The Multi-Colored Womb

A Thousand Voices – Donald Saaf – 2011

Winter brings the return of the dream state, or maybe it’s too much or not enough or my broken-up sleep that explains the day to day watery-immersion of otherworldliness.

Last week, I dreamt of a womb-like container, belonging to another. She placed it on the shelf beside my single bed and then she turned to leave the dormitory-like space as it began to fill with others claiming beds and counters.

I never saw her face, but I continued to marvel at what she left behind–a multi-colored, beautifully-beaded container which served as a water bottle.

Each time I left my bed, however, I was consumed with frustration, because yet another new arrival made claims on the bed that was already mine.

One man, in fact, went so far as to lift my mattress off the frame and take it to the other side of the room–the men’s side, I suppose.

I crossed the space between us and protested. “This isn’t how it works,” I explained. “My things were already there.”

Apparently, the unspoken rules of the Kripalu assistant dormitory (of which I was readily practiced) didn’t apply here.

But where was here anyway? I looked around at rows and rows of beds that I hadn’t noticed before as the space approached full occupancy.

Were we some type of refugee?

I retrieved my mattress, but then wondered if perhaps others needed it more, and then I caught sight of the beautiful container again and smiled, making a mental note to find one for myself.

Days later, that beaded womb bled through my waking hours, speaking a language that I couldn’t quite understand.

Waking between the worlds like this, especially in the dark, wintry months, is welcome, even while it is disorienting (or perhaps because it is), leaving me bobbing in a soupy sea–reality flooded with dreams—where the constellation upon which I’ve relied no longer directs the course, forcing me to find new markers, inside and in other realms, obscured from reality’s view.

On Hope

I went to sleep to the sensual delight of an open window after so many weeks shut to the cold (after so many months soaking up the pleasures of scent & sound.)

I woke to a dream about the election and looked over at the clock to see a series of 1’s, but not four or three, but a stream…

I lifted my head to inquire further and realized that the red glow of the digital was reflecting off the headboard behind my husband’s head. IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

There I was in the center of a stage, seeing my feeling state reflected back by an amphitheater of fans.

There was FEAR, huddled together, down low, dressed in black cloaked garments.

I was surprised to find myself waving at FEAR, and soothed by my own connection and compassion.

Above the dark mass, there was HOPE, fanning out and filling the stands, waving banners and cheering enthusiastically.

My spirits lifted higher. I smiled and waved at HOPE too, realizing they clearly outnumbered their brethren below.

As I drifted back to sleep,other feeling states on a series of more alarming topics–national, global, personal–were reflected by the crowd.

There were the darkly dressed, huddled ones, who never grew much in size and simply desired connection and safety; and above them, in the stands, the crowd that dwindled with each ensuing topic, until there were only one or two remaining, who weakly waved flags.

It occurred to me then, it’s not that we must rid ourselves (or this nation) of FEAR, nor dismiss or ridicule it, but instead pack the stands with HOPE.

Gun sense.
Climate change.
Women.
Children.
Other marginalized groups.
Democracy.
Integrity.
Honesty.
Accountability.
Livable wages.
Healthcare.
International leadership, learning & listening.
Diplomacy.
United Nations.
Alternative energy.
Rural communities.
Vibrant cities.
Farmers.
Clean water.
Protected natural spaces.
Diversity of species.
….
….
…..

The Blue Lady

 

I became a mother this week on a rainy day much like today, but I don’t remember getting wet. What I do remember is my acute embarrassment.

“Please don’t use the sirens,” I said to the ambulance driver.

(Doctor’s daughters don’t do emergencies.)

I don’t remember if Casey rode up front, but I do remember asking if Mary could join me in back. It turns out they were relieved to have a midwife on board.

I watched as the farmhouse and the barn and the Deerfield River feathered from view and we approached the village where I’d moved to teach school two years earlier; but I don’t remember much else except for the mountaintop that we climbed on our way to the nearest hospital, thirty-some minutes away.

As we bounced over Hogback Mountain, I looked out at its three-state view, while the young EMT, fearing a delivery, attempted an IV into my right hand. But she needn’t have worried. I had already told the baby to wait, and although my contractions had been steady and strong since my water broke just before dawn (a good thing since my husband was heading out the door to go fishing for the day… before cell phones), I hadn’t experienced a single contraction after stepping inside the ambulance.

“How far along are you,” my sister asked when I called that morning to apologize. She’d sent her 9-year-old on a plane from Florida to visit us for two weeks and I had promised not to go into labor during his stay. “First babies always come late,” I reminded this mother of three, so eager was I to see my nephew.

“Well, it must be early labor,” she said, “You’re too calm.”

When Mary arrived shortly after that call, I asked if she’d would mind waiting to examine me, so consumed was I by contractions.

She made the same assumption about the progress of my labor given my steadiness.

