Author Archives: Alissa

Fertility Warrior

It has been one year, one month, and fourteen days since I learned that my infertility treatment was going to be longer and more difficult than I expected. One pandemic, two egg retrievals, three surgeries, and a shitload of hormones later, I finally arrived at embryo transfer day. Last Tuesday, hopefully, at age 42, I finally became a mother. After waiting for so long it seems completely surreal, and after so many steps and distractions, it is also getting real.

In the spirit of self-preservation, I have had to take the whole fertility process one step at a time. I have had to focus on each day of drugs, each ultrasound, each surgery, each recovery as singular events to get through them without losing it. Meanwhile, I’ve had people reaching out to me about taking their baby hand-me-downs and a lot of well-meaning certainty from family members that this transfer is going to be successful. I would have loved to get excited, but I have been navigating the steps with a walled-off heart thanks to a long, difficult path (including the 10+ years before going to an infertility clinic) and some early disappointment.  However, even in my current state of spiritual ambiguity, I can still acknowledge that closing your heart to pain also closes it to joy. So, for the last two weeks I have been slowly lowering the drawbridge on the possibility of joy.

One of the things to unfold this week is an examination of how I actually felt about the big day finally being here. I have been so process-oriented since my disappointing first egg retrieval that I actually didn’t know. I know I have vaguely judged myself for not being more obsessed with the outcome of the process. So many women that I see on fertility online groups and message boards, fertility warriors as they sometimes call themselvs, are absolutely humming with baby fervor. Every waking moment appears to be full of nothing but baby and fertility obsession. That has not been my experience. I have rarely thought about the outcome of all of this. I haven’t gotten bent out of shape or all hyped up about every appointment and every step. I haven’t had much impulse to photo-document (there has been some, which maybe I will share some day). It’s basically just been a thing I’ve been doing. I have wondered at times if that meant that I didn’t want it as much as I used to; didn’t want it as much as my fellow fertility warriors. I might not know how bad I still want this if it hadn’t been for the sharp grief after every setback and the fact that I kept going, despite how hard it’s been.

Now that I’m on the other side of the hardest physical parts (I can’t say I’m past the hardest emotional parts yet), I know that some of my passiveness has been about self-protection, some has been about experience, and some might just have to do with my age. I think that the self-protection piece is pretty self-explanatory: if you don’t put a lot of energy into it it’s less likely to disappoint you. In terms of experience, I was a woo-woo girl. I have learned the hard way, and the intellectual way, that obsessing and desperation don’t actually change outcomes. Spending every waking minute thinking about whether or not I’m going to have a baby is not going to manifest a baby. It’s just going to stress me out and give me anxiety. Consciously trying to manifest a baby with my thoughts isn’t going magically bring a baby into being, and actually sets me up to blame myself for things that I can’t control (ie., no baby for any number of physical reasons).

Finally, I am 42. My clock stopped ticking awhile ago. When I was in my late-twenties to mid-thirties I was baby crazy, just like all the ladies that I see online. I won’t pretend to understand the hormonal motivators behind some of that (though I know there are some). But I do understand that you can’t maintain that level of highly emotional obsession forever without crashing. I was baby crazy for about 8 years, and here’s what the crash looks like for me: acceptance. At some point in my late thirties I began to accept that it might never happen for me. I was able to start picturing a life where I didn’t have children, and I had some time to come to terms with the fact that if it didn’t happen, I would be O.K. That doesn’t mean that my heart doesn’t crack open and make me cry every single time I think about actually having and holding a baby of my own. It doesn’t diminish my “fertility warrior” status.  

Now that I potentially have a little passenger, I am in the much-dreaded two week wait, when it is so easy to spin out. My dreams of having a baby feel so close, and I am trying to balance letting my heart open a bit more while still having reasonable expectations. Journaling, time with girlfriends, self-care, (mostly) good food, distraction, and A LOT of sleep are in order. And maybe some prayers and positive visualization…what can it hurt? There are no atheists in foxholes.

