My baby, at eighteen months old, is goingthrough a phase where he wakes up at around 5:30 and wants to nurse for about forty minutes before getting up for the day Kimmy Schmidt-style, bright-eyed, fresh, and ready to enjoy every second of his morning.
I wish I could say that waking up is as easy for me as it is for him, but once I’m up and at ‘em, I’m usually excited too. Every day means lots and lots of work, but it’s all work I truly have fun doing. I raise my children, I work part-time to help my husband with our biohacking center, OsteoStrong, and I write books.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you want something done, ask busy person?” That’s how I feel my life is right now. I’m a parent, so I have made peace with the fact that I don’t have free time anymore, but it’s not really a detriment—in fact, it’s the best thing ever. By that, I mean that I don’t watch TV, I don’t go out for happy hour, and I don’t scroll on my phone unless I’m nursing (if I am nursing, though, I’m all HELLOOOOO TWITTER). My husband and I are both fiercely protective of our time—both our time together, as a family, and each other’s work time—and so, even though lots of times we look more like a three-ring circus than a young family, it works.
I only spend about one hour a day on writing, but I’ve found that that’s enough time for me to crank out a clean 1000 words or revise one chapter. It’s not much, but the hours add up over weeks and months, and if I’m disciplined about it, I have a completed manuscript in the course of about three months.
With life this full, there’s no way I’d keep writing if I wasn’t working on books that really matter to me. I’m querying a couple of books right now–a YA (young adult) and a MG (middle grade) and I’m open to catching another book idea out of the air (I think that’s how creativity works, but who knows?) whenever one wants to come. And you better believe I’ll commit a focused hour a day on it with the same enthusiasm as a full-bellied toddler before sunrise, because if I love doing it, why not?
So maybe I’ll find someone who understands what what I’m trying to say and will help me navigate traditional publishing.
And maybe I won’t.
Maybe the next book I publish will be three books from now.
But stopping isn’t going to speed up the process—I love writing stories, and I intend to continue on with this life for as long as I can.
Once my manuscript about a street artist who escapes an insidious government was done, it was time to see if anyone was interested in publishing it. The hard work is over, I thought, and now it’s time to bask in the glory of publishing!
And right now all my author friends are like
Google told me that the first thing I needed to do was to research literary agents—middle men between authors and publishers. True, this is just one avenue to publication, but I was sure that self-publishing was not for me. So I started researching literary agents and put together a list of people I thought I’d work well with.
I also had to write a query letter, which is basically a sales pitch of the book. I’m a little nervous to share my query with you, world, since I know it’s flawed, but in the name of transparency, here you go:
Dear (Agent’s Name),
I’m pleased to submit the first ten pages of my manuscript, Unregistered, for your consideration. Unregistered is the first of a planned series of new-adult dystopian fiction novels and is about 55,000 words.
Bristol is the second child in a society with a one-child-only mandate, which renders him an unregistered citizen. Under the Metrics Government, he is not entitled to any state-controlled advantages: education, meaningful employment, or a spouse. By day, he’s a cook at a restaurant, and by night, he’s a graffiti artist painting controversial political murals in low-profile parts of town.
The murals catch the attention of Metrics officials. They frame Jude—a quirky eleven-year-old they’ve deemed unsafe—for Bristol’s vandalism and lock him up. Samara, Jude’s prison educator, knows he can’t be to blame because she’s watched graffiti appear on a wall in her neighborhood for years. Jude’s too young to have created the murals she’s admired.
Bristol’s older sister, Denver, pleads with her brother to stop, pointing to the consequences the entire family could face. Denver also frets about her pending arranged marriage to a man she doesn’t know. But when Bristol meets Samara by chance, falls in love with her, and learns that her student has been wrongfully convicted, he must decide between the life he has always known and an uncertain future.
Meanwhile, Metrics enacts their long-debated unregistered solution: publicly, they announce the relocation of all unregistered citizens—including second children and prison inmates—to far-off desert states. But the novel’s four protagonists discover the dark truth behind Metric’s plan, and they must work together to escape the clutches of their Motherland.
Unregistered is fiction, but all of the social policies in the plot’s dystopian society involve recent failures of the real world: the One-Child policy in China, the Caste system in India, and the Eugenics program in the USA and Germany. This story depicts dystopian societies in the tradition of The Hunger Games, Matched, and Divergent. However, the protagonists are entering adulthood, and therefore the novel appeals to the new-adult age range of eighteen to thirty with crossover appeal to the young-adult age range. I worked with Jennifer Chesak, professional editor and founder of Wandering in the Words Press, to polish this manuscript.
I lived and worked in Beijing, China for two years, and am an alumnae of Teach for America, where I taught in a high-performing urban charter school in Nashville, Tennessee. My experiences in these combined four years led to the writing of Unregistered.
Initially, I had a list of about 50 agents I’d query, but once the first few rejections started rolling in, I stopped. I hadn’t built the thick skin or the community I needed to handle it. (Side note: now I’m in a private query support group on twitter, which is what was missing last time! We chat, swap tips, laugh, and comfort each other when a rejection really puts a pin in your ballon. Game-changer!) So I took it slower. Really researched every person hard before I pressed send.
I don’t remember how I found Amanda the Wonder Editor, but I remember seeing that she currently lived in China. I thought that maybe she’d understand what I was trying to say with my story, and I sent it to her.
