Photos

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.

Pittsburgh, PA

Lawrenceburg, KY – High School Visit

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Nashville, TN

Unregistered, Chapter 1

Today I’m sharing the first chapter of Unregistered. You can get the print version as early as September 12!

The two characters in this scene, Bristol and Denver, are the first two that sprang to mind when I was thinking of writing this story. They’re brother and sister, and though they grew up in the same house, their stations in life make them see the world very differently. Their relationship was inspired by my own brothers. When we were the ages of Bristol and Denver, they drove me crazy, and yet I’d have gladly stepped in front of a train for both of them.

If you enjoy it, links to order the whole book are below. Thanks!

Amazon Print: http://smarturl.it/Unregamzprt

B&N: http://smarturl.it/UnregBN

Unregistered 3D

CHAPTER ONE

Bristol Ray did not exist.

At least, not according to official records. The back of his left wrist, where his assigned watch would have lived if his birth had been important, was bare. There was a lump under the skin of his right hand where a tracking chip had been inserted, but he was pretty sure that was there just to scare people like him. He wasn’t being tracked. His left hand was ringless, and the skin around his fourth finger was consistent in color and texture to the others. His teeth were hopelessly crooked, his brow prematurely creased, and though the lessons from his mere five years of formal school had faded, his mind was bright with life.

He stood in a shadow, clutching his homemade paper stencil to his chest, and surveyed his work on the brick wall before him. He’d painted a figure that could have been a nun. A slouching, ancient woman dressed in long robes, slicing her chipped hand open with a cross she held in the other. Getting the blood to drip from that hand hadn’t been easy. For weeks he had sketched as he watched water drip from faucets to catch a glimpse of that line, that light, and once he’d seen it, his incinerator ate the drafts and roared with rejection. If his incinerator were here and had the ability to destroy whole walls, even this nun may have met her doom.

Eventually, though, the nun and her blood had to go out into the world, fully ready or not. He stepped back from it, still safely out of range of the disabled street camera. One could never be too careful.

One last glance over his shoulder was all he allowed himself. She could be there for another week, or she could be gone in a few hours when the morning sun revealed her to the commuters and schoolchildren and stunned police. He packed his stencils and paints in his backpack, kissed the air in her direction, and started home.

Bristol zigged and zagged along the dark streets in the way he always did to avoid the detection of the street cameras. He wore a glove on his left hand with an ice pack slipped inside to cool his chip, just in case. Now that it was no longer activated by his body heat, he was free from all surveillance. The only thing an unregistered person had to lose by breaking curfew was his or her life, which could happily be taken from anybody stupid enough to be caught.

A notice fluttering on a telephone pole read:

WARNING

Any persons not assigned to the artist vocation are prohibited

from painting, sculpting, drawing, or working with any other

mediums in the attempt to imitate Art. Violators will be

prosecuted.

He hesitated a beat, snatched the notice, and added it to his bag.

His sister Denver was waiting for him at the window when he reached the house. With one of the shoddily soldered bars missing, he easily squeezed through into the bedroom they still shared. He returned her smile and handed her the notice.

“A violator you are,” she said.

“And intend to stay.”

“We’ll have to get rid of that,” she said, but he’d already taken the scissors to cut it into ribbons. She sat on her bed and yawned. “How did the blood go?”

“Not bad. It was better on the last outline, but it’s done now, and I can’t think about it anymore.”

Denver nodded at the shreds of paper. “Better incinerate those before Mom gets up.”

“She’ll kill me if I don’t. You’re lucky.”

“What, that I’m getting married?”

Bristol nodded. “And moving out.”

Denver laid down and pulled the blanket to her chin. “It’s not like I have a choice. And Mom’s fine to live with, you know, as long as you don’t have any sneaky habits.”

“I promised to keep Mom out of it.”

“Good. She’s made a lot of sacrifices for you.”

“I know.” Bristol kicked softly at his backpack on the floor. He wasn’t sure if Denver was trying to make him feel guilty or not, but if that was her purpose, it did the trick. “Did you get your letter today?”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“I really want to know.”