Third Time’s a Charm

As I mentioned in Empowered, on May 12 I had a second myomectomy surgery to remove more of the giant fibroid that has been keeping me from becoming a mother. Unfortunately, the surgeons were still unable to get all of it out safely in the second sitting. Not only was it large and connected to my uterine wall in multiple places, but it was also hard and vascularized, and difficult to cut. They had to end the procedure for my safety, to keep me from filling up with water like I did during the first surgery. On June 2 I had my third and final procedure. My surgeon and I agreed that the third surgery had to be the last, so I signed a consent for them to go in laparoscopically through my abdomen if they couldn’t complete the procedure hysteroscopically. The surgeon told me that he has done thousands of these procedures and that I was his most difficult case. What a way to be special, right?

Thankfully, I woke up without any stitches on the outside of my body. The team was able to finally end this period of surgical limbo that has seemed to drag on forever without cutting me. The head surgeon told my husband that they were so excited that there was a celebratory cheer in the operating room when the last chunk of tumor came out. After the second surgery I cried (along with the nurse and the resident) because I had to have a third surgery, and I felt like the trauma would never end. After the third surgery I cried because I was so filled with gratitude and relief.

In the interim between the second and third surgeries, I can say that I still didn’t slip into self-pity or full melancholy. However, I did feel a bit dead inside; so I can’t really say I wasn’t depressed. A malaise set in, and I didn’t know to where or what I could turn for support. My relationship with any version of God is tenuous at best right now. I lost all my new-agey “woo” beliefs between going through IVF and listening to a whole lot of Conspirituality Podcast. I was sensing that the people in my life were hitting a point where they didn’t know how to respond to my continued surgical adventures, and I felt like I was no longer connecting with the therapist I had been seeing for the last year and a half. I also couldn’t go to my old unhealthy coping mechanisms like smoking and drinking, because obviously physical health is paramount when trying to have a baby.  When it felt like there was no direction to go with my emotions, I guess I just checked out and went into autopilot to get through the surgeries. Let’s just say there has been a lot of TV watching and overdoing it at my day job.

Now that the surgeries are done, some of the malaise has lifted, and I recognize that I need to reestablish some habits that will help me stay embodied and grounded through the next part of the process (implantation). A big lesson that I’ve learned this year is that part of being the hero of my own story is being willing to practice. It is understanding that ease will never come without the sometimes un-fun but necessary daily habits: Do the yoga practice. Take the walk.  Write for an hour. Show up for yourself. It’s not something that comes easily to me – I am a master at being “busy” as a form of distraction and overperforming as a means to feel in control. Practice without knowing where it is going is patience embodied (a.k.a., a big challenge).

Here, finally at the end of Phase 2 of my fertility prescription, I still feel strong. I still feel proud of what I have done and what I have made it through already on the road to becoming a mother. This summer I will focus on practice, not only for myself and my own wellbeing, but also because I would love to be able to model showing up for oneself for my children, once they are here.

Empowered

The fact that I happen to be heading towards becoming a mother at the same time that I’m having a mid-life reckoning is super-fun. Now I’m not only trying to birth an actual child, but also all of the other things that I want to birth in my life, like essays and books and articles and a daily and more robust yoga practice. The fact that I am picking up a dropped thread with most of those things can feel an awful lot like failure or hopelessness. For a long time, it was my habit to lean into my feelings of failure and wrap myself in “poor me” mentality. It can feel good to feel bad. It can make you feel justified about making unhealthy indulgences and wasting time. I always had magical thinking to fall back on; I was sure that if I just did enough visualization and ritual everything would work out.

Back in January when I lost my magical thinking security blanket, I began a spiritual crisis. The crisis is largely around redefining my idea of God and my relationship with whatever that is, and my current spirituality is still an ungrounded mess that is just beginning to get sorted. However, one of the unexpected gifts of “losing my religion” around manifestation is that I’m no longer falling into the “poor me” hole so often. Magical thinking not only puts the blame on individuals for things outside of their control, but it also depends on some ambiguous thing outside of oneself to do the heavy lifting of dream-making. It can distract and detract from the personal work and changes in behavior that need to take place to actually make things happen. Though magical thinking gave me an illusion of control, losing it has made me feel more empowered.

