The Birth of Morning

The desire to write the story of my daughter’s birth has been gnawing at my insides since she made her journey Earthside.  The story needs to be explored in it’s totality: the who, the what, the why, the before, the after.  So, my next few posts will explore each of these interconnecting parts.  

Why home birth?

My motivation to have home birth was at first entirely political.  Birth is bound up in the social, political and economic contours that define our society.  So, in the US (and many other places in the world), birth is a patriarchal, capitalist endeavor where liability, profit and male convenience take precedent over a women’s inherent wisdom, autonomy and desires. 

Birth outcomes in the US reflect this phenomenon. Maternal death in the US is staggering for a developed country.  About 700 women die annually from childbirth. Black women and Native women die at 3.5 times the rate of white women.  Cesarean rates hover around 30%.

Midwifery and the home birth are the antidote to these patriarchal trends. At it’s core, the home birth movement is defined by a radical form a feminism that aims to respect, empower and values every aspect of the body, mind and soul.  It aims to “de-medicalize” birth and empower individuals with all the information and options needed to make decisions about their care and birth.  The midwifery model of care is all about building relationship with your caregiver and addressing all aspects of health from our fears about birth to the food we eat to nourish the life growing inside of us.  All of this aligns with who I am, who we are as a family and what we wanted birth to be.

After Sugar and I met with our midwife, Kris, we were sold. The shelves in Kris’ office were lined with books about reproductive justice.  Kris is queer and uses they/them/their pronouns.  Their calm, understanding and open energy connected to both Sugar and I in a way that felt right. After our hour long consultation, Sugar bounced down the creaking stairs and onto the street, he jumped on his bike and said, “that was awesome. Let’s do it.”  

So, we were both in. 

Preparing for birth

Preparing for childbirth is a physical, mental and spiritual process.  I am by nature a workaholic and there was a part of me that wanted to believe that if I prepared enough, I would achieve the birth I had envisioned.

Reflecting back, I realize there was always this tension inside of me that didn’t really believe the narrative that a lot of birth preparation materials spout.  Most of what I read followed this idea that if I thoroughly expelled all the fear mongering ideas that surround birth, I created a vision and I prepared as much as I could, I too would be “entitled” to the birth I wanted.  (It turns out that birth doesn’t care about your work ethic.)

But I had always been a visionary and a hard worker, and my life had never unfolded in the way I thought that it would.  But there is not playbook for surrendering to birth.  It’s much more difficult to acknowledge and embrace our lack of control, to let go and give into the unknown.  

So, I treated my birth preparation like I was training for a marathon.  I was obsessive, meticulous and committed.  I created a vision of successful birth, I planned, I did research, I tried to anticipate everything that might get in the way of me achieving peaceful, natural birth at home.

Preparing the body

I have always been an adrenaline junkie with an addiction to exercise endorphins.  Exhaustion was a good way for me to achieve a state of calm inside my physical and mental system that tended towards imbalance.   I spent decades running marathons, snowboarding, playing soccer in college and in the men’s over 30 league.  I attempted to achieve internal equilibrium through exhaustion.  I bruised my tailbone and had several concussions and a body bound by muscles that don’t easily release.  

And none of this accounts for the emotional wounds that are also lodged the fibers of our muscles and memory.  I think about the tension in my jaw that started when my sister had her psychotic break and my relationship of seven years fell apart.  I try to release this tension as I do my morning pregnancy affirmations.  

I attempted to undo decades of physical trauma with massage and prenatal chiropractic work.  A prenatal massage specialist loosened the scar tissue around my tailbone and massaged all the itty bitty ligaments around the vagina that need to stretch and open to allow a child to pass through.  

I remember laying on the massage table wondering why I hadn’t paid more attention to this part of my body.  The pelvis is the connection point that linked everything in my body.  I thought about how many times I stretched by groins as I slide tackled my opponents or swung my leg to fire a shot at the goal.  Yet, no hands had ever touched the muscle groups that were fundamental to movement and life.  Standing, walking, sitting, all of these activities require some type of pelvic engagement. 

I also saw a prenatal chiropractor to work on my physical alignment. My chiropractor used muscle activators to try balance my severely misaligned pelvis.  The doctor assures me that my pelvis and hips were perfectly balanced and ready for birth. 

Releasing fear, preparing the mind 

I prepare my mind, I completed at at home hypnobirthing course.  Hypnobirth is about undoing the negative conditioning society has about birth being a painful, medical event.   It seeks to reprogram our minds to believe that birth can (and should) be different.

 Every morning during the second and third trimester, I woke and listened to pregnancy and birth affirmations.  I worked on my mantras and breathing techniques.  I watched videos of hypnobirths online.  I wrote a story about how my birth would go. I completed a self-study course.

I let myself believe the naive mantras that passed through my wireless headphones.  “Every woman has the right to a pain free, peaceful birth,” a woman with a soothing Australian accent said.  

I listened to dozens of birth stories on podcasts like the Birth Hour and Doing It at Home and read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. I watched the documentary “Orgasmic Birth.” Stories poured through my car speakers and flooded my mind with fascination.  I didn’t want to listen to very many stories about struggle and C-sections for fear that they might break the loose grip I had on the narrative of natural and pain free labor.  

In the end, my birth was not at home, not “natural” and very far from pain-free.  

“We make plans and God laughs.”

Birth: The fucking real deal

My daughter Morning’s birth was an exercise in patience, endurance— a physical and mental feat that challenged, stretched and pulled me apart.  Birth reassembled me into a new person whose bits and pieces I am still trying to understand.  

