Saturday, April 30, 2011

it gets better

1. baby

When I was a college student working weekends at Book Soup, it was my job to shelve the childcare section, which is how I found myself reading The Kid, Dan Savage’s memoir about open adoption. (I was less intrigued by What to Expect When You’re Expecting, with its cover mom staring sedatedly from a rocking chair.) I wasn’t even out to myself at that point, although I had to admit I had a little crush on my fellow weekend-shifter Nancy. But I read The Kid with more interest than any straight girl with bio babies in her future should have.

This weekend, AK and I attended a two-day registration seminar with an open adoption agency. We’re still mourning the Squeakies; I think we always will be. But adoption takes a long time, and I figure I can fill out a few forms while I mourn. It also feels good to know I’m doing something to actively pursue having children, and that it doesn’t start with someone telling me to undress from the waist down (I know this is more or less how all babies are made, but it’s much less romantic when you hear it from an exasperated nurse with a Hello Kitty tattoo on her neck, although I suppose that’s what some people are into).

Here’s how open adoption works, to the extent that I understand it: You fill out a lot of forms. You ask everyone you know to fill out forms testifying that the information on the forms you filled out is true. A social worker visits your house and interviews you and your spouse separately and together, like on Law & Order. When it’s determined that you’re not a psychotic, debt-ridden, terminally ill criminal, you create an online profile and basically go on for babies and birth moms. A pregnant woman decides she likes your smile, or that your spouse looks like her cousin, or that you love hiking just like she does and contacts you.

If the three of you like each other in spite of (although maybe because of) the deep emotional shit you’re all going through, you call it a match and enter what one guy in our seminar described as baby escrow. When the baby is born, she signs some forms of her own and seals the deal. Or she doesn’t. Usually she does, but sometimes she changes her mind at the last minute. The State of California says it’s her right.

So even though AK and I left the registration session excited and hopeful, I still have a sense of having to work ten times harder than most people for a baby, with less chance of getting one. The gratitude/frustration dichotomy continues.

But once we find a birth mother who says yes, our baby—like Dan Savage’s—will always know who gave birth to him or her and the amazing journey all his moms made, and hopefully that baby will grow up with a sort of aunt/tia-like relationship with his or her birth mom.

2. heroine’s journey

This afternoon, I signed books (meaning I sat around and chatted with some nice literary people) at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. Then AK, Amy and I caught Dan Savage talking about the book version of the It Gets Better Project.

“All that crap you go through, that you don’t think you’ll live through, makes you stronger. It’s part of your hero’s journey,” he said. AK, who reads Homer and Jung in addition to Savage Love, was particularly moved by this idea.

At the signing afterward, I wanted to tell him that we’d spent the morning listening to a birth mother and an adoptive family talking about their experiences.

“My girlfriend is shy,” said AK, “but we wanted to tell you that we just registered with an open adoption agency. We both read The Kid a long time ago and were inspired.”

“Open adoption is the way to go,” he said. (FYI, he’s very cute in person—buff arms and sincere hazel eyes.) “And if you have a match that falls through, hang in there. Terry and I lucked out and it worked the first time, but we know so many couples who had a situation that fell apart and went on adopt kids. If it doesn’t work out at first, that’s not the baby for you. No matter what happens, don’t give up.”

I just nodded stupidly, hoping my face conveyed how much it meant to hear someone whose advice I’ve been taking for more than a decade give me advice about my own actual life. I fell apart a little afterward. Trying to have a baby has brought more hormonal and emotional change, scariness and uncertainty than I’ve had since I was a 14-year-old kid, lying awake at night terrified that I was gay and not being able to imagine what was on the other side of that ocean. But Dan Savage told us that this part gets better too, and I believe him.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

a very melodramatic and pretentious way of saying come to the book fair this weekend

Last night AK and I caught The Airborne Toxic Event at the Troubadour. It was a transcendent show—and I’m pretty hard to please when it comes to live music. I like comfy seating, discernible lyrics, good visuals. In other words, I want all concert experiences to be Rent. The Airborne Toxic Event comes pretty damn close. Their new song “All At Once,” with its sweet howling chorus and violin, is a meditation on life and death that made me cry like “Seasons of Love” (don’t laugh or I will show you a season of hate). The last lines:

And we all had just one hope,
there was someone looking down
to return our bodies to each other
and the ground

Simple, but so is grief, right? I used to dismiss writers who wrote about love and loss as kind of dumb and apolitical. But that’s all life boils down to, and politics are just about powerful people trying to outsource all the loss to less powerful people. Even though I feel like my mid-thirties have brought on some kind of radical if obvious paradigm shift, when I look back at the stuff I wrote a long time ago, it too seems to be about love and loss. Because that’s all there is.

