelier, and Lynn’s art all around. She is a seriously talented artist. Her portrait’s are photo-realism, and she is actually well-known enough that Bruce Willis and his family asked her to do a family portrait not too long ago. The photo-realist painting she did of Rhonda is the kind of beautiful you don’t forget—it captures her physicality with photographic perfection, but also her gentle spirit. It knocked me down. I wanted so badly to snap a picture of it with my phone, but restrained myself.

We all went to Turtle Rock for a 3-mile + hike—yes, pregs me deserves a medal—and again had some great conversations about child-having and child-rearing. Lynn’s birth story is hilarious, and one she is so good at telling. She has a kind of effervescent energy that makes you want to go do something productive, right now. And she made giving birth sound like an adventure.

I told her that I had two initial questions about how to go about my day after the baby is born: 1) How do I take a shower? and 2) How do I take a shit? Shit and shower, that’s all I need to know. They had excellent advice! So, I’m all set for parenthood.

We stayed the night in their guest room, that night, and I woke up to a smiley, hopping Sam, who is clearly a magical love sprite from the world of fairies, half-Thai (Jay is Thai) with black curls and mesmerizing black eyes. She and I did yoga together, while Jay’s mom, visiting from Thailand, watched with glee (his mom does yoga three times a day, a true yogi).

We bounced from that to back massages at the local chiropractor’s office. No wimpy, barley-touching-me prenatal massage, hallelujah, but a woman who was not afraid to work out the crazy knots in my back.

And from there we landed at Vista de la Luna, where I started this post, and which you can read more about here. We ate the hostess’s key-lime pie and bright red watermelon that night, made love, wrapped ourselves in soft white robes, and watched Her (again). Elle and Keith visited us that night and watched the sun go down from our prodigious balcony. Elle and I came inside, to sit by the fire in the fireplace, while the guys stayed out on the deck for ages.

I found out later that Keith confided in DH about how hard parenthood can be, and that there was one period so difficult that he and Elle had actually mentioned the word divorce. I was shocked to hear this—Elle had never told me. But apparently they got through it very well, because they seem absolutely awesome now, close, united, and very in love. To hear that they had gone through such a rough patch was hard for me to accept. But I also know that finances have always been a huge strain for them—that combined with Rhonda’s issues must have been more difficult than I realized, more than Elle let on.

I don’t want financial strain. More and more, I lean toward being content with having only one child. If I could just get pregnant and have a baby, I’d do it, because it’s not the raising part of it that I am worried about—it’s the paying the tens of thousands to go through another DE treatment or to adopt that stops me.

A solo day: The next day we decided to dedicate to us, to being alone. We had nothing scheduled. We hiked through Vedauwoo hand-in-hand, and had the best time talking. It was gorgeous (that’s where the pic in my previous post was taken).

I had a craving for chicken wings that defied reason, and lo and behold, we found some in town. I loved them so much that I did not speak while devouring them. DH kept trying to make conversation, but I was lost in mouth-watering spice and ranch dressing.

That night, more taking in of the view at sunset, a long, hot shower, and a fire in the fireplace. We walked out on the balcony after dark and saw what seemed like millions of stars.

I think I have set a word-count record with this post! But I didn’t want to forget a single moment of this trip. And now: back to LI life! I’ve got some beef bulgogi to make, and another post to write about my level 2 anatomy scan, which happened today…

 

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2 Comments

  1. I could comment a lot on this post but all just say “weird, we had korean beed for dinner too!”

    Reply
  2. Beef :)

    Reply

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