Waiting for Morning to arrive was excruciatingly long, weepy and tiresome.  She was born either 2 weeks or 8 days “late” depending on which “due date” is taken in account.  (My due date changed when I was 40+4 based on an ultrasound error a nurse practitioner made early in my pregnancy.)

I went on maternity leave the week before she was due—tying up lose ends, sending emails and trying to anticipate all the things that might happen at work while I was gone.  When I finally put up the “autoreply” on my email and unplugged, I thought for sure she would make her arrival soon.  I was ready.  Should she be?

But she did not.  The days leading up to her birth passed like a broken record, spinning around an axis of anticipation and then landing at the same place—me laying uncomfortably in bed or on the couch, answering people’s incessant texts and phone calls inquiring, “baby here yet?”  

I tried to “make the most” of my last days as a “single” person.  I went on a “due date date” with Bob the Farmer on my initial due date.  I forced myself to get out of my paper thing gray pajama bottoms and put on a cute, low cut, black and white striped maternity dress I purchased second hand  from ThredUp, an online thrift store.  We strolled around midtown buying plants and drinking over priced Kombucha from a trendy health food bar.  My belly felt as large as the universe, stretched as taut as a drum head about to burst.  I had to pay attention to every step and movement I made so as not to strain my already aching back and hips.

Sugar and I went out for our “last meal” several times—scrolling yelp reviews, trying to find places that felt “special.”  We did this four times.

I neurotically checked my underwear for signs of a “bloody show” every time I went to the bathroom, pulling the crotch of my cotton panties taut and sighing disappointedly when all I saw was dinghy, dry white cotton cloth staring back at me.  I read the evidence based articles on due dates over and over again convincing myself that everything I was  feeling was completely normal and that most first time mom’s don’t give birth until 5 days after their “due dates.”

California law does not allow home birth after 42 weeks, so I felt this ticking clock slowly taking away my chances of having the birth I imagined.   

 At 40 weeks and 7 days “over due,”  Sugar and I went to the OB’s office for a non-stress test and a vaginal exam.  My OB’s schedule was booked back to back with patients giving her only 15 minutes to talk with us. She immediately started talking about induction without asking me how I felt or checking Morning’s fluid levels and heart rate.  She swabbed my vagina to retest for GHB without asking for my consent.  

I told her that  based on my ovulation chart, I thought my due date was wrong and wanted her to change it.  I was desperate to gain “more time” to have a home birth.

“We don’t change due dates this late in a pregnancy,” she told me.  “But let me review your records.”

She found that the due date initially assigned to me was based on the wrong ultrasound, so my “new due date” made me only 2 days and not 7 days overdue. 

Sugar and I left the appointment feeling victorious—my intuition and calculation was right and the large HMO hospitals date was wrong.  The nonstress test revealed that our baby was perfectly healthy.  

Still, more days passed.  The anniversary of my grandmother’s death, my best friends birthday, the evening when we went strolling around the neighborhood and the light was this perfect pale orange color and all the flowers that lined our cracked sidewalk were in bursting in bloom.  All of these days felt like the perfect day to have Morning arrived, yet she still did not come.

On the evening of June 1st, as Sugar and I were finishing up Season 8 of Game of Thrones.  In the evenings, I was using a breast pump on and off for 20 minutes to try to stimulate labor.  Some research showed that pumping helped to release oxytocin which can help to send “late” women into labor.  

This evening, I began to feel a dull ache in my pelvis, similar to a period cramp.  The cramps continued for the entire evening, coming and going with no particular pattern.  The pain wasn’t enough to constitute active labor, but it was enough to keep me awake and uncomfortable all night, laying on the couch, clutching my cell phone trying to time contractions, or “waves” as hypnobirth would call them.  No real pattern.  Just pain and not sleep. 

I laid on the couch waiting for time to pass, so I could contact my midwife at a “reasonable” hour.  (My attempts to keep everyone else comfortable in my early days of labor didn’t serve me well.)  At 6am the next morning, I texted Kris, my midwife, and said, “well, last night was no fun.”  

She told me to take a Benadryl and a bath and try to get some rest.  I took a warm bath and breathed through the irregular contractions.  Sugar built a mountain of pillows on the bed and I tied a heating pad around my waist to try to get some relief from the waves of pain.  By 1:30 pm, all the contractions had stopped.  I texted Kris again and they encouraged me to try to rest, because it was likely that contracts would pick up again in the evening.  

The evening of June 2nd looked a lot like June 1st, Sugar and I sitting on the couches watching Game of Thrones and waiting, the breast pump churning rhythmically in the background.  At around midnight, I felt stronger contractions, enough that I had to walk around move through them to manage the discomfort.  I had regular contractions, about 1 every 3 minutes, for an hour and then the distance between the waves of pain would, frustratingly, increase.  

Sugar fell asleep and I spent the night on the couch, staring at the twinkle lights I hung on the wall, gripping my hips and trying to breathe and through each wave of pain.  I watched the hours pass by backlit cell phone and grew increasingly scared and frustrated.  I knew that the lack of sleep was draining my energy and that inconsistent contractions were not a sign of true labor.  I needed more support, but wanted to let Sugar sleep and knew I couldn’t call my midwife without a more consistent pattern.

By 6am on June 3, I hadn’t really slept in 48 hours and was still in pain from the inconsistent contractions.  The pain picked up that morning, feeling like waves of lightning passing through my pelvis.  We called Kris and asked her to come to our house.  My friend and fellow recovery warrior, Alex came over to help support me.  Alex would be my steadfast friend and doula through my grueling labor.