A piece of something I wrote a long time ago*, about the itchy excitement of the possibility of love (love previously forbidden by the powerful!), is in the Heyday anthology New California Writing 2011. I’m in the very good company of Susan Straight and Michael Chabon, among others.

I’ll be signing it around 3-ish and hanging out with some of the other featured SoCal writers at the Heyday booth (#58) at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on Saturday. The festival is now conveniently located at USC. At 3:30 I’ll mosey over to the Manic D booth (#953) to sign Lilac Mines. If you read this blog, you either already have a copy of my novel or you’re just not into reading books (it’s okay; I’m probably not into something you really love). But maybe your cousin doesn’t have a copy, and maybe she’s into reading books. I’m just saying.**

*Meaning Lilac Mines. Can you believe I started it in 2002? I had never left North America. No one had ever broken up with me. Facebook was but a glimmer in Friendster’s eye.

**What I’m saying is, make me look like a bestselling writer in front of my editor.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

in which i judge the people who are judging judges

Lately my reaction to politics and life can be summed up a la Amy Poehler and Seth Myers: really? Really? The latest installment is the pro-Prop. 8/anti-gay marriage camp’s claim that Judge Walker’s overturning of Prop. 8 (which overturned the court’s overturning of previous anti-gay marriage laws; diamonds, or in my case green amethysts, are forever, but apparently everything else lasts about ten minutes) should be…overturned. Why? Because he’s in a gay relationship and would therefore stand to benefit from legalized gay marriage.

Yes. He would. But if the H8ers’ core argument is also true, a straight judge’s heterosexual marriage would be threatened by the legalization of gay marriage. So he would stand to benefit from not overturning Prop. 8. Of course I, and all sane straight people, totally disagree with the notion that gay marriage threatens straight relationships, but see how I’m using the H8ers’ argument against them? Ha! I should be a lawyer!

I know that mostly they’re just using every flimsy tool at their disposal, which is the job of any legal team. But there’s also an undercurrent of something more unsavory (unsavory-ness from the separate-but-equal folks? Shocking, I know). It’s this notion that being gay is a particular, active, opinion-instilling experience, while being straight is just a factory setting. And it can feel that way to gay and straight people too, just as you’re more likely to find white people who claim that they don’t see race because they have never left the factory where their race was the default.

Up in heaven or wherever, gay and black and deaf and telepathic are also factory settings, and if we were plopped into a world where everyone was telepathic, etc., we wouldn’t assume that telepathic judges had some freak-o condition that required them to recuse themselves on account of said freakiness.

Does that make sense? I’ve had a lot of caffeine today.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

saturday... the name of an Ian McEwan novel I just read, but if my Saturday was like the protagonist's, I would have gotten in a car accident, diagnosed a guy with a degenerative brain disorder, gotten mugged and then operated on my mugger. (Um, retroactive spoiler alert?) Instead, and thankfully, I just cleaned the house, took a yoga class, went to Jennifer's cupcake-decorating party and took in some art at La Mano Grafica.

The birthday baker in an occasion-appropriate apron.

Concept cupcakes by one of the more artistic party-goers. They had names like "Greenstravaganza," "Pinkstravaganza," etc. Jennifer's boyfriend Joel required us to name all our cupcakes as part of an experimental film he was making, which I cannot wait to see. My cupcakes were named "Choco-fly," "Foofaland" and "The One I'm Going to Eat." The latter had extra chocolate chips on it.

AK's and my cupcakes. Jennifer went all out with the decorations. At our disposal we had neon frosting, bunny Peeps, gourmet dark chocolate, edible Easter grass from Germany, crystallized ginger and like 14 kinds of sprinkles.

AK would like me to let you know that's a healthy grape in her mouth, not a giant jelly bean.

Jody contemplates his canvas.