Denver sighed and shifted. “Not yet, but that’s okay. I’m sure they’re going to pair me with a Four.”

“A Three with a Four? You’re studying to be an architect. You’re saying you could end up with, what, a nurse or data-bot technician or something?”

“I’m sure Metrics will match us in other ways, personality and all that. I know they don’t like to mismatch Tiers, but they’ll do it in situations like mine.”

“What situation?” Bristol asked, but realized the answer as the words came out. “Oh.”

“Don’t say oh like that.”

“Sorry.” He unzipped the backpack with a little more force then necessary, took out his stencil, and ripped small pieces from it. The pile containing the bits of the notice grew larger.

“It’s just that sometimes I forget that my life is always wrecking someone else’s.”

“My life is not wrecked. I can still be an architect—I’ll just have to live in Four housing and stuff. My kid can still be a Three if they do well enough on their four-year-old exams.”

“Yeah.” Bristol mindlessly ripped away at the stencil. “It’s weird your kid won’t have a brother or sister.”

“I know. I was thinking about that tonight.” She propped herself up on her bony elbows.

“Do you realize that at the end of our lives, we’ll have known each other the longest out of anyone?”

Bristol sat silent for a moment. “What about Mom? You technically knew her a year before you met me.”

“But Mom will die when she’s seventy-five. Then I’ll have spent fifty years knowing her. But then when I die, I’ll have known you for seventy-four years! You don’t know anyone that long unless it’s a sibling.”

“Lucky us.” Bristol gathered the damning notice and piles of confetti that had been his stencils, walked out of their room, and tossed them into the incinerator. He stopped a moment to watch the flames snatch and lick their prey, reducing weeks of work to shapeless ashes that could have been anything else—a recipe card, an ad, a pamphlet on new and exciting ways to save energy. They all became the same once the fire was done with them. When he came back into the room, Denver was already dressed.

“Almost time to get up anyway,” she said. “Bristol, does that scare you?”

“What?”

“Mom dying?”

“No.” Yes. “Everybody has to do it.”

“You don’t have to worry. I’ll take care of you.”

Most people, both registered and unregistered, avoided this topic. At the same time, these kinds of thoughts were intriguing—direct thoughts about privilege shared across the divide. Even from Denver, it felt simultaneously coarse and comforting, though they’d never talked in length about their differences in Tier. He didn’t like to think about it, and he certainly didn’t want to talk about it. Why would she bring it up now?

She’s getting married soon.

“You can live with me,” she said. “I’ll—”

“And what about this new husband of yours? What is he going to think of marrying someone who has a brother? I mean, what are the chances he’s even met an unregistered? Not good. What’s he going to think of you just taking care of me?” A hotness laced his mouth. “I’ll tell you what will probably happen when Mom dies. You and me, we’ll look at each other and remember seeing the other one in a smaller size, but we won’t really know each other as we are. And you’ll care more about your new family than me.”

They caught each other’s eyes. Denver walked over to the mirror and began brushing and pinning her hair. For several minutes, neither spoke.

Bristol rubbed his sore eyes. “It won’t be your fault. It’s no one’s fault. That’s just how the world works, Den.”

The sun had begun to soak the curtains, so Bristol stood and opened them to let more of it in. With a click, he turned their blue-tinted overhead bulb off and let his eyes adjust to the color of natural light.

“Thank you,” Denver said, her fingers still braiding.

“Do you think Fours have blue lightbulbs too?”

“Everyone does. These units were built right after the uprising, so they’re designed to only allow the color blue for lighting.”

“Why?”

“It was right after the uprising,” she repeated. When Bristol made no indication of understanding, she glanced at the holowatch on her wrist. It was silent, so she stood, pushed in her desk chair, and continued quietly. “People were unhappy. Blue lights make it harder to see your veins.”

Bristol nodded. Metrics underestimated how much some people needed an escape and would just invent new ways of getting drugs into their bloodstreams.

Denver sat next to him on his bed. “Listen, while we’re on Metrics—”

“I know. I have to stop.”

“You have to. You’ve been lucky, but it can’t last forever. I don’t know what Mom would do if—”

“I know, Den.”