At around noon, Kris and their assistant, Jimena, came to check on me.  “This baby is coming soon,” Kris reassured me, placing a gentle hand on my arm.  

Kris asked if they could conduct a vaginal exam to check my progress.  I laid on our bed and pressed my feet together, letting my knees fall to the sides.  Jimena, their assistant, placed a glove on her hand and pressed her fingers towards my cervix.  I felt pressure all through my pelvis as she moved her hand around.  Jimena said I was only 2 cm dilated and about 50% effaced.  The baby was at a station of 2.  This was disappointing to say the least.

Jimena did a membrane sweep to help jump start my labor.  She inserted her finger into my cervix and separate the placenta from the uterine wall.  I felt a surge of pressure and then the sweep was over.  

Laying on my bed with Jimena and Kris standing over me, I continued to wince though the inconsistent contractions.  Exhaustion was taking over my body and mind.  I fantasized about drugs and the comparative ease of a C-section.  I asked Kris to walk me through what a C-section looks and feels like.  My mind and body already were scheming ways to get out of this incredible discomfort and exhaustion.  I confessed that my addict brain was starting to become active and seeking outlets which really scared me.  I wept and blubbered and Kris again reassured me that the baby was coming soon.

As Jimena and Kris walked out the front door, I felt a rush of warm fluid between my thighs.  My water had broken, finally.  This is typical after a membrane sweep. I vomited wilted lettuce into the sink. Sugar sent Kris a text to let them know what was happening.  “Woo hoo.  That’s great news!”  Kris responded.  (I learned that a midwife’s job is to remain patiently optimistic even when things are not going as planned.) They said they would come back when contractions picked up.  

I laid on the couch and attempted to watch a movie with Alex.  We selected “Wine Country” on Netflix in hopes of lightening our mood.  Sugar crawled in bed and attempted to take a nap.  We only made is about 5 minutes into the film when my contractions strengthened.  I laid curled up on my side with a mountain of pillows between my legs and on my back.  Alex sat on the ottoman facing me, holding my hand through each contraction and pressing on my hips to help ease the pain.  This continued for four hours. I had a contraction every 3 minutes for 1 minute.  I feel asleep for 2-3 minutes between waves, completely overcome by exhaustion.  Alex held my hand with her left and checked her email on her phone with her left.  Labor is an exercise in staying present and patient while finding ways to pass the time.  

Jimena and Kris came back at around 5:00pm.  The birth team felt a renewed sense of purpose.  We’d have this baby tonight, we all thought, as if we could will my baby into the world with our shear determination.  I chugged a lemony electrolyte beverage to try to get some fluid in my body.

My contractions got stronger throughout the day.  I hadn’t slept in about 60 hours and hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours, so I was growing feeble in body and mind.  Someone needed to be next to me at all times to help me cope with the pain and growing fears.  Whatever mantras I had learned in hypnobirth no longer seemed to apply.  

As the pain grew, I remember wailing on the couch at around midnight with Kris, the midwife trying to nap in the living and Jimena sitting next to me, pushing hard on my hips through each contraction.  Jimena was texting with Kris in the other room.  Based on the guttural sounds I was making and my inability to speak as the contractions ripped though  me, Kris said I could get into the birth pool.  

Sugar sprang into action and filled the tub with luke warm water.  I looked at the translucent blue plastic walls and wondered by the hell I was going to get my body into the tub.  I had fantasized about having a water birth, so the moment felt good.  I was so relieved that I could get in the water and finally feel some comfort after days of suffering.  Sugar and Jimena helped me step up on three step stool and hurl myself over the side.  

The water wasn’t quite warm and the tub was quite full enough to cover my lower back.  Kris came in from her nap and told the team to fill up the tub with hot water.  I draped my arms over the side of the plastic wall, scared to move, because movement would cause incredibly painful contractions.  I felt my stomach tense and insides rumble and began puking into a green plastic bag.  Whatever liquids, I managed to gulp down promptly spewed out of my mouth.  I fell asleep on the side of the birth tub, puking and moaning through each contractions.

After about ten minutes in the tub, the contractions stopped.  Every few minutes I would feel a wave whip through me, but again, the distance between the contractions didn’t add up to active labor.  I wiggled my hips around, Sugar handed me my manual breast pump and I tried to start labor again by pumping my breasts.  It was 4:00am and the team all looked weary,  Alex sitting on the stool, Jimena in the corner and Kris kneeling next to me.

It was time to get out of the tub and reassess our plan.  I crept over the to the bedroom with Alex and Sugar holding my arms.  I stopped and screamed in pain and dry heaved every time a contraction hit.  I laid on the bed and Jimena did a vaginal exam.  I was only 5 cm dilated and 80% effaced.  

I should have been disappointed, but I didn’t have the energy to feel much of anything anymore.  The more pressing issue was that I hadn’t slept in almost 72 hours and had any fluids in about 12 hours.  Kris told the team that I would need an IV and that we should all try to get some rest.

I looked away toward my off white walls as Jimena tried to insert the IV needle in the arm.  She wasn’t able a vein and poked and prodded.  I usually terrified of needles, but the pain paled in comparison to the contractions.  Kris took over, found a vein and hung the IV bag from our curtain rod.

At 4:30am, everyone left Sugar and I in the bedroom to the try to rest.  Alex left to go to work.  Sugar was completely exhausted and fell asleep.  I laid there terrified with an IV bag hanging above me.  Contractions came and went and I screamed to Sugar, “I need help!”  But he didn’t respond.  I saw blood creeping up the IV line. “Sugar, is this supposed to happen?”  I screamed.  Sugar looked at the bag and promptly moved me and the fluid to the living room.  

