The Amber Show

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Amber

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Girl Seeks Doctor

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.

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career Uncategorized

Drinks With Amber

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.

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Set Your Sail

I’m okay.

I had braced myself for not being okay, so this is surprising.

***

My therapist and I sat in our session trying to remember the penultimate step of the five steps of grief. Neither of us could, so I Googled after I left, and when I read “depression” I groaned out loud, “Oh no!” while looking at my phone.

[Side note: I’ve reached the point of living in New York City that I don’t care that I look a little weird talking out loud to myself occasionally like this. Without solid effort, you would be hard-pressed to be the most unusual person in any given subway car. In this particular instance, no one around me so much as glanced in my direction.]

I emailed her the bad news.

***

The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the author of these, regretted later that she wrote them in a way that people mistook as them as both linear and universal, but absent of any other guideline (and not liking to be unprepared) I stacked them in my mind and tried to figure out where I was and where I was going on this timeline.

The denial was easy to pinpoint, and brief. When I think back, it was a full four seconds of blinking back at the doctor after she gave me news, waiting for her to say, “However, I have this miracle in my pocket just for you.”

Anger and bargaining were easy. I was angry at the situation, but not at anyone. There was also no one to bargain with. This is the joy and peace of being an atheist.

So I braced myself for depression, and I was for a bit. But then I had an industry event that required me to put on makeup and a dress and heels, and I did, and I had a little bit of fun dancing around, taking selfies on the dance floor and in the ladies room, and ending up with drunk, gorgeous friends in my lap.

And I felt okay. And then I would cry, but then Marley and I would laugh like our old selves again.

***

I don’t think I’ll ever be over it completely, but I wouldn’t want to be, either. You know?

I carry your hearts with me. I carry them in my heart.

But… I set myself and my mental state in a correct place to navigate circumstances well.

Side note: dear universe. Just because I said it does not mean that you need to test it further. Okay? Amen.

I have no idea how I learned this, but the more I read about self-discovery and personal development, the more I’m in awe of how far I’ve actually come. Not perfect, but way farther along than I thought, and I don’t know how I did it, but I’m happy and proud.

I’m positive a ton of it is part of a survival response to the abuse I endured as a kid, mixed with Iyanla Vanzant in the 90’s sitting on Oprah, pressing one palm to her forehead and one on the back of head just above her eyebrows, saying “Save yourself”. (Try it. I don’t know the science behind touching yourself in this way, but it feels powerful.)

“Set your sail” says Jim Rohn. I like where I have mine.

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pieces of my memoir

Black Thanksgiving 2017

I meant to publish this in late November 2017, and posted it to Facebook instead.

In the car, my dad’s partner has a ring.

“What’s this?” I ask, grinning.

“It’s just a ring. Amber. You cut out that grinning!” my dad is mock mad while driving, and trying to give me a stern look in the rearview mirror, but his eyes are crinkling.

“Okay, fine.” I shrug. “It’s just a ring. On a left ring finger. Just because. But if you need me to hang streamers from the backyard and call a florist…”

“Girl…”

They all laugh.

“I’m excited to go to this Thanksgiving. I want to be in a room where I can say, ‘I miss Barak’ and everyone agrees.” We all laugh again, and then sigh.

“Ain’t that the truth.” my dad says wistfully.

Cousin Antwon smiles. “Tequila?” he asks. I’ve never said no to tequila on a holiday. We cheers and sip. It’s barely past noon. No one judges us. Cousin Dougie is trying to work his iPad and taking video of everyone and I can see it’s shakey. I feel like I should have brought my camera, and remind myself next year. Uncle Warren calls me princess, everyone raises an eyebrow. Cousin Robyn gets choked up saying grace and getting thankful, and we all get choked up, too. Her wife gives her a big hug after amen, and a bunch of us follow suit before getting our plates. She has a house full of people, a house she admits is a little too large, and that they bought especially for hosting Thanksgiving, and now it’s full of people, and it’s beautiful, and looking around, I get choked up, too.

My dad is the first in line for food. We sit together, he looks at me expectantly as I eat the collard greens. “Yes, okay. Yours are better.” I’m pretty sure if I don’t say this, I’m walking home. It’s not untrue, though. “Mmmmhmm. That’s right.” he says low enough so only I can hear him.

I promise I’m going to pace myself, but don’t, and wind up eating way too much. Pies and cakes are brought out immediately, without the gap between dinner and dessert that my white family insists on. I start on my first piece of my dad’s pineapple upside down cake, and he talks about his mother, and his grandmother, and reminds me that I come from a long line of strong black women. I’m starting to feel more tired than strong, but power through a slice of sweet potato pie after that.

