The Amber Show

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Snugging Up the Divine

The past nine days have been a hazy blur, and I wish I was keeping better notes because SO MUCH has changed since then. He already looks different from when he was born.

Breastfeeding is hard. Apparently it’s hard for most people. We’re both learning how it goes, which involves trial and error, and sometimes results in lots of screaming and crying (from both of us). 

Desmond does this thing where he can’t quite latch on to eat, so he just keeps trying and trying, opening his tiny mouth as wide as it can possibly open and hunting with his whole head thrown back and bobbing. He’ll do this over and over and over. He’s literally inspiring to watch; I’d have copped an attitude of “fine, I’ll starve” but he keeps going.

In the hardest moments I remind myself he’s new at everything, and that having any needs is new for him, too. He never been cold and wet, or stuffy, or hungry, or uncuddled. It easily shifts my feelings from frustration to sympathy. I’m vowing to be a patient, gentle mother.

In his screaming moments, I remind myself to be extra gentle, and kiss the bridge of his nose; something I’ve been dreaming about doing for years. I think, too, about how some cultures view newborns as divine, and I understand why. He looks at me sometimes with a deep wisdom that is startling. 

In the quiet moments I think about all the times I wanted him so, so badly, and am filled with profound gratitude to him for existing, and the gratitude fortifies me. It took a total of two years and two months to get him to my arms, with so much heartbreak and disappointment in between.

I’m raw. Thankfully I set firm boundaries before he was born, and we haven’t felt pressure to have any visitors yet aside from all the members of our birth team coming back to check on us once each. It’s just not time yet. I’m bleeding. Desmond is peeling dead skin from being in utero a little long and it’s ALL OVER the floor and gross. (Thank you, coconut oil.) I cry a lot. Marley never has a shirt on! (Sexy.) I’ve managed to shower only three times, and I can’t shave my legs because I tried once and started bleeding heavily from bending over, so I feel prickly. I’m deeply tired in a way I’ve never been tired before as my body slowly knits itself together. My boobs are constantly out. Marley and I have created a sacred space for his first few days, and although I feel a little cooped up, I’m thankful for it, too. I know that even if we have another baby, we’ll never pass this way again, so: a little work, a little writing, and lots of snugging the divine.

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In Which I Give Birth

14th May

I don’t even know how to begin.

Like I wrote in my last post, I spent the week after my official due date in sort of labour after a night that began with bleeding and intense contractions. 

At night, after I’d gotten my PJs on and climbed into bed, contractions would start, in varying degrees of seriousness, and I would eventually fall asleep through them.

I started going for weekly ultrasounds at 39 weeks to monitor fluid levels. At 41+3, ten days after the due date I never took seriously, the tech, who is not supposed to say anything, told me I had “no fluid left” so I was going to have the baby that day, and would have to go to the hospital to get induced. 

“What hospital are you going to?” she asked, heading out the door of the exam room to call the doctor.

“We’re planning on delivering at home.” I told her.

“Oh, that can’t happen now.” she said and then she paused and said, “Well, we’ll see.” I think she realised she misstepped in speaking. 

When I can make space for it, I’m going to write them a strongly worded letter.

I was fully prepared by my midwives for getting “bad news” that I could ignore from the overly cautious typical medical office, but I was still really upset.

They placed me in a room for 20 minutes for a non-stress test, and I shook while texting my team during it. I called them from the street, and they told me they’d meet me at their office. Kateryn was the first one there and draped her arms around my shaking body. They loved on me until Marley arrived, and then we began our serious meeting.

We drew a pros and cons chart of going to the hospital. Hospital: absolutely safe, but there was a chance they would make me labour the entire time flat on my back for continuous monitoring. Home: I have the birth I want, and the labour experience of moving and eating when I want. In a voice pinched with fear, I laid out my biggest con for the hospital: I was scared shitless.

Here’s why: I know my body. It’s very strong, but very slow. I don’t sprint, I marathon. When you’re admitted to the hospital for an induction, there’s a narrow window of time you’re allowed to labour before the interventions get heavier handed, and the interventions are painful so there are more interventions for pain releif, and those ultimately lead to a higher chance of a c-section. 