“Is this supposed to happen?,”  he asked Kris, pointing to the red blood plastic line.  “No,” they replied and adjusted the height IV bag.  

Sugar crawled back into bed.  I laid on the couch with the IV bag hanging from a tree branch I had nailed to the wall.

Everyone was sleeping besides me.  I cried to Jimena and asked her not to leave me alone.  I laid on the couch with Jimena, dry heaving between contractions, unable to rest or move, tears streaming down my face, a bag a fluid hanging over my head.

At 6:00am, Kris emerged from the living room and came to check on Jimena and I.  I tried to get off the couch my rolling onto all fours.  Every time I moved, my body reeled from the intense contractions and my stomach retched.  There wasn’t any fluid left in my system to dispel.  

“We are going to need to have a more active day today to try to get your labor to pick up the pace,” Kris said as I stood gripping the kitchen counter.  Every time I moved, a contraction would rip through me and cause me to dry heave.  I knew that an “active day” wasn’t going to happen for me.

After more than 72 hours of no sleep, about 18 hours of not being able to hold down fluid and over 24 hours without eating, I had nothing left and was physically incapable of eating, drinking or sleeping.  I was done.  I asked Kris and Jimena what it would look like if we went to the hospital.  

Sugar woke up and came to the living room.  Kris and Jimena told him that we were considering a hospital transfer.  Sugar agreed that this was a good idea.

I put on my fuzzy winter robe and stood on the porch, gripping the white metal pillars that hold up our roof.  The rising sun felt warm.  There was dew on the grass.  “I haven’t been outside in days,” I said to Jimena.  “It’s beautiful out today.”

Jimena, Sugar and I piled into my Honda insight and drove to the hospital.  I sat in the back seat gripping the plastic handle above the door, feeling a sense of relief that some of the pain might subside soon.

The hospital transfer

We arrived at the hospital.  Jimena walked me to the labor and delivery wing while Sugar parked the car.  I stopped every few feet as we moved down the white, sterile hallway toward the reception, gripping the siding on the wall as the contractions inconsistently came and went.  

The receptionist was asked me what type of pain relief I was looking for and I told her I wanted an epidural.  Kris explained my options for pain relief before we left the house and said that the epidural might help my tight muscles to relax, so that my body could take over and allow the labor to progress.

I was admitted, placed in a wheel chair and rolled into a labor room.  I was nervous the hospital staff would judge me for having a home birth.  A nurse with chocolate black skin, round glasses and a wiry hair, black hair cropped close to her head greeted me.  Her name was Summer.  Jimena gave her a timeline and my status.  She nodded and took notes.  “I’m a big supporter of the home birth movement,”  Summer said.  “And it seems like you all made the right decisions.”

Another nurse, named Spring, bounced into the room.  She had dirty blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail and an energy that vibrated high with positivity.  “My sister tried to have a home birth twice.  It just never worked out for her,” Spring said as she stroked my arm.  A doctor named Kate came in and reviewed the notes and checked my cervix.  I was 6 cm dilated and 80% effaced.  

“I can’t believe how nice you all are,” I said with surprise in my voice.  “Thank you for not judging me.”

Summer, Spring and the doctor were all taken back by my surprise.  “We support your decisions,” the doctor said.

The lack of judgment and support  received from this team was starkly different than all the horror stories I had heard about hospital births.  

Spring explained to me that anesthesiologist would be coming soon to insert the epidural.  A needle would be inserted into my spinal column and the numb my body from the waist down.

A 40 something Asian man came in shortly after and asked me to sit up on the hospital bed.  Spring explained that I would have to stay very still while the needle was inserted.  Staying completely still while having a contraction at 6 cm is not easy.  I also had to crunch my body forward to round my spine, so that the needle could fit between my vertebrate.  

Spring put her forehead on my forehead as I leaned forward and the doctor tried to find a place to put the needle.  I reeled in pain as the contractions ripped through my body causing my stomach to clench tight.  

“You can do this,” Summer assured me.

“Just a few more seconds,”  the doctor said.

“Is it over yet?” I begged.

“I can’t seem to find a good vertebrate.  You have a little scoliosis,” said the doctor as he poked and prodded my spin trying to insert the needle.

In retrospect, Sugar would say this was the most difficult part of the entire labor—watching me scream as a doctor repeatedly stabbed a needle into my spine.  

After several failed attempts, the doctor inserted the needle and within a few minutes, the pain began to subside.  

Kris, Jimena and Alex had arrived and were sitting on the couch.  I sat up and smiled for the first time in days.

“Whoa, this is crazy. I can’t feel my legs,” I said to Kris.

“I know, but you need to try to sleep now,” Kris said.


I dozed off for about 30 minutes when a nurse woke me up and told me they were going to administer pitocin, because my contractions were still irregular.  Alex, Jimena and Kris had all gone to get coffee and Sugar was the only person left in the room.

“Is that OK?,” I asked Sugar.  I was in a desert land, so completely drained and so far from the birth I had imagined that I needed others to make decisions for me.  

“Yes, Kris said we would probably need pitocin.”

I told the nurse OK and she went to the giant boxes of machines and pushed a few buttons.  A new drug was now coursing through my veins, overriding the natural instincts that had apparently gone astray.

At this point, I was scared.  A part of me believed that going to the hospital would mean a quicker and easier birth.  Yet, this wasn’t happening.  I was scared that one intervention would lead to another and another and another and soon I would unwilling be on the operating table.  The hum of anxiety and unease kept me awake.  I put on a podcast, This American Life, and tried to block out the thoughts and sleep.  