Two weeks ago I had surgery to remove the giant fibroid that had made me unable to carry a baby. Once the surgeons were in my uterus, they were able to see that it was even larger and more complex than they were able to see on the MRI. The method of this particular surgery can cause a patient’s organs to take on water if it lasts too long. My fibroid is so large that they had to end the surgery before they removed it all because my lungs were beginning to take on water. Waking up coughing in the recovery room was scary, and I had to unexpectedly spend the night at the hospital so my oxygen levels could be monitored. I will now need to have another round of the same surgery in a couple weeks to remove the rest of it. A year ago this would have all sent me into a self-pity downward spiral. Honestly, I think this one would have been justified. I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling sorry for themself after all the shots and the four surgeries it’s requiring for me to do a perfectly normal, natural, basic thing like have a baby. Weirdly, I don’t feel sorry for myself.

I have always wanted to be a mother. It is one of my dreams for my life.  Thanks to medical science, pregnancy is a possibility for me when it would have been impossible otherwise. The same benevolent mother nature to whom my woo woo crunchy granola self had capitulated turned out to be the thief of my dream thanks to her giant fibroid. I understand that I am blessed to have the resources and technology at my disposal to choose this process, and that this process is a privilege. However, I am also choosing the hard thing. The painful thing. The very expensive thing. I am not giving up. I am doing everything it takes for me to become a mother. Even when some might argue that maybe God or the “universe” didn’t want me to. And that makes me feel powerful. That makes me feel like a badass. That makes me feel like a true creator of my own life. Now I sincerely know my own power to make my dreams happen.

Mama is a Realist

I think that the events of the last year have definitely accelerated the mid-life crisis I was already beginning to experience in late 2019.  I thought of it as a mid-life crisis at that point, anyway. ‘Crisis’ implies fast movement or the need for immediate reaction. I’m beginning to look at it more as a reckoning. Changes are happening, but much slower than in a crisis.

I have learned that a major element of mid-life reckoning is grieving what didn’t happen. Sometimes that has to do with personal choices or things that you can still do something about (ie. writing that novel…or buying a Ferrari). Sometimes it’s just that life is nothing like how you pictured it or dreamed it and you just need to mourn the loss and move on.  In my case, specific to trying to have a family, a major elimination has happened in both what I perceived as normal and in what my dreams were for the processes of being pregnant and giving birth. When I got married at age 28, I assumed that I would be pregnant within a couple of years. I assumed that we would conceive easily, and that trying would be this lovely time of connection between my husband and me.  I pictured my pregnancy as young and glowing and full of love and life. That’s just the way things go, right? I was also very into all things natural and holistic, and envisioned myself doing a lot of prenatal yoga and working with midwives and giving birth without the aid of drugs in a kiddie pool in my living room. My visions of raising my kids were similar to how I was raised: by younger people who were learning the world along with me. I was picturing myself as a different type of mother than I will likely be.

The reality is that I’m at an age where my body hurts in the morning just from sleeping, without carrying another human. I look like I’m 41. I have some collagen loss in my face. I already have a mom-bod without having actually given birth. I do not look 28, I do not have the energy of a 28-year-old, and I never will again; pregnant or not. The probability of radiant mama vibes during my pregnancy seems pretty low. Obviously, with IVF there is also absolutely nothing even remotely natural about the process of conception thus far. Every single thing has involved scientific intervention. Our one tiny nod to leaving anything to chance is to implant the embryos in the order that they were created. I’ve already had to make my brother (aka future “fun” uncle) promise that he won’t call my children test-tube babies to their faces. Because I am older and will need to have surgery via my uterus to make this pregnancy happen, there is a high likelihood that I will need to give birth via C-section. There is still some hope for delivering naturally, but I am high-risk so it will definitely be in a hospital with an ObGyn (and hopefully a midwife, too!).