Christine's cupcake was an odd Rorschach test. Someone thought it was a cat. Someone thought it was a self-portrait. I thought it looked like that Muppet chick who rocked out with Animal.

If REI sold cupcakes (and isn't it only a matter of time?), Jody's nature cupcake would be on the cover of the catalog.

After grabbing some green beans and seafood chow mein in Chinatown, AK, Leslie, Ellen and I headed over to La Mano Grafica in Lincoln Heights for a street art show AK had heard about. Pulling up to the address on a nearly empty street, we saw a bunch of tough-looking dudes in hoodies hanging out in front of a warehouse-like space. "I think we're going to stand out," I said, but the crowd inside was more arty and evenly gendered. The pieces in the show--all by artists who are currently working in the streets, according to one of the friendly curators--ranged from girls with giant booties and tag-style paintings to anti-war cartoons and a great chicken series.

This actual van was parked out front.

Ellen asked the friendly co-curator about prices. I think we might have led him on.

Do you know what a deep-fried $2 quesadilla tastes like? It tastes like doughy, cheesy, cornmealy heaven, that's what it tastes like.

The devil made us eat the quesadilla, and we have no regrets.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the bread and the matzah

It’s currently Passover and National Poetry Month, and I’m proud to say I celebrated both yesterday. First I crashed a workshop by the warm and inspiring Steven Reigns at the West Hollywood Library. One of the prompts he gave us was “write about a time you cross-dressed.” See results below.

Then I went to Jody and Christine’s annual-ish Alternative Seder, meaning they downloaded a current events-themed program (which has a Hebrew name I can’t remember, let alone spell) from and served tilapia and vegetarian matzah ball soup. I think my favorite prayer (blessing? toast?) was a two-parter where we said one l’chaim for the bread the Israelites intended to make and one for the matzah they made instead. That sounded about right to all of us: There’s the stuff you plan to do, and then there’s what life actually delivers. Both have their place.


In eighth grade I went to school
in men’s underwear: white Hanes V-neck
striped Gap boxers, waistband folded twice.
(Gina Ciccotelli rolled her boxers at the bottom too
and everyone said she was a slut.)
We wore these items with men’s tube socks
pushed down around the tops
of volleyball shoes. I was not a man
and I did not play volleyball
at least not well.

Did boys find us cute?
Did they notice, at least, Gina Ciccotelli?
Did our baggy clothes suggest the boudoir?
Draw attention to blooming hips
and brand new breasts?

The answers elude me
because I was dressing like a boy
to look like the girls
whose volleyball legs I studied in P.E.
telling myself there was a difference
between admiration, emulation
and lust.

Friday, April 15, 2011

my heart a slightly less dark knot

Last night was the first time in two months that I stayed out past 11. It was also the first time—and I’m a little ashamed of this—that I attended the Downtown L.A. Art Walk. Turns out it’s kind of big. Like $10 parking big (unless you venture east of Los Angeles Street, in which case it drops to $5—take that, Westside scaredy cat tourists!). It’s a little too big, Amy and I quickly decided. The galleries with their intricate ceramic vases and funky peek-a-boo line drawings get eclipsed by the hordes of people clogging Spring, Main, 4th and 5th. Every cupcake shop has a DJ who drowns out your order.

But our first stop was the Harlem Place CafĂ©, where Writers’ Row was featuring a handful of local writers who only had to compete with an espresso machine and a cash register, as every writer must learn to do. Bronwyn is a small person with a big voice, and she read a snippet from her story collection The Streetwise Cycle that was perfect for the time and space: short, sweet, Downtown-centric; narrative but not overly complicated.

Afterward we took further shelter in Metropolis Books and a store (somewhat arrogantly and prematurely) named The Last Bookstore. We are nerds. We are in our 30s.

Miraculously, AK found us on a corner crowded with revelers and food trucks, and we ate late-night dim sum at Urban Noodle. Despite my strong hunch that I’m not going to be a monthly Art Walker, I was glad for the crowd. I haven’t been much for parties lately. When people ask me what I do (a tedious question on a good day), I want to say, “Progesterone and a lot of over-thinking.” But crowds are different. You can lose yourself like a small handmade vase. There are bright colors and loud, indistinguishable noises. Maybe it’s a little goth to say this, but isn’t that why groups of people do anything? To hush the sounds of death that can get so loud in your head during a long freeway commute?