The next 9 hours passed in a blur.  I remember having conversations with people, cracking jokes and watching as my abdomen clenched with each contraction, I was unable to feel any of it.  Machines that monitored Mornings heart rate whirled in the background.  I could hear a steady beep and I knew that she was OK.  

There was a change in shift and a new nurse was assigned to us.  She had a nose ring, tattoos and shaved head.  She had tattoo of a coffee carafe and her energy buzzed like a gnat.  I was instantly annoyed by her presence.

Dr. Singh, an round Indian woman with  warm presence, was now on call.  She checked my cervix and told the team I was almost fully dilated, 9.5 cm, and 90% effaced.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  I didn’t feel much at this point.  Dr. Singh wrapped a tight band around my abdomen to try to shift Mornings position as she made her way through my pelvis.

Kris told me I should have the baby before midnight, so Dr. Singh could deliver her.  Everyone seemed sure that the baby was coming soon.

Midnight came and went and yet another shift change at the hospital happened.  Labor progressed slowly.  The doctor’s left and a certified nurse midwife named Morning Water was assigned to my room.  Nurse Water had been delivering babies for 30 years and was a supporter of the home birth movement.  She had a soft short, white haircut, thin silver rimmed glasses and a calm, grandmother like energy that gave me confidence.

She came in and checked my progress.  I was fully dilated and 100% effaced.  

I remember thinking, “OK, what now?  Shouldn’t the baby just come out?  Isn’t that what all these drugs are supposed to do?”

Morning told me I was OK to start pushing.  

My birth team surrounded me with Sugar by my head, Alex holding my right leg, Jimena holding my left leg, and Kris next to Nurse Water by my feet.

Nurse Water took the lead on teaching me how to push.  She explained that I needed to crunch forward and curl my body around the baby.  I needed to breathe in and then hold my breath and push with everything I had.  

I tried to follow instructions and mimic Nurse Water’s motion and crunch my abdomen while holding my breath. My swollen legs felt like dead tree trunks and I had zero feeling from my waist down.  

“I can’t feel anything,” I said, bewildered as to how I could push a baby out my vagina with zero sensation in my lower body.  “Can you turn down this epidural?”

“Just practice,” Nurse Water said as she smiled and left the room.  “I’ll be back to check on you.”  Nurse Water alerted the anesthesiologist to my request to turn down the epidural.

The door clicked shut. I felt like I was on another planet— my swollen body was limp and listless.  A dull panic crept over me.  I would need to push this baby out of me without any feeling in lower body.  How the fuck was I going to do that?

Kris snapped a glove onto hand and placed two fingers into my vagina.  Midwives don’t have “hospital privileges” so this was a risky move for Kris.  

“Try to push out my fingers,” they said.

“I can’t feel your fingers,”I replied.

I felt everyone’s eyes staring back at me.  My birth team had been up for about 36 hours  already and now we had to do this together.

Kris grabbed a bedsheet and twisted into the shape of a rope.  They held onto both ends of the sheet and had me grab the middle forming a U-shape.  

“Breathe in and pull as hard as you can on this sheet as you can on this sheet as you breathe out,” Kris instructed.

It was me and Kris in tug of war with a bed sheet for the next 5 hours.  

I had to leave my physical body to bring my daughter, Morning, into this world and find a source of primal strength to transcend my unrecognizable body.  I hadn’t slept in 4 days, eaten anything 2 days and I had gained about 60lbs that was mostly fluid.  I have climbed mountains, run marathons and nothing compares to the physical feat of pushing out Morning.  

It took 2 hours to regain any feeling in my lower body after the epidural was turned down.  

What I remember most vividly was the feeling of Morning’s head coming through my pelvis.  It was like your bones are splitting in half and the only way to stop the pain is to summon some sort of internal strength and to keep pushing.  The feeling of cracking open, of not being able to escape the pain is completely terrifying.  You have to have touch down with that terror and very quickly roll yourself back or else you completely lose your mind.    

At some point as Morning’s head descended closer to the opening of my vagina, a nurse brought in a large mirror to help me push.  I didn’t recognize what I saw in the mirror.

“What’s that?,” I asked as I stared at the reflection of my genitals.

My labia looked like one of those miniature bananas that grow on stalks in the tropics. My anus was covered by hemorrhoids were the size of golfballs.  There was a clear plastic tube coming out of my vagina that was inserted to measure the strength of my uterine contractions.  It was a totally foreign landscape.  

“That’s your vagina.  You see this hole.  You need to try to move this hole,”  Kris said as she pointed to my vaginal opening.

Something clicked for me at this moment.  As I exhaled and pushed with whatever fibers of strength remained, I could see the muscles and ligaments of vagina expand and contract ever so slightly.  I had a visual target, a goal, and could finally connect the upper and lower hemispheres of my body.

“Let’s do this,” I grunted harnessing the kind of energy I needed to motivate my soccer team during a double overtime match.  

With each contraction, my vaginal opening slowly expanded.  With each push, I saw the excitement in my birth teams eyes grow wider.  Their energy motivated me to just keep going. 

Nurse Water moved aside my swollen labia and showed me a small, dark triangle of matted hair.  

“You see that? That’s your baby’s head.”  

With each push, the triangle moved outward and expanded, slowly revealing more hair and white mucus.  Nurse Water poured mineral oil over the crown of her head.  She massaged my perineum and while my baby’s head slowly emerged, each contraction and push leaving a ring around her soft skull.  

“Now, I need you to give me a bunch of little pushes,” Nurse Water said.  “Go slowly.”