My idealistic vision of early motherhood literally can’t happen. There was a time, a pretty long time, when I was angry, resentful, and so unbelievably sad about that. I was self-soothing with negative emotions, which is O.K. for awhile, but eventually it becomes a trap. Once I identified what was happening as grief, I could choose to actively engage with it. Then I could realize that internally fighting things that I can’t change leads to misery and inability to appreciate what is. I won’t be the mother I thought I would be. Instead, I will be a mother who has gone through some shit and now has the wisdom to better discern what’s important. I now know that, even when things are hard and messy, I can let go of what isn’t, be present to whatever reality motherhood presents, and love it anyway.

Grounding

I am not a patient person. I hear very often that others experience me as calm, or that I am calming to them. I am glad that I am grounding to others, but I wish I was equally good at grounding myself. My inner world is a constant spin that drives me to try to control situations and timing, either through over-performing or through magical thinking. In the case of my IVF process, magical thinking was my go-to.

The common definition of “magical thinking” is the belief that one’s thoughts can control reality. This often shows up in yoga and wellness communities (well, and at this point, just on the Internet in general) as “manifestation.” I don’t think that magical thinking is the only way to frame up manifestation, but I think that definition has become the most common belief for how manifestation happens. I did not know how committed I was to manifestation, how integrated it had become into my worldview, until the experiences of the last year undid it.

During my first cycle of IVF stimulation, I went deep into “mama vibes.” I was doing intention setting, intentional journaling, fertility meditations, all sorts of visualization, and sending positive energy into my ovaries. I was doing all the things that are recommended for successful manifestation, and I had strong faith that it was working. For all of December I had this glow of confident motherhood. I felt my ovaries filling up and responding extravagantly to the stimulation drugs, and the medical professionals affirmed that what was happening in my body was very unusual for anyone, much less someone who is 41. When they retrieved 33 eggs it really seemed to confirm that my manifestation efforts were working.

When I learned that all my efforts and my crazy number of eggs had resulted in only one viable embryo, it was crushing. It was crushing because I had been so confident that my stimulation cycle would result in enough embryos for more than one child, plus a couple to spare. Now I would have to go through stimulation and egg retrieval again, which is physically, emotionally, and financially draining. It was also crushing because it triggered a crisis of faith.

The crisis of faith is far reaching and ongoing, but the outcome specific to my IVF experience was feeling that there were three explanations for only getting one embryo: 1. God really doesn’t want me to be a mother, 2. my efforts at manifestation weren’t good enough (ie. I’m not good enough), or 3. my new age-y manifestation beliefs might just be bullshit. In any case, my doctors assured me that the results of the egg retrieval had nothing to do with anything I did or didn’t do. It is pretty straight forward that the cause is only my age and that the quality of everyone’s eggs declines as they get older.  

As often happens during a crisis of faith, this one event didn’t just cause me to question manifestation “gospel”, but also caused a temporary collapse of faith in anything that I couldn’t see or experience for myself. Almost all the woo-woo new age stuff that I had leaned so hard on for so long went out the window (along with more traditional prayer) and I functioned through January on a barebones yoga framework of getting out of my head and into my body through daily asana. Literal embodiment. My second cycle of stimulation was very different as a result. I didn’t assign any spiritual significance to the process. The shots were just shots. The follicles in my ovaries were just follicles. The eggs were just eggs. The embryos were just embryos. When I learned last week that only two of the twelve embryos from round two were viable, it was not crushing. In fact, I feel grateful. I feel grateful that there are now three little seeds of potential for me to become a mother.

It turns out that the real key to getting grounded is to surrender the illusion of any kind of control, get present in your body (which is itself the ground, the home for your life), and let things unfold in their own time from that place. I knew that conceptually from yoga philosophy, but this experience has really made me feel it. It’s going to take continued practice, because I don’t love waiting, but I hope that the roots have finally taken.

Fertility

My particular pandemic pain point has been the pursuit of motherhood. Motherhood, or lack thereof, has been the most painful element of my life for 13 years. I am a person who has never questioned whether or not I want to be a mother. I have always wanted it. When I was young it was completely a matter of course that I would have children. No question about it. I went off birth control when I got married in 2007. When I was 28. And then…nothing. For 13 years I have lived in this painful limbo, with the last year being the most excruciating in some ways.

