The Visit

I’m heading to Florida again, to the sun, the surf; to time splashing with my babies and holding hands with my husband. To my dad.

Last year, when I was visiting my dad for the first time since he left us, I was anxious. I was bitchy, I was on edge, and I nearly ruined our vacation, sick with the anticipation of visiting the place where my dad lay in the ground.

I think this time is different. I am still anxious, I have been bitchy, I am on edge and I am nearly sick with the anticipation of visiting the place where my dad lays in the ground. I’m just going to try really hard not to ruin our vacation with my grief this time.

Grief is a funny thing. My grief is a funny thing. I often think that it lives really low, way down in my belly, suppressed by the thought of travelling all that way to my heart, through all those acids and organs, and so it sits, heavy but dormant. Until.

Until conversation turns to the subject of him and I realize that we are speaking in the past tense. Until Bruce Springsteen comes on the radio, or I have a question that sends me instinctually to the phone, to dial his number for the elusive answer.

Until we plan to return to Florida and I have to visit him at Florida National Cemetery instead of in his living room.

Last year I introduced him to the granddaughter he left mere weeks too soon to meet. This year, I probably won’t bring her. An hour’s drive to a cemetery with prickly grass and not enough shade with a child who will understand that I am sad but not understand why, makes going to the cemetery even less appealing. But should I bring Bee? My lovely, sweet, inquisitive 4 ½ year old who knows that Big Guy is not around anymore, but has no idea of mortality, of the hard reality of death – of anything beyond, Big Guy died and Mummy is sad?

The other day, she asked me where heaven was. I took a deep breath and said, well, if you believe in heaven, then it’s in the sky. Oh, Bee replied, ok. Then she added, what is heaven? Another deep breath. Well, I said, if you believe in heaven, then you believe that it is the place you go after you die. Oh, she said again, ok.

I don’t’ really believe in heaven, or hell, or any utopian or fiery place that the spirit goes when you die. At least, I don’t think I do. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t’ want to have to explain to my lovely, sweet, inquisitive 4 ½ year old that we are standing on top of the place where my father’s bones are buried. That the stone with his name on it is marking the place where my father’s bones are buried. That we put rocks on the stone to signify that we were here, that he is missed, that he is loved. I don’t lie to my kids, but I’m not quite ready to tell them the truth.

So I’ll make the drive to Florida National Cemetery with Chris next to me and nobody in the backseat, distracting ourselves from the thought of our destination with jokes and music and wistful comments about how nice it is to be able to have an uninterrupted conversation, thanks to the empty backseat.

But I’ll feel it rising. That ball of grief that usually sits heavy but docile in my belly. I’ll feel my stomach churn as it snakes its way up; I’ll feel my breath get shallower as it pushes against my expanding lungs until finally my heart starts beating double-time, conceding space to this thing that callously left the spot it had burned in my body to thrust itself onto my consciousness, into my blood, into my throat.

I will sit and weep as I look at the words on the headstone. I will miss him and curse him and think that I am ready for this pain, but I won’t be. And eventually, my grief and my husband and I will have to leave; to get back to my children and our vacation and our life. And I will leave my dad, under the ground made heavier by the weight of the rocks I have placed on his grave marker and the weight of my tears seeping into the soil, and I will leave him to the earth; to the trees, whose dappled shade dances at the foot of his grave.



Supermodels and Homebirths and Liars, Oh My

Gisele Bundchen had a baby, and I’m a little disturbed by it. No, I’m not disturbed because I think she and Tom Brady are trying to create some new uber-species of beautiful, impossibly tall creatures who will use midgets like me as doorstops, or because I think she and Leo should have stuck it out and made little Leo babies together who would have maybe been not quite as tall and therefore slightly less inclined to use midgets like me as doorstops in the new world order.

I’m disturbed because Giselle Bundchen had an unmedicated water birth, at home, and people are giving her shit for not hating it.

Specifically, people are giving her shit for saying that it wasn’t painful. Well, first people gave her shit for having a homebirth – you KNOW how ridiculously dangerous it is to have a baby at home, right? And the baby must have been underweight because this 6’ Amazon only gained about 25 lbs, right? – and then they gave her shit for saying that it wasn’t the excruciating experience women are led to believe it is. They are calling her a liar. They are saying it is because she is privileged, and a supermodel and rich. That might make her clothes and her vacations better than mine, but I’m not sure it does a thing to help a vagina repel pain. They are calling BS. And so am I.

Listen, there are lots of reasons to hate Gisele. Hate her because she is tall and gorgeous and rich and traded Leonardo DiCaprio for Tom Brady. Hate her because she had her figure back 6 weeks after giving birth and most of us are struggling to get into our prenatal jeans two years post partum. But please don’t hate Gisele because she embraced the act of giving birth to her child.

She wanted to be present, and she wanted to feel the experience. From what she says in terms of preparation, her body, her mind and her spirit were strong and open. Obviously her pregnancy and birth were low risk, and she did not seem to be scared. Instead of deciding to schedule and control the birth process like so many celebrities we hear of, Gisele decided that she wanted to be conscious and present for the birth of her child. She did Yoga and meditated throughout her pregnancy. She exercised and ate well. She prepared her home, and if everything she says about her preparation and experience is positive, why then, should the language she uses to describe the birth not be positive, too? I think Gisele’s telling of her birth story is one of the most healthy and truthful I’ve ever heard.

She says that she was able to get through the contractions because she knew that every one would bring her closer to her child. My own mother coached me to think this way, eschewing my Ina May-inspired hippie shit with some good old fashioned pragmatism. ‘Look,’ she told me, ‘Every contraction you have is a contraction you will never have again. They are finite, and they will end when your baby is born, and if that’s not motivation enough to just shut up and do it, then I don’t know what is.’

So that’s exactly what I was thinking when I pushed my baby out on my bed. And it wasn’t painful. When I went into transition, I reared up from my position on all fours and made noises that I didn't know a human being was capable of making. It was the most intense experience of my life, but it wasn’t painful, because I could handle it. And then I pushed for 2 hours, and I was so exhausted that I was literally snoring in between contractions, but it wasn’t painful. Because I knew I could handle it. And I knew that as long as I remembered that I could handle it, it wouldn’t be painful.

The language that I used to get through my birth was practical and positive. I could do this. Let’s go, I can do this.

And when you feel positive and confident and supported during birth, it doesn’t have to be painful. It can be a lot of other things – exhausting, intense, weird, surreal – but it doesn’t have be painful. Or scary or risky or horrible.

So maybe Gisele is not a liar. Maybe she just decided to embrace childbirth and motherhood with every fibre of her being, including the language she uses to describe it. Maybe she was just lucky. But the women that feel threatened or cheated or maligned or lied to by the declaration that birth is maybe Not. That. Bad? Now there is some serious BS.