The Amber Show

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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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In Which I Cry

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.

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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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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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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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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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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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Finding My Thin Places

I’ve been thinking recently about “thin places”, a concept described by New York Times writer Eric Weiner as “…locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever.”

He also addresses the disappointment pilgrims have felt reaching a designated “holy space” and finding it is NOT thin after all for any number of reasons. I myself, as a secular person, don’t have a Mecca or Jerusalem to sojourn to, so – like all of the happiness I’ve gotten in 35 years – I’ve had to uncover them unexpectedly. It was nice to read this article (now five years old) for a bit of validation.

My thin places have been floating in the middle of the lake in a row boat with two friends, sprawled on a hot beach in the shade on the backside of a remote beach in Nicaragua, and this afternoon, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but not while looking at any of the art. My friend’s baby, passed to me to hold while she put her baby carrier onto her torso to go home, pressed his head to my cheek, and I was immediately and unexpectedly in a thin space for that moment of time. She laughed kindly at the sudden “spiritual awakening” brought on by her squirmy, drooling kiddo. It was there when I was picking blueberries at a Stu!’s parent’s house in Connecticut, and during the sunset off the coast of Barcelona in Mallorca, which I watched with my chin in the crook of Marley’s arm, and which my friend Amanda took a photo of, and which I am extremely grateful to have.

I’ve been to Paris three times, and it’s not there, at least for me, but it was fun watching other people experience it being thin. It was not in Dubai- fun but not thin – or in Bali, even though I expected it to be.

(In other news, I have a lot of blogging to catch up on.)

Where is thin for you? Have you been disappointed by expecting a place to be thin that wasn’t, or found a place that was unexpectedly? I’d love to hear.

 

 

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Regarding the Whole of 2016 and What’s Next

I’ve just taken a look at my Life List. There are so many things I’ve managed to accomplish that I haven’t gotten around to checking off here. I am happy.

My business has taken up a ton of my free time, and Blogging As A Thing has become something entirely different than it was in 2004 when I started, and these two things combined have meant that this place is going stale. It was also never my career; I found the thing to do for a living that literally moves me to tears (which is awkward when you’re standing on a dance floor holding a camera watching a newly married couple having their first dance and getting choked up behind it, but there is a moment at literally EVERY wedding I photograph where I think “I am so FUCKING LUCKY I get to record this for them”). I should start writing about it. And life. I don’t want to forget everything. I’ve also come so far; today marks thirteen years since I started my blog. That is… insane.

I still want to keep blogging, I just need to clear space for it, and in the past year, I haven’t. This is changing this summer.

I can’t wait.

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Cheap Pregnancy Tests are Way Better

This article in NY Mag talks about pregnancy pee strips, something I hadn’t heard about in pop news in a while. It’s a topic I became an accidental cognoscente of a few years ago when I started reading about fertility. I recognized the author’s reporting of holding peed-on strips under harsh light, and was amused to hear there are now apps that tweak your photo to show lines more clearly. The most shocking part of this was reading that the drugstore pregnancy tests are $22+ now. Friends, no. Buy the box of 25 cheap pregnancy tests on Amazon. They’re small, with no plastic casing, and work very early – so early, in fact that they detect an hCG (pregnancy hormone) level at about 25 mIU/ml. This is early enough to detect a chemical pregnancy.

You will have to decide for yourself if knowing you’ve had one is devastating or fascinating.

You can keep them in a drawer and pee on them as often as you’d like. I like keeping them for other people, too, and at fifty cents each, being generous is pretty easy. More than once, a friend has come over to request one of mine, along with a paper cup and use of my bathroom. (It probably helps that I  also always have both herbal tea and a full bar on hand.)

A friend of came home from work to a package of the them a few days after my recommendation, and immediately sent me a cell phone shot of her completed test for co-analysis, spilling the beans of what turned out to be her daughter before her husband got home.

Babies are expensive enough.

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