I gave a few staccato exhaled her head emerged.  With the next contraction, her limp body flopped out of me.  

I feel sad sometimes when I think about the moments after Morning’s birth. My memory after Morning’s birth is limited, because I was so exhausted I could not stay conscious.  

I remember her being flopped on my belly and huge burst of meconium covering my stomach.  I remember nurses scrambling to wipe up the mess with piles of staunch white towels.  I looked between her legs.  She had a vagina and therefore would be assigned the gender “female.”  “Girl,” I said to Sugar as I looked up into his tear stained eyes. “This is your daughter.”

“I feel overwhelmed with emotion,” he choked.

Morning laid on my chest and I fell into a deeply exhausted sleep.  My eyes shot open when she latched onto my nipple for first time, surprised by the intense pressure of the reflex. 

I woke up later and was in my dark hospital room, Morning in a plastic bassinet under a heating lamp next to me, Sugar curled up on the couch sleeping.  My birth team was gone.

A small Asian woman who was the new nurse came into the room.

“I need food,” I told her.

She brought in a tray of last night’s dinner, a potato curry dish in a white plastic tray.  Pads of butter wrapped in metallic gold in one compartment, a brown roll in another, a fruit  cup, apple juice, I ate it all and felt completely satisfied.

Bringing Babies into A Broken World

As I sit down to write, I am combatting the urge to write a list or guidebook of sorts about how to bring life into a world that is falling apart.  These “listographies” are the click bait of the hyperactive world we live in and help us to deduce complex, unknowable things into digestible bite sized pieces.  Perhaps this is our way of making things feel more manageable and understandable.  If we write short, declarative phrases in bold text, we can feel that we have pinned something down.  We’ve made the vicious solid.  We’ve stopped the sand from flowing through our finger tips.

I am not sure what will come out the other side of this post.  At 35 weeks pregnant, I know my energy is low, yet my need to purge some of these thoughts is high.  I think writing about my writing before I begin writing gives me some type of courage—like a preamble telling the reader about my mental state before I jump into the unknown— a warning that we both may end up more confused or concerned than when we started.

Since what follows will not be uplifting,  I’ll state for the record that pregnancy is a magical and enchanting time.  There is exhaustion, heartburn, insomnia and all those other unpleasantries, but there also new life brewing inside of you—a human, a small creature you are learning to love and know more about everyday.  You sit in meetings discussing behavior support plans and feel little punches in your pelvis—its like a secret dance between you and your baby that no one else in the world knows about.  First graders kiss your belly, knock on your office door and ask to say hi to the baby.  They ask you everyday if it’s a boy or a girl—unable to comprehend why you don’t want to know.  The love these children send to your womb daily fills my heart with joy.

And then there is the other side of this feeling—the trepidation and fear about bringing new life into this place that feels so ripped apart.  

The bathtub is a sacred place for my sore, pregnant body and my weary, tired mind.  On days that feel endless, where the new foster student won’t stop trying to climb on the roof and I spend 2.5 hours pacing around the school, negotiating with him about what it will take to get back to class, I think about my bath tub.  Sometimes Sugar gets home and finds me partially submerged in the lukewarm water at 4:47pm.  His desire to save water on temporary hiatus. (Though he is determined to use every last drop of bath water, sometimes soaking in the tub after me and then washing Pump and Moon.)

Sugar often sits on the toilet and tells me about his day while my toes peak out from the bubbly horizon of the tub.  Last Friday, he was in a  frenzy about climate change and the 60 year timeline that will likely bring worldwide catastrophe and collapse.  Our child will be likely be alive in 60 years and we will most likely be gone.  My buoyant, bloated cells push against this idea and want to tell him to stop talking about this, but I don’t, because I can’t, because it’s true. 


It’s 8:37am on Thursday, April 11th.  I am standing at the intersection of MLK and 21st holding a stop sign, iPhone, a clipboard holding a sheet of paper that contains the amended “strike schedule” and two-way radio.  I wish I had another hand or perhaps radio holster embroidered with a colorful Southwest textile.  The teachers have just started to gather on the other side of the street, holding their picket signs that contain vague slogans such as “Great teachers together.”  

It’s the first teacher’s strike in 30 years. Step back from the immediate scene and you’ll also see a line of mostly white women from out of town, protesting for much-deserved higher wages in a neighborhood where the average family makes less than $40,000 a year.  Students and families start to gather at the corner, asking me what is going on today and if there will be any lessons taking place.  My job is to assure them that everything is under control and they need to go to the cafeteria instead of their classrooms.  “Will Ms. M be here today, Ms. Crashley?”  “No, she won’t.”  “But why?”  My job is also to answer this question for the teachers lining the other side of the street.  

There is a break in the flow of children and families at the crossing.  I take a moment to squat down and stretch the muscles that attach my hips to my pelvis.  It’s now 8:46am.  I’ve been at school for 3 hours attempting to plan “outdoor learning activities” for an unknown number of students and “emergency replacement teachers.”  “Are you Ok, Ms. Crashley?,” a 20-something, well-meaning, hard working teacher yells across the street.  “Yes.  Just stretching,” I shoot back.  Her question makes me feel like I have somehow feel like I have shown a sign of weakness.  


I travelled home for one last visit before our baby is born.  My sister cried, because of the shame and guilt she feels around the wreckage of her past—the years of treating people people who love her the most as disposable, of not knowing the boundary between her own mental illness and personal decisions, of finally sitting with the weight we’ve all been carrying for the past ten years.  I don’t try to stop her tears or offer support, because this is a weight that needs to be felt.    