This morning I read a poem by David Hernandez called “Perspective: Madame Recamier of David, 1951.”* It probably shouldn’t be a revelation that poets think about death—they’re the original goths—but it’s nice to be reminded that even contemporary, happily married ones who also write YA books do:

Yes, I understand the feeling. I also obsessed over
death and obsessed over death and obsessed
over death until I turned into a wooden coffin,

my heart a dark knot on the lid. My love rolled me
on a dolly into Dr. Branko’s office on a Friday afternoon
and lowered me onto his leather couch. I told him

about the balcony, the edge of the curb, the thoughts
that ruffled their black feathers behind my eyes.
He gave me pills the color of flamingos, and in one week

my skin softened, my heart was human again. Still,
spirals of wood grain appear on my body like a rash. Still,
when my love and I flatten the space between our bodies

with our bodies, the air is perfumed with pine,
and every splinter she tweezes out from her skin
means: I love you. Means: I’m not okay yet.

*From A House Waiting for Music (Tupelo Press, 2003). Also, for the record, I have no plans to hurl myself toward any curbs. It’s more like sometimes I feel like the curbs are tiptoeing slowly toward me.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

what to wear in the valley of dry bones

God I love the Ironing Board Collective, especially Michelle Tea’s posts. A long time ago she edited an anthology about fashion to which I submitted a piece about my love of dancer warm-up gear. It was rejected, but that’s okay.

In addition to carbohydrate therapy, I did a little retail therapy this weekend. I did it at Target and I only bought two things. There’s a scene in an old episode of Friends where Chandler has a bad breakup and Monica and Rachel encourage him to drown his sorrows in ice cream. He says something like, “This tastes like crap.” They say, “When you’ve been in this game as long as we have, you switch to low-fat.” Target is low-fat retail therapy for the frequently emotional.

I’ve noticed that denim shirts are back, but I haven’t been sure whether I’m ready to party like it’s 1992. Then I found a cute denim shirt dress with a slightly flared skirt. It was like freshman year of high school meets Mad Men. I was in.

I also bought a white jacket because O Magazine tells me you can wear white, even if you’re not lunching in the Hamptons or lying on a beach in Miami. I’ve since realized the jacket is a tad small and not very conducive to leaning against the wall in the church courtyard next to my office, where I sometimes eat lunch. But it’s still cute.

Every issue, Vogue runs a first-person piece, the gist of which is:

My life was fabulous. I was a [successful author/happy wife/fun-loving starlet]. Then it all went to hell. I [gave birth to my daughter two months early/found out my husband embezzled $3 million/broke my back in a riding accident]. I thought things would never get better. But at the urging of friends, I gave myself a makeover. I [bought my daughter a tiny preemie-sized kimono/invested in a timeless camel trench/got myself a haircut that hid my hideous scars]. Things started to get better. I felt human. Fashion, especially expensive fashion, gave me the strength to carry on.

Because Vogue is populated by ladies lunching in white in the Hamptons, I always roll my eyes at such pieces (after reading every word, of course). But I kind of get it. When visions of the NICU were dancing through my head, I kept flashing to Veronica Chambers’ piece about the tiny kimono. When you’re surrounded by tubes and monitors and fear, any that reminder that fun and glamour are not off limits to you or your baby would be a godsend.

Going through difficult shit is an unwanted makeover of your soul. When you emerge on the other side of the Valley of Dry Bones, you are not the person you were when you started your journey (as the priest put it Sunday at church, although he did not mention fashion per se). You are a new you, like it or not, and you want some kind of external reflection of this. The most accurate reflection of the new you might be a baggy T-shirt covered in cat hair and long-out-of-style jeans, but you want to believe you are not just the old you minus a sense of safety and well-being.

That’s where fashion steps in: Maybe this shirt dress suggests the new you is a mix of hard-won wisdom and motherly instinct with a dash of adventurousness and a soupcon of fuck-you. Mostly, you don’t know who the new you is yet. But if you’re wearing new clothes, you can look in the mirror for a hint.