“You wouldn’t have to stop drawing. I’ll still bring you paper when I’m married. You can still make things here.”

“You know how careful I am.” He closed his eyes. For as unlikely as her offer to let him live with her had been, he could see it had been honest. Be nicer. “But I see your point. I’ll stop someday.”

Denver stood and lingered by the doorframe. “It’s got to be soon. I’ll see you after work.”

She walked away, and an idea for a painting flashed just behind the space between Bristol’s eyebrows. Though his body begged for sleep, his hands, suddenly animated by some unconscious energy, fumbled under the bed for a sketchpad and pencil. He crouched over the paper, hoarding the white space and the possibilities it offered, clutched tight the idea in his mind, and began drawing.

Clark’s Birth Story

Clark Francis is here!

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THIGH ROLLS!

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.

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My bedroom, all decked out for birthing. My family and friends wrote encouraging messages on the flags for me to read during labor. 

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.

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I took this picture right before I went to bed, trying to see whether or not the baby had dropped. I decided he hadn’t. He had. 

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.

We’re screwed.

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:

“OTW.”

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.

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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: The Year of Adventure!

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.

AND

I’m opening a business with my family in Pittsburgh in a few weeks.

our silly pic at the OS conference last year

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.

Oh, yeah. We’re moving to Pittsburgh.

Make that four major life changes this year.

Halfway

I wanted to share two exciting developments:

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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!

Hooray for halfway!

Three True Stories

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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.

I’m ready to talk about my miscarriage

It starts as a message only you can hear.

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.

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How (not) to Inspire Change

 

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“This is a poison!”

Dr. Huizenga spat this out as an insult this week as he threw a handful sugar at Colby, one of the contestants on the biggest loser. I watched, knowing that reality TV has a way of making us relatively numb to this kind of unkindness and disrespect, as the show’s host and resident doctor used a number of scare tactics to frighten these troubled people into losing weight. Not long after he threw the sugar, he held up a card with a date on it to another man – March 20, 2020 – and told him that was the date he would die.

This is the way we’re told to treat people with big problems, and how we expect to be treated when we have a problem. Professional caregivers and loved ones are somehow trapped by their reverence of numbers (for instance, the statistic that 97% of people who lose 40 pounds or more will put it back on in five years or less) and are unable to see people’s problems at a more human level. There’s a misconception that there is no way this person will change if we don’t make them, so we show them the facts, use force, and introduce fear to get our points across.

Facts, force, and fear: As Alan Deutschman points out in his book, Change or Die, these are the usual guidelines people use in trying to change the behavior of others. The big problem is that the three F’s rarely work; “people aren’t motivated by the fact that they can live until they’re 86, not even if they’re 85,” he says. When you’re feeling depressed, hopeless, and powerless, getting through the day is much more important than getting through the year. And as for those scary facts, like your predicted death date if you don’t change your behavior? It’s just too scary. We would rather live in denial than have to think about the effects our behavior is having, no matter how dire the facts are.

And this can be a good thing! “If we constantly worried about everything that’s constantly threatening us – nuclear proliferation, terrorism, global warming, and the conflicts and crises described in most of the articles in the first section of The New York Times, then we’d have trouble calming down and summoning the focus, energy, and positive outlook to cook breakfast or drive to the office. Basic psychological heal demands a certain level of denial.”

In his book, Deutschman speaks with professionals to analyze what actually inspires change. A huge factor appears to be community. Finding a community, or even a single relationship, that expects the change you need to make will happen raises the chances of success. The community doesn’t just support your new lifestyle, they help you reframe your mindset by helping you live your new lifestyle. Relationships are crucial.

It also has to be the right relationship. Deutschman talks about when he became obese. He was working for GQ at the time, and the magazine paid for one of the world’s top trainers, who once held the title “Mr. America,” to help him lose weight in an elite NYC gym. Under his guidance, Deutschman gained weight. Some years later, he joined a small neighborhood gym in California and met a not-so-famous trainer who’d lived a life similar to his. They talked about music, and her “infectious enthusiasm” for exercise. He lost 40 pounds, and went on to become one of the 3% of people who kept if off for more than five years.