I knew deep down if I could just BE and do my thing, possibly with some non-medicated nudging, I could have my baby the way I wanted, and safely. I’d felt so strong and capable up to this point, but now, at the very tippy end of my pregnancy, the fear I’d furiously protected myself from was crawling into my tee shirt though the neck hole, with sharp claws, and I couldn’t stop it, and I was so disappointed.

“Okay, no hospital.” they said. Can we take a moment to say “Hell yes” for patient-led care? I. Got. To. Decide.

“We can offer you anything from gentle ‘nudges’ to ‘throwing you off a cliff’ – it’s up to you.” 

“Throw me.” I said.

I got a membrane sweep, which is where they insert a finger into the cervix, between the inside of the uterus and the amniotic sac and sweep around, releasing the contact between the two, as well as the hormones that kickstart labour. 

The contractions and “stuff” I’d been experiencing all week (called the bloody show, I found out – as in “On with the bloody show!”) had been productive after all, and done a lot of the work, so that was nice to hear. 

They inserted a Foley bulb, which is a set of two balloons. One went inside my uterus, and one sat just outside. They inflated both with water, sandwiching my cervix in between and sent me home to either have it fall out (meaning I hit 4cm) or I’d have to drain it 12 hours later at 5 in the morning. 

They suggested I walk home, but the effect of the Foley bulb was so immediate that I could barely stand. We took a cab back, and I went to bed. 

The bulb never fell out on its own, so we drained it, but it had done its job: I was off a cliff, and failing, and in honest to goodness labour.

15th May

The next day is mostly a blur – literally; I didn’t put my contacts in until 5pm – with tiny moments of absolute clarity. 

The midwives came in and out. I started on my birthing ball with my breast pump to continue contractions. I got up to move to bed but got impatient with the process of moving the ten feet to tuck myself in, so I laid down on the floor; Marley dragged down our duvet and joined me for the hour or so I was there. I eventually made it to bed.

I asked for my doula, Amanda, who arrived around 9 or 10. They pressed into my lower back and pelvis (sometimes at my not so polite direction – love you Amanda!) over and over again as contractions hit, and their hands probably saved my sanity. They are ALMOST as good as an epidural!

The contractions worked on all the smooth muscle tissue in my body, and I threw up everything I tried to keep down, every time. I threw up over a dozen times in fact, demanding “bowl!” and having one passed to me each time, and now I can’t hear the world “bowl” without getting a little green.

I declared I was going to shower, and just… did. It slowed the progress but I needed the mental health break, and I was covered with vomit, and sweat, and colostrum (pre-milk) I’d pumped and felt incredibly disgusting, so soaping up felt great.

My bed had four other people in it at one point – two midwives, Marley, and our doula – but I was so lonely, going deep into the contractions. Occasionally one would hit me while I was unprepared, and I skidded along the top of it panicked, but mostly I dove under them and into them. I tried to remember to vocalise deep, not high.

It was hell.

Kimm, the older midwife, arrived and had me breathe deep rather than vocalise. Kateryn, the younger midwife, pinched the skin on my arm and hand, to see if I was dehydrated. I wasn’t bad, but they hung an IV of saline anyway, from the lamp next to my bed. Kateryn did a cervical check and the pressure of her hand stopped my contractions for a moment, and I could see both my team the edges of my own humanity for that brief minute. They tried to position me with pillows so my knees stayed open, and I didn’t like it. Amanda left to get my anti nausea medicine, which I threw up immediately.

All of this is probably way out of order, and lasted from 6 in the morning until 5 pm. It felt like a dream most of the time. I amused myself with stupid things to think about, like trying to figure out how you differentiate “stuff” and “thing” in Spanish.

I heard them getting the pool ready.

I sat on the toilet with Marley’s robe from high school on me backwards. I made him tell me not to panic. He told me not to panic. I put in my contacts and got in the inflatable birthing tub they’d filled with warm water, and burst into tears because it felt so much better.