Not long after that, I got an email from her thanking me for sending her the sample chapters and asking to see more. We went back and forth for a bit after that, musing over potential revisions (which I was open to) and I waited for her to bring it to the senior editors for consideration.
And a few weeks after that, while I was in choir practice listening to the baritones rehearse a piece, my phone buzzed. It was the offer email.
Congratulations! We would like to offer you a publishing contract with City Owl Press.
I wish I could tell you I celebrated afterward, but we had an OsteoStrong meeting after rehearsal that night, so after rehearsal I worked until about 10:30 pm and ate some toast afterward. Ah! The glamour!
We kept talking about extending the book into a series, and I had the second book nearly finished and polished before Unregistered was released later that year. Book two, Unafraid, came out a mere six months after that.
And now, after nearly five years of writing, editing, and publishing this series, this chapter in my life (pun absolutely intended) is about to come to a close. Book three, Undone, is being released on February 5.
Along the way, I have had some pretty amazing opportunities to talk about writing and the art of perseverance: I’ve spoken to readers at bookshops, libraries, schools, and was even invited to participate in the Kentucky Book Fair, where I would wander around as a kid and dream about someday being an author myself.
In the years I’ve been writing the Children of the Uprising series, I’ve had two babies, moved three states away, and started a business with my husband and his parents, and found a brand-new writing community here in Pittsburgh.
And this part may be obvious, I haven’t stopped writing! I’ve also written another book about a GenZ robotics-loving girl who has a eerie spiritual encounter and gets a mission from the Beyond to save her brother. And another one about the American ambassador to Ireland’s daughter, who has to figure out what to do when she finds and plays a haunted violin.
Finding the time for the babies, the business, and the books is not easy. That’s a subject for next time though—stay tuned for another post, How I’m Pressing Forward, next week.
By far, this is the most common question I get from friends and family about writing: “How did you get started?” I hope this post answers some questions and inspires you to get started on whatever it is that makes you tick!
Here’s something I’ve learned over the past five years: You can’t run from who you are.
I’ve only tried to totally reinvent myself once, during my first two weeks of college, I had the now-hilarious idea that I’d be a biology major and go on to make the big bucks in the sciences. It was interesting enough, sure, but it wasn’t who I was. After two weeks of pretending I understood what was going on in class and then going back to my dorm room to read and re-read my textbooks while obsessively pulling at the arch of my eyebrows—my nervous habit of choice to this day—I auditioned for the school play, got a part, and never turned back.
I love storytelling. I’ve journaled since I could write, blogged since the internet came into our homes, and carried a book around with me since I can remember. For some people, the thing that lights up their souls is music, or helping others, or even biology (I don’t understand it, but they tell me it’s true) but for me, I love a good story well told.
So writing a story of my own was always a goal but something I didn’t have the discipline for, especially after many false starts. But then two things happened:
The first was that after I graduated from college, I went to China and lived there for two years. I was a sheltered kid and really didn’t have any experience outside of my own little world. But one of the biggest lessons I took from my time there was just how much government policy affects individual lives. Some of China’s policies seemed strange, even unbelievable to me as a lifelong westerner, but after the first year, I started being able to see America’s policies objectively too. I started to recognize how many of my values and assumptions—things I thought made me ME—were actually decided long before I was born by men in suits in Washington DC. And I started to change once I saw that.
The second was that I was accepted into Teach for America and got a job teaching kindergarten at a high achievement urban charter school. I loved the people I worked with and I really loved the kids, but I was concerned about the rigid structure. Honestly, lots of kids thrived under the constant snapping, barking, and demanding. By that, I mean that they seemed happy with structure and, when the end of the year came, they could complete the tasks we’d trained them to complete. But one kid didn’t thrive. He was an artist, and every picture drawn by his little 5-year-old hand was…good. Attractive, with confident lines and bold colors and intuitive placement of everything on the paper. Here he was with his extraordinary talent, and because it wasn’t one of the boxes that needed to be checked, it wasn’t valued. He was given five minutes to draw as a reward for good behavior, but other than that, we didn’t have the time to care about what made him so special.
The day this kid was pulled out of school was an early spring day in 2014. My stomach hurt with the painful knowledge that we’d done him an injustice. But I wanted him to thrive, even in under the most terrible circumstances. So I started writing.
I opened a blank document and wrote these words:
Bristol Ray did not exist.
After more than an hour of writing, I saved it to the desktop, and came back the next day. and the next.
I didn’t have an outline; I just went by intuition. I wrote chapters until they seemed long enough. I named characters as they appeared. I didn’t know the first thing about writing a novel and I wasn’t even sure I knew what this was, but eventually I considered what it would look like as a book, and looked up the minimum word count for novels and was blown away by the answer: 40,000.
I realized I could not just write this in my spare time with any hopes of finishing. I put it aside.
A year later, I my husband and I were on a road trip. We fantasized about our dream life (is there anything sweeter than dream-talk with people you love?) and brainstormed steps we’d need to take in order to get closer. And that’s where it really sunk in: in my heart of hearts, I wanted to write fiction.
So I got serious. I made a writing schedule and stuck to it. Every day, I willed myself to write 300 words. Then, when that became easy, I made it 500, then 1000, and changed the schedule. And on the day I had declared that the book would be finished, guess what?
The book was finished.
I’d dreamed up a whole new world: an alternative America, meticulously structured, and within it, four people from four different classes. Bristol, a street artist in the lowest class; Denver, his sister, sympathetic but resigned to her place; Samara, a starry-eyed teacher turned savvy political scientist, and Jude, in the highest class but shamefully low-performing and imprisoned for it.