Monday, April 11, 2011

how am i? funny you should ask

Yesterday I ate like 14 cookies at Meehan and Sally’s housewarming and contemplated how drinking would be a more literary way to wallow (although AK pointed out that a booze hangover is rougher than a carbohydrate hangover, which I definitely have). Did I mention that I chased it with pizza? It was a flashback to my younger years, when every day was the last day before the first day of some diet that would mark the beginning of my new life.

Today I’m holding onto the healthy living wagon with one hand, basically being dragged through the dirt. I went to the gym this morning, where any sense of empowerment was tempered by every stiff ligament reminding me why I’d been away for two months and why I was back now.

Then I stopped at Starbucks where some stupid compilation of Mother’s Day songs* next to the mint display reminded me that this Mother’s Day will pack twice the crappiness punch as the past seven. I kind of lost it, and some guy asked if I’d like to pray with him. I said a firm thanks but no thanks, but the thing is, I have so much excess emotion right now that I’m looking for any audience that will take it. Anyone who asks “How are you?” is in danger of finding out.

So I had this little fantasy of telling him exactly what was up, at which point he would say, “You know that God hates the babies of lesbians, right?” Which would give me an excuse to scratch his eyeballs out, which is what I desperately want to do to someone. It’s an impulse that would be inappropriate to direct toward the 15 high school classmates that Facebook tells me are pregnant right now. (And these are the girls who put off having babies so they could get PhDs. I miss the days when getting knocked up was a mark of underachieving.)

But the prayer dude seemed nice and not even that crazy, and I realized that any notions of punishment probably stemmed from the bowels of my subconscious. Back when I was imagining that I might have to go live in the hospital for a month and a half, I thought, with some trepidation, Well, I guess I’m writing a nonfiction book about this experience. Now that my experience is much more mundane than the one in which I have high-risk preemie twins, I feel released from that mental book contract. If I do write a book, it can be fiction, which is the only place I’d let myself create a character who really believed that God hated her. Because my conscious, therapized, self-editing self—the one who’d have to narrate a nonfiction book—is much more enlightened.

*Okay, I just Googled that compilation. It benefits prenatal care organizations and accompanies a documentary about the life-threatening complications faced by pregnant women in developing countries. How evil is the girl who just did IVF and was like, “Put it on my tab, awesome insurance company”? I have to buy the CD now, don’t I?

Friday, April 08, 2011

the squeakies

1. seeds

Remember how, among my Facebook pet peeves, I mentioned “#9 the cryptic post that prompts confused, concerned comments”? Well, I realize that in some ways the past, like, six months have been one big long #9 here on Bread and Bread.

So here’s the story. The short version, which is not short. I’m coming out, but not in a disco way or even a fun pride parade kind of way.

On a long ago road trip, AK and I discussed the idea of having kids in that tentative way of newish couples who don’t want to seem overly eager or serious. I said I’d always thought about adopting. She said she thought it would be fun to adopt one and have one biologically. I said I was down with that, and thought she’d make a cute pregnant girl.

A few months later, she clarified, “Oh, no, I was picturing you getting pregnant.”

And so a seed was planted (not literally—that would come later). I, who had always wanted kids but had felt profoundly neutral about pregnancy—if I wanted to feel feminine, I would put on a dress, okay?—started liking the idea of being one of those cute ladies with a bump that tabloids can’t get enough of.

Our friends said encouraging things like, “Oh, Cheryl will get pregnant right way. She’s so healthy and disciplined.” Some subsequent medical tests said, “Mmmmm…maybe not.” I had a blocked fallopian tube and slightly low progesterone, which are considered highly surmountable problems in the fertility biz, but I’m a perfectionist. The body it had taken me years to learn to love and treat right seemed to have turned on me in a way that was startlingly reminiscent of the summer I was 11 and started my period. Then I was pissed about nature’s reminder that I was meant to have babies, not be an Olympic gymnast. Now it looked like I would do neither.

2. potions

That was June. My doctor assured me that a pill called Clomid would trump both problems, so I did my best to let go of preemptive pride in doing this naturally. Or as naturally as a procedure that involves a doctor and a catheter rather than a penis and a glass of wine can go.