Throughout the entirety of my 30’s I was holding my breath, waiting for the pregnancy that never happened. I watched as friends had babies, and then watched as those babies grew into children and those friends grew into parents. I also watched myself disappear into my grief about it. It felt like all of my dreams and inspiration for what I wanted my life to be died along with the dream of being a mother, like all potential for who I could have been faded away. I gained a bunch of weight and became prematurely middle-aged by age 33. I vanished into the idea of being a total failure. I was too depressed and hopeless to pull myself out of it in terms of focusing my life on something else, and my husband and I couldn’t afford fertility treatment or adoption. I basically lost a full decade of my life to despair and hopelessness.

Sometime around age 38 the fog began to lift a bit. I did yoga teacher training, went to Thailand, finished my Thai Yoga Bodywork certificate. I began to resurface, to find myself again. The other thing that happened was that my husband’s career took off, and mine did, too. We were finally making pretty good money. The year I was 39 we bought a house in the city. The year I was 40 we started pursuing fertility treatments. That was a year ago, one month prior to pandemic lock-downs beginning in the U.S. We had a plan in place to start towards intra-uterine insemination (IUI) in March. Then the fertility clinic was shut down due to COVID-19. It was July before we could get back on track with the plan. I’m not going to lie; I did a lot of drinking during that four-month period.

 In late July 2020 I started taking the hormones for IUI. I went in for a baseline ultrasound and found out that, though my hormone panels were perfect and I have a freakish number of eggs for my age, my uterus looks like a war zone. I have giant fibroids, polyps, and a huge cyst on my right ovary. After confirming all of the above with a sonohysterogram (super pleasant procedure), the clinic pronounced me no longer a candidate for IUI. If I wanted to proceed with trying to have a baby, I would need to do In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). For me that would involve retrieving my eggs, making embryos, having them tested, freezing the viable ones, having surgery to clean up my uterus, letting my uterus heal for at least three months, and then putting the embryos in one by one until one of them takes.

Now, in February 2021, I am healing from my second egg retrieval, which happened last week. In the first egg retrieval, out of 33 eggs (a freakishly high number for a person of any age), 20 were mature and 16 fertilized. Eight embryos developed enough for genetic testing and only one of those did not have a chromosomal issue that would cause miscarriage (the doctor assured me that it was entirely due to age and not anything I had done or not done). We decided that the entire weight of our parenthood dreams was an awful lot of pressure to put on one little embryo, so we went for a second round. In round two we got 30 eggs, 24 were mature and 20 fertilized. Twelve developed enough to be tested. Next week we will find out how many were viable. Regardless of how many that is, we will not be doing any more egg retrievals.

The next steps for me are an MRI and a consult with the surgeon who will be fixing my uterus. That is in early March; a full year after lock-downs began. For me, as for many others, it has been a year of waiting. A deeper pressing of pain points. A development of patience. And maybe, hopefully, dreamfully, optimistically, a time of incubation.

It Just Is

This pandemic time has been a giant lesson in waiting and patience for the entire world. Everyone’s lives are on hold in one way or another. For some people that has meant visceral, earthbound threats to their basic safety and security. Their health, home, family, food, businesses, or livelihoods have been directly impacted. For almost everyone there have been impacts to mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being.  Pain is relative to life experience. No matter who you are, the pandemic is pressing on your personal pain points in some way.

I am a person for whom the pandemic has not created a great amount of physical threat. I am in my early 40s, I am comfortably middle-class, I don’t have any pre-existing conditions, and I have a day job that allows me to easily work from home in an industry that isn’t hit as hard by the pandemic as some others. Of course, I have some loved ones who I worry about in all of this, but for the most part my family, friends and I are living through this from a place of relatively high physical safety. I recognize that physical safety is a privilege. I am aware of it. I am grateful for it. I am doing my best to use that recognition to fuel compassion and action for others. On the flipside, it doesn’t mean that my own pain points have stopped existing and aren’t amplified by the present world situation. The question is, can I hold space for awareness and compassion for others, and for awareness and compassion for myself?