Occasionally they would monitor the fetal heart rate, and drape me with cloths (our old, worn out dish towels put to good use) but mostly, I floated alone, grunting and moving how I needed to, following my body.

No one told me to start to push, I just did, and did for a while.

I thought he was stuck. I thought that they’d have to haul me out of the tub and rush me to the hospital to have him cut out of me. I told them this, but they all shook their heads. 

“He’s coming.” they said. “Reach and feel.” 

I did, and it was all me and then, high up but definitely OUT was a velvet rock. An alien coconut. The top of his head; our first contact.

I pushed. I poked Marley and informed him, “This really fucking sucks.” I gripped Marley’s tee shirt, and then I bit it.

I growled. 

I reached over and opened a kitchen drawer – an old superstition about birth I’d read in a book years ago. I flung my arms around Kateryn and told her I was breaking. I pushed and grunted more.

They told me to flip to my back. They reminded me to take a break. I told them I didn’t want a break, I wanted the fucking baby out.

His head popped out. 

Kimm yelled at me to stop, to breathe, to float to my back. I did, knowing she was preventing me from tearing. “My moms simply don’t tear” Kimm had told me. “Not once in eight years.” I’m delighted to report I was NOT the first to break her streak.

“Feel!” she said. I did, and Marley did, and we were weirded out and in awe.

“On the next contraction…” she started, and I contracted. He emerged into the pool. 

“There’s a cord!” she said, and 

I looked down and 

lamely tried to help while they untangled his body from his umbilical cord but

I was so tired and 

then he was unwrapped and 

then they brought his face out into the air and 

then they placed him onto my chest and

I was someone’s mother all of a sudden.

He required a few rubs to come to, which I didn’t notice at the time, but looks scary in the video. He was also grey and REALLY cone headed. A few rubs on the back from the midwives and he began to turn pink and cried for a minute, pissed off at the disruption.

I tipped him back to see his face, carefully holding him low so he wouldn’t get cold, and then looked at Marley in absolute shock that I’d just had a baby because it felt so impossible. I wasn’t thinking about having a baby. I was thinking about getting through the process. The baby part felt impossible, but then it happened because of course it did, and I just… was totally shocked by it. (It’s a week later. It still feels impossible.) 

“Eh.” he said. “Neah. Eh? ARRRAH! Nef.”

He flashed pink gums, a side-eye filled with skepticism, a gang sign?, and then he sighed. He looked like an alien, and a frog… and a lot like my Uncle Winston.

I introduced myself, and kissed him. I marveled at his massive puppy hands with teeny nails, and shock of dark hair, and little bright pink gums. He has the biggest eyes!

We draped him with wet receiving blankets to keep him warm in the pool.

He smelled delicious. “That’s all you!” Amanda pointed out. I think this is gross, but I couldn’t help it: I licked him.

Marley told me his name. I knew it would be first name Marley, last name Marlow, but didn’t know his middle name, which is what we were planning on calling him. I’d left that totally up to Marley, and he surprised me with two middle names: Marley Desmond Thai Marlow. I sang him Happy Birthday and everyone joined me, and I cried.

The placenta wasn’t coming out on its own. They gave me a tincture, and after 50 minutes of floating in the tub and waiting, they finally handed Marley scissors, and he cut the cord. I delivered it out of the tub, then slumped into Kimms arms while Marley cradled our baby. Amanda took a photo of the moment that I’ll love forever but REALLY can’t show you, of me absolutely spent and sprawled out, and Kimm just loving me and holding me.

I was bleeding more than they wanted, so I got a tiny injection to stop it, and some topical medicine for a scrape he made coming out. 

He was almost born en caul; my amniotic sac never broke until he was actually emerging so my fear of my water breaking in the middle of a coffee shop was really unfounded.

I was dressed and helped up, and then I felt amazing. Look at this crew! That’s Amanda next to me, Kateryn down in front, and Kimm snuggling Marley. Kimm and Kateryn are HeartScience Midwifery, and finding them changed everything. I’m so thankful to these three, and Marley, who was the best birthing partner ever.

