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Anonymous, Grief, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Summer Solstice

June 24, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anonymous

Scout was conceived during the New Moon and was lost during the Summer Solstice. Before I even got the bloodwork results, I felt her leave me as the thunder stormed through the shortest night of the year. Which is silly, of course, since she was only 4 weeks and 2 days.

But I swear, I knew I lost her.

A “chemical pregnancy, “ they call it, since there would be no sac visible on ultrasound that early. To me, there was nothing “chemical” about it. The two pink lines, clear as day, over and over and over – two days’ worth. The nearly immediate instinct to rest my hand on my stomach. After months of trying to be a single mother by choice, two months of Clomid and three of progesterone, I was finally part of that club I envied; those women whose bodies were doing what they were supposed to. Mothers. I walked around, amazed that my life was changed so much already, but no one else could tell. I looked up my due date. February 26, 2016. I wondered if I would have a leap year baby.

When the spotting started hours after the first lines appeared, panic swam through my veins and soaked through my skin. I tried to tell myself it was normal implantation spotting. Instinct told me otherwise.

The next morning, bright red blood spattered the toilet paper and my insides clenched in horror. It kept coming, insistent and scarlet, on the toilet paper, on the pad; later, there were clots. I called the midwife and was sent for bloodwork. I bled through pad after pad. Asked the cab driver to please hurry, this is an emergency. Tried to quell the alarm that was quickly overwhelming me. Laid on my back with my feet up.

I talked with her. Pled with her to stay with me. The night before the positive test, I drank for the first time in months, since the pregnancy test that day was negative. Scout I’m sorry, I know that’s not the best way to start our relationship, but I swear I will never do it again. I feel guilty already; welcome to motherhood, huh? I prayed to Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, Hannah – infertile women of the Old Testament who were eventually blessed with a baby. I begged Yemaya, a goddess of fertility and motherhood, to please help me stay a mother. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

A Bend in the Light

June 18, 2015
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

 

By Aileen Weintraub

It was the morning of my son’s eighth birthday and I was having trouble getting out of bed. In three hours, fifteen family members, including grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, would descend upon my house to celebrate. I pulled the cream colored sheets up to my chin and then tucked the thin tattered quilt firmly around my shoulders to make sure I was wrapped tight. It was a habit I had retained from five months of pregnancy-related bed rest leading up to the birth of my son. The last eight years seemed to have flown by, but when I think about those five months, it still feels like a life sentence. I ignored the familiar pang in my chest that accompanied the memory. Even now, so many years later, I still struggle with remnants.

I had made a promise to myself all those years ago: if this baby survived, no matter what, I would will myself out of bed every morning to care for him. By now I knew that I could face the day, as long as I eased into it. I ticked off a list of to do items for the party: prepare crudités, defrost burgers, clean bathrooms. I gave myself two more minutes under covers, watching the shadows dance on the wall, another habit I had picked up from what I came to refer to as bed rest purgatory. Maybe it was the way the light hit the wall this morning or the fact that we had come so far, but something inside me triggered details I had tried unsuccessfully to cast aside.

It was right around my twenty-ninth day of bed rest, at which point I had become an expert on two fronts: light patterns on varying surfaces and the direction in which dust swirls before it settles. That particular afternoon was a hot June day, and I lay in bed watching the sun streaming through the window making rainbow prisms on the wooden floor. The pressure in my lower belly was unbearable and I raised my hips up onto a yoga block in a poor attempt at relief. Even now, thinking back, I can almost feel the summer’s breath caress the curve of my neck as it passed between the crinkled white curtains. What made this day different than the previous ones is that by then, all the hoopla of bed rest had died down. The phone had ceased ringing, there were no packages in the mail, and I was undeniably alone. The hustle of setting up my space and receiving visitors had held the sadness at bay for the first few weeks. But then, the house fell silent as all the well meaning people went back to their workaday lives. I was unsettled because the very next day would mark the one month anniversary of the emergency sonogram that showed I had three monster fibroids invading my uterus.

Fibroids are bulbous growths that form on the uterine wall. One of them was pressing up against my cervix causing early effacement. Most of the time they are relatively harmless, unless of course they are trying to escape. There was a battle inside my belly, and I was told in no uncertain terms that the fibroids would likely win. The doctor, whom I now only remember as a bleached blond with Louboutin heels and bright red lipstick told me with her head still between my legs that I’d be lucky if my baby made it to twenty-four weeks. I had been eighteen weeks along at the time. Go to bed. Don’t get up. Wait. That was the only treatment she offered. And there I was on that twenty-ninth day, just skimming the surface of the first full month.

The initial shock and fear eventually simmered, leaving in its wake a hollow shell of guilt. In the space of the silent afternoon, just around the time when the light pattern darkened on my bedroom wall, I began to obsess. I worried what people thought of me and I judged myself against other pregnant women. No matter what anyone else had to say, at the time, there was only one way for me to see this. I had failed at the very essence of womanhood. I was an incubator, a stationary vessel in the truest sense.

My mother, in her well meaning way, told me to keep busy, and, to get my mind off my situation, she would send care packages. But once the mail had already arrived, or the UPS driver hadn’t shown up on his morning run, I had nothing left to look forward to for the rest of the day. The afternoons were ruthless.

I had dubbed the hours between 1:00 and 3:00 ‘the endless’ hours. Not a single car on the road drove by, television became a wasteland of soap operas and reruns, and this is when the sadness hit the hardest. I struggled to distinguish the physical pain of the fibroids pressing up against my cervix from the emotional pain that dug a deep pit in my middle. I could drown during those hours, turn deep inside, and never come up for air if I allowed myself to slip. By 3:00, I could muster energy enough to reach over and click on the television remote to watch talk show hosts crack jokes that left me cold.

Each day after that twenty-ninth one I continued to observe the slow and relentless disintegration of my body as if it were detached from me entirely. At every turn, something new failed me: first my uterus, then my cervix, my blood sugar, my joints, the list goes on, and soon I had a small army of vitamins, pills, needles, and medications. For the first time I could sympathize with elderly people who lived inside flesh and bones that just could not keep time with their soaring spirit. I realized what it meant to be in pain every single moment of the day and how it could change your entire personality. I imagined each little joint, artery, and nerve ending, blessing them and saying silent prayers that nothing else would fail and that this baby would thrive. Even now to this day I say a prayer, thankful for my life right down to my smallest blood vessel.

It took a while to realize, but sometimes there is simply no pill or procedure, or anything else. Sometimes it’s just you and whatever or whomever you believe in trying to figure out how to get through the next moment. Unlike other people suffering from depression, by the very nature of this beast, I could not change my environment. I could not “take my mind off things” even if I wanted to. It was a test not only of emotional and physical endurance but of mental acuity. It would have been so easy to follow the darkness in its entirety, to go deeper.

My husband was dutiful, making me a cooler packed with food in the mornings and leaving it bedside, calling once a day, and even stopping by with the occasional chocolate ice cream shake or other goody. But he had just bought a lawn and power equipment dealership that, it turns out, we had no idea how to run. As a matter of fact, we closed on the business the very day I was sentenced to purgatory. How’s that for tear your hair out stress? He tried to hold it all together, juggling a sick wife who cried all day and a fledging business. Mostly he came home and vomited from stress.