In the fall, we bought the first of nine vials of frozen sperm from the various Latino gentleman that frequent our friendly neighborhood lesbian-owned sperm bank. This would be a good place to add that this process often had me ricocheting between gratitude and self-pity. On the gratitude side we have the fact that I live in a city that has a friendly neighborhood lesbian-owned sperm bank. And my little nonprofit has shelled out for a Cadillac insurance plan that not only covers a lot of infertility costs but considers “my partner doesn’t have a penis” as valid grounds for infertility. Finally, my dad has the means and generosity to pick up part of the not-insignificant remainder of the tab. And if AK lacks a penis, she does not lack balls or compassion or other rock-solid qualities that I never would have predicted such a laidback girl could have.

On the self-pity side, we have three failed IUIs, which is what they call the glorified turkey baster method. (There is so much lingo. When I first logged onto message boards that I never should have logged onto, I was like, “What the hell does ‘BFN on 12 dp3dt’ mean?” Now I have a 14-page Word document full of my own such notes.)

We considered in vitro fertilization, which I had always deemed the territory of rich people who thought their genes were special and didn’t want someone else’s damaged goods. I was way too much of an adoption advocate to do IVF, right? One day at church, which happens to be across the street from the sperm bank, I all but heard Jesus tell me to adopt. But that was before my third pregnancy test, when I was even more sure than the first two times that I was already pregnant. I stayed awake almost the whole night thinking of the faint pink line I would see on the test that I’d driven to CVS at midnight for because I wanted the most accurate brand and AK had hidden the box I’d bought the first time around because it was making me too crazy.

And then there was no pink line, and I felt like a dried up old loser in a world of blossoming flowers for the third time, and suddenly IVF seemed doable. It was a lot faster than adoption, and I wanted a baby yesterday.

So I took a deep breath and a lot of drugs. I read about the high success rates on my doctor’s website, then signed stacks of paperwork full of disclaimers saying that, if I got pregnant at all, it would be with Cyclops triplets whom I would proceed to miscarry. Whatev. I signed it all.

I learned how to mix potions like a chemist and shoot up like an addict. AK learned how to give me shots in the ass. In mid-February, the doctor and his team knocked me out and retrieved 17 eggs. I felt like the overachiever I knew I was meant to be. That weekend we went to my college friend’s wedding, where the toasts included a lot of talk about babies, and I wondered if she was already pregnant. I wondered if, in a way, I was too. Over at the lab, my eggs were being fertilized.

The following Monday I returned and they transferred three embryos back into my uterus and told me to lay down for three days. I was cool with that. I’d made a stack of meals for AK and my dad to bring me, and I was armed with season one of Gossip Girl. So, quite literally, I sat back and waited.

3. heartbeats

You know how they say, of various certainties that people try to undercut, “That’s like being a little bit pregnant!” As in, no such thing.

Reader, there is such a thing.

My March 2 blood test showed that my HCG hormone level was 9. Most doctors declare <5 not pregnant and >20 pregnant. Incidentally, there’s such a thing as having a little bit of cancer too. The human body is annoyingly ambiguous.

Much unfortunate Googling ensued, and I learned that it’s not so much the number as whether it doubles every couple of days. Size doesn’t matter. Mine doubled. Then it didn’t. Then it did again. Then everyone said, well, it’s really about whether you get a heartbeat at your first ultrasound. The limbo ripped me to shreds. I nearly ripped AK to shreds. Every nurse I saw was poker-faced. Keely, whom I’ve come to call my email doula, was the one person to be like, “Congrats! You are pregnant, mama!”

I held onto that and slowly I came to believe it. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I started bleeding. I thought it was all over. I left work like a crime scene and drove to my doctor’s office, where it became clear that my first ultrasound would not be a scene of AK and I holding hands and cooing over our baby’s heartbeat. It was one of aloneness and terror…but there was a heartbeat. And another.

“But wait,” I said, “my HCG was so low. I totally dismissed the idea of twins.”

“You get high hormone levels with fraternal twins,” explained the nurse. This was the same nurse who had a Hello Kitty tattoo on her neck and a history of losing faxes, so I wasn’t sure whether to trust her. But for once what she said made sense: “With fraternal twins, there are two placentas. With identical, there’s only one.”

In the space of an hour, I went from thinking I was having zero babies to knowing I had two, with good heartbeats. My doctor put me back on bed rest for the bleeding, which was much less fun when unplanned. AK and I celebrated—two little boys! or two little girls!—and fought about whether it was okay for her to go to the movies while I lay around angry and helpless. We talked, not for the first time, about couples therapy.