When it was finished, I felt a completely unique sense of pride. I’d done hard things before, but nothing before this had been a lifelong goal. Now, here was something that I’d put my hands on in the world. I created it from my mind. I finally had something in common with the hundreds of authors I admire: I had finished a book.
Over the next year and a half, I workshopped it, pestered beta readers with it, rewrote it more than dozen times (really—but that’s what working without an outline will do), and turned my sights to publication.
Stay tuned for a new post next week—How I Got Published.
In late September 2017, my mother-in-law took me to the house across the street: her neighbors had moved into a bigger house a few minutes away, and their old house was still full of stuff they didn’t want to take. They’d had a “house sale” earlier that day, and the street had been buzzing full of cars of people who’d come to see what used things they could buy. After the sale, the neighbor told my mother-in-law that we could come by and take whatever we wanted.
After the sun went down our children were in bed, the three of us—my mother-in-law, husband, and I—walked across the street and stepped inside a home that still very much looked inhabited. There were couches bookended by matching tables, and lamps sat atop those tables. The built-in bookshelves were crammed full of board games, coffee mugs, and Christmas decorations. Upstairs, there were beds in the bedrooms, with piles of sheet sets on top. The closets were filled with clothes and shoes. The bathroom cabinets overflowed with unused make-up and hair products.
Most of the stuff, though, was scattered across the floors of the entire house—toys, books, baby paraphernalia, unopened gift sets, and clothes clothes clothes clothes clothes, most with tags will attached.
The sheer volume of stuff in the house was certainly enough to overwhelm me, but what really struck me speechless was the knowledge that this was just the stuff that both the family and the people who’d been to the sale that day didn’t want. To me, it was the perfect aesthetic for crass consumerism, and it turned my stomach.
My face never lets me get away with hiding my feelings, so when my mother-in-law saw my expression, she insisted that her neighbors weren’t entitled or wasteful; they were good people. They may have gotten carried away, but underneath their made-in-China piles, they were good people.
And I totally believe that. I think the reason it bothered me so much was that it magnified a problem within myself that I don’t like to acknowledge; I like to buy things—or think about buying things, especially if they’re on sale—to place a temporary balm on my deeper problems. Don’t we all? And if it isn’t shopping, it’s eating, drinking, gossiping, or working solely to amass money or praise.
A few months later, when the holiday season rolled around, I still couldn’t get that house out of my head. I love making New Year’s resolutions—I’m proud (and more than a little astonished) to admit that I’ve kept every one since 2012. For me, the New Year is a great time to build new habits to keep for a lifetime, not just for a year. So I was a little worried about the new idea that began to form in my head.
I bounced the idea off my husband: “How about we stop buying things for a year?” He was not on board.
Shortly after succumbing to his practical concerns, I read this piece by Anne Patchett. She’d done the same thing—she hadn’t shopped for a year! As I read through the rules she created for herself, I went back to my husband and we teased out our own ground rules:
We can buy anything at the grocery store, including flowers (thank you for the wonderful idea, Anne).
We can buy gifts for others
“Presents” for each other (him for me, me for him) are allowed, even with heavy input of the other spouse.
If we really need something, we can reach out to three friends to see if they have something that we can borrow. If no one can spare it, we can buy it from Goodwill. If we can’t find it there, we can buy it from a shop.
We can eat out.
We called it our “Treasures in Heaven” plan. And we were off.
The first few months were easy. I didn’t even notice until early spring, when we were to a concert and I had a terrible craving to buy a new outfit to wear there. Following Anne’s advice, I waited for the feeling to pass. It didn’t. I reached out to my friend, Chelsea, who, as it happens, lives directly across the street from our new house. After my children were asleep, I crossed my street, just like I’d done six months before, only this time, I sat with her as she held up her favorite outfits as options. I picked one, and instead of simply leaving, as I would have done if I’d been shopping, I talked to her about the actual reason I wanted a new outfit in the first place: my husband and I weren’t going to that concert alone. We’d be meeting a group of friends, which included his ex-girlfriend.
It wasn’t like my problems were all solved when I walked away, but talking my feelings out with a friend calmed me in a way shopping never could. She was sympathetic, told me things I already knew but needed to hear, and encouraged me to just have a good time and not worry so much.
As the months rolled on, I learned some more lessons: people talk about buying things a lot. Friends and family talked to us about which electronics we needed, websites touted cheap jewelry that I’d “be crazy not to buy,” and my inbox wouldn’t stop screaming about the sale ending tomorrow—whoops, no, they’ve extended it another day. In addition to learning about ourselves, we were learning about the human condition in a way we recognized but weren’t able to dwell on before. We humans are simply never happy. There’s never a point where we stop, look around, and say, “Yep, my electronics are all up-to-date, I have the perfect accessories for every occasion, and I’m satisfied that I got the best price for everything. I’m good!”
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t quite cracked the happiness code yet, but this year has really helped me get closer. I don’t catch myself thinking “If only I had this, I’d be happy” so much anymore. I realize that I’m as happy as I’ll ever be, in every moment, including this one.
“Giving up” shopping has given me so much that it feels much more like gaining than losing:Not shopping helps me focus on my goals. It makes me more grateful for gifts (that awesome friend I borrowed an outfit from gave me a blouse for my birthday and I was so grateful I cried). It makes me more discerning, from choosing which book to check out of the library to choosing people in my life to hang out with.