Self-love is not something I’m good at. I struggle with it in the best of times. The world has been so intense for the last eleven months that it’s made it easier than ever to fall into the trap of having “no right to bitch,” into martyrdom, into self-harm at worst, or neglecting self-care at best. For the first six months of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time in my numbing habits: drinking too much; eating too much; watching too much TV; scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Then, sometime in August, something started to break. For the first time ever, I actually started to get consciously bored with my numbing habits. I think I had been bored with them for a long time, but I started to be aware of the boredom. I got sick of drinking. I started to get sick of overeating. I started to get sick of watching TV. I definitely got sick of scrolling.

As those things have become less compelling, they’ve left a vacuum. There is a space for me, unfilled by social obligation or fear of missing out, where I can gently explore the pain points that have been ignored and then pressed on by circumstance. I started blogging on this site when I was 28. I abandoned it and came back to it here and there throughout my 30s. The whole point of it was always to try to write my way into one piece. To share the process of it, and to thereby feel less alone. Now I am alone for real, and it is the thing (along with a healthy dose of maturity and experience) that has me finally, very slowly, easing my way into becoming myself, I hope, at age 41.

I am not saying that I don’t still feel lonely, or that I don’t still bang my head against the confines of the pandemic on a daily basis. I am certainly not fully on board with the idea of the pandemic being a blessing. To try to optimistically re-frame it only as an opportunity to slow down and reconnect with yourself and your values is disrespectful to the big picture of how much loss and suffering has been endured already, and how much there is to come. I am just saying that, like many, many difficulties in life, the pandemic just is. There is nothing I can do to control it. And nearly eleven months later there is just the teeniest, tiniest hint of sweetness unfolding.

Homecoming

Living at my Grandma’s former home, where I spent so much time as a child, I have a lot of moments where I’ll be going about my business and suddenly be transported into memories of the past. I’ll be walking by the green pole barn and suddenly I’m 5 years old and helping grandma put the pets to bed there, or running around on the dusty, straw-smelling floor and climbing up on the farm equipment while dad works on one of the cars, or sitting on grandpa’s lap as he let me “drive” the tractor out of the big back door.

I will be down by the old wooden barn watering trees and suddenly be eight years old and watching my little brother attempt to scale the silo ladder (he fell, and got zapped pretty good by the electric fence). Walking by the big trees on either side of the walkway up to the house, and then I’m four and using the hose to make little pools in the bowls created by the giant old roots. Playing ball with the dog on the drain field, I’m often brought to the oddly silent fort provided by the long, thick branches of the willow tree that’s no longer there, nothing but my nine-year old self, the sound of cicadas and the concentration of weaving willow branches into crowns or bracelets. There are thousands of this type of mental snapshot here.

Me at age 2 standing in front of what is now my front door with my first dog, Tanya.

Me at age 2 standing in front of what is now my front door with my first dog, Tanya.

There are also a lot of moments of just being stricken by the weirdness of carrying out my daily adult life here. I’ll be laying on my couch watching TV and suddenly feel like it’s just too bizarre that I’m watching Family Guy in the same place where I used to watch the Mary Tyler Moore Show or the Golden Girls with grandma and grandpa. Sometimes while I’m cooking it will hit me that I’m walking the same floor, carrying out the same motions, that grandma did while making every meal for 50 years. The weirdest is having fires out in the pit that we made in the pasture, enjoying a couple of drinks, and thinking “what am I doing here, drinking beer and carrying on like the ghosts of my childhood aren’t hanging around?”

Grandma, me and my brother in the kitchen circa 1987.

Grandma, me and my brother in the kitchen circa 1987.

The feeling is a strange mix of deja-vu, amazement, and disorientation that bring to mind the Talking Heads song:

“And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

The snapshots of childhood remind me about wonder, freedom, and the joyful creativity of being a child left to herself in an expanse of nature.  I can remember exactly what I was feeling or thinking about in a lot of those snapshots. They are amazingly pure visions back into the essence of who I am when all the stress and pressure, failures and semi-mandated accomplishments of my adult life are peeled away.The moments of plain adult weirdness about the overlap of history and present are little shocks of “who am I and how did I get here? What the hell happened?”