When she finally did check my cervix, there were three surprises.

“You’re 8 centimeters already,” she said, astounded. “And something else.”

The something else was what resulted in several phone calls to area hospitals and then an ambulance ride down the river through the village and over the mountain toward the big town.

“I am not going out on that stretcher,” I told the EMTs when they arrived in my kitchen. “I don’t want to upset the neighbors.”

Casey had just come in from hanging the diapers on the line, and before we all left out the back door, I pointed to the doughs on the counter. “Will you put those back in the freezer,” I said to him, feeling a pang for the meal we would never share with our home birthing team.

“I bet this is a boy,” I’d joked to Mary in the ambulance, given that I had been told by more than one intuitive that this baby would arrive “after” my due date (not almost two weeks before it) and that the baby would be a girl.

Mary later told me of the third surprise, that instead of a head, she’d felt testicles.

And although I hadn’t experienced any contractions on the ambulance ride, coaxing the baby to wait, she later told me that my labor had indeed progressed. I was fully dilated by the time we arrived in the emergency room.

“She’s in labor?” the front desk nurses said, as I was wheeled past them.

“She’s still in her street clothes,” two others said, as they looked into the examining room where I was lifted onto a bed.

I looked these women up and down too and had thought them orderlies, but one would turn out to be the surgeon, who did her own examination.

“Small,” she pronounced.

“Adequate,” Mary countered.

“Unproven,” she said.

They stood at the foot of my stretcher disputing the capacity of my pelvis.

“Calm,” Mary offered, of my demeanor.

“I’ll give it two hours,” the doctor said. “But the results could be tragic.”

They looked from each other toward me.

“Can I have a minute?” I said.

I motioned to Casey to join me in the bathroom. I closed the door. I kept the lights off.

I had miscarried twice before. Bled through the early months of this pregnancy too. Had Braxton-Hicks beginning at 5 months. Had planned a home birth because I’d fallen in love with a midwife named Mary who told me that she took my little baby home with her each night in her third eye, each and every night.

I had felt so peaceful there in our little farmhouse beside the mountain. The morning’s cloud cover created a cocoon as I labored at the edge of our bed, the skylight overhead where we watched the stars at night a comfort too, the door to the balcony over the brook open to the air, and this blissful feeling between contractions that my mother told me I’d find if I paid attention to the spaces in between enveloped me.

Now gone.

“Remember, you and the baby want the same thing,” my mother said, having birthed 9 children without a single miscarriage or epidural.

She was a Christmas baby like my great aunt, while I followed on the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and her grandson was apparently arriving on the Assumption of Mary, coming early to do so.

I opened the bathroom door to bright lights and urgent faces, remembering my bare feet on our soft pine floors, Mary kneeling in front of me, pressing her thumbs into my shin, lending exquisite relief during a strong contraction.

“We’ll take the c-section,” I said.

And then I remember the very last contraction I experienced.

“This will sting,” said the anesthesiologist who arrived in the operating room with a nurse and his long needle while the surgical team scrubbed like I had once done with my father and to whom I had just recently said, just as he had said to me: I never want surgery. (We would each have surgery within 48 hours of each other this very week.)

“Can you wait a minute,” I said to the anesthesiologist, laughing at the absurdity of his warning about the epidural. “I’m having a contraction.”

In the end, they had to yank the baby out of the birth canal so ready was he to be born through me instead of removed by them.

Protocol would not let me view the delivery, but they did let me see him for a flash before they whisked him to the examining table under the bright lights where they pronounced him healthy. Protocol also prevented me from him until the anesthesia wore off.

I’d only had anesthesia once before. Wisdom teeth. The same-day surgery room was set to close and I still couldn’t wake.  My roommate, a nurse, in fact,  arrived to drive me home while I continued to doze, and she cared for me through the night, ice on, ice off, so unable was I to rebound from the drugs. I was managing a seaside restaurant then, and a guy called the next day for a job. The restaurant had given him my home number. I was furious. Now that same guy accompanied our baby to the nursery while I was sewn up on the table and sent alone to recovery where I strived to wake and feel my legs so that I would be taken to the 4th floor to be with my baby.

I woke this morning feeling similarly drugged, to the sound of rain and a heavy cover of clouds, and although I wanted to rise and write before walking up to Sunday scones at Whetstone Ledges Farm, the absence of light made it difficult to stay afloat, and so I slipped back down under the surface of consciousness again and again.

“Do you feel your legs yet,” the nurse asked, as she covered my shivering body with more and more blankets. To this day the last two toes on my left foot are numb.

When I finally did meet my son, he was tightly wrapped in a blanket with a knit cap on his head as if we had never been one. I put up my hand as the midwife approached with him in her arms. I wanted to see Casey first. We had become parents, apart from one another, instead of at home in on our own bed. He held our baby first, for more than an hour, after I had carried him inside for 8 months.

I don’t remember if the rain lifted that afternoon when I held my son.

I remember feeling that this was Everything.

I remember knowing that nothing would ever be the same.

When I fell back to sleep this morning, I dreamt that most of the tomatoes on the vine in our garden had ripened, just in time for son’s return to celebrate his twenty-third birthday.

His name was meant to be Lila, after my grandmother, who died tragically at the age I am now.

I don’t know when it occurred to me that Lila and Lloyd share two L’s.

Twenty-three years old.

The twenty-third psalm was her favorite and read at her graveside. I think of it every time I walk the road past the silent repose of the Whetstone.

I like the version Bobby McFerrin sings.

“Beside the still waters, She will lead.”

Lloyd has surprised us lately, wanting to be home each year for his birthday after a couple that he spent away with girlfriends.

It’s unfathomable to me that he doesn’t live with us anymore. That the flesh of my flesh is not mine forever. That neither of us would want it to be so.

He was here last Christmas too, for an extended stay, during which we joined with old friends around a fire overlooking the Retreat Meadows as the sun set over the water.

We were deep in conversation with friends when I felt a swoosh past our circle of chairs, and my eyes followed a woman who, with a flourish, removed a dark cloak.

I lifted my phone and zoomed in to capture the beautiful blues and creamy whites of her wimple and habit but I couldn’t make out what hung from her neck and around her waist.

Her presence seemed to rivet me alone, and I’d lost the conversation, despite the company of my son and my oldest, dearest friend.

Instead, I stood up and crossed the space from the fire to her table beside the waters.

“The Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa,” she explained, pointing to the medallion that hung from her neck.

“My sword,” she said standing, of the beaded rosary that dangled from her hip down her left side, “To fight Evil.”

I shared my family’s Mary connection with her, my mother’s Christmas birth, mine on the Immaculate Conception, my son’s on the Assumption of Mary, and even my husband’s on the Feast Day, upon which my mother died.

“You are a Marian family,” she pronounced, and I smiled, thinking how some people enjoy certainty and others questions.

I returned to the fire, taking a seat across from from my friend with whom I attended the same Catholic Highschool. She had recently given me a nightlight that had belonged to her dear mother, and I almost thought to discard this plastic statue of Mary when after plugging it in, the bulb sparked and went black.

But upon removing the plug from the statue, I saw three small words under its base:

House of Lloyd.

Later, as the light faded in the sky over the water, the woman in the dark cloak stopped by our circle on her way out, asking:

“Is this the one born on Assumption of Mary?”

She looked directly at my son Lloyd and said:

“You are consecrated to Our Lady.”

It was he who once saw the blue light shimmering on the land alongside the Whetstone Brook upon which we would later build our home. He was just a boy then.

“It’s blue like the light over Uncle Lenny’s bar in the barn,” my son said, not knowing the word fluorescent, and referencing his first home, the place where he was conceived and practically born and where he watched his little brother come into the world upstairs in the little farmhouse beside the brook just weeks before his grandmother died on the Feast Day of Mary.

“The Blue Lady is here to help you,” my new therapist said, when I came to her grieving the loss of my mother.

I hadn’t been sure about the purchase of the land upon which I stood with my son until that day when I was told to whom the land just across the pond belonged.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Mothers Day Nightmares

On Mothers Day night, with both sons at home, I wake to the sound of my youngest vomiting in the toilet, and I realize that I have had a nightmare. “A dream about the Patriarchy,” my husband offers in the dark.

In the dream, it is daylight, and there is this charismatic man who I find attractive and then threatening as I watch Him weave his way through homes & classrooms & workplaces, alternatingly charming then murderous. Slitting throats, dividing families, orphaning children.

Each time I get wise to Him, I sense the great vulnerability of going against such cunning, and something else–I see how willing others are to oblige this power and destruction in blindness; and so I become absorbed with protecting myself whenever He appears, until I see Him follow a family into the loft over the Great Room, and doesn’t He kill the young father and then the mother, as their child toddles unprotected toward the open railing.

Terrified, I dash past a bureau and a hutch and sweep the child up into my arms, where she becomes an infant, and with little time to spare, I dangle her through the bars of the railing thinking I could drop her to safety if only someone would appear in the Great Room below.

And then I see him! My father! But although he hears my calls, he cannot see the child, even though I direct his attention toward her again and again.

I consider dropping the infant to the floor, but just then my youngest son enters the room, and seeing the dangling child, puts out his arms to catch Her.

And with that, the Patriarchy disappears.

Love, Part III. Cancer of the Heart

Because I left so little space within my travel days, my heart came to me, after midnight, in a hotel room, just off the highway, through my dreams.

A beautiful half-moon curve–freshly carved, into my left breast—tender, swollen, reddened—but more than likely healing.

So many times I’ve been told that I didn’t love “right.”

(Haven’t we all!)

And yet, my heart hollers back:

ALL evidence to the contrary…!

Haven’t you loved the same man for 32 years.

Haven’t you raised 2 amazing sons with whom you share the same abiding love, mutual respect & fierce boundaries.

And what of the friendships that still flower to this day, those begun 40 (forty!) years ago, and what about those emerging & unfolding even now.

And what of the generations of students & companions—in the classroom, on the mat, on the page.

And what of your youth—POURED into the parenting gap left by trauma, narcissism & addiction–into the lives half-dozen+ younger siblings until, one by one, they too came of age.

YOU, Kelly KNOW how to LOVE!

“That’s right!” I respond, “I do!”

And love is not only proximity, my heart replies.

Sometimes love is leaving space.
Sometimes love is letting go.
Sometimes love is feeling YES and stamping NO.

‘Yes, I love you,’ and ‘No, you may not traipse across the terrain of my tender heart just because you are lost.’

Yes, ‘Your happiness is my happiness,’ and Yes, ‘Your heartache is my heartache,’ but ‘No, my heart cannot serve as the safe house for the projection of your unmet needs, your scarcities, fears, and grief.

Which is to say that I find myself in unfamiliar territory, no doubt in large part due to the passage from Mother to Menopause which arrives on the precipice of an Empty Nest, and returns my heart to its original and departing purpose— loving—me.

“But aren’t you afraid of going to hell?” I was once asked.

“How can I be afraid of something in which I do not believe?” I replied.

Which is to say that there is a mythology of love and abandonment to which I no longer wish to subscribe.

Love is never absent.

Love ABIDES.

an infatuation or a love affair?

I’m in love. Or at least completely infatuated.

You know those movie scripts, the ones where there’s this colleague or neighbor, and the main character dismisses her, forever, and then something happens, say some kind of crisis, and she steps in, and he finally sees her, and then little by little, she begins to color in his days, until he wakes one morning and realizes he’s head over heels with her?

–With that musty girl that he never liked much.

That’s how it is for me, and Rose.

At first, it was just a framed print. I bought it as a present for myself when I graduated from Yoga Teacher training. I wasn’t sure what it was about the photograph –the way she gave herself to opening, I suspect–and although I dismissed her again and again, she kept tugging at me, and so I surrendered.

That was the year I would turn 50, and now, in the past 5 years, little by little–first the livingroom, now my bedroom—repainted; and then into my closet–a scarf, a sweater, a bag; and into the bathroom: new towels, a basket, a shower cap. And then in my toiletries, and in the soap in the soap for the downstairs bathroom, deodorant; and in the essential oils for the woodstove.

Have I forgotten anything?

She’s everywhere.

And yet this morning, I woke wondering how I could get even closer to her, so that when I fell back to sleep, I dreamt of eating her, not just the petals (and not the stem or thorns of course) but the leaves, dried and crumbling on my tongue.

Mother Bear & the 2 Faces of Men

(art: Cathy McClelland)

~In my dream, I return to my neighborhood in Virginia, bringing my sons along with me, to see the small rancher on the cul de sac in which I lived for a single year at the age of 7, an age where I’d lay down in the middle of the road and on the train tracks, a block away, to prove that I wasn’t afraid.

We were on our way to see the tracks when I stopped at the neighbor’s place around the corner.

Somehow I’m not surprised to find that their house, no longer a rancher, is twice as big, with wrap around porch and a wide staircase.

Sloan’s mother steps out the front door and greets us, without recognizing me at first, and when she does, she invites us up, and I too have trouble recognizing anyone–her son (who never existed), her husband, and Sloan, the younger sister of my friend Holly–except for their smiles–I remember their smiles; which I recognize even in the faces of the grown children of the children who had been my friends.

Holly died in labor, her mother tells me–she bled out; and then she confides that she was told to access the spirit realm to come to terms with her loss.

I nod in understanding, and she continues in hushed tones, not wanting her smiling son or her smiling husband (with the perfect smiling teeth, false ones I suppose) to overhear her talking about this “stuff,” because it angers them.

I wake this morning, wondering about this anomaly, about smiling men, like my own husband, and father and father in law (and even my sons), who respond with hostility at times about religion–against it.

What is it about the interface of spirit and body that creates such volatility in men–say at an abortion clinic, or with a tax law, or with planes–filled with loved one–flown into buildings filled with loved ones–all in the name of God–no matter his name–even electing a pedophile and an Assaulter in Chief to govern the very people who they abuse.

Why do those who neither conceive or birth or nourish, claim with one hand to be the protectors of life, while the other destroys life and the planet upon which it relies.

And perhaps more importantly, why, do we, the life bearers–those who are steeped in the mystery of spirit and flesh–allow it?

Where is our fierceness?
Why do we smile and whisper?
Where is Mother Bear!