We sit down for dinner, the four of us, and remember that my brother can’t be there, because he relapsed again.  His survival hangs in the perpetual balance.  It’s hard to know if this time is worst than last year’s relapse, because last year’s felt like it had to be the bottom.  But it always seems to just get worse.

  There are tears and most of all there is anger around this dinner table.  I become the receiver of grief and vitriol, because perhaps the the nature of hopelessness unfettered is to obliterate all that might bring hope.  I take deep breaths in the midst of my panic trying to tell the baby that they are loved and do not need to feel all this.  I wake up at 4:30am in a strangers cabin and feel like there is snake wrapping around my chest.  The weight of rejection, fear and loneliness is crushing, like someone lifted a million heavy river rocks that had managed to settle in soul.  

Some people have baby showers.  I have this and I am still not sure why.  The meditation I listen to to help calm me down tells me that all this will make sense in retrospect.  I want it to make sense now.

Sugar and I left a day early from home.  I needed my corner of the world where I could feel safe again.  I slept for 6 hours straight snuggled between Moon and Sugar, and could feel the love stitching me back together.  

How do we bring babies into this broken world?  Perhaps one broken breath at a time.    

The Ofrenda

The pace of life seems to grinds to a halt this time year.  For those prone to freneticism, the slowing of time, the long days of darkness, is disorienting.  It feels like getting sucked in through the back of the fan and spit out all over the room.  I wander around picking up fragments of myself and trying to stitch them back together.    

The Christmas seasons brings with it a particular type of pain and desperation for poor communities.  It’s a type of pain that feels chaotic, and desperate—like the universe is giving us a final test of fate before the darkest day of the year.  For us “workers” (the families in Salinas always referred to us social worker type people as ‘trabajadoras,’ which literally translates to ‘workers,’ I always liked this phrase, so I am gonna roll with it), there is a mass of contradicting emotions to sort through this time of year.  For weeks, endless lines of people come to the family resource center and crack themselves open, one after another after another. 

Where can I get Christmas presents for my eight kids?  The lights got turned off and the bill is $534.  I don’t have enough gas to get my daughter to her court-mandated counseling appointment.  My son shot himself in the bathroom during this time last year.  I used to be addicted to meth, but now I just smoke and drink. I can control it.  An adorable boy with silver teeth shows up with a jacket and no shirt. 

The unraveling feels endless, yet many of the homeless people who live along Stockton blvd are wearing Santa hats or bright red polyester jackets over their dirty flannel pajamas.  As the cross walk blinks go, men in their Christmas costumes give a fist bump and say happy holidays, a soggy, limp cigarettes hanging from limps.  Their expressions convey something that looks like joy.  I drive to working thinking about how those cheap Santa suits all look so flammable. 

There is talk of massive lay offs and state-take over of our school district due to fiscal insolvency.  This means places like the family resource center are at risk of closing, because our services are not “state mandated.” 

On the last day of work before Christmas break, I felt myself fighting back tears all day, because I don’t want to stop.  I fear the slowing down.  I fear not being apart of this energy anymore.  When I tell people about my fears around the tenuous situation at our district, they say “great, now you can be a stay at home mom.”   This makes me want to scream and throw a temper tantrum. 


Sugar and I are smashing down walls in the kitchen.  Muddy paw prints and sheet rock dust line the floors.  We can’t turn the heater on, because there is a hole in the ceiling.  If you punch holes in ceiling, you can hear the rain drops on the roof.  You will also have to wear a parka and wool hat while typing your end of year blog post.  Trade offs.

I started this post with the intention of writing chronology of the large and small internal transformations that have occurred this year. I scratched a timeline on an oversized yellow post-it note, grabbing a hold of the things that punctuate my memory and forcing them out in black, glittery ink.  Here’s a list in rough chronological order of the mostly painful shit that shook me up and imprinted on my DNA this year.


I realize I have a love/hate relationship with text messages as I scroll through a years worth of conversation fragments with Farmer Bob.  I’m trying to reconstruct a timeline of my miscarriages.  Trauma blurs the memory, throws you from your axis into a borderless blackness where things that happened a decade ago feel as present as the sound of Sugar hacking apart sheetrock in the kitchen.  I can’t remember when each moment of tenuous hope and crippling disappoint unfurled, but my I-phone knows that exact dates and times.  Looking back at these messages highlighted in tiny green boxes, I can remember exactly where I was, sitting in my dull gray cubicle with breath frozen in my chest.  February 5 at 2:46 pm is the first photos of a positive pregnancy test.  There is another on April 18th at 2:25pm and another on September 15 at 7:42am.

I remember crawling into bed after the first positive turned negative pregnancy test in February and sobbing into my pillow.  There was a crack in my sorrow, a space between my sobs where something broke through.  I am not the “woo woo” mystical, crystal wearing, “lets all burn sage and hold hands” type, but I heard a wiser voice speak to me in that moment of groundless sadness.  The voice said, “now you know what this feels like.”  And for a split second, the future me who was not so utterly wrecked believed that to be the truth I was supposed to learn. 

I thought I was done learning the lesson after the first miscarriage.  I thought the voice I heard was the final voice.  I dusted myself off pretty quickly, and took some refuge in the idea that my body was capable of getting pregnant (though it fucking sucks when the random well-meaning person uses that line to distance themselves from your pain.)

But it would happen again and feel infinitely more painful the second time around (I laid that experience to bare in a previous post and don’t feel the need to rehash it here.)