Sometimes these moments will make me feel sad, mournful for the perfectly formed little person I was, and for how far she has been buried. Or sad because I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the decisions about what to do with the gift of this place, and the fear of doing things wrong; especially with the knowledge about everything I’ve already done wrong in my life. Other times, and these are the ones I am really trying to focus on, I am inspired to tug that little girl back into the present and get to know her again. To use her joy and love and fearlessness as a guide for correcting all the things I’ve screwed up while making decisions out of fear. To know that the sudden feeling of elation that comes with that inspiration is what it feels like to do what’s right for my soul.

Even with such constant and intense reminders, it is hard to make the minute clicks in behavior towards more personal authenticity. Frequently I’m lonely and scared and running back towards approval-seeking and all of the other things I do to soothe the unsettling feeling of free-falling into the unknown that being authentic represents. But the moments of heart-bursting “rightness” are increasing, and they are inspiring many subtle shifts in how I interact with the world. I am still very, very tentative, but I am also deeply grateful for whatever currents brought me home to the farm where I can hear myself again after so much time spent thrashing around just  trying to stay afloat. 20140831_220347

Sounds of the Farm

The other night I awoke to the sounds of coyotes in my yard. I hear them every night in my neighbors’ yards, but had never heard them in mine. I assume this is because I don’t have any animals that they like to prey on.  Also due to not having to worry about them eating my property: I usually enjoy the sounds that they make. However, when it’s happening right out your window, it is pretty eerie. As I laid there listening, it sounded like it was actually just two that had become separated from the pack and were trying to get a read on where the pack was. There was a lot of call and response. I haven’t heard them in our yard again since, but it did get me to thinking about the sounds of the farm v. the sounds of the city.

In Uptown the nightly noises were cars, sirens, buses, motorcycles, people yelling in the streets or in the surrounding apartments/buildings, instruments of every type and skill-level blaring out from windows (including beginner trumpet. That was fun! Ugh.). Loud noise was constant there, and I was so accustomed to it that I didn’t really hear it anymore. When we first moved out to the farm the silence was a bit disconcerting. Then I began to notice that it’s not that there isn’t noise, it’s just that the noises aren’t generally as irritating as the sounds in the city: wind in the trees, our neighbors’ sheep bleating or cows lowing, coyotes, crickets, cicadas, birds, distant train whistles in the valley. There are, however, some notable exceptions to the generally peaceful sounds.

First up is gunshots. Everyone around us owns guns and they like target practice. That’s just a given and a truth about living in the country. There will be guns. Despite being generally scared of guns, I know that it’s not very smart of me to be without one myself out there. There are enough large predators in our area that, once we do have animals, a gun will be a necessary evil. I really can’t see myself ever enjoying them, though.

Next is the sound that I like to call “Mad Cow.” Because that’s exactly what it is. A city girl like me had no idea that cows make an insane screechy sound when they’re pissed off. It sounds a little bit like a donkey braying, but every bit as loud as one would imagine an 800 lb animal can be. The nearest cows are at least 5 acres away, but when they’re ticked it sounds like they’re standing in my yard.

This last one is an anomaly, but it’s kind of a funny one. Even though people don’t live on top of each other in the country, the flat landscape on the plateau ensures that sounds carry. It’s not unusual for us to hear music coming from our neighbors a mile away. One Sunday night I was getting ready for bed and, rather than the peaceful sounds of the country, an unwelcome throwback from Uptown began drifting in through my open windows. One of my neighbors was rocking out on his drumset. Like, crazy rapid-fire heavy metal drumming. It sounded like it was in my basement. I am a big music fan, but I have never been big on drum solos (particularly the ubiquitous 4 AM bongo jams that happen at music festivals).

I would have never imagined that I would have to deal with  the infamous “bongo-rage” on the farm, but I felt the flames of the rage rising. Entitled thoughts such as ” this is why I don’t live in Uptown!” and crazy scenarios, starting with me going over and yelling and ending with me calling the cops, went through my head (I was, afterall, trying to sleep. It was 11 on a Sunday! This was outrageous!). After stewing for awhile (this neighbor must have A LOT of energy. He hardcore drummed, non-stop, for about an hour!), I suddenly heard that the drumming was being punctuated by a different kind of percussion: the sounds of sheep bleating. That snapped me out of the rage in short order! Then I just had to laugh at the absurdity of a farm-animal-laced rock-out session. Which made me laugh at the absurdity of how intolerant I’ve become. I used to have to listen to much worse in my apartment. A little farmhouse rock shouldn’t get to me, and is a small, and sort of comical, price to pay for the usual tranquility.