As a side note, I am doing this book no justice. Get it here and read it as soon as you can: http://www.amazon.com/Change-Die-Three-Keys-Work/dp/0061373672

Here’s what we can take away: scare tactics don’t work, on us or on other people. When you need to make a change in your life, surround yourself with people who expect that change to happen. And if you know someone who needs to change, don’t belittle them with facts, no matter how important the facts are. Be there for them, and lovingly expect the change. Embrace their new relationships with people who expect it, too.

And – I can’t believe this has to be said – don’t throw sugar at anyone.

 

Space

Welcome to January! It’s the time of fresh beginnings. I never liked this month until I began teaching yoga and experienced the flooding of new people into the studio. New people bring fresh energy, and I could just bask in it all day.

My husband came home from yoga last night with a nice thought: As we start this new year by cleaning up the remnants of the old, there can be empty space in our homes that was once full of joyful clutter. This morning, I am experiencing that for myself in terms of sounds (my joyful clutter is still on display) as I drink my coffee, journal, and watch my child play in silence. While the past two weeks have been noisy with hearty conversation and lots of baby-friendly songs, the airwaves this morning are still.

It can be tempting to fill this empty space right away with old, mindless ways. If you go to a grocery store this week, you’ll see candy hearts where the candy canes used to be. Instead of just filling space because it’s there, try to let it be. Enjoy the quiet, and think about the present, instead of what’s coming next.

As we spend time with ourselves, without any distractions to divert our interests, we can grow in contentment. Happiness doesn’t come from having many possessions, after all, but having few wants. Go ahead and look at that corner where your Christmas tree used to be, and realize that it’s perfect just as it is.

If you do not care for your body, where will you live?

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This post may seem like it’s all over the place, but bear with me: there IS a theme!

Lately I’ve been thinking of how great it feels when you feel at home in your body. In conversations with my family, friends, and students, I am reminded that everyone is in a different place in their journey and it’s important to encourage each other and share where we’ve found success with others.

Reflecting on my personal journey, I remember being disconnected from my body. In my early adulthood, I ate with the notion that whatever it was in front of my simply disappeared when it entered my body, not fully realizing that it became the fuel I needed to function. Both my actions and thoughts were sluggish, and I never thought to connect that to my habits. When I began to get healthy in 2009, I started with running (by which I mean mostly walking). I would run a little, then gasp for air. When I started doing research on proper form, then actually try to run that way, I felt almost immediately better. And the more I ran, the less I wanted fatty foods, sweets, and alcohol.

For the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of teaching our only basics class offered at the studio. I don’t have many regulars there, as most people use it as their springboard into other classes, but the few regulars I do have are amazing to watch – seeing them grow into comfort with their bodies is the absolute best. Their stamina improves. They become stronger and able to hold poses for a few more breaths. They begin to inhabit their hands and feet and they become more connected to these areas. I can’t tell you how awe-inspiring it is to watch someone’s hands go from lifeless fish in the air to fully activated parts of their bodies, with beams seeming to shoot out through each finger.

Recently, here in the midst of the holidays and the sugary food that comes along with them, someone I love was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to look at their beloved Christmas foods and know that their body was no longer able to process them. Fortunately, people living with diabetes can thrive and can live healthier lifestyles than those living without the chronic disease. This person has realized the truth and has already begun to live from it – take care of your body, and it will take care of you.

In the spirit of sharing successes, I’ll share a habit of mine that makes healthy eating easier: back in the fall, I read this post on my friend Ellen’s blog about planning your meals. I tried it and loved it! All you have to do it make a little chart, frame it, then write on it each week with a  dry-erase marker. You buy your ingredients for the week, and then you just make whatever you’ve planned for the night. I just plan dinners, and we typically have leftovers for lunch. I have two pictures below: one is a picture of an example of the chart fully filled out (I shared it with our 40 Days group a few months ago) and the second picture is the plan for this week. Get a jumpstart on January and try this out! It’s helped me think about respecting my body through nutrition. Let me know how it helps you!

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