We popped champagne and heated up the lasagna that my friend Allison made, and weighed him. 6 lbs., 13 oz. but so tiny! (a week later, he’s swimming in newborn clothes, which we had to quickly wash since I’d only washed 0-3 in advance, which is the advice everyone gave me!) 

Kimm brought us the washed up sac and placenta, and showed me how cute and tiny the placenta was. In photos I’d seen they are much bigger, but it explained why I really felt like I wasn’t showing much before 30 weeks. After thanking it, I let her take it to photograph and use for educational purposes. 

We took a group selfie. They ate and packed up and left and then we were just… a family of three and I have never loved anyone more than I love Marley and Desmond.

I feel like a bad motherfucker and you can’t tell me shit.

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Thin Places at Ikea?

My entire life I wanted to be a mother, but in an abstract way, and I assumed there would be a huge loss of identity. I didn’t know I’d feel the most like myself at my most pregnant.

Monday night I was sure I was going into labour. There was mucus and pain and blood, and then it slowed, and now, Friday night, it’s down to a contractions that seem to mostly happen in bed when I’m feeling safe and sound that are big and slow and require attention and breathing through, but not “real”. 

I’d asked this baby ages ago to ignore his due date on the 4th of May, and kindly come any time on or after 13th. I thought I might be whacky doing that, but he’s listening. My midwives, who have demonstrated over and over the power of ones mental state over a pregnancy, are not at all surprised.

Anyway, since Monday, I’ve continued to live my life, sort of, slowly, cautiously. I had one last trip to Ikea with a sort of heavy return on Wednesday (it’s a long story, but a few months ago I decided we needed to redo the kitchen. I was a little worried I was crazy, and it got frantic as all kitchen remodels do, but it was exactly the right thing to do and I’m thrilled.) I slowly got it up the stairs and to returns, bought the thing I needed, and gave myself a treat: Ikea meatballs. 

I sat eating, realising it was one of the last alone moments I’d have for a while. It felt sweet and momentous, and quiet. The auntie who put the meatballs on my plate gave me “one extra for free, for the baby”, a gesture I absolutely loved. I tucked into my delicious, cheap food, looking out over the view of Brooklyn and Manhattan, being consciously alone for the last time in a while and there it was suddenly. In the middle of the chaos of having to make one last trip to Ikea, which I had NOT wanted to make, in the middle of a place notorious for sparking arguments and being complicated: a thin place in the Ikea cafeteria.

I thought my water broke later that day, as soon as the last drawer was assembled, but it was… something else. Not pee, just… liquid? From my vagina? This whole “not labour labour” is weird and gross. I’ve leaned into it. It’s been on and off all week. I took the bus to lunch with friends today, almost a mile away today, but walked home, and it took me forever. People smiled at me while I shuffled.

I’m sentimental about it being the end. There have been difficult moments, but I have really loved being pregnant. The girl who lives downstairs is almost six. Her mother told her I was having a baby, and she asked, “Is she proud of herself?”

Yes, kiddo. I actually am.

I can’t wait to see his face. Marley is picking his name, and I have no idea what it is, so I’m giddy for that, too. I knew our first child, boy or girl, would be named Marley after their father – I adore him so much I couldn’t think of a better person to name my kiddo after – but that we’d call them by their middle name for the sake of keeping track of who is who. I turned the task of picking that name over to Marley after I found it was causing me anxiety, and he’s going to tell us both together what it is. 

I’m looking forward to not being as cumbersome, and the contractions that come at night are wearing on me. I’m ready to hold him in my arms, and I’m going to bite that foot that has been worming it’s way into my ribcage for months! 

But still. I’m really going to miss this.

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Empowered – NSFW photo

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!)

photo taken February 2019, in California, by Liv Lyszyk
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Kiddo

I Am Awesome at Being Pregnant

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.

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Baby, You Can’t Possibly Be That Complicated

“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.

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Thanksgiving 2018

II’m thankful…

…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.

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Flailing Upwards, Part… I Have Stoped Counting

“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.

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the dogs

Leeloo Dallas Marlow 2004 (probably) – 2008

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)

https://www.thesatoproject.org/donate

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!

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