So though I may relax the rules a little, I’ll probably stick with the habit. And if you’re feeling inspired to try your own year of no shopping, remember you can always come borrow something from me; I’ve got plenty.
It’s been a whirlwind of a week. I’d love to tell you all about it, but I lack the brainpower and the emotional energy to put all of these wonderful events into words after the latest bout of domestic terrorism in Las Vegas. Still, I wanted to post these pictures to let you know what we’ve been up to, and hopefully the images will compensate for my loss of language.
To those who came: putting on your shoes and getting into your car on a Saturday afternoon may seem like a small gesture, but I truly treasured the presence of everyone there and won’t soon forget it. Thank you.
Let’s start with the basics and work our way in, shall we?
Birthday: July 15
Weight: 8 lbs, 6 oz
Height: 21 inches
I felt really ready for this labor. It helps that everything about birth truly fascinates me; when I was pregnant with Finn, I read no less than thirteen books about pregnancy and childbirth, and probably would have read more if pregnancy lasted longer than 40 weeks. This time around, about five weeks before I went into labor, Ryan and I started a self-study class for hypnosis for childbirth called HypnoBabies. We read through the door-stopper manual and reeducated ourselves on the physiology of childbirth and the psychology of positive mindsets. The course came with audio tracks that I listened to every day; some were positive affirmations, like “pregnancy is natural, normal, healthy, and safe,” and others were guided meditations with suggestions on how to handle pain and discomfort.
So my mind and body were ready—but Clark was not. My body went through weeks of false labor (or, in HypnoBabies terms, “practice labor”) where I went through several long stretches of painless contractions with a steady pattern. Last Wednesday was the last of those. After five hours of escalating contractions, I called my midwife and my mom, who both came to my house immediately. Our midwife, Melan, checked my cervix and guessed I was in very early labor (2cm dialated, 50% effaced), so she left her bags in my living room to be ready in case the baby came later that night. My mom and dad came, but no baby.
My parents stayed for the weekend, and took our two-year-old to our friend Callie’s apartment. Callie was on vacation and generously offered use of her place just in case Clark decided he was ready to escape after all. On Friday night—my due date—after dropping some bedtime books over at her apartment for the three of them, Ryan and I decided to take a long walk in the park.
I stayed pretty active even in my last trimester with hikes, walks, and barre and yoga classes, so I knew that working up a sweat always caused some contractions. I wasn’t surprised at all when I had to stop a few times to let my stomach tighten and release. This time, as Ryan rubbed my back while a contraction subsided, a runner stopped, took out her headphones, and asked if there was anything she could do.
“No, we’re OK,” I said. “Might be in labor.”
It wasn’t the answer she was expecting. “Oh my god! I don’t even have a phone!”
We assured her that I was really fine, and, having nothing to do even if it wasn’t, she ran off, maybe a little faster than before.
We finished our walk and ordered saag paneer on the way home (“extra spicy, please” I specified on the phone. “Like a ten out of ten.”) and went home to enjoy a rare, blissful child-free evening.
The contractions were still coming, but hey, I’d been through this before. I’d wait to call Melan until I had more definitive proof, like my water breaking.
I woke up at 1:33 am to some more intense contractions. I used the hypnobirthing techniques to try to get back to sleep, but although they were still painless, I found I was actually having to focus to remove the pain. I woke Ryan up and told him it was time to call Melan. He texted first and then called a few minutes later, but it went straight to voicemail.
No problem, I said. She’d said before that she wakes up every day at 3 a.m. and checks her phone.
But by the time 3 a.m. came, I was on my hands and knees working hard to stay calm. When a familiar thought drifted through my mind—that this was the LAST TIME I’d do this—I knew my labor was progressing much faster than it had with Finnegan. And Melan still wasn’t answering her phone. Ryan was scrambling now, attaching the hose to the shower, filling the birth pool, making sure it was the correct temperature and making a flurry of phone calls. He tried calling the back-up midwife. No answer. He tried calling the midwives at Vanderbilt to ask if someone could help us. No, they couldn’t—it was against policy to help non-patients.
I was in the pool at this point, feeling pushy but trying like hell to slow them down. I repeated a hypnosis affirmation over and over: “I am open to whatever path my baby’s birthing takes.” I would have been fine giving birth without her, but I’d tested positive for Group B Strep, a common bacteria that lives in the gut and sometimes migrates to the vagina. It sometimes causes problems for the baby, so the plan was to give me an IV with antibiotics as a precaution. We needed someone with antibiotics. It occurred to me that we should go to a hospital, but I realized the water was what was slowing the whole thing down—if I got out, I wouldn’t be able to stop pushing. There were two options: I could give birth here in the pool in an hour or so, or I could get out and give birth in the car now.
I stayed in the pool and heard myself ask, “911?”
Ryan answered right away. “Yep!” He told me later that he’d typed those three numbers into his phone and had hovered his thumb over the call button seconds before I spoke.
The paramedics arrived almost immediately. They shuffled into our bedroom and turned on the overhead light. Fine by me. I was really pulling out all of my self-hypnosis tricks out at this point, so the arrival of six new people didn’t bother me, nor did the light.
What bothered me was the first paramedics’s question. As I moaned through a long contraction, one of them, not even waiting for it to end, asked. “So, how are your contractions? About four minutes apart? About thirty seconds each?”