Uncle Brian falls out on the couch. Cousin Sarah and Cousin Antown pick on each other, and then love on each other. Cousin Sarah chides her ten year old daughter, and Auntie Gloria says, “Don’t pick on my grandbaby!” and my baby cousin gives the smug smile every kid gets when your granny stands up for you.

Uncle Warren and my dad unthaw decades old arguments and fire them up again. They are the exact same size (and I can’t tell them apart from the back) but they each pick on each others small pot bellies.

I find Auntie Gloria and help with her crocheting. She admits she’s leaving soon because she doesn’t want to be in the area at night. There’s a lot of KKK in the town. It’s not safe, she doesn’t know how they live here.

Another Auntie whispers us she has a gun in her purse, because it’s a white town. I start to laugh, but she’s serious. Okay then!

For the first time in my entire life, I feel safe telling a tale of “blackness scorned”: I’m sitting with white friends. One asks if anyone knows of a hairdresser, another quips, “Why? To help Amber out?” and I laugh and let it slide off my back but actually die inside because I had felt cute and liked my messy hair. which I had left out of it’s usual ponytail for the day.

I’m half white, and get scared they will roll their eyes at me for this story, thinking of all the things I get away with that they don’t because I can usually “pass“. Instead, they nod, and furrow their brows, and suck their teeth, and shake their heads. They get it. They understand laughing to keep from crying.

I’m family, and I belong there.

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Breathing

Currently mulling on the particular challenge of wrapping your arms around an enormous pain. Everything is foggy.

My therapist told me to accept the fog, and do something creative.

“Maybe you can cross stitch, or knit.” (My therapist is an older white lady, and she’s wonderful, but I’m not cross stitching shit.)

I started off small and got a hilarious audio book, then cleaned out our kitchen cabinets, storage areas, closets, medicine drawers, and coffee table. Creative, productive. Given my line of work, they’re often the same thing. Does it count as creative that I just brought four huge bags to Housing Works? No, right? Whatever. I’ll try again next week.

I drew a breath.

Friends sent flowers, and fun crafts, take out gift certificates, a gift certificate for a massage at the spa around the corner, snacks, and, hilariously, two dozen balloons that bounced around our ceiling, I imagine because one time during a particularly grueling season, Marley bought me balloons, and they remembered.

In August of 2016, I started a group of wedding professionals that have the same progressive morals; it’s grown to a group of 150. They pooled their money and sent over some well wishes, and a check, which is probably going to the criminally expensive genetic testing we are having done.

I’ve stowed in my heart tiny texts, heartfelt emails, phone calls, and a dozen stories texted and emailed from other women, of “I lost babies, too” ranging from a few weeks to thirty years ago. I’ve been warmed with love, and all of the ways sharing our story has made us, and others, feel less alone, which is the only good thing I can do with it.

I feel seen.

***

My friend is seven months pregnant. I asked if she’d taken any photos yet, and she said not really. “Please let me photograph you. You need photos. Trust this heartbroken photographer.”

I photographed her on the streets of Brooklyn, and in my apartment, and pressed my palm down in the middle of her to feel her son squirming inside of her.

“Does this make you sad?” she asked.

“No, it gives me hope.”

I drew another breath.

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blah blah blah pieces of my memoir

I Had Three Hearts

CW: Story of a missed miscarriage of mo-di twins.

Two days after Christmas, we get another gift: a second tiny bean, previously undiscovered. I think of Beyonce, and the poet Warsan Shire.

“I’m beside myself with dreams. I have three hearts.”

They’re identical, the result of overly enthusiastic mitosis. No one knows why. I feel like I’ve won the lotto.

I’m sent for a more detailed sonogram – they’re really close together so they might be in the same sac, which is scary – but for the following week. We make it through New Years Eve nervous, but happy.

***

Two wiggly gummy bear-shaped shadows are floating inside me, patting each other gently in the face. They are separated by their own sacs, which is good, but share a placenta, which is concerning, but usually fine.

The tech turns up the sound, and we hear one heartbeat, and then the other. It would be the only time we ever heard heartbeats, but of course we don’t know this yet.

Waiting for our cab, Marley asks if I’m okay. “No,” I said, laughing and crying. “I will literally never be okay again. I have TWO people to worry about for the rest of my life.”

Lying in bed weeks later, suddenly empty, my tee shirt drenched in milk for nobody, I looked back over the previous weeks trying to figure out when it was that I fell in love, and pinpoint that it was then, when I saw them, and heard them, and they looked like gummy bears.