4. why

The bleeding stopped, then started again, then stopped again, though the heartbeats continued. My doctor was worried that he couldn’t see two amniotic sacs, and more Googling revealed that there are more types of twins than you could imagine (look up “half identical twins” and “chimera” if you really want to trip out), and that the ones who share a sac are in trouble. The treatment involves months of in-patient bed rest, daily shots and a C-section at 32 weeks. If you’re lucky. I imagined reams of disability paperwork and slept much less than any pregnant woman should.

When at first the babies had appeared so close together my doctor half wondered if they were conjoined, AK had said, “Hugs, guys. We just want you to be hugging.” Now we revised it to waving.

My doctor referred me to a guy with an extra fancy ultrasound machine—sometimes the membrane between the sacs just didn’t show up on regular old $30,000 machines. A specialist among specialists. Everyone raved about this dude.

We visited his office on Thursday. He did indeed have a screen that would make any sports fan drool, and when the cheerful technician inserted what Keely has accurately dubbed the dildo cam, it immediately showed two sacs. She left the room to get the doctor, and AK and I cheered and giggled about her Bugs Bunny scrubs.

“Waves!” AK said. “The Squeakies were waving at each other through their little membrane!”

We had nicknamed them after the preemie kitten Christine and Jody rescued near the holidays. Squeaky the cat fought hard but didn’t make it, and I couldn’t help but love him a little more than his alpha big brothers. Maybe it was bad luck to name your fetuses after a dead kitten, but Squeaky was a hero to me. I wanted my babies to fight like that.

The much-lauded doctor came in. And maybe I’m biased in retrospect, but he was a lot less gentle with the dildo cam than my regular doctor, and a lot freer with his hands. But what’s a little molestation in light of what came next—

“I’m a little quieter than usual,” he said, “because while there are two sacs, I’m not getting any heartbeats. And, look, you can see that they’re different sizes. This one has some kind of protrusion. I know it’s not much consolation, but this is one of those natural selection things. And it’s better when it happens early.”

Boom, done, your babies are dead. Feel grateful for the shit they tell you to feel grateful for and get shuffled out the special back exit so you don’t scare the real pregnant ladies in the waiting room. Schedule a D&C. Apologize to AK for calling it an abortion. Learn your insurance considers it out of network. Learn that Planned Parenthood only aborts living babies. Do the walk of shame back to your regular doctor. Cry in the office. Make more people uncomfortable. Get a hug from the acupuncturist, the one person who’s made you feel a little bit human during this process.

And that’s where we are now. We are both so, so sad. And grateful for each other. And still talking about kids. I told AK, “I’m so glad you don’t want to give up.” Because let me tell you how easy it is to click from a fertility message board to someone’s personal blog about how she tried to have kids for 11 years and gave up and moved to Holland. The entirety of some posts is literally “Why me? Whyyyyyyy?”

AK said, “That would seem like the saddest thing of all.”

After months of off-and-on bed rest and no exercise or sex on doctor’s orders, I’m looking forward to reclaiming my body for myself in the crunchiest most 1970s feminist way you can imagine. I want to make my own granola. I want washboard abs that no paparazzo could ever speculate was a bump. I want to run until I collapse. I want to drink and travel.

But mostly, I want a baby. Via AK, via adoption, via dumpster diving, anything. AK and I agreed that it’s hard to be so ready for something that isn’t ready for you. We created a space in our lives, and that space is empty. We have wonderful, supportive families and friends, not one of whom has lived up to the “people act like a miscarriage is no big deal” clichĂ©. But save for a few jokes about two-year-olds and teenagers, not one of them has volunteered to give us an extra kid they have lying around either, and it’s not like we can make one easily. It’s going to be a long time, and it’s going to feel as lonely as the long time it took to get here.

Rest in peace, Squeakies. Know that you were wanted, loved and worried about with a ferocity I reserve for those I care about most. Know that we were ready to give you everything we had. You will always be our first babies.

Monday, April 04, 2011

birthday equals....