Oh crap, I thought.
See, when your contractions are about four minutes apart, about thirty seconds each, that’s when most people go to the hospital. That’s early labor. Most women even get sent home because their labors aren’t progressing fast enough to warrant admittance. I was hours and hours past that point.
After that one ended, I had just a couple of precious seconds to tell her, “I’m in transition, honey!” but even that wasn’t true. I was past transition. It was taking everything in me to stop from pushing the baby out. It was only at this point when I got scared, and only when I got scared did I feel pain. My stomach hardened with enough power to crush a car.
Ryan came in and announced that he’d JUST heard from our midwife. She’d finally responded at 4:34 a.m with an acronym that brought waves of relief:
Ryan talked to her on the phone and she said she’d be at our house in five minutes. He asked the paramedics if they could stay until she arrived. Over my moans, I could hear them say no, and then something about policy…and Ryan just asked them again. This time, they said yes.
Melan did arrive five minutes later, mercifully turned out the lights, and apologized again and again for not seeing the messages on her phone. She’d just come from the hospital, where she’d delivered her one other baby due this month just an hour and a half earlier. She gave me a topical antibiotic solution, and then waited as I struggled through another contraction. HypnoBabies was now a distant memory; I was relieved and comforted that Melan was here, but it wasn’t enough to mask the pain. When the contraction ended, she said, “Good job.” It was the first time anyone had said that to me, and I felt its effect throughout my entire body.
I finally did feel secure enough to really push. I felt the baby move past my bones, then go back inside. Then again, two steps forward and one step back. Maddening. With Finn, I just powered through this part, but I told myself I’d take it slow with this one so I wouldn’t tear. I only pushed a handful of times—the baby was basically falling out, and my body was (wisely) keeping him from doing a straight nose-dive into the water.
His arm was born, followed by his head, and, one push later, his body. It was 5:15 a.m. Melan caught him and put him on my chest. He looked up at me immediately, brow furrowed and nose wrinkled like he was looking for an answer to the question. “What just happened?” I looked back at him a while, then asked Melan if she could take a picture. When she pointed my phone’s camera at us, some 21st-century instagram instinct took over, and I looked up at it. As I did, I heard Ryan over my left shoulder, sobbing, allowing himself to feel the full intensity of this joy and relief. Within a second, tears rolled down my face, too. We basked in the euphoria together with our wet little baby boy, who craned his neck and looked up to see who was making all this noise.
Ryan lifted us out of the water and I walked over to my bed. I didn’t tear (yay!) and the placenta came right out. Within an hour, Clark nursed, and then Ryan helped me walk to the bathroom and held me as I got myself cleaned up. It occurred to me that a nurse would do this in another context, saving the poor husband from the trauma of seeing the full vulnerability of his wife. But I have to say that I’ve never been as in love with him as I was then—with a broken body and a true need to lean on him, physically and otherwise. He never thought to grimace or leave or ask Melan if she could be the one to help me. He was just there, ready to give me whatever I needed.
Melan left when we were all situated in bed. She insisted she wasn’t going to cry when she walked out the door, but don’t believe that for a second. She has such a gift for reading the personalities of her moms—in my case, she’s mostly all business, but I know she’s as soft-hearted as they come. Being a midwife seems more like a calling than a job, and she’s answered hers.
After she left, we listened to a Sound Birthing playlist as we soaked in our little addition. We cried, we recapped, we marveled over his tiny toes and the dimple on his chin. The sun had risen behind gray clouds, and heavy rain poured straight down, drenching the plants directly outside my bedroom window. Between John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy, the rain, and our own beautiful boy cooing between us, the impossible joy of the morning overwhelmed me.
Not long afterwards, my parents arrived with Finnegan. At first, he was more interested in the birthing pool (“Ooh! Wawa!”) but when he saw his baby brother, he cooed himself and said, “Hi, baby. Hi, Dahk.”
It’s been almost a week now since our beautiful, scary, and immensely spiritual experience and we’re adjusting to being a family of four. It helps that my parents and Ryan’s mom have both come in to help us out as I heal. Our home is still glowing, sometimes literally. Two days later, during a candlelit herbal bath, I sat in the water with green herbs swirling around my legs, bathing in a garden. The soft glow brightened Clark’s tiny face as he slept in the bassinet beside the tub, and my heart swelled to match our growing family.
2017 is turning out to be a big year for us already.
My first novel is set to be published later this year.
My second child is due this summer.
I’m opening a business with my family in Pittsburgh in a few weeks.
Surprise! I know, I’m planting a lot of those on you lately, but I swear this is the last big announcement for a while. I can only handle three major life events at a time. Besides, this seems to be the way life goes: some years are Monorails and others are more like Space Mountain. I thought last Christmas that I could have basically recycled our Christmas letter because it still described our lives perfectly. This year, it’ll be like a different family wrote it.
Ryan and I are partnering up with his parents, sister, and brother-in-law to open Pittsburgh’s first OsteoStrong center. It’s a wellness center with a system that uses the body’s natural physiological responses to grow new bone and muscle tissue and improve balance. Sometimes it helps to say what it’s not: it’s not a gym or a diet on injections or a medical facility.
