As is my annual tradition, I took a self portrait in a mirror to commemorate my birthday. I’ve been waiting a very long time to take one that looks like this.
I left my doctor – late. I can’t remember, but I think I was 27 weeks along. There was fine medical care, but no art/warmth time for questions, and a rotating staff of nice but not ultimately warm OBGYNs, and I was getting nervous about a hospital birth so far from home in Manhattan, which would require me to cross a bridge or tunnel to get to. At 5pm, this four mile drive could take three hours.
I looked into birthing centers, and different doctors, and read articles, and found out that, despite what you’d think, New York City isn’t really the greatest place to have a baby. I called three midwives. One answered the phone while walking down the street, and told me to come in for an initial meeting. I did.
I have a thing that happens to my bones when I know answers deeply. A nice warm heat rises out of my arm bones, and across my ribs, then floats up into my face and brain, and this is how I know that I know something before I know it. I felt it first when I met Leeloo, the dog who was the absolute perfect dog, and when I tried on the gown that I got married in before I had even fully gotten a look at myself in the mirror.
I felt it when met Marley for the first time. I saw him from across the sidewalk waiting for me – I was late for our first blind date – and automatically extended my still-glowing arms outward and around his neck within 10 seconds of meeting him, a level of familiarity with a strange man I had never gotten close to on the dozens of first dates before his.
So I knew in my arms and ribs that I was hiring this team of two women, and that meant that I am, barring complications of course, going to give birth in my living room, and that this was the right – not even right, but obvious – choice for our family, and my body, and this baby, even though it was not what I ever saw for myself.
I hugged them, too, with my still glowing arms. They insisted on me waiting for 24 hours before I officially hired them so I did, and called them as soon as the time was up.
They have me drinking a homemade blend of herbal tea, and taking probiotics that will help stave off Group B strep and WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE KNOW THIS?!, and sitting on yoga balls, and feeling my uterus for exactly where he’s laying inside of me (we are currently working – him and I in our first project together – to get him a little more to the left to be in a better birthing position). They touch, and listen, and talk, and feel, and it’s different, it’s wonderful, it’s close to spiritual, and I’m so grateful. They taught Marley how to feel where the baby is, too.
I’m currently full of gratitude, and wonder, and tiny knees. I am growing large. I have never felt more beautiful.
(And don’t you judge my hairy armpits!)
Third trimester, here we are. Aside from being exhausted in the first trimester, it’s been pretty easy and rewarding to be pregnant – much easier than I guessed it would be.
As you know, in January of 2018 we suffered an early second trimester missed miscarriage of twins. I had to have an emergency surgical abortion, and in the months that followed I continued to suffer in a way that let my business slip behind the progress I’d made in 2016 and 2017, and I also lost the will to be careful about my eating and exercise, gaining about fifteen pounds in the first half of the year.
In August, I took a vacation with some feminist photographer friends to Colorado where we ran around the woods creating photo shoots of real queer couples, making magic with our cameras, getting ridiculously high in the hot tub (it’s legal!), and I posed for a totally nude photo shoot that left me feeling like a smoking hot goddess. (There’s a photo from this shoot in Becca Murray’s boudoir portfolio; I’m in the woods, in the headband and yellow earrings.) I got home determined to get myself right back on track… and immediately got pregnant again.
I was happy about the pregnancy, but had no hopes for maintaining any sort of of momentum with my newfound resolve to take care of myself, especially when afternoon naps became mandatory in those first twelve weeks, but I found that, eventually, exercise made me feel better, eating anything sweeter than a piece of fruit made me feel awful, and that super healthful meals balanced with protein and carbs were calling my name. (Also so, so many roasted yams.) My drink of choice is water, and I’ve been nailing getting plenty thanks to my awesome water bottle. My already pretty good skin has never looked better.
Basically, I’m in the best shape of my life, with a long, round, oval tummy. I feel completely amazing. And, because I started losing the weight I’d gained, I’m here in the third trimester without having gained a pound. I asked my midwives in alarm if that was okay, and they said it was fine given my history. So hey, I’ll take it, especially because I can fit into most of my pre-pregnancy dresses, and all of my blouses, still.
I spent a really long time being scared of being pregnant, but, aside from some random aches in my hips (because, yall, my hatred of yoga burns ever strong) this is the best thing that ever happened to me, physically.
It’s still practically unfathomable that there will be a little baby here in a few months. I can’t quite bring myself to acknowledge the personhood of this kid quite yet, so it feels like I’m preparing for a space alien to come visit. One that gets hiccups in the middle of the night, and occasionally twerks at inappropriate times.
“I think I’m okay,” I said to Joan, “but no one else is. Motherfuckers are stressing me out.”
People have asked us where on earth we’re going to put a baby, that we better travel now, that we can’t possibly go on vacation for the next decade, that everything will be ruined. Except for one couple at Ikea. The line was long, I sort of leaned on their cart. They caught me, and told me I could just put my stuff in the cart with theirs instead of holding it because I’d done that stubborn thing where you think you don’t need one but then your arms get too full. When I put it down, they saw I was expecting, and told me how wonderful life was in their small apartment with their baby when he was little, years and years ago on the Upper West Side, and how much they traveled, and that I shouldn’t worry. I didn’t even ask. They just… knew to tell us. Maybe other people’s fears were starting to etch into my face? I love them.
Where will he sleep? In a bassinet next to me. But that will only work for, like, six months. Yeah, well. In six months, I’ll figure out what’s next. Duh? Right? No?
He’s kicking. Kicking and squirming. I think he’ll be fine, and so will I. Right? No?
We held our breath through all of it. At eight weeks, the doctor peered closely at the screen before turning it to us. My heart pounded in my ears.
Just one, she said, and showed us a gummy bear wiggling on screen. We celebrated our anniversary that night, in awe.
I told close friends right away. It felt stupid not to. Last time I held onto my secret and was so lonely, and then it was over and I was raw. We told more and more people. I wanted joy flowing at him to be maximised, as if love and well wishes could keep him firmly where I want him. This is not scientific, but hey.
A blood test at 10 weeks showed nothing wrong with any of his 23 chromosomes, and revealed the final one: XY. A cheeky sonogram confirmed it, and the tech giggled. “For sure a baby boy!” We made balls jokes for the rest of the day.
I bought all of his clothes on sales after Thanksgiving. Everyone who saw my haul quipped, “You’ve left nothing for anyone else to buy you.” That was my intention. I don’t want anyone else’s taste on my kid, really. When Marley and I got married, I slowly started buying all of his clothes. It’s how I love; it’s how he feels loved. I couldn’t imagine anything else for my bub.
You need this, you need that. Everyone has opinions. They’re overwhelming, and I try to be polite and smile through them. I’ve even asked for help, and people’s opinions, and then found myself both thankful and regretful, not because of them but because… its a lot. I hate when things are “a lot”. I think all we need are diapers, bottles, a good place for him to sleep, and some clothes. I bought a stuffed bunny, because I wanted to buy his very first gift, Marley bought him some books, because of course he did. Oh, and some booties, too. But other than that, not much else? A tub? Is the sink still okay? A changing pad (there’s no room for a changing table.)
We fold ourselves together in bed and place four hands in my middle, and talk to him. Now that I’m larger, I sleep in a pillow fort. I’m pretty sure we have 90% of what we need right there tucked into bed. I’m uninterested in this being much more complicated than the sex we still try to have, laughing as we rearrange the pillows over and over so we don’t squash him.
I think we’ll be okay. Right? Yes.
…for my fixed up apartment. We finally made it a priority and it’s so nice!
…WhatsApp connecting me with friends around the world.
…that Cousin Robin banned chitlins from Thanksgiving, because I canNOT deal.
…that it appears, after a long chain of heartbreak and grief, that I’m going to have a healthy baby.
…that I married someone smart and kind. The more time I spend on pregnancy message boards, the more I realise a lot of women are living with jerks.
…for deciding to go back to therapy this year.
…that I have the best job in the world, with the best community surrounding it.
…I’m no longer tolerating toxic behaviour from anyone. To the people who say, “You can’t just cut people out of your life!” I say “Snip snip!”
…for shea butter.
…for that D.
“I have never had it easy,” I said to my therapist, who I’ll call Joan. “I try to remember that not everyone was meant to, but I’m having a hard time not getting hung up on who I could be if only…”
If only I were born into a supportive family (and preferably wealthy and generous.) If only I looked more “black” so that my identity didn’t feel constantly suspended on a the edge. If only I had fought against the overwhelming tide of non-support, and gotten myself properly educated anyway.
My friend Emily and I started our friendship twenty years ago, and I was the one doling out sage sixteen year old advice, but now we are older and she’s a licensed therapist, so the tides have turned a bit. A few months ago, she absolutely destroyed me by saying, “But if all those things were true – wealthy family, etc. – you would not be here.”
And I’m actually glad I’m here. Most days. Usually, I wish I were there. But, as Joan says, “I promise you’re still young, and there’s a lot of time to get there.”
The problem is that it feels like everyone else has gotten there much younger. There, of course, being the dream career I want. My career is good. Great. I’m proud. But I wish it were more… robust. The clients I have I completely adore, but I’m not getting as many of them as I’d like. So it’s like, half of my wildest dreams.
That’s good, right?
I became owner of this online publication. It happened almost by accident; I started working with them just over a year ago, and two of the founders stepped away to pursue other things, leaving me and one one last founder to it. I love it, and dream of it being a force for good in a wedding industry that says the only beautiful bride is one that is thin, and straight, and white.
It’s a little overwhelming learning the ropes. To this end, I’ve changed things in my own business so that it can run more efficiently, by turning to software that will help me manage contracts and invoices instead of doing everything by hand.
The work is almost breathless, but for the first time every, I feel privileged.
My heart is breaking, but I cannot waste this opportunity to beg you: please get your next pet from a shelter. There are so many amazing homeless pets that need you. There are so many amazing homeless pets that will make a great fit for your family. Go save a life. Trust me: there is magic in those cages.
I donated to The Sato Project in Leeloo’s name, which helps Puerto Rican street dogs just like her find homes. If you’d like to donate in her name, too, it would mean the world to me. They are an incredible operation will offer other satos the opportunity she got: to live their lives with loving families. (Given the current state of the island, your donation will be very appreciated)
You can also adopt a sato of your own – there are a lot in New York, and some all over the country. I highly recommend them.
Leeloo Dallas Marlow
2004 (probably) – 2018
Leeloo Dallas Marlow died on Wednesday.
Leeloo was one and a half years old (probably) when I adopted her from the SPCA of Connecticut on 25 February 2006. She was scared and curled up in a corner, but became happy and animated when introduced to our older dog. She kissed him enthusiastically on the face and then sat down next to him, looking up expectantly at us as if to say, “Can we just get on with it and go home now? Clearly, I am your dog.”
“Clearly, she is your dog.” the shelter workers said.
On the ride home, I asked my partner if he could remember the name of the supreme being in the movie The Fifth Element. “That’s her name!” he said, but, since smart phones weren’t invented yet, we had to wait until we were home to look it up on the back of the DVD case.
“Leeloo!” I said, “of course! Leeloo Dallas… multipass! That’s pretty good, right?”
The name was perfect, the dog was… well…
During our first week together, Leeloo climbed over the baby gate that kept her out of the kitchen, overturned the garbage, and covered the entire room with trash looking for scraps of food. We couldn’t be mad. Her survival skills developed from spending her first year as a street dog in Puerto Rico (a “sato”) had kicked in. Thankfully, this never happened again as she got used to being fed and loved regularly.
She did, however, discover a Costco box of dog treats in the basement and tore it open. When no one was looking, she’d slip downstairs and gorge herself. We were baffled as to how she suddenly got so chubby. This was also the summer we put a fence around the front yard. We carefully measured the space between the last fence post and the house to make sure she couldn’t get through.
After discovering her Milkbone caper and putting an end to it, she slimmed down instantly, and became thin enough to slip through the fence we had specifically measured to her width. She managed to escape once before we fixed it.
Although Leeloo hated baths, she loved swimming, especially if there was mud or sand on the bank to roll in after a dip. She would use the swim-roll-sunbathe method to get as completely and efficiently filthy as possible.
I’d stand there laughing as she flopped dramatically on her back and rolled in dirt, and everyone at the dog park would look at me like I was crazy for letting her, but I could never bring myself to make her stop. It made her so happy to be so gross.
She also liked to roll in any poop she happened to find in the park. That I *did* try to stop, but she got so quick about flipping herself directly into steaming piles that she was usually hopelessly covered before I could intervene.
Other loves included running as fast as she could up a hill, paddling after ducks in a lake, roughhousing with our older dog Matty, and getting guests to feed her by giving them the saddest eyes ever. She was gentle with small children, and let them pet her ears, put their arms around her neck, and kiss her head.
Leeloo had a penchant for eating whatever was semi-edible that she found on walks, including dead birds. I’ll never forget the feeling of turning around on a day by the lake to see her sprawled in the dirt (of course) munching on a decayed sparrow, wings spread out of both sides of her mouth, golden eyes going from blissed out to wide with surprise that I would object to her snack choice.
“What?” she seemed to say, scrambling away from me trying to make her spit it out. “It’s good!”
She also hated when I brushed her teeth, because of course she did.
Her weirdest quirk was to creep up quietly while I was working and stare me down, silently, without moving or blinking. At first, I thought she was being creepy, but now I think she was simply taking me in, and maybe marveling at us. Occasionally, she would break the stare with a wink, and I’d wink back… just in case it was a sign. “Can you believe it? Can you believe we we were so lucky to find each other in this whole wide universe?”
I’ve always wondered what she named me. She certainly had no idea what I named her, as she never actually responded to her name – she just new to come running when her big brother did, and after he died, she only responded to clapping.
We’ve spent the past twelve years together – exactly one third of my life, Marley pointed out – and at 14, she lived longer than anyone would have guessed, which makes me feel like I’ve won the lottery. I’ve had 4506 days of wonderful, quirky, gross, neurotic love; two states, four apartments, two other dogs… two husbands! All of it covered in dog hair.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Leeloo. You’ve been the best dog. I am going to miss you for the rest of my life.
Last year, I commissioned the Haiku Guys to write a poem about Leeloo that sums her up nicely. I’ll leave you with it.
“the moonlit jaguar
padding softly through her life
proving real live love
– for leeloo”
p.s. I am okay. Truly. For one, she lived longer than I thought. When you sign the adoption papers on a dog, you know your time is limited, and I got over a year of bonus time according to every “how long will THIS size dog live” chart I consulted. I’m also a very pragmatic dog owner, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m happy and excited for her: no more pain. Arthritis has been taking over her body for a while, and it got bad very suddenly over this weekend. At the same time, a cancerous tumor, discovered two weeks ago as a small peanut sized lump that we would “keep an eye on”, has grown over the past 14 days to the size of a plumb. It could not have been clearer that it was time, and I’m so grateful the decision was so obvious.
If you’d like to cheer me up, I’d love to see photos of your dog!
I’m a skeptic. In my dating profile it said, “I don’t believe in anything that doesn’t hold up to scientific testing, and I don’t pray.” I intentionally, consciously don’t remember what my “sign” is whenever anyone tells me, and any talk of ghosts, gods, signs, chakras, or “energy” gets a hard stop.
And yet, there is a girl.
I met her a little over a year ago, and then more recently we connected in a group of larger friends; she’s smart, she’s fun, I probably have a crush on her, and she does “readings” for people.
So, whatever. I’ll try anything once.
SI go. She has crystals on the her coffee, and a burning piece of wood that adds a heady smell to her tiny living room, and a Tibetan singing bowl, and we meditate, and she takes my hands, and I cry immediately at this, because WHO takes anyone’s hands any more? Ever? No one.
A lot happens, but the most powerful thing is she addresses the walls that I clearly have, wherein I let people in, but not all the way, because I’ve been abandoned and have Issues. And how I take certain things as a matter of course instead of deeply feeling them. I’m uptight! Which is not how I feel, but yes, I do hold myself super centered and rigid, of course I do. I’m terrified of making mistakes.
And then she kind of was able to feel how I feel, and it made her cry. So then I cried because I made her cry, and later I apologised, and she said not to, that I was worth seeing fully, and she hugged me, and so now I’m in love. And maybe less of a skeptic – maybe and just a little – and working on relaxing, but I don’t even know how to do that.
So then I go to therapy, and my therapist is like YES. SEE? And a million things click together. Like how I’ve had to be my own parent, because I have had three parents THREE and they’ve all let me down, even though I talk to my dad now and he’s fine as long as I don’t expect anything from him. But then I’ve been hard on myself. Too strict.
So now to strike a balance, and be okay with crying which was NEVER an okay thing to do in front of my mother, so I learned to not do it ever, and I’m exhausted.
I have to find a new OB/GYN.
On the heels of reading story after story of how women of colour die in childbirth more than white women, and how bad the US maternity rate is overall, and how the number of maternal deaths per year is as low as it is because we don’t count the number of women who ALMOST die, all in situations that would be completely preventable or non-existent in every other developed nation… I’m looking for a black woman gynocologist.
Which is to say, my husband is looking for one for me, because every time I start trying to look for one, I get overwhelmed.
I walked into my old OB/GYN’s office four days after my d&c for a check up. I was heading to an event, and I had a big heavy coat with me, too. I dropped everything on the floor, and waited. The receptionist came in after a few minutes and kicked me out of the room. “You can leave your stuff” she said, shooing me towards the door.
I stood awkwardly in the hall. She had forgotten to weigh someone using the scale that was in the exam room, and wanted her to have privacy while her weight was recorded. This is understandable, but it made me feel awkward and un-special, especially since I wasn’t told why. An invitation to go sit back in the waiting room, or just a mention that it would only be a moment would have been effortless ways to make me feel valued. As it was, I only figured out what was going on because she also neglected to close the door and I heard everything, including the other woman’s weight being read out.
After being allowed to return, she glared at me. “Hang up your coat!” she snapped. “This looks terrible!” She gestured to the things I’d brought with me, and placed on the floor in what I thought was my own private exam room. She continued to stare at me until I dutifully picked up my coat and hung it.
The woman who had gotten weighed was a gorgeous, clearly wealthy woman, and white; I’d rolled up with no makeup, hair askew, and a face puffy from crying for four days, and clearly not white enough to receive the same level of treatment, or the warm greeting that everyone else had gotten.
On top of this, it came out later that the doctor was almost certain something was wrong when he looked at his ultrasound, but wanted to send me elsewhere to be sure. (I was so enthralled with what I was seeing on the screen – I had no idea that at 13 weeks you could see so many features so clearly – that I didn’t notice anything amiss.)
Instead of telling me to go get my husband, I went to the appointment alone, and I’m still wrestling with regret for that whole situation, and ultimately putting the blame right back on the dismissive doctor who knew he was sending me to hear bad news.
This has all been simmering for months in me. I’m sad and angry, and finally ready to use that sadness and anger to fuel finding a doctor that makes me feel valued.
Over a year ago, I went to a local networking event and met another photographer, Alexis, and we formed a low-key drinks-and-snacks meet up for wedding professionals. She eventually told me her life was full and the time commitment too much for her, but gave me the thumbs up to continue it on my own.
I recently branded it #DrinksWithAmber
Does this make me an asshole? I did it while asking myself this, but then thought of all of the mediocre white guys who do more with less success than I’ve achieved, and did it anyway.
Seth Godin wrote about the Dip, a place in business where you’re leveling up and then acceleration slows you down temporarily. Pair that with a constant shifting market, the fact that I want to switch to service a more luxurious client even though, when left in my natural state, I barely remember to brush my hair, and an ever-more crowded industry, and popping my head up to rise above is increasingly difficult.
#DrinksWithAmber might be a tiny part of that, but oh man does it feel strange to promote myself this hard. I also recently spoke at a conference, and was so nervous I forgot to stand up, but my feedback was okay – at least what people said to my face.
I’m supposed to be relaxing next week on vacation, and I promise there are some fun fiction books downloaded on my Kindle, but I’m bringing along my copy of the Dip to study again, too.
I’m working hard, and, to be honest, greif has fueled me and I’m managing that balance as consciously as I can. I’m fueled, too, but the constant desire to rise above my blue-collar roots. I knew it would be tricky, but not this much.