***

At thirteen weeks, I went back without Marley for a diagnostic scan.

I will never go to another scan without him again.

“They’re straight up chillin’ in there!” said the tech. And they were were. They had flipped back to back, one leaning against the other, sucking their thumbs like tiny beach bums in hammocks chugging Coronas. They were also completely still.

The doppler lines went across their hearts without moving. My brain shut down this information, and I think nothing of it. I’m quiet, watching their shapes. So is she. The doctor comes in and leans over me to deliver the news.

I am naked, covered in jelly, and sobbing. This is the worst. It was the second trimester. We were supposed to be safe. Intellectually I knew anything could happen – I’ve experienced “anything can happen” with girlfriends – but still. Still.

Gulping, I ask for a photo of each of them, which I will keep forever. It’s technically too early to tell, but also really obvious they are boys. I was going to have sons.

I find comfort in this: if you’ve only existed for three months and a week, and your arm has just grown long enough to reach your hand to your mouth, and you’ve also just grown a thumb, sucking it is, in your incredibly limited amount of experiences, the best thing ever. They died happy.

I get dressed and slip across the hall to the doctor’s office, who already has my OB on the phone, and my OB is already pulling information for an operation the next morning. The option to let it happen naturally was too horrible to think about, and too dangerous. I held my breath and ducked my head walking through the waiting room, determined not to traumatize anyone else pregnant and waiting for their turn. I wept in the elevator. I wailed on the street. I managed to stuff it down to gulping sniffles to get in the car I called to pick me up. The driver turned and looked at me.

“You look tired!” he said brightly.

Fuck outta here.

***

I sat in the marble and glass lobby of Marley’s insanely fancy Manhattan office building. Security guards eyed me, but let me be. I wept on the velvet couch. People made a wide berth. I love this City.

I count down the minutes he has left to be happy, starting at 36. They tick away: nineteen, thirteen, seven, two. He’s late, and gets bonus minutes of happiness. I’m glad for him. At 5:03, it occurs to me I should have gone home instead, that his work colleagues would be right behind him, that we were in a crowded lobby full of offices and people leaving for the day, that this news would have been better delivered at home. But it feels too late to leave. He knows I’m there waiting for him. I stand up, then sit back down.

He’s my homing beacon, and I’ve turned towards him like always, but now I regret it, although he promises later that I did the right thing.

He comes around the corner, and I watch him searching my face from yards away. He sits and looks at me expectantly as New York City streams around us.

“No more minutes.” I think to myself, and then I begin to speak.

***

They give me a hospital bracelet.

This was not the hospital bracelet I wanted.

They give me a sonogram.

This was not the sonogram I wanted.

I change into a gown. We wait.

I slide my hands all around my round belly for the last time, and reach low, for where I had begun to feel them wiggle. I know the science, but poke around anyway – a vain hope for a miracle. I hadn’t expected to be showing so soon, and definitely didn’t expect to feel them flipping around already, but with twins, that’s what happens.

I want to be be awake, but the doctor overrules me. I grudgingly sign consent to be put under. I am put on a bed with my calves strapped into cupped supports above me. A nurse gathers my gown to cover “my vajay”, then straps in my legs and begins an IV. “I’ve never had anesthesia before. What if it doesn’t work?”

“It’ll work,” she says. “I’ve been here for ten years, and it’s never failed.”

“What’s it like?” I ask.

“A power nap.” she answers. “If you’re behind on sleep, you’ll be caught up!”

I turn side to side as best I can, trying to figure everything out from flat on my back. The sonogram lady rolls an ultrasound machine in, and tells me they need it to keep everything as safe as possible.

The anesthesiologist walks me me through what she’s doing. “You’ll feel it going up your arm right now, and then maybe taste it?”

“Yup,” I say, “It’s in my face.”

I don’t notice I’m under. In my dream I’m walking down a long hallway, not scared, but overwhelmingly lonely, and everything is grey.

***

I’m awake, and uncomfortable, and we’re going to keep it real: in the process of numbing my cervix, they also numbed my colon, trapping a piece of waste in it. I’m angry that this, of all things, is making me uncomfortable. They force me to eat something. I drink a small cup of warm apple juice, and eat one Ritz cracker. I try to poop, but can’t, so I give up, get dressed, and go home. Every bump on the ride home is brutal. I curl up on Marley, furious. I want to mourn, and it’s impossible. It’s another hour at home before the local anesthetic is worn off enough for me to go.

If you’re having a D&C, get an enema first.

I notice on my left arm they have injected me. There’s no bandaid, and no one tells me. A less observant person wouldn’t have seen it.

This is upsetting. Did they not think I’d notice? Days later at a followup, I’m told it was likely an injection to cause my uterus to contract. I feel betrayed this information wasn’t told to me. I hate not knowing. I hate that I never saw them. I hate everything about this.

***

In the days after, we all but sew ourselves together, living on takeout, crying, sprawling across our bed. The lady downstairs asks what she can do, and I have just the task for her: next month I have a speaking engagement that I ordered a maternity dress for. I ask her to take it away for Marley to deal with later so I don’t have to see it. She brings us food, too. Nicki delivers “a package” and it’s her, standing on my stoop with cheese, and chocolates, and gin. A fruit basket arrives, and some treats from close friends.

We begin to think we will pull through, and plan a two-person memorial service for that weekend. We toast their lives after with pho, and bubble tea.

I make a therapy appointment.

We begin to dream about the future again.

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bits

Keely and the Scarf

My friend Keely and I share a birthday, and I adore her. On Monday, we were browsing a bookstore when she spotted a scarf abandoned on a display, and, a bit later, a lady without one.

“Did you lose your scarf?” she asked the lady. “I think think it’s just over there.”

She pointed.

The lady rushed over, then came back to where we were checking out at the register and said, “Oh my goodness. You have no idea how grateful I am! Thank you!” She left, tucking it around her neck.

I asked, “Did you see her lose the scarf? I don’t understand how you knew it was hers.” (The bookstore was a bit crowded.)

Keely said, “No, I just sensed she was missing it.” She shrugged and me and the cashier kind of just marveled at her.

Isn’t that extraordinary? I love that Keely is my friend.

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life list

Life List: Do Tequila Shots on a Beach in Mexico at Sunset – check

 

This was the very first thing I put on my Life List, because I read it in 1,001 Place to See Before You Die back when I was 16. My family laughed at me for dreaming of traveling “so far”, but in January of 2017, we headed to Mexico (on the 20th… ahem.) and at sunset one evening, I finally checked this OG task off my list. Marley joined me, and then we stumbled into dinner.

Naturally, I drank to my 16 year old self.

We stayed here, at the Zamas Hotel in Tulum, which I loved, and opted for a beachfront chica, meaning that we woke up, walked outside, and were immediately seaside. It was magical.

p.s. No one cares if you want to lounge around aux seins nus, so I took a photo of my bikini top flung on our porch steps!

 

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Keep It Simple

Is it me, or is adult gift giving just… weird? After a few years of awkwardly exchanging gifts with family, we kind of “called it” this holiday season and said “no more”. I’d rather spend time and money eating together (and maybe splurging on a bottle of nicer-than-usual wine) than exchanging things that everyone can just buy themselves. It was controversial, but we’re happy to have finally made this decision.

Every year as I get older, I long for a less complicated life, filled with rich friendships and experiences.

It’s not easy. Keeping up with dear relationships is difficult. Over the summer, I realised with a start that I hadn’t seen my friend Jen in close to two years. They moved to Vermont, so when we headed up to sleep in a yurt in upstate and I saw they were only an hour’s drive from there, I texted her husband Micah to see when everyone would be home just having a normal day.

He said Saturday looked good, so I just… pulled into her driveway. It was magic (I highly recommend you turn yourself into a surprise at least once. No one before or since has ever been that happy to see me.) We got local takeout, and played nerf guns with their kids in the yard, and met their chickens, and explored the woods around their house. It’s small-but-everything moments like this that I want to remember, not the things in life on my shelves collecting dust.

I’ve “uniformed” myself to a few essential pieces of clothing that I like very much. Marley wears the same things every day, too. We have one drawer with a family collection of socks that aren’t just his or mine; we share sweatshirts, too.

We’re going deeper into our humanity, I think, and, okay *jerk off motion* but I feel so… human… these days, and I’m happy and simplifying everything has helped so much. I’ve spoken candidly before of growing up abused and then being married to A Nice Person But The Wrong Person, so everyone who loved me before was complicated and now it’s not complicated – we just Are. – and you’d think this would be the best time to throw a bit of complexity on everything but it’s not what I want.

No gifts, no clutter, no unnecessary clothes, no weird ingredients to be used once and then forgotten in the back of the cabinet – we even eat uncomplicated meals these days, too. We started saving 10% of our income in 2017, too, because if simplicity is number one, security is a close second.

Please don’t come for my skincare, though! I have more bottles of oils, moisturizers, and washes than I’m going to admit. I can only go so far.

Photo by Lacie Slezak

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