It’s a little difficult to wrap your mind around, so I suggest you come check it out yourself if you’re local to the Pittsburgh area! We’ll open the center in May. If you want to be on our email list, email me to let me know, and I’ll add you so you can know exactly where we are and when we’ll open. We have a Facebook page, too! Side note: Ryan and I write the emails ourselves and we’re both waaaaay too emotionally attached to them. If you open and read the emails, watch out—I’ll probably become emotionally attached to you, too.
The six of us who have taken the plunge (Me, Ry, my mother and father in law, and my sister and brother in law) are absolutely pumped for lots of reasons. For starters, we’re learning more than we ever thought imaginable about ourselves, each other, biomechanics, and the wild world of business. I get to see my husband and in-laws in a whole new light and deeply develop an appreciation for everyone’s natural gifts. Off the top of my head, Ryan has an eye for the big picture and is inquisitive enough to understand why he’s doing something before he does it. Lindsay is a freaking structural engineer and Mary Kay consultant and is managing our build-out and membership strategy. Tim knows exactly what kind of technology set-up is best for us and how to get the best deals. Rich has experience starting businesses and doesn’t let weighing all options get in the way of his decisiveness. Dianne is tireless, loves helping people, and has never met a stranger.
The absolute best part for all of us, though, is that we get to help people get stronger and feel better. I had a membership at one of Nashville’s OsteoStrong locations and loved the way it made me feel. One day, I was walking with my baby and diaper bag in one arm and a pack-and-play (portable crib) in the other. It was a while before I realized I had crossed a giant parking lot, walked up a hill, and ascended a flight of stairs like this and I wasn’t the least bit tired—my osteogenic loading sessions had done the trick!
So that’s the plan. We’ll have the baby in Nashville and pack up and move shortly afterwards.
1.) I’m halfway finished (I think?) with the second book in the Unregistered series, which means I’m halfway through writing the entire series! I’ve planned three books. This one’s a little ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, because if there’s a solid way to tell if a first draft is really halfway done, I don’t know what it is. Right now, I’m just talking word count. My first book is currently around 50,000 words, so I’m guessing the second will be about the same. And of course the series may not be three books after all. But hey—I’m writing every day, and the story is flowing out like it wants to be told, so I’m going to go ahead and put it out there!
2.) Baby #2 is halfway done cooking! Now this one’s different—you can work on a book for decades but (thank the Lord) you can’t be pregnant forever. I’ve been pretty private about this pregnancy, at least here on the internet, due to some lingering fears after our last child died in utero back in March.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed in books or babies. Just because something is halfway there doesn’t mean it will ever be fully realized, because the future’s just not ours to control. I never felt entitled to have a healthy child, so being the mother to one healthy little boy makes me feel so grateful everyday, despite the beginnings of the terrible twos. I feel the same way about this pregnancy—though the aches in my back and hips, the climbing numbers on the scale, the bizarre changes in the way food tastes (ever bitten into a doughnut and tasted fish? Pregnancy is weird.) it’s still the best to be sharing a body with a little one. 20 weeks down, 20 to go!
About a month ago, I was sexually assaulted at a yoga class.
I was the only woman in the room, which, in hindsight, should have been a red flag. We began in plank. I got into the pose I’ve been doing for ten years. He sighed loudly.
“Come down.” he said. “I really didn’t think I’d have to teach plank today, but I saw a few that were just…ugh…”
When I came back into my plank, he straddled me, reached under my body, and hit my pubic bone three times. “Lift here,” he said. My face flashed hot. Then he dug his hands between my buttocks and thighs. “Tighten here.” I dropped to my knees, and he walked away. I did end up leaving early, but not before he came back again and again, openly invading my space and groping my body under the guise of “correcting” my postures.
When I got home, I cried to Ryan, and then questioned whether or not I was just imagining things. Was he being sincere? My wise friend always says that when you don’t tell people what bothers you, you don’t give them a chance to be better. I happen to also teach yoga at this gym, and had his number, so I called him. I told him he made me uncomfortable. His response? “Yeah, well, I learned those adjustments from a woman…so…” After I hung up with him, I called my manager. He was promptly fired.
My dad is a fervent Trump supporter, so when the video of him bragging about doing this very thing surfaced, I felt I had to tell him about my experience. I told him in the car, and for a long time, he sat in the driver’s seat, not speaking. Then he said, “I can’t believe you stayed there and let him do that to you.”
Yesterday on the playground, my seventeen-month-old son made friends with a nineteen-month old black girl. At the bottom of the slide, she reached for his hand, and I was overcome with emotion at the sight of such innocence. The little girl’s father marched over with purpose, snatched her from the slide, and shot me a look over his shoulder as he walked away.
I was just processing what had happened when a middle-aged black woman walked up from the same direction.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “That’s my son and granddaughter. We’ve had a bad day.”
“That makes all of us.”
“We just had an…incident this morning.” She lowered her chin and looked at me. “Racism.”
She didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t ask. I told her I was sorry, and she told me that it was nothing she hadn’t dealt with before. She told me God had a plan, and that God was watching all of us.
That’s when I realized the shock that I’d felt that morning knowing our country could elect such an overt racist as its leader was a result of my privilege. I wasn’t aware that this racism, direct or indirect, was so widespread. But this woman knew and had a personalized way of coping that she could simply fall back on. For me, it was the day the world changed. For her, it was a Wednesday.
Today, I had a pleasant surprise: my friend David, who owns a landscaping company, was doing some work next door. I hadn’t seen him in a while and it was so good to see his face again. I asked how his wife was.
“Not good. She’s upset.”
Old conversational habits took me over. No sooner had I exclaimed “Oh no! Why?” did I understand exactly why she was upset.
“Trump. You know, this morning, I told my guys not to come early, like they usually do. I told them we’d wait for everyone to get to work, to stay safe. But it didn’t work. Someone threw trash at me today, called me a wetback, told me to go back to my country.”
Again, when I told him how sorry I was, he proved he could meet hate with integrity. “You know, Megan, we are not of this world. This is His world. We’re all here for His purpose. You just remember that.”
People who voted for Trump because of his economic policies (which I’m sorry to say, are just not true—manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back. If they did, you’d have to live like a Vietnamese factory worker to compete, and trust me, you don’t want to. Also if you’re reading this, your taxes are probably going UP, not down) and people who voted third-party because they just didn’t care who was in power sent a message. They may not have meant to, but they implicitly approved of my sexual assault. They didn’t do it intentionally, but they were satisfied with that grandmother feeling less than worthy of respect. They may not have known it, but they found the attack of my brown friend acceptable. So if you see me around in the next few days and I don’t seem chipper, this is why.
The good news (because there’s always good news) is that people are taking the words of Michelle Obama to heart: “When they go low, you go high.” I’m ready to get to work.
So now that we have the good and the bad, here’s the ugly: remember that manuscript I told you about so long ago? It’s gone through four rounds of edits with a professional editor and it’s very nearly ready for presentation to literary agents. If they dig it, it might be published and become a real live novel. And as of Tuesday night, the story of four young people of color struggling against a tyrannical government and an entertainment-sedated public is horribly relevant.
Not clear, but loud enough to make you go to the store with your blood flowing fast and avoid eye contact at the register. And then back home inside your bathroom. You open the box, unfold the instructions and read them again just to make sure nothing has changed, and pee on a stick. One blue line shows up immediately. The next few seconds are the important ones; the ones where it’s still possible to be you, yourself unchanged and your life unremarkable. But then the second blue line appears, maybe faint or maybe the color of a robin’s egg in the sunlight. On January 13, that was the color I saw.
I was alone in my bathroom. Well, alone for those few seconds only, and then I was with her. On the other side of the door, my son took his morning nap in his crib, but his sister and I were sharing a body. My reaction to the robin’s egg blue is painful to look back on now: I was frustrated at Natural Family Planning, doubtful that I could go through pregnancy, labor, and birth again, and, once I’d done the math and figured Finn would be about 15 months old in September, deeply afraid of life with two babies.
A person with one baby was a person with a baby. A person with two was a mom. Like diaper bag split open, air-dried hair with no make-up, pin you in a corner with sleepy but caffeine-high crazy eyes and force you to agree that being a mom is the hardest job in the world M-O-M. You want to agree but she can’t hear you over the cries from her not-one-but-two children. I must have had a couple of bad days leading up to realizing I was no longer alone there on the toilet, because the concept of losing myself on the sacrificial altar of motherhood was too much for me to bear alone. I told Ryan.
He was excited.
Over the next few weeks, I began to come around, too. Yeah, other (weaker!) women may have denied every need for the sake of children, but not me. I was going to be different. What began as enthusiastic though half-honest mantras (Having two kids will be great. Repeat. Having two kids will be great.) soon transformed into genuine enthusiasm. Full honesty. This was going to be great. We could even get them bunk beds! They’ll be friends forever! We got an ultrasound and came home with a snapshot our little baby in her black-and-white water world. We bought Finn a onesie that announced his new big-brother status and made a plan to tell the extended family. We made it out of the dreaded first trimester and into week 13.
Here’s what was supposed to happen: We would fly to Pittsburgh together for Ryan’s grandfather’s birthday, where his whole extended family would be gathered. I’d dress an unsuspecting Finn in his announcement onesie and put a sweater over it. When the right moment came, we would hand Finn to his grandfather (who would be briefed to know the plan, since the man is 92 and has had all the surprises he needs for one lifetime) and ask them to take a picture. Everyone knows that aunts love taking pictures of babies, so imagine the looks on their faces when they saw his tiny sweater being taken off to reveal that another one is on the way! There’d be tears and hugs. And later, by the time I turned 30, I’d have a one-year-old and be sporting another six-month pregnant belly.
Here’s what actually happened: The day before our flight, my midwife couldn’t find a heartbeat with her doppler. The machine she used to swipe carefully across my belly made a noise like rushing water and wouldn’t stop. I laid on the table listening for one minute, then five, then ten. My eyes searched for a focal point as my ears took in the static. I settled for a patch of purple on the otherwise white window frame—someone had been careless when painting. I stared at it and felt the tears running down the sides of my face and pooling in my ears.
She told me not to worry; it was probably just the doppler, or the baby was just hiding. “But go have an ultrasound. just so you feel better.” And then she put a hand on my shoulder, and I really started to worry.
Ryan and I drove across town to get another ultrasound, saying things like, “She was fine a couple of weeks ago.” and “I’m sure she’s fine.” But on the screen, she was withered. Sometime between my last ultrasound and this one, her heart had stopped, and I’d been carrying death, not life, in my body.
Ryan cancelled our flights and the three of us went home and laid in our bed, alternating moments of crying and moments of prolonged silence. My midwife called and told me to wait, because the body usually expelled tissue on its own.