 

Renewal

I have recently been feeling a big pull towards the concept of renewal. It makes sense. It’s spring time, and the winter sucked really hard this year. But I am feeling it in a way that is a little more intense than the norm. I think a lot of it comes from living on a farm, and just being more generally in touch with what nature is doing. Living here forces me to take a more active part in the cycles of the seasons. During the winter I had to learn to just sit with myself a little bit more than I’ve been used to. When big snowstorms came through it could be days before the roads were reasonable for driving into the city. There were several times where we had to cancel plans with friends because, even a couple of days after the storm, it would have taken us hours of stressful driving to connect with them. No plan, no matter how longstanding, is completely within my control out here. When nature has other plans, I simply need to relinquish my will to her.

Being forced to let go has changed me. I have a long-term habit of trying to control my environment in order to feel O.K. I have done this with my behavior and also with my thoughts and judgements. I know that most people do this; it’s what we call “ego.” This strange idea that simply having consciousness means that we also have control. Over and over again in my life I have made careful plans to try to control “my” world, and over and over again the real world has said “fuck you, chicky. This is not how I want it to go and I’m bigger than you.” The point of this blog was, as the name implies, to document my roadmap, my plan, to gain further control over my world. What I’ve learned is that I don’t, and can’t, have control. Trying to wrest control from the universe has actually been the biggest cause of distress and backwards movement.

I wish that I could say that over the long winter I took advantage of having so much unfettered time to myself (true to the story that I always told myself “I just don’t have time to write, exercise, meditate, etc.). What really happened was that, while having to sit with myself, I spent most of my time trying to escape myself. In the absence of my old city-living mode of escapism,hyper-socialization, I turned to higher levels of solo escapist activities: unhealthy and excessive eating, too much TV, too much drinking. Even reading novels can take on an obsessive quality for me. For a couple of months I was in the midst of the deepest depression I’ve had since I nearly lost it at the tail end of completing my master’s degree. I was dwelling a lot on everything that I have not accomplished in my life, and on how my life seemed to just be happening to me in ways in which I didn’t want to participate . I felt hopeless and dead inside, and as usual, couldn’t seem to conjure up the energy to do anything about it.

I’ve known for awhile that I am an escape artist. I can look back at my life and see a clear road to “anywhere else but here, with anyone else but myself,’ wildly zig-zagging and wrapping around and through the hard lines of control that I try to draw for myself. It is the counter-balance to the part of me that wants to control and be too perfect to ever really accomplish or create anything of value because life is messy. After being forced to hang out with myself more, I know more deeply than ever before that the escape-artist in me is there to keep me from seeing the things about myself and my life that I don’t want to see. In it’s most recent incarnation, it has been padding me from the whole idea that I have no control, when the truth is that taking one’s hands off the wheel isn’t the same as being a victim.

I started to come out of the depression in February, and have since been actively poking at the things in my life that scare me. I am still scared, but am coming round to the idea that in order to get past some things, I have to actually go through them. When your hands are off the wheel, your vehicle can go in any direction. It can go to places that scare you, or it can go to places that exceed all expectations of joy. Either way, if you jump out of a moving vehicle you are going to get hurt. The point is that I have to step into my various roles in life. That doesn’t just mean the parts that I “like” or feel safe in. Being able to observe myself a bit more closely than usual out in the country, I didn’t just see what I was doing via my escape-artist, I felt it. In the past I have beat myself up over returns to deep escapism. This time I have some compassion for the fearful parts of myself. However, I feel like the winter was a death-rattle of a lot of self-destructive parts of me. It was a final tantrum of the escape-artist. Now, little by little, I’ve been stepping back into my life. Even the scary parts. It feels like a revival, and even though I’m still uncomfortable, I’m grateful for it.