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Guest Posts, Writing & The Body

Life Cycles

September 9, 2019
rhythms

By Abby Braithwaite

I lift myself off the front seat of my car and dig into the pocket of my jeans to extract four off-brand ibuprofen. I pick out the pocket lint and toss the pills into my mouth, chasing them down with the dregs of my son’s water bottle, chilled from a night forgotten in the car.

I’m in the parking lot of not-my-doctor’s office, waiting for a midwife I’ve never met to remove the last piece of birth control I’ll ever need — assuming I can avoid divorce and widowhood for the next decade. I’ve done my time on pills that turned me psychotic, and a few rounds of IUDs that made my cycles flare up and down, and ultimately disappear. With this last, the tiny plastic Mirena, my uterus was so damn sure she was done hosting babies that she sucked the whole contraption up inside a few years ago, string and all. An ultrasound confirmed the device was in place, no immediate action necessary, so I left it there.

But my husband got a vasectomy last fall, and I’ve decided to let my body return to its natural rhythms for a few years before it shuts off, to join my adolescent daughter as she learns to navigate womanhood on her end, and I get ready for crone-hood on mine. With my husband snipped and sperm count tested, I made an appointment to get the IUD removed. My doctor, a family practitioner, doesn’t have the tools or techniques to go in and get it, so she sent me to the big clinic I left ten years ago because it was so cold and impersonal. They were able to get me right in, so I dropped the kids off at school this morning and now I wait in the parking lot.

It’s time, I know. I swapped my mini-van for a Chevy Bolt last spring, graphic novels and granola bar wrappers have replaced board books and Cheerios in the back seat, and the other night I found myself saying, “If you guys are going to be so unappreciative, you can make your own (damn) dinner,” and the kids fed themselves on cereal, eggs and leftovers.  My daughter, almost thirteen, started her period more than a year ago; her developmental disability means she needs more support with it than another girl her age might, so we talk a lot about menstruation in our house, and her nine-year-old brother learns more every month about the trials of puberty for girls. Though they’re both peanuts on their growth charts, my kids aren’t little anymore, and there’s a lot to be said for this era of near self-sufficiency.

Five years ago we talked about having another baby, but my husband was worried about my health after two complicated pregnancies. After I spent a year getting in shape before trying again, our third child came to us in the body of a fully-formed 14-year-old, the daughter of an old friend. She lived with us almost four years before returning home last December, her time with us eating up any reserves of energy we had for another kid; the conversation about babies was off the table.

***

And so, here I am in the parking lot, not ready to go inside. Part of my hesitation is purely physical, as this removal could be pretty uncomfortable. When my doctor mentioned a “crochet hook-like tool” I knew ibuprofen would be on the menu. But there’s something else, too. I should have gotten over my grief back in September, with the vasectomy. But the surgery went so fast I didn’t even get three lines down in my journal before my husband limped back into the waiting room, ice pack down his pants. We were supposed to have a lot of sex over the next few months, to get any live genetic material out of his system while I still had protection. But then I broke my leg and wasn’t much interested in touching anyone, so he was left to his own devices. When he took a sample to the lab three months later, he was deemed sterile. I didn’t grieve then, either. So why can’t I get out of the car?

***

I remember sitting in birthing class in our midwife’s living room before my daughter was born, discussing our fears around childbirth; I wasn’t afraid of pain, or complications for myself or the baby. No, I was afraid I would reach what I deemed the **pinnacle of feminine physicality, and blow it. Not be able to birth a baby through sheer physical prowess, not be able to open myself to the primal force childbirth and push this being out of the center of me. I’ve never understood or strived to obtain the * feminine, but physicality? That’s been a thing. Always pushing to keep up with my big brothers. Finding my currency at recess by being picked with the boys for kickball and Red Rover; I found it easier to join the testosterone gang on their terms, rather than try to decipher the arcane language of flirtation, attractiveness, seduction. I had lots of boy friends but never a boyfriend, until college. And even then, and beyond, I never really figured out the game, finding myself at staff retreats in my twenties, my 5-foot tall self competing with the 6-foot tall dudes with arms as big as my thighs on the high ropes course, impressing them with my prowess, joining them for jocularity and beer in the bar, while my friends flailed and flirted and later bedded them. I never could figure out what I was missing, why I was always alone.

Now I had fallen in love with a man who loved me anyway, and conceived a child with him in the throes of a wild abandon I have only experienced one other time (three and a half years later, the night we conceived our son). I was six months pregnant and fully embracing the biological imperative of procreation; I wanted to push that baby out. But instead my body reacted against her. I got pre-eclampsia, we induced labor to get me well, and the baby’s heartrate fell through the floor, and she came into the world under a surgeon’s knife in a sterile operating room. We were just happy that I was healthy and the baby was here, and we went about the business of becoming parents. In the coming days we would learn our daughter had an extra 21st chromosome, and suddenly everything seemed more important than how she came into the world.

But we would have more kids, I would have another chance to reach this mythical milestone. Hah. Kid number two sat up like a little Buddha in his cozy womb, and try as we might we couldn’t get him to flip over; once again I found myself in an operating room, another surgeon with his knife at my midsection, and our boy was born, butt to the ceiling. This time, I was mad and sad and not distracted by anything but how unfair it was that I had been robbed, again, of the opportunity to prove myself a woman. My sweet boy was suckled on milk with a tinge of rancor, but he made it through; we all survived a few dark months of post-partum disorientation, and in the depths of my heart I planned another chance that never came.

***

So here I sit, a few days from 44 and a tiny bit reluctant to declare that this old body is done generating new life. The last two times I went off birth control, we made a baby in a matter of minutes, but this time I’m becoming fertile again for no reason other than my nostalgia for natural rhythms.

It’s time to go inside. As I unplug my phone, I notice a pink bread tab stuck in the bottom of the cup holder. I pick it up, fiddling it in my fingers, feeling heat rise from my crotch to my cheekbones. Thanks to an off-the-cuff comment in a marriage counseling session, bread tabs became the **token in our sexual economy, and they appear EVERYWHERE. My husband and I came into the marriage with wildly different intimacy needs, and the chasm between us was widened by pregnancy, and this hang up of mine that my body let me down in childbirth. And so, for our tenth anniversary we gave ourselves the gift of marriage counseling. We worked on boundary issues (his), control issues (mine), rejection issues (his), control issues (mine) and tried everything from assigned sex days (**Fucking Tuesday, you choose the inflection) to, somehow, bread tabs. If he handed me one before six pm, I could accept or decline. If I accepted, I was committing to sex that night, even if I just wanted to lie down and sleep. He had the worst timing, handing me a tab the moment I cleared my lap of dogs and kids and inhaled my own space for the first time all day. Other days I would accept, fully intending – wanting — to follow through, and then renege when I was just too tired. I started to throw away every bread tab that came into the house, while he snatched them up from other people’s kitchen counters.

But in the last few months, for the first time in our 15-year relationship, I have initiated intimate encounters almost as often as he has. He blames his vasectomy, convinced it has lowered his libido, a dose of emasculation good for our marriage, not so good for his ego.

I credit the two months I spent in bed recovering from surgery on my broken leg, relinquishing control of the household. All fall, I listened to my husband getting the kids up and out the door every morning, working with the babysitter to keep us fed and cared for, running the show with a strength and grace I had never seen in him – never ever allowed him to show me, with my relentless gathering in of every important and trivial detail of running our home. So we fell into some twisted version of ourselves, a partnership that worked, in its way, but that wasn’t true. Even after three years of marriage counseling, open and honest counseling, where we cut incredible paths back toward each other, there remained an impenetrable thicket when it came to sex, and we surrendered to this as a truth of our marriage.

As I lay there throughout my recovery, incapable of anything more tangible than being present, I watched my husband step up and in, not as a father, because he’s been an incredible dad since day one, but up and in to a confidence and competence that I am ashamed to say I may have been unwilling to see. And it’s sexy.

I smile and put the little pink piece of plastic back in the cup holder, thinking I should hand it to him later. Letting the flush move through me, I climb out of the car and walk across the sunny parking lot into the clinic.

***

As it happens the midwife is wonderful, finds the IUD string with nothing more invasive than an oversized Q-tip, and sends me off with a warning that, with the device removed, I could start bleeding at any time, there’s no way of know where I am in my cycle, and I spot a bit over the next couple days. On Sunday, my husband texts me while I’m out in the studio — ** Black underwear days. Our daughter has started her period again, and he’s digging through the bathroom drawers to find all the blood-absorbing Thinx panties, making sure they’re stocked and clean for her week ahead. I make sure they don’t need me, and step outside to pee in the woods. Whoops! Seems my body has noticed the IUD is gone, and I’ll be bleeding with my girl this week. Better dig out the Diva cup and remind myself how this whole process works. It’s been awhile.