I was full of fear in the days that followed, when I knew I was alone again. I didn’t want to go through a natural miscarriage with her, to see her body, to take care of Finn while miserable with grief and guilt and pain. I kept waiting for some kind of medical miracle, a phone call where some benevolent doctor would say “Hey, sorry about this, but we got it all wrong! Go ahead and order those bunk beds after all!”
We didn’t get a miracle like the one I wanted, but we got others. Miracle number one: my mom, dad, and mother-in-law came to help, not knowing how instrumental they’d be in a few hour’s time.
The contractions started after dinner on Saturday night, March 12. I remember thinking, “They must think I’m just trying to get out of the clean-up,” but I’m pretty sure I was doubled over in pain before I could finish it. I went to bed to wait it out. The contractions came and went, and it struck me as funny that my body was just remembering how painful it was to give birth to Finn. The techniques came back to me with every wave: deep breaths. Visualize waves. I had to go to the bathroom again.
There, a teaspoon or so of bloody tissue came out of me, and the contractions stopped. “It’s over,” I told Ryan. But it wasn’t.
Twenty minutes or so later, the bathroom was painted red with blood. Liquid mixed with jelly-like clots ran down my leg and onto the floor—one as big as a cantaloupe—and there, alone, where for a moment only I knew of her existence, I saw her body lying on the floor.
Her life began in blue, and ended in red. Still full of fear, I couldn’t move when I saw her. I sat on my knees, looking at her tiny face. Her veins were visible through her white skin. She had a little tail, which she was supposed to grow out of, and little arm and leg buds which she was supposed to grow into. In that little bathroom, it was once more just me and her. I looked at her and remembered the fear of her life I’d once felt, and the words were torn from somewhere inside of me: I’m sorry.
Ryan asked from the closed door if he could help me, and I crawled to the door and opened it. I thought she’d break if I touched her, but I couldn’t leave her there. I picked her up, held her in my hands for a moment, and placed her in a container Ryan had brought. “Can you believe it?” I asked him, “that we all start out so small?”
And then I passed out.
I thought I’d lay on the floor for just a moment, but I just remember being on the couch next, and not knowing what had happened to the baby. Ryan’s mom was saying something about an ambulance, but the hospital, which was inevitable now, was just a few minutes’ drive away. From there, my recollection is a spotty pattern of forward motion: riding in the front seat in the dark, then wheeled down a hallway under fluorescents. I couldn’t really respond when the nurses were sticking needles into both of my arms and asking how I felt, but even while dipping in and out of consciousness, I appreciated the kind tone. Miracle two.
They kept me overnight for observation. Finn, I was told, was sleeping soundly on my dad’s chest at home. Ryan slept in a vinyl armchair at my bedside, where I laid bleeding on the sheets. The nurse were in and out of the room until about 2 a.m., when the lights were finally turned off and we were left alone. She was back at 4 a.m. and asked me to get up so she could watch me go to the bathroom. Every movement required effort, but I made it in there after a few minutes, and when I did, another cantaloupe blood clot came out. Then another flock of nurses and doctors and phlebotomists were in and out until 6 a.m. When the sun rose, a little lady brought me some jello, which made me gag and think of the clots, and then another doctor came in and asked if I wanted to go home. I did.
The funeral was a few days later. Since Ryan and I attend mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, one of the priests offered to help us bury our daughter’s body. More miracles: the funeral home provided everything free of charge to us. They put her in a tiny casket and gave us a plot at Calvary Cemetery, where we had her graveside service. We sat in light wooden folding chairs on the bright green grass. Right before the service, Father Neely asked what her name was. Ryan and I looked at each other. Should we give her that name, our favorite name, the name we decided on for a girl years ago, or should we save it? I’m ashamed to say now that we’d been privately wrestling with that question since the afternoon we saw her dead on the sonographer’s screen. But now that we were here we were in our own nightmare, it seemed like such a small gift to give.
“Rosemary. Rosemary Lynch.”
How do we grieve in this age? Privately, mostly, sometimes revealing bits of our suffering to close friends, who shut up and listen at best and say things like “time heals” at worst. But even if I became somehow healed from her loss, I still want the scar. Her death is now a part of my story on this earth, and to deny my grief is to deny my love. Just because she’s dead doesn’t mean I can stop loving her; the love just takes a different form. I can’t carry her inside me any more, but I can lie flowers on her grave. I can’t feed and dress her, but I can cry without stopping myself. I can’t watch her grow, but I can share the story of her little life and death.
Weeks later, the retained pregnancy tissue developed an infection and I laid on yet another paper-covered table while a doctor performed the painful procedure with the grace and tenderness of a drunk elephant. I stared at the ceiling with wet eyes and asked why this couldn’t just be over, and the words of this song came into my head. Ryan and I had listened to it on repeat the day we learned she’d died, staying in bed as the sun was setting and our bedroom grew darker around us. Suddenly it was here with me in the white, frigid room.
Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid,
For I shall be with you, I have called you by your name.
You are mine.
If you’d asked me a few months ago, I would have told you that a first birthday party for Finn was out of the question. It seemed like so much extra work for something he wouldn’t remember. But now—how would we not? Family is a gift. Love is a gift. Life is random and chaotic and I don’t care if it’s a cliche, it’s worth saying again and again: we need to celebrate our moments with each other. It’s a privilege to be together. On Saturday, my son wore his little blue party hat and smashed his cake like a champ, and I was the one to scoop him up and clean the icing off of him, overflowing with pride that only comes from living in this stage of motherhood.