In the evenings, once he had shoveled a handful of cashews or almonds into his mouth, probably his only dinner, he would make his way into the bedroom and stand over the bed, his tall, slim figure casting a looming shadow. One night he asked me how I was holding up. I didn’t know how to answer so instead we made small talk. Our marriage was fresh and new, and we were not well equipped to deal with the impending tragedy of a child lost. But then again, who is? That night he watched me with love in his eyes, but tempered by a look of pity and concern. That was when I knew he felt as hopeless as I did. From then on, I began to sleep away the days, but even that was not without hesitation because my dreams were riddled with nightmares.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Pregnancy

First Response.

May 19, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Diana Whitney

Nothing makes you feel youthful like walking into your local Rite Aid and asking the pale pimply girl behind the counter where to find the pregnancy tests.  Giving her a casual smile, talking fast.  Trying to keep your composure, as if you were looking for sunscreen or Q-tips, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to conceal.

Of course the people who work in drugstores deal in all manner of products to treat the humiliations of the body—Wart Remover, Pepto-bismol, Ex-lax, Tampax, Depends, Trojans…  At this point in my life I could request condoms without blushing. But their polar opposite? I never thought I‘d need another.

Choose your color—Clear Blue Easy or Disney-Princess pink First Response, which I bought because it was on sale, two for $12.99, and because the name suggested an emergency, and the answer to an emergency.  By now I scorned the promises implied on the blue box, knowing there was nothing clear or easy about my situation.

A slinking, adolescent mood came over me as I made my purchase, trying to camouflage the pink tests among neutral items like soap and Ibuprofen. In the makeup aisle I’d caught a glimpse of myself in a face-sized mirror— cheeks flushed with a girlish glow.  My skin was bathed in a hormone cocktail more potent than an antioxidant facial or a night of orgasms.  Meanwhile my daughters were out in the car listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I’d given them gum and strode off into the drugstore, leaving them free to roam the seats and practice blowing bubbles while Harry walked alone into the Forbidden Forest to give himself up to the Dark Lord for the last time.

Did the counter girl assume I was hopeful about the test?  She couldn’t know I’d gotten the IUD out after almost six years—the copper Y inside me a foreign body triggering torrential monthly bleeding even while it served its baby-proofing purpose.   Goodbye and good riddance, I’d thought.  The doctor had tried to coax me onto the pill right then and there but I stood my ground, feet still in the stirrups—no more hormones, no more chemicals.

You see, Doctor, my man promised he’d get a vasectomy and until then we’d use old school methods like Pull Out and Pray.  We were practiced at this kind of prayer.  Plus, how easy could it be to get pregnant at 40?  With the IUD gone I felt light and airy.  I floated across the parking lot and ambitiously bought a 20-pack of lambskin condoms, looking the cashier right in the eye.

In Chinese medicine there is a fifth season between summer and fall, and in this late August torpor a window opened, blue and gold and loud with cricket-song.  The veil between the worlds parted and I found myself half off the bed, hair grazing the floor.

His mouth on my exposed throat, my mouth on the warm curve of his ear, we moved without thought or effort, fallen gods in a pile of sheets who never paused to peel open foil.  Time collapsed into breath and sunlight, arch and abandon, levitation of pleasure.

A few weeks later I found myself in that unwieldy act of peeing on a bright pink stick for “NOT LONGER THAN 5 SECONDS”—counting one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, etc. Then replacing the cap on the absorbent tip and laying the stick with the display window face-up on the bathroom counter and folding laundry, urgently, for the requisite three-minute wait.  How many absorbent tips have I wet in my lifetime? How this awkward rite unites me with nameless women everywhere, in our common hopes or fears, our shock, elation or despair.

Driving home from Rite Aid I had to pause Harry Potter, unable to bear the boy’s bravery and sacrifice in the face of my impending choice.  In the silence, Ava and Carmen immediately started squabbling over the last piece of bubble gum.

“Girls,” I mused, not for the first time, “what would you do if you had a little brother back there in a baby seat?”

“I’d kick him in the butt!” snarled Carmen.

“I’d HATE him,” said Ava simply.  End of discussion. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Pregnancy, Relationships

I Used To Believe In Magic

April 18, 2015

By Natalie D-Napoleon

My father was an atheist who believed that facts and science were the only thing worth basing your life on.  My mother is a Catholic, and believes in faith and prayer. Me? I used to believe in magic.

###

I’m embarrassed to say I believed Santa existed until I was 11, and my mother had to tell me he wasn’t real. I was the eldest child of four and the eldest cousin of 11, so there were no older siblings or cousins to pop my magic-believing bubble.

From the mystical power of pyramids to prevent cheese from molding and hanging upside down in yoga poses to increase the capacity of my brain I graduated to an interest in tarot cards, Jung and astrology. Jung’s signs of synchronicity and deja vu governed my life for a time, and their appearance I always took as a pointer that my life was going in the right direction; that magic was happening and I was where I needed to be in that moment.

But over time I stopped believing in magic. Magic was lies adults told to children to get them to behave, it was mythology and fairy tales, serendipity and synchronicity. The adult world taught me those things no longer existed, that magic was for children, and for those who wanted to stay children longer than they should.

My father had always been right. Magic was for those who are by nature dreamers, and my dreams had become boring, tedious, painful and adult.

###

I was sitting in my Mazda 3 in the parking lot of the university where I worked, on my cell phone, talking to Steve and sobbing.  “I can’t do it. I can’t do exploratory surgery when we don’t even know for sure if that will give us the answers we’re looking for.”

“Nat, I don’t know what to say.  Do you want to get pregnant or not?”

“I do, but…”

“Then have the laparoscopy, don’t cancel it.”

“I can’t. She said in most cases they don’t even find anything. It’s exploratory surgery. I just… I can’t do it.”

I called back the doctor’s office where I’d just finished completing my admissions forms for a laparoscopy and endoscopy in eight weeks’ time, and cancelled the surgery.

###

For two and a half years we had been trying to get pregnant.

We had tried everything.

I’d had blood tests every morning for weeks to track my hormones at a fertility clinic, plastered with pictures of happy mothers and families with babies on the walls; we’d fucked like rabbits in every position imaginable; and, finally we’d tried the Creighton Model Fertility Care System – no invasive techniques for this natural couple.  The CMFS involved a system of tracking cervical mucus using an infuriating and methodical system of checking wiped toilet tissue and recording my cervical mucus consistency, length and color, every day of the month to determine when I was ovulating. All the while we watched my best friend get pregnant, twice, my sister in law unknowingly use the girl’s name I’d picked, Lillian, and attended so many first birthday parties for our friends’ children that they now outnumbered the adult parties we went to.

It was not long after that that I ended up in the bathroom with a men’s Bic safety razor in my hands.

###

Steve screamed from the other side of the door at me to open it or he was going to smash it in.

I hated the fact that I loved my possessions so much and the door of my house so much that I couldn’t stand the thought of it being smashed. Fuck! I hated that money was so tight I hated spending it on anything unnecessary – for the sake of him finding me balling with a shaving razor in my hand.

I unlocked the door. And I sobbed a cry from so deep inside me that I thought I might never regain my “self”.  I wasn’t really going to slash my wrists but I was so desperate for a way out of the thousandth fight/conversation/emotional meltdown about our fertility problems that I didn’t know what else to do.

I was grieving for the loss of my fertility, my relationship, my music career, and my dreams of having a child to play on the lawn we had tended to in the yard. We had dug the trenches for the reticulation with my dad who had also helped us lay the pipe and solder it to the water main. We had spread the fertilizer on the ground, then worked in the lawn runners, watered it every day for the first month, then two or three times a week after that to get the runners to take. The lawnmower guy came over once every two weeks to mow it. And I spent my free time hand-weeding, to make sure there were no pesticides or herbicides used on our property.

The lawn was verdant and lush was waiting for tiny feet. All the while we tended to our lawn I had visions of my child or children running around on the grass, playing, giggling, and falling down.

Being safe, being home.

Instead I was sitting at the edge of the bath tub sobbing; impotent and holding a man’s safety razor in my hands.  There was no magic left in my life only the grinding reality of our infertility.

###

I met Steve when I bought a Rickenbacker on lay-away from him at a local music store.  I had started my first band and we’d just started gigging. When I returned the fourth time to make my last payment I asked Steve if he knew anyone who gave electric guitar lessons. He answered, “Yeah, I do.” We set up a date and a time to meet at his place and I set off with those little moths of impending love beating their wings in my chest.

When I turned up for my first guitar lesson synchronicity seemed to be at work again when I noticed he had a block-mounted poster of Susannah Hoffs from the Bangles propped against the wall in his bedroom, holding her black and white Rickenbacker, the same model as mine. I went for a guitar lesson, we started dating and I and never got another formal lesson from him – a running joke in our relationship.

When we separated I sold that Rickenbacker to fund the first solo EP I recorded, “After the Flood”.

###

We fell in love then moved in together eight months later, just after I turned 22.  He convinced me the guys in my band weren’t on my musical trajectory, so I broke up the band before it had run its course. I wanted to move on and fulfil my musical vision, and I let him convince me we could write better songs together.

The first song we wrote together happened so easily I thought that was the sign confirming that fate was at work once again. The song had a haunting guitar part in open D tuning. I began to sing over the chords and the words of the chorus tumbled out of my mouth, a gift, “My fear of falling eats me and it swallows me up / My fear of falling eats me and it fills my cup.”

After this Steve was never happy unless we wrote a song together. Once we’d started performing together as an acoustic duo, I wrote three songs on my own and played them to him, hungry for feedback. He made no comment on the songs, but instead asked, “What about me, where’s my place in this?  I…I just don’t know where my place is in our duo if you go off and write songs on your own.”

I enrolled in a Master of Arts in Creative Writing and withdrew because he said I needed to choose what I wanted to do, play music or write, because I couldn’t do both.

My problem was I wanted to do everything.

My problem was I was too afraid to follow my dreams.

My partner and I were like idealistic children adrift in a sea of adult responsibility, clinging to each other, yet drowning the other person in our panic to hang onto our dreams.

That was it, the map of what was to become was all there in that first song. The pomegranate had been split open, Persephone had taken a bite. From this song on I would be forever trapped in this underworld of my own making.

###

I wasn’t “ill” but I was suffering physically. Infertility leaves its sufferers in an illness purgatory. I didn’t look sick, but my body was painfully and clearly failing to do what it should: to make a baby, grow a baby, and bring a baby into the world.

There was not a single person in our family or social circle who had dealt with infertility. Admitting our struggle to family and friends only made the situation worse. “You two just need to relax,” became the empty advice mantra, which implied our problems were the fault of our character or attitude, rather than a fault of our bodily functions. So, from then on we vowed to keep our struggles “personal” and by implication secret and cloaked in shame. I took it upon myself to solve the problem by becoming consumed with the task of getting pregnant, and it was the one thing that filled my every waking hour.

Having a child would save our relationship and the life I’d built with my partner, Steve, who I had loved desperately, had imagined growing old with, having children with and continuing to share my creative musical life with.

The doctor we were working with in the Crighton Model Fertility System sent me back to the fertility clinic to get another hormonal blood work up, to track my levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), estrogen and progesterone levels, which involved returning every second day for almost two weeks. The marks on my easily bruised arms covered up by Band-Aids and long-sleeved tops.

I had to believe making a child involved some sort of combination of magic, voodoo and timing we hadn’t yet worked out the hidden formula to. The answer was there, all we needed to do was hang on as we’d been doing for the last two and a half years.

###

“Nat you have to check his phone.” I talking to my best friend Donna and she was getting annoyed with me and the high moral ground stance I’d taken.

“But I can’t, it’s not fair. I can’t go behind his back and do that. That’s not the type of person I am. I’ve asked him, I’ve asked him already 20 times. He said there’s nothing going on with her.”

Then she told me she saw it, a few other people saw it. He was playing with her bracelet at my birthday party at a local craft brewery, and it wasn’t the action alone, but the intimacy of the gesture. This was another incident to add to the list of events that had transpired in the last seven months and cumulated with the bracelet-touching incident.

The phone, his phone had become the thing.

Steve spent most of his free time checking his phone, holding it underneath the table during most of my cousin’s wedding, disappearing around corners to check it, and leaving the table at family dinners. His cell phone’s constant beeping became a background to our home life and he spent most of his time hiding from me, tapping away text messages, searching for a way out.

During this week the intensity of his phone use increased, and the woman I suspected he’d been texting had been away in Europe for that week with her boyfriend visiting family. I knew it was her, but it couldn’t be her. We’d been camping together, had couples’ dinners together, I had worked with her just before I left the college.  She had a handsome, gentle, intelligent boyfriend who loved her. She’d been to my house and admired my things, picked up my grandmother’s blue 60’s Jeanie bottle, touched it and complimented me on my taste. The two of them had been working together at the college for seven months, in a job I’d gotten for him since another of his musical ventures had failed and I’d moved on to ESL teaching.

The next morning was a Saturday; while Steve had a shower I got up and grabbed his phone off our cream linoleum kitchen bench. I opened it quickly before I could second guess myself again and read the first text. It was from her:

“I L U & I miss U. Can’t w8 2 C U again. XXX.”

And one before from him, “1 wk 2 go til I C U again. I L U. XXX”

Just like that a knife had been taken to my heart and popped the magic believing bubble that held our love and our life together.

Babies lost, a lawn untread by children’s feet, songs never to be recorded and falling, falling with nowhere to land.

A line from ‘Fear of Falling’, the first song we wrote together, echoed through my mind as the room began to move, “Eve felt it too, that cold, wet, dark drop / Eve felt the fall before the apple dropped”.

I grabbed the edge of the kitchen sink and as if in some Lifetime B-grade film the walls of the room closed in towards me, the ground beneath me seemed to ripple. By the time I was able to breathe again I bolted to our en-suite and shoved the messages in his face as he stepped out of the shower naked.

He had no lies or excuses left. I knew; I had known all along. Our relationship was over. Like watching a structurally unsound high rise building get demolished by explosives the trying was over. It felt good to know where I stood once again. The walls stopped moving, the ground stood still and I knew from this moment on that there would be no more shame or secrets or lies. Only the solid ground I chose to walk on beneath my feet.

###

After we separated I continued seeing the couples’ therapist we had been to. One afternoon I went in for a solo appointment and told her about a dream I’d had that morning.

“I was underground, in a tunnel. This strange man had captured me and had kept me there for a long time. I was in a foreign country, somewhere in South-East Asia, maybe Malaysia. And all I had to eat was noodles. He gave me the same thing to eat every day. Noodles. The strange thing was, when I ate the noodles he let me go above ground, where we would eat in an outdoor restaurant, with a thatched roof, by the roadside. That was the best part of the day; I liked that, being out of the dark tunnel. In the dream I decided I’d finally had enough, so I told him, ‘I’m sick of eating noodles. I don’t want to eat the same thing anymore’. And I just got up and walked away into the street, disappearing into a crowd of people. I didn’t look back and he didn’t come after me or try to stop me.”

“Well, I don’t think you need me to tell you what that means,” she smiled. “I guess you won’t be eating noodles anymore.”

###

What happened to magic? The answer is I still play music, but I learned to ignore the voice that told me I couldn’t write songs or perform alone. I recorded an album of songs I wrote in the United States called “Leaving Me Dry”, with the help of a group of like-minded musicians. I began writing again and recently re-enrolled in a Master’s of Writing. I met a man, Brett, who helped me heal, who is kind and gentle and lets me be the person I need to be. We eloped and got married in California. Then, when we were ready I scheduled an endoscopy and laparoscopy.

Two days before the surgery I received an email from Steve. The subject of the email seemed neutral enough so I opened it. Inside the email he told me that the she of the text messages and he were married and pregnant. For the last time I put aside my pride and hurt, and the feelings of fear I had for the wolf at the door. I opened the door a crack and replied, “Congratulations. I’m sure you’ll have the happy life you deserve together. BTW in two days’ time I’m going in to have a laparoscopy and endoscopy”.

It was no surprise to me when he never replied to my email.

When I had the surgery the surgeon discovered five lesions of endometriosis and a benign cyst on one ovary that he removed.

One month later, after I’d recovered from the surgery, I took the fertility drug Clomid, to help stimulate ovulation and increase egg production. Then I made myself a little shrine in my room, with a picture of the Virgin Mary, a Buddha statue, a rock of amethyst and Brett’s favorite sea shell. Then I prayed to a higher power for the child I’d always dreamt of. I told my mother we were trying, and she said she’d pray for me. I didn’t say anything to my father, I knew he’d say it would all come down to science and medicine, and that it would be up to sperm and eggs and fallopian tubes and mucus to function in the way they were meant to.

I fell pregnant the first month we tried after the surgery.

I no longer dream of running through dark tunnels.

I started eating noodles again.

Sometimes magic comes when you call it, and sometimes no matter how hard you try, even magic needs a little help from fate and science.

Natalie D-Napoleon was raised on a farm on the outskirts of, Perth, Western Australia. She began writing poetry at ten years of age to cure her childhood insomnia. For 20 years she toured and performed as a singer-songwriter playing shows from Sweden, across Australia and in the United States. Currently, she lives in California and works as a writing tutor at a community college while completing a Master of Arts in Writing. She has had short stories, poetry and editorials published at The Manifest-Station, Literary Orphans, LA Yoga Magazine and The Santa Barbara News-Press.
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The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 25th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Mother's Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being.  Click photo to book.   "Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing. She listens. She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you. Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening. And what her kind of listening does is simple: It saves lives." ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Mother’s Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. Click photo to book.
“Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing.
She listens.
She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you.
Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening.
And what her kind of listening does is simple:
It saves lives.” ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

 

Featured image by Joe Longo.

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood, Pregnancy

Letter To My Fifteen Year Old Self: For Every Pregnant Teen Who Feels Alone.

April 4, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Alma Luz Villanueva.

(For every pregnant teen who thinks, feels, she’s alone.)

San Francisco, the Mission Barrio, 1960-

I see you standing at the very edge of the rooftop, gazing down into the darkness. The garden below. Where the roses are blooming. Your step (real) father, Whitey, tends these roses. Your mother doesn’t believe in roses. You lean into that darkness. No fear. Not really. You were the tomgirl who jumped/leaped roof to roof to avoid the streets for blocks. And just for fun. The thrill shot through your body. You leaned. You leaped. Sometimes barely making it. Barely landing. Fear. Then laughter. Your tomgirl pal following you. Roof to roof. San Francisco, the Mission. Your childhood city.

Why are you leaning at the edge of the rooftop, gazing down into the darkness? The roses blooming. No scent from the edge, but you can see the blood red petals shadowed in moonlight. Some are fully blossomed, ready to shed their beauty. To touch the earth. Die, transform. Some are tight, baby blossoms; tiny slivers of blood red barely revealed. Still in the womb. They sing their whisper song of blood red. Beauty.

You’re pregnant at 15, gazing into darkness. Listening to the songs of the blossomed roses, and the whisper songs of the baby bud roses. Still in the womb. You’re pregnant at 15, alone, at the edge. Leaning. Into the darkness.

Stars pulsing overhead. Some brighter than others. Alive with light. Your favorite place. The roof. View of the city lights. Silence. You sit down at the edge, letting your feet dangle. Night breeze on your sweaty face. You wishing, suddenly, that you still passed as a boy on the city streets. Your night time visits to Dolores Park, sitting high in the pepper trees. The Bay Bridge a shiny necklace across the dark water. A few times you had to run for it when a pervert spotted you, perched so high and happy. Sometimes you sang the old Baptist church song, “I have a joy joy joy joy down in my heart…” And sometimes you sang parts of “Canta, No Llores…Sing, Don’t cry,” the parts you remembered that Mamacita knew by heart. You whisper sing those parts now, your sandaled feet dangling over the edge. And you smile because you see Mamacita, so clearly, in the alive stars, lifting her long skirt. Dancing. You join her, dancing.

You remember the morning ritual of sharing dreams, the hot chocolate, cinnamon on top, steaming your face. You almost always woke up to Mamacita praying, singing to the Child Sun in Yaqui. Her rattle. Tears and joy in that strange, beautiful language you never learned. But you loved to hear. She told you it was a song to El Niño Sol, to be born safely every dawn. You thought if Mamacita didn’t sing that song every morning, there would be only darkness. Night. No Child Sun. Birth. Dawn.

You didn’t know what birth was, being born. Except your mother, Lydia, once told you she almost pulled a sink out of the wall, in the hospital, when you were born. That it hurt like hell, that’s what she said. You asked Mamacita once, “Does it hurt the Child Sun’s Mamå when he’s born?” She laughed, “Every birth has pain, niña, but when la Mamå Tierra gets to hold her child, el regalo de luz…the gift of light, that warm little body, she laughs. Now, tell me your dream, mi Alma.” (All conversation in Spanish, Mamacita never spoke English.)

You would tell her your four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten year old dreams, and she would tell you hers. When you were six you told Mamacita you kept falling in your dream. She gently, then firmly, touched your shoulder blades, left and right, massaging them.

“These are your wings, niña. When you begin to fall in your dream, remember them, where they are. Right here.” Left and right, massaging each one firmly. Gently. “When you begin to fall, remember your wings, open them wide.” She’d spread her arms wide, smiling, her eyes on fire. “You’re ready to fly, niña, remember, open your wings wide. Your wings. Right here.” Left and right, each one.

You remember stealing your first bike as the pre-dawn wind begins to chill you on the rooftop. You lay on your back, the old blanket you hide up there under you. Some of it covering you as you gaze at the brightest star, so alive with light. You don’t know the star’s name- Venus, Quetzalcoatl. Years later you would call this pre-dawn, dancing with light, star by name. This night you remember seeing a brand new bike lying on the street by itself. You were eleven. You walked by the bike twice. No one claimed it, so you did. Riding to Golden Gate Park with your tomgirl amiga, sometimes alone (instead of boring school); riding down the final hills to the so green forest entrance, the scent of green, felt like flying. The magical fern forest, as tall as trees, the sun barely peeked through. Damp earth. The tall fern trees, large flowering plants beneath them. Large purple flowers, the size of a baby’s head, always made you laugh. And when the fairies welcomed you- their small, tinkling voices- you knew you were safe. If they didn’t, you rode away as fast as you could. Flying to safety.

You woke up one morning- your first flying dream- the large mirror over the bed you shared with Mamacita. She was singing to the Child Sun. You stood up and looked down at the bed and saw your self sleeping. You felt so sorry for her, that she had a to be in a body, that you knew how to fly and didn’t need her body. In fact, at that moment, her body disgusted you. You didn’t want to return. You looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize your six year old face. What scared you back to life. Back into your sleeping, dreaming (flying) girl body.

When you told Mamacita your first flying dream, she made you cafécito con leche with still warm pan dulce from the store down the street. But you never told her about the girl in the mirror that didn’t need a body- who returned to live. Your life. Who saw your life and stayed. You sipped your cafécito con leche and ate two fresh pan dulces, celebrating your first flight. At six. With Mamacita.

***

You wake up to warmth on your face. The Child Sun licking you with warmth. The bright star fading. You sit up, facing the Child Sun and begin to sing your own song to his birth. And the baby bud roses join you. Still in the womb. You’ll wait for your mother to leave for work, taking your baby brother to his sitter. Then you’ll go downstairs to Whitey’s house (your step/real father), use your key to enter. Fix hot chocolate with cinnamon on top in his clean kitchen Some toast with jam. Go down into the garden to pick some blossoming roses, leaving the baby bud roses to dream. Still in the womb.

(The Birth)

“I can’t marry you. My parents say you’ll have ten kids in ten years.” The boy is crying as you both walk to your favorite restaurant where no one goes. For tea, coffee, a piece of pie. Sometimes the dinner special. He pays. He has two parents and their house is always clean. You go there once. His parents are white and their eyes say, Dirty Mexican. Sometimes you and the boy walk clear to the ocean, talking, laughing, sometimes crying, telling sad stories, and funny ones too. He tells you, “My mother used to tie me up in a chair with clothesline and gag me. She made me stay there for hours and sometimes I’d fall asleep. I learned not to cry or scream, just wait. Till she untied me. When I cried and screamed the rope made me bleed. She’d say, ‘Are you ready to behave?’ I’d nod my head yes.”

Then you and the boy take the trolley back to the Mission, from the ocean. Home. Promising to meet at the corner of 16th and Guerrero. Then one time he doesn’t come. You see him at school and he turns away, his friends laughing. Years later you find out that the word Guerrero means warrior.

Your mother, Lydia, tells a neighbor, “She didn’t want to marry him.” The neighbor smiles kindly into your eyes, “Only the good girls get caught, honey.”

You’re two weeks overdue. The doctor at St Mary’s Clinic, just three blocks from your place, tells you, “It looks like your baby’s small, so that’s okay. Plus, you’re just a kid yourself,” kind smile. But the nuns hate you. They can barely contain their contempt. An unmarried fifteen year old, pregnant, about to give birth in their Catholic hospital. The nuns want you to give your baby up for adoption. They bring in a different nun each time after the kind doctor leaves.

“How do you plan to take care of this baby, child?” Thin lips, contempt. Eyes hard, trying to kill you. You hate them back, refuse to cry. Guerrero, warrior.

“You’re going to suffer for this sin and your baby too. Do you want this for your baby?” You just smile and they finally leave you alone. You also give them los ojos de bruja…the witch eyes. The eyes you’d give to the old church ladies when they’d call you gringita and you knew they went home and broke an egg over their head for protection. You pictured the nuns breaking an egg over their bald heads, and you had to keep yourself from laughing. Guerrero, warrior.

The pains begin around your belly, and your best friend, Judy, is there at your mother’s place. Whitey cooks you special food so the baby will be healthy, and you go upstairs to his place to eat. You also bring your baby brother, John. It’s always clean, some music playing softly, his voice, “Ya look pretty damn good, kid, must be the food so chow down, and your favorite dessert, cherry cake. Hope that baby likes cherry cake, kid,” he laughs.

You’ve been taking care of John, cleaning the apartment, cooking breakfast and lunch. Dinner at Whitey’s. You even go to open house at John’s school, and a field trip to the zoo. When you and John enter the Lion House, just as they’re feeding them, and they begin to ROAR so your bones rattle, he begins to cry. Scream. You pick him up and run for it, like fuck those lions, caged. Their only moment to pretend they hunted, killed that raw mound of meat they’re devouring. That roar. John clings to you, safety. Fuck those sad assed lions.

The pains get worse, so Lydia brings you a ‘screwdriver,’ she calls it, and one for Judy. Orange juice with something funny in it, but it tastes pretty good. You have two. Judy barely finishes hers. You, Judy and Lydia walk the three blocks to Saint Mary’s, joking and laughing all the way. Even the pain is funny (still). John’s with Whitey- “I’ll be up ta see ya, kid, and don’t you worry, women been having babies for-ever!” You think of the baby, the tiny rosebud, trying to be born. Come out of you. You felt her move just once, but clearly, from one side of your stomach to the other. Her foot, that bump. You dreamt her, so you know, her. Her name, Antoinette Therese. You want her to be a queen. You tell no one about the dream, especially the nuns. If Mamacita were alive, you’d tell her of course. But you know Mamacita knows everything anyway. You heard her voice deep in your right ear. Guerrero, warrior, “No te dejas, niña.” She’d toss you out the door when you’d come in crying, to take care of yourself. Fight back. La vida. Guerrero, warrior.

The nuns are shocked, your laughing face. They take you to a room, all by yourself, and leave you there. There’s a window to the street. Guerrero Street. Some trees. You push the window open. Wind. The birds are singing to the Child Sun grown old, tired. Stretches of blood-red-violet. Mamacita had a song for the Child Sun grown old, tired. You hear her voice, the rattle, but not the words. The pain in your belly comes and goes, making you double over and moan. You begin to walk the room between pains and it helps. You’re still a little dizzy from the orange juice drink but fading- no one to talk to, joke with.

You remember how Mamacita floated you when you were sick, so you focus on the fluttering leaves, the sound of the wind, and begin to sing softly- “Old Child Sun, don’t be afraid, go to sleep, dream, in the morning you’ll be born again, Child Sun, don’t be afraid.” Then you double over with the pain but keep floating like the wind, straighten up to breathe the fluttering leaves and walk the room. “Don’t be afraid, old Child Sun, don’t be afraid…”

The door opens. “You should be lying down, not walking around, what are you doing!” the nun shouts. She shuts the window, hard, and leaves.

You get up and open the window, begin to walk again. The pain is like dying lying down, and you’re all alone, but not really. There’s the wind, the trees, the birds still singing, and Mamacita’s rattle filling the room. Her voice. Flotating.

The nun returns, her face full of hate. “I thought you’d be up again, you people!” And you know she means Mexicans, you people. She’s very white, she’ll never have a baby, she thinks God loves her better than you, a fifteen year old girl giving birth, alone. You hate her back, don’t cry. And you think of the baby Jesus born in a manger, his parents poor and wandering. The story goes in the Baptist Church. And you always loved the baby Jesus, and you think of his mother, Mary, giving birth in the cold ass manger surrounded by stinky farm animals. You smile.

The nun slams the window shut, hands you a tiny paper cup. “Here, take these, it’ll make you sleep, it’s bad for you to be walking around like a wild animal.” Face of disgust, hate.

You give her your best malo ojos de bruja and think, sleep. The room is dark, a thin light from the bathroom. Sleep.

You wake up to such pain you scream once, catch yourself and begin to moan. You can’t help it. You wonder how this baby, your daughter you’ve dreamt, is going to come out of you. At this moment it feels like she’s killing you, and, again, how will she come out, you wonder as you moan, the killing pain the killing pain the killing pain…

(Fast forward)

Years later this 5lb 4oz daughter, Antoinette, as Head Nurse Critical Care, will come upon a fifteen year old girl on her rounds, giving birth all alone, screaming. They can’t sedate her. She fights them off. My daughter, to the doctor’s shock, climbs into bed with her, behind her, wrapping her arms around her, telling her, “Breathe, breathe, I’m here with you, you’re not alone, breathe…” The doctor orders her out of the bed. She tells him, “I’m Head Nurse, Dr_____, and you can fuck off!” The birthing girl laughs, relaxes, and gives birth, screaming as the crowning begins, while my daughter holds her tight. “Breathe, breathe, now push…” Later as the girl holds her daughter, she tells her, “My mother was your age when she had me, and you’re going to be fine. You’re a fighter like my Mom, so you and your daughter will be just fine.”

Saddle block. Numb from waist down. They wheel you into a bright, white room. “Turn the mirror, she shouldn’t watch this.” The birth. Your daughter. You’re too young to insist, “I want to watch.” You finally see the doctor holding up a blue baby by her ankles. You felt nothing. Where she came out of. But there she is and she begins to cry, a thin wail. Her tiny body pulsing pink, alive. Later on, your Tia Ruth tells you Antoinette was born on Mamacita’s birth day. A sliver of Mamacita’s spirit, la curandera, the healer, this daughter.

You begin to cry. You want to hold her, but you’re too young to insist. They take her away. He stitches you up. No one speaks to you except for the doctor, once. “Are you glad it’s a girl?” He tries to be kind, but his voice conveys duty. Not the same one you saw in the clinic, whose hand felt warm on your shoulder, kind.

You nod your head yes. The nurse nun says, “She refuses to speak, doctor, don’t waste your breath.” She wheels you into a room with other mothers and she asks, “Do you plan to breastfeed?” Your mind whirls, breast feed, as in how in the fuck do you do that?

“No,” the word comes out of you.

Look of disgust, the usual hate. She returns and wraps thick bandages around your still-girl breasts. “So your milk dries up,” voice cold.

They promise to bring your daughter the next morning- the Child Sun’s warmth filling the room- you’ve been waiting for hours. One nurse nun said she was bringing your daughter right away, but it’s been hours. You finally insist, “I want to see my daughter.” The woman next to you says, “They promised to bring her baby a couple of hours ago. I’ve already held my baby many times.”

“You’re breastfeeding,” the nurse nun says, warmly. Warmly. The woman is older and white, and she later tells you this is her sixth baby, that she’s Catholic. And she asks, “Are you going to keep your baby, hon?”

She’s so tiny, your daughter. You open the blanket. The wonder of her perfect body. She’s perfect, her so tiny, pink rose toes. Her perfect, translucent hands, each delicate finger. There’s a wound on her belly button, still bloody. You open her diaper- a girl a girl a girl.

A young nurse nun brings a bottle of milk- you’ve never seen her before. “What’s her name?” she asks, handing you the bottle.

“Antoinette.”

“What a beautiful name for a beautiful baby,” she smiles. “A friend is here to see you, so when you finish feeding Antoinette I’ll let her in.”

“Thank you,” you smile into the young nun’s kindness. Sweet face. She’s probably eight years older than you, her twenties, you realize, and you wonder if she’ll become a nasty ass nun when she’s older.

As you feed your daughter, your breasts begin to ache under the tight bandages. It would be this way for the next four days, as they change the wet, sticky bandages. The young nun nurse changes them twice, each time tears come to her eyes. She bathes your girl-breasts in warm, soapy water- the other nurse nuns with cold, soapy water- and she strokes your hair.

Your mother, Lydia, finally comes on the third day after work. “You’re a mother now,” she says coldly. Just those words.

***

A week later, when your daughter’s wound on the belly button falls off, you think she’s falling apart. You bundle her up and run to St Marys crying. The kind doctor explains, “That’s where the cord was between you and your daughter when she was inside of you. That’s how you fed her, that cord. She doesn’t need it anymore, so it fell off. Now you feed her without the cord, isn’t that right?” He touches your shoulder, that warmth.

You stop crying, nod yes, and walk back to your mother’s place, holding your daughter tightly. So you don’t drop her, ever.

*

Your daughter would have colic and cry/scream for a long time after you fed her, every hour or so, in the beginning. You found that laying her on your chest, your heart, she’d fall asleep, and so would you.

One night, she was in her bassinet- the one you decorated with lace and ribbons (yes, you stole them from the five and dime store). You woke up to Lydia’s voice yelling, “SHUT UP SHUT UP!” She was shaking the bassinet, hard, yelling. You were up in one movement, throwing Lydia against the wall- you’d not ever touched her this way.

“If you ever touch my baby again I’ll kill you!” you screamed. You picked up the bassinet with crying Antoinette, taking her to the front room with the sad assed couch. Brought your blankets and slept on the sad assed couch with her on your chest, your heart.

The next morning the cops came. She told them you threatened to kill her. You told them why, crying- your baby, your daughter, barely a month old. Both cops looked at you with pity, telling your mother, Lydia, to work things out and left. She banged things around; it was Saturday, no work. She didn’t touch the bassinet, but she banged things so loudly your daughter woke up crying.

You took your daughter, your baby brother, up to Whitey’s place. He fixed you all a pancake breakfast with bacon. “You could live here for awhile, kid, I’ll take the couch. There’s no talkin’ to that woman, I know.”

You tell him what happened, why you threw her up against the wall. His face goes red. With anger. “Yeah, you and that baby stay here till we can work something out, maybe your own place.”

You’d go to welfare, holding your daughter tight. You’d stay at Whitey’s for a while, taking care of John, but not going into Lydia’s place. You’d never return to her place again, to live. To trust her. She was your birth mother, that’s all. She was not Mamacita.

When you finally got your own place with a roommate, one year older- she worked as a waitress and she was Mexican like you. You stopped taking care of your baby brother- and that broke your heart, but you couldn’t be your baby’s mother and his at the same time. She would yell, “Shut up!” when he cried and forget he was just hungry. You told Whitey to make sure John ate, especially dinner.

“Don’t you worry none, kid, I’ll be on it.”

“Even when you drink cause I’m coming back to check on stuff.”

“Dinner’ll be ready every night, so you and John eat here, you understand, Pocahontas.” This made you smile, your old name. “I’ll make sure things are okay before I get friendly with Jack Daniels, don’t you worry, Pocahontas.”

Whitey would pay your part of the rent and bring groceries every Saturday when he wasn’t being friendly with Jack Daniels. And when he and Jack got together, he made sure to bring you money before he did. And he’d bring your baby brother, John, leaving him for the day. Your daughter in a stroller, your brother in a swing, laughing. Hamburgers, fries and a milkshake later with the $20 Whitey gave you. Later, he’d give you $60 more for the week.

You don’t tell your roommate, Jeannie, about the Child Sun. She wouldn’t understand. She lived in an awful foster home and ran away. She tells you she was beaten with a belt all the time and shows you the scars, and you cry with her. And sometimes you have to throw out some guys she’s drinking with, and you know you have to move again. One of them grabs you by the arm and calls you a fucking bitch, and you won’t allow them in the apartment anymore. So now Jeannie’s mad at you too- “So what if he grabbed your arm, what are you a princess?” Her scars. The one on her face from the belt buckle.

You begin to plan, the edge of things. But not the roof- you don’t want to jump into the darkness. You want to live in the light, the Child Sun, with your daughter. The blossoming bud rose. Antoinette.

Guerrero. Guerrera. Leap into the light.

**This is part of an in-progress memoir.

 

Alma Luz Villanueva is the author of four novels, most recently, ‘Song of the Golden Scorpion.’ Eight books of poetry, most recently, ‘Gracias.’ Many anthologies, textbooks- including ‘The Best Erotic Latin American Writing,’ ‘Califlora, A Literary Field Guide, ‘Prayers for a Thousand Years,’ ‘Fightin’ Words’ (PEN Anthology). Has taught in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Antioch University Los Angeles for sixteen years, living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the past ten years, returning to teach, visit la familia. almaluz.villanueva@gmail.com   www.almaluzvillanueva.com

 

Mother's Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being.  Click photo to book.   "Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing. She listens. She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you. Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening. And what her kind of listening does is simple: It saves lives." ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Mother’s Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. Click photo to book.
“Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing.
She listens.
She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you.
Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening.
And what her kind of listening does is simple:
It saves lives.” ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

 

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 1st cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 1st cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Guest Posts, Pregnancy, Women

A Week Late

January 23, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Martina Clark.

I’m a week late. Not on my rent, for my period. I’m never late. Ten years ago – or five, heck, even one or two – I would have panicked and immediately gone to pee on a stick. But now, just months shy of my 50th birthday, I’m totally confused. Am I pregnant? (We use protection but nothing is 100% sure.) Am I starting menopause? (Did I mention that I’m almost 50?) Or am I just a week late and it is what it is and I should shut up and have another piece of chocolate?

The only thing I know for certain is that this has never happened before – at least not in the twenty years since I stopped using the pill – and I’m not quite sure how to proceed. My sisters – seven and eight years older, respectively – both experienced pre-menopausal symptoms starting in their early 40s and after hearing their stories I feel like I’ve been waiting every month for a summons from hell.

“Ma’am, please step away from the happy times and come with us. I’m afraid you have been sentenced to a decade of evil mood swings, drenching night sweats and flame inducing hot flashes. Any resistance will just cause you more misery and unsightly sweat stains. Welcome to the prison that is menopause.”

And, although I hadn’t really experienced anything to be concerned about, I do remember discussing this with my doctor a year or two back when I asked what kind of signs to expect with pre-menopause. She laughed.

“Martina, at this point, if you have signs, they’re not pre anything. They’re just menopause.”

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Anonymous, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

I Could’ve Bought A Baby This Morning.

January 19, 2015

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By Anonymous.

Pregnancy. Even my therapist is pregnant. She tells me this the day after I go to a fertility doctor, whose office is decorated like a unicorn’s sugar fart. It’s lavender, silver, acrylic, has tufted sofas, Barbie’s dream fertility doctor. If Barbie focused on her career for fifteen years and woke up mid thirties needing a haircut and a baby. The décor is the same as Kate Sommerville, where I get facials and once, botox!  After the doctor who feels like she could be related to Melissa Gilbert/Laura Ingalls, explains how my tubes work and how at 38 even if I have buckets of eggs, I still “can’t rest easy because it’s all about age.” They’re old, these eggs. She explains all of it to me. She asks if I want a sperm donor. It occurs to me, while sitting across from her desk, with a savings account, and functioning eggs, I could say yes and be pregnant in a week. It blows my  mind. I say no to the sperm, like I’m saying no to an after dinner cordial. “Oooohhkay,” she says. Like, you’re missing out. These cordials are the bomb. There you are sitting there acting like cordial is just gonna spring up outta the ground like a geyser, well sister, you gotta another thing coming.

“I’m conservative,” I say. Which is code for, I wanna do this with a partner who loves me enough to watch me get fat and stretchy and then hold our little love larvae in the middle of the night when  I am so full of colostrum my teets are a proverbial cheese store. I want that.  She nods, “So do you want to freeze your eggs?” I’d rather dye my eggs than freeze my eggs. “I just want to know how they are,” I said, hoping they aren’t little puffs of ovum dust. She nods, bored by me. I’m her regular customer. I just want a report. I’m not one of the outliers buying sperm or a little Japanese hotel for my eggs to rest in until I’m 47 and defrosting them. She cautions me, “the very best thing to do is freeze an embryo.” I nod, my seventh grade health textbook smashing through my head. “So that means?” “Yes, we would fertilize your egg with sperm from a donor and then freeze it.” I nod. The next scenario rolling out through my head. I meet my husband after doing this, when I really am only ovum dust, and I say to him, “Babe! Good news! I have a future baby waiting for us at a cryobank in Westwood! I’m as old as Methuselah, but you can raise your dream genetically mysterious modified baby and I wont even charge you the sperm donor fee, cause really, you donate your sperm to me, only in a different way, but it still totally counts! Whadday say baby? Babay!”

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, loss, motherhood, Pregnancy

Safekeeping.

December 31, 2014

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By Rachel Blumenfeld.

She asks me if I want her to take it back.  “No,” I say, in the way that means no but that also means that it’s slowly killing me, that sweater, hanging in my closet.  I can feel it even when the door’s closed, even when it blends in perfectly with all the other neutrals.  It doesn’t matter if I buy colors; I wear the same grays and browns I already owned.

“I might still need it,” I say, and I feel that now I’m making this a talisman.  Or a curse.  If I keep it, it means I will get to use it, right?  Or am I being too hopeful, and the fact that I have this sweater waiting for me will somehow prolong my wait to use it?  Is it like women’s favorite pants from high school that they keep in their closet, even after three kids and fifty pounds, swearing one day they will fit back into them?  How long until a sign of hope turns into a sign of pitifulness?

My friend, my loving, compassionate friend, asks me how best to support me.  She asks if it would be best not to talk about her situation for a while.  She makes sure to ask me every day how I’m feeling, and while I know that she truly does want to know, and does want me to be okay, deep down she’s thankful that this isn’t her.  She’s happy that the baby in her womb is still alive, that hers isn’t the one who died.

There were three of us, friends pregnant at the same time.  Due November 9, November 12, and November 20th.  Since about 30 percent of pregnancies end up miscarrying, it was statistically bound to happen to one of us, and it’s not that I’d wish this on either of my friends, but I know they both must be glad, to some extent, that it’s me who was chosen.

More than likely, the miscarriage was caused by a chromosomal abnormality, the culprit in up to 70 percent of prenatal losses.  In Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being, she writes that there are 8.4 million ways for two people’s DNA to combine.  I imagine the two strands of DNA dancing, the nucleobases seeking each other out, eyeing each other like two young lovers across a bar, moving closer, but still spinning and circling until they are close enough to reach for the other’s hand.  I see the cytosine reach out for the adenine, get rejected, and the party is over.  Without this merger in the middle of the line, none of the other bases can match up either.  They can’t get close enough with this gap looming between them. Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, Pregnancy, The Hard Stuff

How to Get Through It.

December 4, 2014

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By Jillian M. Phillips.

Step One

Two days after Christmas, realize your period is late. Triple-check the calendar, just to be sure. Ask a friend to drive you to the Planned Parenthood. When you get there, keep your head down, hoping no one you know sees you. You don’t want to explain that you’re neurotic about your flow and too poor to buy an eight-dollar pregnancy test.

When the doctor comes in and confirms that you’re pregnant, hide your smile. Try to appear appropriately distressed because you’re not married. Nod along to everything she says. Pretend that you are interested in “Options.” Accept every pamphlet gratefully and solemnly, as if each one contains a sacred promise.

When your friend drives you home, share the news with her. Allow her to see your joy, but don’t tell anyone else. You know how hard your life has been lately. Your rent is way overdue. You’ve received two disconnection notices from the power company. You don’t want people telling you that your baby is a mistake. You don’t want it to be a problem people tell you to fix. Rationalize that you have eight more months to be in a better apartment in a better neighborhood. Your boyfriend, X, has a new job. If you watch your budget carefully, you can save enough to get a nicer place.

 

Step Two

Write in your journal about how excited you are. You know this baby will be a boy. Name him Caleb. Picture him with black hair and gray-blue eyes. See him in your mind as a voracious reader with a contemplative nature. He will be a poet. He will have a strong will. He will speak softly, but firmly, and use literary quotes in everyday conversation.

Decide that you are unwilling to allow X any say in this pregnancy, because he will tell you to get rid of it. He’ll tell you that you are financially unstable, barely able to take care of yourself, not ready. Write in your journal that you will wait until your second trimester, when you can’t legally terminate the pregnancy. It’s only two months away. You can keep your mouth shut for that long.

 

Step Three

Call yourself an idiot for leaving your journal open on the kitchen table while you were cooking dinner. Curse your stupidity at not putting it away in your nightstand, where it belonged, instead of letting X find it. Now he knows you’re pregnant. He tells you exactly what you thought he would, and is even angrier because he knows you were planning to lie to him.

X tells you to “do what’s right.” He reminds you that you have always been Pro- Choice. Curse yourself again for not having strong enough faith in your religion to hide behind. You have no argument other than that you’ve already come up with a name. The moment you rolled the syllables around in your mouth and felt them on your tongue, pregnancy ceased to be an abstract concept. Caleb is no longer a scientific term— embryo, zygote—he’s a person to you.

Listen to X’s argument. Let him pace around the living room as he rants on and on that you can barely put food in your own mouths, let alone a child’s. In a self-satisfied, fuck-you tone of voice, tell him that you are planning to breastfeed, which negates his argument. Casually add that he was the one who didn’t put on a condom. This is his fault as much as yours. He ignores this. You always forget to take your pill on time. One simple thing and you can’t even do that. Mutter something about subconscious intentions.

Continue Reading…

Anonymous, Guest Posts, Pregnancy, The Hard Stuff

Sharing Your Worst.

December 1, 2014

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By Anonymous.

 

They say everything happens for a reason- and I found that easier to believe for a while.

But I call bullshit. Sometimes the worst happens for no reason whatsoever.

My daughter is a deep empath. She absorbs all of the family stories, feels sad for Godzilla when the M.U.T.O.S. are getting the upper hand. When she was about five when she wanted to take every homeless person home with us, as we had plenty of good food. They could sleep on her floor, she offered, or in sleeping bags in the living room. When I tell her stories about my childhood and how my brothers were mean to me (I usually tell them because the stories are hilarious,) she feels terrible for me and wants to somehow make it better.

So I can’t publicly write about one thing that happened to me because I’m worried it will somehow hurt her. There’s this part of me, this protective mama instinct that wants me to keep the truly ugly shit from her. I want my daughter to grow up thinking that pregnancy should be healthy. That the stories she hears that happen to strangers couldn’t possibly happen to her. When I thought of writing about this before, I imagined her years down the road thinking of this story, having been told, and worrying through her own first pregnancy, “What if it happens to me?” Or worse, that she would spend her pregnancy feeling sad for me and my experience – because that’s how she’s wired. Maybe this is the wrong approach, but as I’ve found in parenting, this is seat of the pants instinct stuff, so I’m going with my gut on this one. Hence, the anonymous story.

So why write it at all? To work it through?

No. I made my peace with this-or as much peace as you can make with the truly bad things that happen in your life- years ago. But there’s another part of me that remembers how very alone I was when all of this happened. I had heard no other story like mine, had nothing to compare to or sympathize with. Aside from the nurses who worked at the place where I got the procedure done, and my mother, and my husband, there was no one to talk to about this. It took a few years before I even saw an article where this had happened to someone else. And I did write about it once, anonymously for Salon in an op-ed piece because they were going to make “late-term” abortions illegal in my state. And for a time, they did. And I would have had no help at all had this happened to us a few years later.

My husband and I had shacked up for a few years when he figured it would be a good idea to get married. I was working, he was working, we enjoyed our early marriage as we had our first years together and four years into our marriage we bought a house. All of our ducks were in a row, he had a profession that could support us both, it was time to have a baby. I had contracted Lyme disease- nowhere near its east coast origins and had just finished my course of antibiotics and at my doctor’s advice, had allowed a month to pass after that. It was time to give it a whirl. I got pregnant in the first month. My husband had wanted kids since he was small, I was a bit more apprehensive about the whole thing, but was thrilled nonetheless. We were twelve weeks in and everything looked fine, so we came out of the closet, sat on our sunny bed on a Sunday morning with the phone (back when they were attached to walls) and called everyone we wanted to share the news with. Everyone was thrilled. This was really happening. I got the standard blood tests and we celebrated Christmas with family and I was 14 weeks along. My belly was getting round and hard. My brother said, “Oh, I just thought you were getting fat.” The day after Christmas I got a phone call. My doctor said that something in my blood test said we should probably get an in-depth ultrasound and an amnio. The chances were small, but something was up. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Red-Handed: On Shoplifting and Infertility.

October 17, 2014

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By Jennifer Maher.

Resolve, The National Infertility Association of America, lists a variety of emotional and physical symptoms in response to not getting pregnant when you want to get pregnant. They include but are not limited to:

  • Lack of energy (especially when you have an unsuccessful cycle, on medical appointment days, or when you will see a pregnant friend);
  • Headaches
  • Irritability (snapping at people or making mountains out of molehills)
  • Insomnia
  • Extreme sadness
  • Inability to concentrate

Shoplifting is nowhere on this list.

Yet in the nearly three years it took me to conceive, along with over $22,000 in home-refinancing and credit card debt, I also acquired the following:

  • One black large-ring pullback belt with double buckle
  • A boxy caramel suede jacket with fringe on the front pockets and hem
  • Decadent Fig, Orchid Surrender, and Cheating Heart lipstick (Estee Lauder)
  • Two bottles of 2006 Chalone Vineyard Pinot Noir
  • The complete boxed set of My So-Called-Life

Much like infertility, shoplifting requires a certain kind of seat-of-your-pants creativity. Some seasoned lifters, for instance, line empty bags with aluminum foil to get past the door sensors; others rig bags with springs or wear enormous coats with hand-sewn secret pockets inside. Whatever the method of concealment, though, recreational shoplifting has long been considered an archetypal feminine vice, an impulsive pilfering of the phallus and the mirror image of castration anxiety. Secreting a skin cream in the feminine folds of your purse couldn’t be more obvious in this respect. Or imagine a necklace up your coat-sleeve, its laminated price tag held fast like a nascent IUD. Think about the fact that just this year in a South Carolina outlet mall, they arrested a woman with over $1700 dollars’ worth of stolen clothes in an empty infant car seat. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Love In The Time of Drought.

September 28, 2014

By Cheryl Klein.

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1. Sunday Story

A couple of weeks ago, I said to AK, “Can we talk about The Hospital List again?”

She said no. I’d just had minor surgery, and she felt like we needed to deal with that first. I felt like she was making excuses, blaming me and my difficult body. More about that in a minute.

This morning, one of the hottest this summer, we went for a hike in the foothills of Los Angeles. I was excited because most Sunday mornings, she goes hiking with her therapist buddies and leaves me behind. Today I had her undivided attention and I didn’t want to squander it, although I knew from past experience that Hospital List conversations were risky. She might prefer to discuss Attachment Theory with her colleagues than act out real early-childhood issues with me. Continue Reading…