I didn’t really want to do anything for my birthday this year, but that would have been like putting a knife through AK’s social butterfly heart, and it would have flat-out confused my dad, who has learned all social skills phonetically. He knows that birthday = dinner + presents + cake. My aunt Marc was in town from Michigan on Sunday, my actual birthday, so my grandma rounded up the usual suspects for dinner at her place. It took twenty minutes for me to assure my dad that it was okay to have a non-birthday-themed dinner on my birthday. To remove presents and cake from the occasion would have knocked his world right off its axis. Also, I really like cake.

Saturday AK and I convened a small handful of friends at Pure Luck, a veggie restaurant that wooed the non-veggie AK with its adorable happy pig logo. “Look at that pig!” she said. “If he needed a place to stay for a while, I would totally volunteer our house.” It was a funny menu—sort of vegan southern Mexican. You can order “pulled pork” or “carnitas,” both made from jackfruit, then chase it with fried pickles. I like a veggie restaurant that’s not afraid to fry something, unlike Buddha’s Belly, where AK and I ate with Jenessa on Friday night. They were a tad too quick to steam things and sprinkle them with four drops of oyster sauce.

Despite my firm “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” stance, dinner was lovely. Just knowing you have friends you could cry around makes you not feel like crying so much. AK brought a tasty if strangely Fourth of July-ish tres leches cake, which the chef refused to plate because it wasn’t vegan (should we have said it was tres soy milks?). But they gave us a stack of dishes and also told us that the coffee shop across the street was open if we wanted to duck out and get a latte to go. They’re very DIY over there at Pure Luck.

Christine asked if I had any birthday resolutions. “Just to take one day at a time and not obsess over the future too much,” I said, “which is sort of a non-resolution.”

Cathy thought it was funny that Christine approached birthdays like a to-do list. “Close your eyes and blow out the candles and make a resolution!” she said.

On Sunday AK met Marc for the first time. Afterward she remarked how laidback and nonjudgmental Marc is when it comes to her kids’ life choices and occasional drama. (Her son Cayle had been reminiscing about getting kicked out of continuation school.) I agreed that that’s something I’ve always loved about Marc: Drama is not the end of the world in their family. My dad and sister, on the other hand, talked about how they couldn’t watch the Olympics because it was just so agonizing to watch hard-working athletes lose. Can you see why I think every hangnail is a case of terminal finger cancer?

Still, I wouldn’t trade those worrywart Kleins for the world, or my drama-loving extended family, or my party-loving esposa, or my patient, amiable friends. Also, I really liked all the cake.

Friday, April 01, 2011

sometimes the creek effing rises, or what i read in march

If the Creek Don’t Rise by Rita Williams: Rita Williams' aunt Daisy is a hard character to like and, initially, a hard character to understand. The back of the book makes it sound like she's a classic striver who pushes the niece she's stuck raising to be the same. But she's also an unrefined country woman who cuts Rita down at every turn, calling her the N-word even more often than Rita's racist white classmates. As Rita struggles to make sense of Daisy's contradictions, so does the reader, and eventually we both see that Daisy--whose life of suffering has left her battered but not broken--could be no other way. Literature is full of stories of triumph over adversity; this is a refreshing and intense story of how a difficult past haunts even the strongest survivors.

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas: This book suffers a little from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman syndrome in that the main characters are miraculously free of the prejudices that mark their time. In this case, the Strouds are one of the only families in their rural Colorado town not to mind an influx of Japanese American detainees during World War II. In general, the characters tend to run all good (Strouds and Japanese) or all bad (the town's rapists, bigots and abusers--and there's at least one murderer on the loose). But it's still a well-plotted novel and a good depiction of home-front stresses, of which there are many.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: The first piece in this collection of connected stories could be one of those cryptic, slightly-too-quirky slices of life that are a little too prevalent in the genre, in my opinion. But what follows is proof that Jennifer Egan is after something real and deep: an intricately woven series of portraits (largely of people involved in the music industry) painted from different angles in different styles. Short, long, realistic, absurd, futuristic or story-as-PowerPoint-"slide journal." All this experimentation does not detract from the soulful, melancholy heart of the book. Time is a goon--it can chip away at your ability to love, your ability to engage with the world--but happiness can lurk in unexpected places, from a desert forest of solar panels or a sneakily marketing-driven outdoor concert. Sasha, whose mildly autistic son obsessively charts the pauses in rock songs, explains their importance: "The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn't really over, so you're relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL."