mercoledì, ottobre 19, 2016

Oversharing, on purpose

A person who's very close to me and who I love very much and who had been trying very, very hard to have a baby for many years just miscarried. She had made it to where I made it last year, and my miscarriage was detected the same way hers just was - 12 week scan, whoops sorry, I know you still feel pregnant, but there's no more baby there, diagnosis missed abortion.

But since she's in Australia, they just let her body get rid of it itself, instead of the curettage my gynecologist immediately packed me off to here. It's the second time I've heard that being standard in Australia, that they wait for the mother's body to do it itself when there's a missed abortion around that time, or at least that they don't rush to book in the curettage and the result is the mother's body doing it itself. And there's a rationale behind that. It makes uterine scarring a little less likely than it would be if you got a curettage from a doctor who wasn't competent, and I guess Australia is a pretty litigious society where the general assumption is that people aren't competent (and frankly, in the short time we were there, I did meet a fair few incompetent doctors).

And as the F-word cynically pointed out, it's probably cheaper on average to not intervene, which would make non-intervention more likely in a public health system like Oz, and an intervention more likely in an insurance-based system like the one here.

But - damn. It makes me realise - I had a really good miscarriage. Once you're on the level of discussing something as awful as miscarrying, that seems like an absurd or even offensive thing to believe. But there are good and bad ways of dying and there are good and bad ways of miscarrying, and maybe if we talked about both things a little bit more we'd be better at them.

 So. Here's me. 

Losing my baby was really emotional terrible. The physical process of the loss was NOT terrible. The missed abortion was picked up in the morning, and I spent that afternoon being upset at home and then processing through all the requisite checks and interviews at the nearest hospital. Because of the hours I spent being upset at home, there wasn't time to have the curettage the same day as the detection. But I was seen quickly by the gynecologists, who were kind and sympathetic, and gave me the choice of whether or not to watch the screen while they were checking the fetus for any unexpected signs of life. I went back to the hospital the morning after the missed abortion was detected for the curettage. All through this process, all I felt was pregnant. Still sick in the mornings, still tired, still that general physical sensation of the first trimester - and that's it. I lay in bed for a couple of hours waiting for the initial drugs to start the sloughing process while I thought about what had happened and said goodbye to the poor little body inside me, and then I went under sedation like I was slipping into some satin sheets. I woke up fantastically refreshed as my system flooded itself with whatever hormones you get flooded with when you're not pregnant anymore. I wasn't euphoric or anything, but I was in a really terrific physical mood, like when you've had a big sleep after an active day and you want to eat a couple of steaks for breakfast.

That's it. It took me a long time to not be terribly sad all the time, and I still am some of the time, and I'll always be more fearful and sad than I was before losing the baby. And I don't know what different emotional states I'd be dealing with if I didn't already have a living child, and if I didn't manage to get and stay pregnant again soon after the miscarriage. And I think I'll probably lose my mind permanently if anything happens to the baby I'm carrying now, which is almost full-term.

But as far as my physical experience of miscarriage goes, what happened above was it. I didn't even see any blood, except for a tiny bit after taking the sloughing drugs and before going into the operating theatre. I contrast that with what my friends in Australia told me about their experiences with nature being allowed to take its course after the missed abortion was detected at the 12 week scan. It hurt, terribly. It hemorrhaged, awfully. I think ultimately both of them ended up spending a lot more time in hospital than the eight-odd hours I was in for my checks, interview, and curettage, so if there is a money-factor in this sort of decision-making, it was a pretty false economy (though they were seen to mostly by nurses while I was seen to by nurses, an anaesthetist, and some gynecologists so the staff/specialist spend was certainly higher). And the process, in both their cases, lasted a week or more.

Do women who face this understand there are other choices that are or aren't being made for them? I'm sure they don't. I didn't. I was resentful when I researched it afterward that I'd been packed off for a curettage without any other option being presented, because I was scared of scarring and risks for future pregnancies. But then hearing how things went for my Australian friends . . . they certainly got scarred, if not physically; the whole process was simply much, much more traumatic for them, so much so that I can't understand their experiences, even though our tragedies were all the same. 

These are things we need to be able to talk about, as women. Not just because miscarriage is shitty and it helps to talk about shitty things or whatever the fuck, but because it's a matter of agency. Of control of our own bodies. I don't know why things are different here from Australia, but I'm pretty fucking sure it's not because of what women want here versus what they want in Australia.

martedì, ottobre 04, 2016


Carmen had a generic haircut. If you live in a place where the hairdressers have any nous at all you've seen it many times - perhaps many times today. A short, slanted bob; sharpish edges around the face, and generally some highlights or broader blonde colouring but hints of darker shades throughout. It's generic for a reason - it's a very flattering haircut. Almost a European uniform for stylish, slender women past the age of 40 whose hair isn't particularly thick or curly and who have the sort of lifestyle wherein they can afford monthly cuts-and-colours but don't want to spend ages fucking around with their hair every morning.

There are a lot of reasons I'm glad I dragged my massive pregnant ass to Paris this weekend for her funeral, and one of them is that I already feel half-mad walking around here and continually seeing women my stupid brain thinks are her from behind because they've got the same blonde bob. There is a big part of funerals that's about figuring out the person is actually dead, isn't there? Even as I was buying a train ticket and booking a hotel to go to her funeral my stupid brain kept thinking "I'd better call Carmen to let her know I'll be in Paris this weekend so we can get dinner or something."

During the religious ceremony the casket was open, which I wasn't expecting. I don't think that's a French thing - I think that's a Romanian thing. I was grateful. Her body hadn't been made up or dressed up so it had that relaxed expression that unretouched corpses have, which made the body of my 97 year old grandfather look younger than I'd ever seen him, and made her body look like a little girl's. And accordingly - not her anymore. She was gone.

That was a relief too. Carmen was a very punctual, organized person and the nonsense surrounding her last rites felt so not-her that I swang between feeling uncomfortable leaving her to the mercy of a bunch of French tehcnocrats and realizing that when it comes to your own funeral, it doesn't matter what sort of person you were; now you're just a prop. You're not there.

Everything started half an hour late because the funeral home was half an hour late opening; everybody had to wait out on the street. The ceremony was Eastern Orthodox and felt horribly disassociated from Carmen, who was a practicing Buddhist in life and who, apparently, the priest that spent the service spruiking Jesus and Heaven and whatnot had never met or learned anything about. I can't stand all that fucking Eternity talk at funerals, and I believe in Heaven and Eternity. But I don't know why you'd fucking talk about them at a fucking funeral, where everyone is trying to figure out how to go on living their lives, maybe for decades and decades, without this beautiful person in them anymore.

She was young, and lovely, so a lot of people came. More than 150, I'm guessing. But the ceremony was in a tiny room that could barely fit 20, so everybody was spilling into the atrium and even down the staircase leading to the atrium. The priest yelled at people to hurry up paying their last respects around the coffin just as I came to it to pay my last respects. I'd been holding it together pretty well up until then but burst into tears and rushed off - not too hysterical to not hear all the French-tutting at the priest; they're quite protective of the massively pregnant there. Good. Fucking crow. Though since he was Orthodox he was more bird-of-paradise coloured.

Ultimately I left early. Everything about the religious ceremony was so not-her that I transitioned quickly from tears to anger and annoyance. Also I know how slow I am now, and guessed that I'd need the extra time to make it to the crematorium in time for that ceremony, whatever it was going to be.

I did. The crematorium was up at the top of Pere Lachaise, which was hillier than I remembered. And more beautiful. It was a lovely autumn Saturday and I think the loveliest time of year for that cemetery, which I used to live down the street from. Trees still mostly green but dead leaves starting to swirl in the breeze down the cobbled paths and between the houses of the dead; ubiquitous horse chestnuts launching their shining fruits pell-mell.

As it was a lovely autumn Saturday, the cemetery was crawling with tourists, who asked me at various points during the day as I walked up and down from the crematorium where Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison were, like any sensible person would a) give a flying fuck or b) ask someone wearing funereal black and with tear marks on their glasses in a fucking cemetery stupid fucking tourist questions.

Whatever. I didn't really mind. It was almost comic relief. Almost a relief to eyeball these people disbelievingly and wonder why you'd travel to a cemetery to look at somewhere the prop of a complete stranger had been abandoned 50-odd years ago when people you loved were dying all the time, so shouldn't you spend your time with them or remembering them instead of some fucking racist hebephile pervert or underweight warbler or bloated American lounge singer who liked cocaine and whipping his dick out at concerts?

After the cremation I saw a lot of people walking their dogs in the cemetery, or sitting down on one of the benches with nicer views to have a little snack. That felt actually nice. It felt good that Carmen had had her send-off in such a beautiful place, where people liked to come. She had chosen it. It was on almost the opposite side of town from where she lived and worked. Walking up to the crematorium was the first time I felt her hand in the manner of her send-off.

The ceremony at the crematorium reinforced that. Her friends spoke, very movingly, rather than any officiant except for a no-nonsense but warm guy who was obviously some sort of public servant running the place, telling everybody when to stand and sit and approach the coffin to leave rose petals on it and whatnot. One of them was another Romanian expat who talked about their friendship together in France, their "land of exile and dreams". That sounded so - Carmen.

And a Buddhist monk talked briefly too, with almost childlike simplicity, mentioning how maybe the pain of losing Carmen could serve to remind us to be more like her and "faire moins des betises." That was salutary to hear too. Carmen was a moral superhero. Her being part of your life made you a better person when she was alive; her memory could be a powerful force of good. It didn't make losing her okay. It didn't try to. 

mercoledì, settembre 28, 2016

She just didn't seem like the dying type.

Obviously, miscarrying last year was awful. With this pregnancy, I've been wondering from time to time if the universe is trying to reassure me that things will be like they were with Godzilla, and not like they were with the baby who died. Blood pressure up again, due date almost exactly identical, and now . . . universe, this is an odd way to go about it.

Almost exactly four years ago my grandmother died at 100. And a few days ago, my last good friend in Paris, Carmen, died. I didn't even know she was sick. She'd had ovarian cancer, and then hepatitis, and both seemed cured, but the older I get and the more I see, the more I realise that "cure" is a big word. Ultimately what got her was a fast and aggressive liver cancer that killed her in a matter of weeks, and considering what her body must have gone through during the treatment for the first cancer and the hepatitis - well, I'm not a doctor, but duh.

All morning I've been beating myself up over not having even told her I was pregnant again. Stupid fucking me. The last time I saw her was last December, when we were in Paris. The last baby had died a week or so before, but the death hadn't been detected yet and I was feeling great, so we were having a happy "oh you're pregnant let me drink that wine for you" weekend. And then of course having to tell her a few days later. . .

This morning, after a friend of hers called me to tell me what had happened and where the funeral was, I thought I had hesitated to tell her about the new pregnancy - obviously, I thought, I had hesitated too long. I was expecting to see her in a couple of weeks when I went out west to visit my niece in Brittany. I just wished so much I had seen her - I wished so much that she had known about the new pregnancy. I couldn't fix her cancer, I couldn't make her not die, but I know she cared about me a lot, and I know how she felt about children and spirituality and the future, and I wished and wished and wished she had known.

Anyways, then I checked my phone records, and realized that I had told her, back in May. A couple of months before she was diagnosed. Wow. Thank fuck for technology. So now we just move on to garden variety heartbreak and grief.

When Granny died I couldn't do anything about it. I was in Australia, at the same stage of pregnancy I'm at now, and flying off to Yorkshire was not on the cards. But I guess now I can go. There's a hell of a difference between a 24 hour plane ride and three hours on a train.

I think I have to go, because I can't believe she's gone. There was something so steady and unchanging about her over the 15 years of our friendship. Something almost eternal. Even when she was at her sickest with the ovarian cancer - and she came to stay with us in Canada for a little while directly after the chemo had wrapped up, still frail and with fuzzy hair like a baby's coming in - I never dreamt she would die. Like Granny, to be honest. Granny was 100 and the last time I saw her she could barely move, and I still really didn't think she would ever die. I didn't think I was saying goodbye to her the last time I left her bedroom.

Oh, this fucking existence.

martedì, settembre 13, 2016

Mantras for the land that wasn't quite promised but will do

To hark back to something a cousin-by questionable-marriage said to us several years back, F-word and I indeed spent a good chunk of our lives looking for the Promised Land, and we didn't find it, and that's fine, and we're done looking, and that's fine too. Here is a good place to end up, with all its great schools and reasonably priced groceries and hospitals with low caesarian rates (BTW the German word for caesarian or c-section is "Kaiserschnitt". Isn't that awesome? I need to use "Kaiser Schnitt" as somebody or something's name in some work of fiction at some time). We aren't moving. Or at least, not until we're old, or until we have to.

All the same, once a week or more, I have to employ a specific calming mantra to reconcile me to life here, beyond my typical go-to of "two tears in a bucket, motherfuck it" (thank you, you beautiful woman, and goodbye):

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

The mantra works because it's true. No one likes Germans. There are historical reasons for nobody liking Germans and those historical reasons all come back to the present reasons nobody likes Germans once they spend time with a certain type of German who seems to illustrate those historical reasons, because they do illustrate those historical reasons, and it has to do with a strange relationship to RULES.

And it's something that resonates with me as a Canadian, because Canadians have this reputation for really enjoying doing things by the rules, but almost everybody likes us (even though there are a lot of reasons they shouldn't). And the reason nobody likes Germans is because they really enjoy rules too, but perpetually seem to be using them as a stick to beat the people around them with.

It's on my mind today because usually I only have to pull out the mantra once a week, but just now I've had to do it three times in 24 hours, and in between those times I listened to part of Dan Carlin's "Blueprint for Armageddon" Hardcore History* podcast about the first World War. The bit in question is when he talks about how clueless the German state was about the brutal collective punishment of civilians during the 1914 invasion of Belgium affecting opinion in countries like Britain and the US that hadn't yet involved themselves in the war, and weren't obliged to by treaty. Carlin argues that since the idea of collective punishment was popularly accepted as a reasonable way to wage war within Germany, there was no serious thought given to what the rest of the world was going to think of it. That is, the Germans were obeying the rules, so no problem was envisaged.

Which would be fine - except rules are NOT. FUCKING. UNIVERSAL. They're applied as the powerful choose to apply them, and that means sometimes rules are transparently instruments of oppression. And you don't make something okay to everyone by making a rule about it. The Roma and Jewish genocides of the second world war were by the rules. The way the German political and business establishment has been choking the life out of Greece for the last several years is by the rules. Murder is "against the rules", and credit being extended with zero risk to the creditor is also "against the rules", but when the rules are enforced by the powerful - in these cases, the Germans - they can cherry-pick, and still feel like the are OBEYING THE MOTHERFUCKING RULES SO WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Anyways, nobody has been oppressing me that badly. I just have a bad cold and a massive, massive pregnant belly with all the attendant physical and mental discomforts, so the little things that happen get magnified and I need to pull out my mantra to calm down. In this case, the trifecta of "people like you are the reason nobody likes Germans" was:

a) trying to take my lightly-sick son to a local playground to get some fresh air (and myself some peace) but having to turn tail almost immediately, because there was a festival this weekend, complete with weird traditional shorts and oompa music and banners. That meant the playground was festooned with broken beer glasses and bottles. Even the sandboxes. Fuck knows how those pigs managed to break glass in a fucking sandbox.

My neighbourhood, statistically, is one of the most "German" in the city. And the amount of sheer fucking BITCHING I've heard from these true-blue Germans about how filthy Turks, Arabs and Roma people are in their public habits is what makes this particularly frustrating. There are RULES about public comportment, rules that don't apply if you're native German and having a good time, even when it means filling up a fucking PLAYGROUND with jagged glass.

b) taking the bus home late last night from a local hospital, where I plan to hatch the next baby, the driver blew past my requested stop. I'm sort of an absent-minded idiot at the moment, what with being seven months pregnant, so it took ten or fifteen seconds for me to realise what had happened. And then when I started yelling at the driver, he didn't pull over - instead, he continued on at speed for a good half-minute, yelling back at me that I should have reminded him to stop immediately.

If there weren't other people watching my pregnant belly sway around the bus, I'm sure the fucking bastard would have just continued on to where the fucking "rules" said there was another fucking bus stop.

c) this morning, I was biking Godzilla to school. On the route, there's a section of about 60 metres were the bike path disappears, the road narrows, and cars go fast around a roundabout as they anticipate the speed limit being about to rise. And at that point, at least when Godzilla is on the bike with me and I'm massively pregnant, I go on the sidewalk. The fuck I or anyone remotely sensible will do anything else. I've had too many near-misses there, and that strip of road is notorious for near-misses and not-misses not only of bikes but of pedestrians using zebra crossings. I go slow, watch out for pedestrians, and give them a wide berth, up to and including stopping for them, because I'm not an asshole.

This morning, I stopped for a pedestrian who was walking his dogs, to promptly get fucking jawed at from him about how I'm on a footpath. I gesture at the roundabout and start explaining why I'm on the footpath, but he interrupts, saying to me, my three year old on the back of the bike, and my big, pregnant belly, while we're stationary to let him pass - "you're on a footpath, and that's that."

It's one of those times where at the moment I deeply regret not knowing enough German to argue with him, but ultimately saying "okay, you don't want an explanation" and biking away from him was the best thing I could have done. He had the rules on his side, and I had my mantra on mine:

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

*It's fun. Conversational, interesting, and I can follow it whilst pregnant and exhausted.

mercoledì, settembre 07, 2016

All these blow jobs will be lost in time, like tears in the rain

So I'm about 53 years late to this question but "Please Please Me" is totally about oral sex reciprocity, right? All these questions, answers lost to history, mouldering eventually in arts programmes in universities where strange pasty scholars spend whole, deeply unsatisfying and poorly paid careers speculating about the motives of the dead.

My undergrad college is celebrating its 20th anniversary in a couple of weeks with a big reunion do. It's funny; while I was there I was sure I was going to be a professional academic. There was a tug-of-war over me between the history section and the comparative lit section, over where I should go for my master's. Berkeley? U of T? And then - what? Lots of marijuana, a move to Europe - which at the time just felt like a way to put off a decision over the two to a clearer season - and then Spliffe's Wild Years, which I rounded off doing a master's in something completely different and much more . . . useful? That's arguable. But I'd probably be pretty good at taking over other people's countries now, compared to most people, which feels like a skillset that might be handy in these turbulent times.

So obviously I'm not going to the reunion. I'm in my last trimester, in the wrong hemisphere, and I'm not sure I'd go even if it was around the corner. We were a tight-knit group in a college that had just been founded - we started in its second year - and we did about 40% of our classes together, mostly lived together, mostly hung out together. And some of my dearest enduring friendships are with other people in that college. Which is probably the main reason I don't want to go to the reunion. I didn't lose touch with or drift away from anybody I want to be in touch with. Except the professors, and the ones I'd want to see again are no longer there.

But while it's happening, I'll think about it. Raise some sort of mental toast to Spliffe That Was, a curious young poser who expected to be underpaid and precariously employed most of her adult life, and who thought that Petrarch's influence on John Donne was a burningly important question relative to whether or not John Lennon was yelling at some woman to actually go down on him, for a change. She was fine, that Spliffe. But I'm glad she turned into me.