Abby Braithwaite lives in Ridgefield, Washington, where she sometimes writes from a converted shipping container in the woods overlooking the family farm. Her essays on parenting, escape, and disability have been published in the Barton Chronicle, the Washington Post and the Hip Mama blog, as well as a handful of non-profit newsletters. She shares her home with her husband and two children, and whoever else is passing through

Guest Posts, Self Image, Writing & The Body

Powerful Child

March 10, 2019
swim

By Monica Welty

Strong currents of chlorinated, blue silk push against my body and I push right back. I also pull. We work with and against each other: me pushing forward, the water sliding back along my body. Spiraling and bubbling in my wake and then calming until I flip and come back again, heading in the opposite direction. I cup my hand to grab a swirling ball, like a wizard’s spell in his open palm. On land, water cupped in my hand drips down between the crevices of my fingers but in the water, I grab hold of it and use it to my advantage.

I love the muffled world under here. Even though I can’t breathe, it feels as if my chest is heaving like a track and field sprinter. Even though I can’t feel the sweat pouring off me, the salinated beadlets are instantly dissolving into this chemical-laden universe. Even though I feel as sleek and strong as any sea mammal, my skin, my temples, my thighs are pulsing and burning from the hot blood flow of my movement. Until I turn my head to put my ear to the bottom of the pool, all I hear is a tamped down world and the heavy breathing I am not doing. Then, I hear my quick gasp for air, my lifeline, the moment that both fuels me and slows me down. Back into muffled bliss, I feel more keenly the splashing water on my forearm and elbow as they leave the water momentarily in my flurry. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Writing & The Body

Claiming the Right to Cherish My Body

March 8, 2019
cherish

By Signe E. Land

Soaking in the tub on Christmas Eve, I studied my naked body. My two sons were on a trip with their father, and I live by myself, so I had plenty of time to reflect on the noticeable weight I had gained after a recent surgery. My breasts had grown larger and were pleasantly round with a fullness they hadn’t had for a very long time.  My stomach and sides had grown thicker too.  I considered some pros and cons of the weight gain. Pro: my butt was rounder, not as flat.  Con: my butt was not as perky.  Pro: my breasts were larger, pleasingly heavy when I weighed them in my hand.  Con: I had a little pot-bellied tummy.  Pro: I felt surprisingly more grounded in my body.  Con: I had to buy new jeans.

In the past, I had always abdicated judgement of my body to others.

Now single, for the first time I was the only one experiencing my body; I was the only one who would decide if the changes were good or bad, ugly or beautiful. In the past, partners had taught me that a fit, trim body was acceptable and loveable, though they had said they would love me “even if” I gained weight, whatever that meant. Judgment of my body was for others, including my mother, for whom my body had never been quite right: for her, I had always been too heavy or too thin. Now, as I considered my new curves and softness, I was surprised at the lack of horror and shame I had always felt before when I had gained weight.

As I considered my new body, a word popped into my mind along with a question: Cherish.  Do I cherish my body? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Writing & The Body

Her Own Beast

December 19, 2018
animal

By Natalie Singer

Once there was a girl who had a wild animal. She had never touched the animal but she knew deep inside her body and her soul that it was hers. She didn’t remember when she first understood she had an animal, maybe she was 12 and it was her first summer away at sleeping camp and she stayed in a canvas tent on a metal cot made up with a sleeping bag and old threadbare floral sheets that felt soft when she rubbed them between her fingers with three other girls including one named Frankie who peed her bed. Frankie peed her bed but she also showed the girl how to peg her jeans tight around her mosquito bitten ankles and hide her candy in a lockbox under the cot so the counselors wouldn’t find it and how to whisper late into the night without getting caught while the July rain drip drip dripped on the dirty canvas roof of the wooden platformed tent. Maybe she met the animal then, that summer, at the summer camp in the mountains with the tents among the pines. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexuality, Writing & The Body

The Vagina Monster

July 10, 2017

By Amy Bond

I took my first pole dance class the same day that I started law school. The instructor, Stacey taught us a move called the Vagina Monster, where you lay back, toes pointed to the ceiling, and then shuffle sideways, butt cheek to butt cheek waving your legs. The effect makes it look like your vagina is ravenously hungry and going to eat someone. It was raunchy as fuck and I loved it. By the end of class, we made something of a contest out of who was the nastiest bitch in the room, and it ended with all of us laughing uncontrollably, our heads resting easily on each other’s bellies in a pile of womankind solidarity. I left feeling strong and unapologetic.

There, for the first time, I met women who celebrated their bodies, and delighted in the weird shit we discovered we could do with them. I hadn’t seen sexuality like that before, which surprised me because I used to be a sex worker. From the women I met in pole dancing, I discovered a form of sexual expression utterly different from the kind I’d learned before.

Growing up, I was raised Mormon, and I believed that the absence of desire was what made me good. When I was 19, I moved to LA to be an actress, and maintained a long distance relationship with a Mormon man. We planned to get married in the Mormon temple and he was good like I was good; a virgin, pure. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, memories, Writing & The Body

The Arctic Front

June 26, 2017
arctic

By Tiffany Lee Brown

We were reshaping language. Making it fit better. Breaking it into chunks, discrete pieces. That’s what acid does: it lets you see all the infinitesimal pieces of everything, the air’s live molecules, the shivering motion of protons, electrons, neutrons as they fly through their individual atoms. At the same time, it lets you see the big things: the stars, the way the molecules connect all living creatures together, the breathing of trees against darkness.

We were reshaping language not just because it made us laugh, but because it brought new meaning to things, new clarity. And so the fire was no longer the fire. It was the Bright Flickering Orange Thing, as in: I’m freezing, but I can’t move right now. Would one of you feed the Bright Flickering Orange Thing? And someone would put a log—the Severed Guts of a Tall Being With Bark For Skin—into the big wood-burning stove with its open front, our only source of heat in this borrowed house.

All around us, Cold White Stuff muffled the forest and Cold Hard Stuff confounded the roads. It was twelve degrees Fahrenheit outside, in a region accustomed to mild winter days of low clouds and eternal drizzle. Every so often cold air—Arctic air—would come down from Alaska and get socketed in somehow. That’s what we were experiencing: an Arctic front.

Lee observed the Small Furry Clawed Mammals of the house and pointed out their qualities to me and Will. This grey one here, he decided, this grey one is named Steve. Check Steve out. He rules the world! Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing, Writing & The Body, Young Voices

Yesterday I Bled Brown Blood: Writing The Future

May 17, 2017
venus

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Demetra Szatkowski

I hand you my pain one piece at a time
sometimes all at once
messy unsure convolutedness
And you make sense of it

and hand myself back to me

healed

***

Venus in my first house. Venus in my house of self. Venus saying, who are you, how do you relate to yourself, how do you see yourself, how do you let others see you.

Today I woke up and bled brown blood. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape, Writing & The Body

Livor Mortis

March 29, 2017

By Megan Collins.

My first husband wanted to pee on me. I kid you not. He wanted me to dress down to my skin and lay in that cold vessel of a tub with the drain stabbing me in the head so that he could piss all over me. Can you imagine? I did. I could die. My tombstone a metal faucet with an inscription in scum, ‘Here lies girl who once was. Wild. May daffodils grow in her stead’. I tell you this so that you know what the face of death looks like when she’s staring at you from across a cafe; the grocery store. What the separation of body and a spirit look like walking around in human skin. It is a body covered in piss owned by a man you despise, with the life spirited away.

 

For the record, I told him I would not. That even the thought of it made me feel dirty and disgusted. So he told me I was a stuck up cunt and that the reason for his late night voyeurism of underage Asian girls and naked, male, jock on jocks with throbbing veiny dicks was because I was stifling his sexual exploration. Continue Reading…

depression, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Writing & The Body

A Tale of 19 Wet Towels or How I Failed to Shed My Skin

March 23, 2017
towel

By Ella Wilson.

1. Birth

Every time in my life that I have had the opportunity – that is to say I have been in the presence of a huge coming or going or leaving or starting, a massive adding on or taking away – every time I have had the chance to step out, to leave behind, to shed, to transform, to butterfly, to snake – every time I could have showered off the detritus of some time in my life that lay heavy on my skin. Every time I could have grown, instead I wet-toweled.

2. Starting school

Here is how you wet-towel. You take the thing you might have stepped out of, a skin, a time, a loss, a tiny pair of pants, a hit in the face. You take that thing and you wrap yourself in it.

3. Suicide attempt age 12

You shiver at first because the wet towel makes you cold. The weight of it makes you slow. After a few days you start to smell old and nothing seems like a very good idea.

4. Puberty

Shame is sticky and the antidote to transformation.

5. Losing my virginity

Shame tells you to hide, unfortunately the tools it gives you for hiding promote shame on shame. Shameless self promotion.

6. Leaving school

When you would rather not be seen it is preferable to hide in anything you can find.

7. Leaving home

8. Getting a job

9. My father dying

When my father died I did not notice. This is not because I was not paying attention exactly, in fact I paid so much attention, maybe too much. Nursing him from when I was 13 to 22. But something can become normal, like someone being ill, like thinking someone won’t really die. So I slept on his hospital floor for months. I swabbed his throat with little pink sponges. I knew the nurses names. He died. I wanted to stay on the floor. I wasn’t ready not to have a father. I wore his clothes. I didn’t cry. I did not become fatherless. I just became personless.

10. Moving to America

11. Being hospitalized for anorexia

12. Getting married Continue Reading…

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