Miscarriage is one of many sorrows that women bare alone.  A deep grief that is so common and yet we remain utterly silent about it’s existence.  Now that I am 19 weeks pregnant and unable to hide my protruding belly from the world, I make a point to talk about miscarriage to pretty much anyone who feels the need to comment on my pregnancy.  For me, the two storylines– of loss and life–are inextricable.  When the random co-worker naively squeals, “you are pregnant! How exciting!”  After experiencing multiple miscarriage, “excitement” is an emotion you access with great hesitation. So, I usually respond with, “well, it has been a long journey.  I had tow miscarriages.” 

Pregnancy after miscarriage

I am pretty sure the 4.5 month old baby inside of me moved for the first time this morning.  I felt a percussive thump that was distinct from a gas bubble moving through my abdomen as I lay in bed enshrouded in a billowy, white pregnancy pillow.   

Pregnancy after miscarriage is a tenuous state.  I didn’t want let myself think about childbirth until about 2 weeks ago when Sugar and I toured a maternity ward and interviewed a midwife.  A few weeks before that, I was talking to Farmer Bob, who is also pregnant, about birth options and said “you know I am just not interested in child birth,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.  What I meant to say was, “I am still scared I might not even give birth,” but saying that was too hard.

Planning a birth requires a certain kind of imagination I don’t quite have access to just yet.  I am working on this part of my brain though, the part that allows me invest some mental currency in a positive expectation—a vision of an idealized outcome that is wholly out of your control.    

The massive identity shift that is pregnancy (and of course motherhood) is landscape I am still learning how to navigate.  I imagine 2019 will be filled with all sorts of musing on this topic.      

We bought a house.

But we aren’t home owners.  That’s the myth.  The bank owns the house, but now we can bust open closets and mount tree branches to the walls with reckless abandon.  The truth is I don’t feel a greater sense of permanence or stability paying mortgage as opposed to paying a landlord.  Perhaps this is a byproduct of living through the housing crisis.  Yet, I can imagine my unborn child playing on the play structure with kids like Anitra and Damariah and feel like I might finally be building a space where I can stay for awhile.

A murder and a science experiment

A high school student creates a science project positing that whites and North Asians have a higher IQs than black, latinos and south Asians.  He uses this logic to justify the disproportionate representation in the honors program at his high school.  It’s both a rupture and media shitstorm.  Ann Coulter comments.  CNN picks up the beat.  A month later, on March 18th, Stephon Clark was murdered by police in his grandmother’s backyard—shot six times in the side and back.

I spent weeks shutting down freeways and stadiums.  Screaming and dancing in the street riding my bicycle from demonstration to demonstration.  The DA built a fence around her office to keep protesters out.  There was a barbecue on her front lawn everyday for months.  After the science experiment, I talked to 700 high school students about race relations on their campuses and in the community. 

By standing in the middle of these fires and learning how to listen, bear witness and make space.

Elders passed away

Elders passed away this year.  My grandmother, Mamique, my therapist of five years and Sister Claire, my AA co-sponsor, all passed away this year.  I was never close to my grandparents so the feeling of losing an elder is foreign to me—a pain I watched others experience but could never really grasp.  Sister Claire passing changed that.  I sit with her every morning and feel her smiling down on me from up there in the clouds.

Some intentions for the new year:

2019 may bring the loss of jobs, the birth of a child and the reimagining of life and self in some fundamentally new ways.  The challenge for me is to let go, learn what it means to have hope and trust that there is a greater plan and meaning to all of this.

The pit of rage.

I don’t have trap doors anymore.  No places to hide when the anger starts to simmer, no wine hidden in an aluminum travel mug, no secret slugs of icy vodka pulled from the back of the refrigerator.  Let’s face it, the booze only made this particular brand of anger fester and then explode.  That’s what brought me to this page in the first place.

I am at my women’s meeting.  I am counting one dollar bills and carefully stacking them in a pink plastic bowl, the weekly tithing for the gift of feminine solidarity and sobriety.   A women I have come to love and admire fiercely (we’ll call her Anaheim) stands across the table.  I lift my head and meet her gaze.  She gives me an air hug from across the table.  I drop the bill in the plastic bowl and say, “I need the real thing right now” and walk toward her with open arms.

Anaheim knows a lot about the justice system.  The more I learn about the fucked up corruption in the “justice” system, the more I love Anaheim and that the fact that there are teeny, tiny brave, wise women like her out there. 

Anaheim is a couple decades older than me.  She is a slight women with a silver, white hair cropped close to her head, faded grey blue eyes behind an unassuming pair of thin silver glasses.  She dresses like a person who always has something more important to think about, wearing anonymous conservative black and grey dresses and practical black ballet flats.  Her frame is tiny, strong and jagged.  I can feel her shoulder blades as we hug.

“We’ve never through anything like this,” I say.  She knows the “we” I am referring to is women of my generation, those of us who are awake, alive, aware and in our mid thirties.

I have been asking Anaheim for advice, wisdom, solace since the Brett Kavanaugh shit show first began.  She is my “reality check”  when I know my vision is too narrow or short. 

When I first heard of Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, I felt bewildered and adrift again–a feeling reminiscent of how I felt on 11/10/16.  The discomfort is a cue and my brain looks for a trap door, a way out.  I start randomly Googling to try to understand what might happen if Trump gets his SECOND pick for the Supreme Court.  Google leads me to my answer, my temporary trap door: two female Senators who hail from the hinterlands of Maine and Alaska. 

A few weeks ago, I asked Anaheim what she thought about the prospective of these women voting against Kavanaugh.  

“They will not,” she tells me as we stand in the parking lot, the gravel poking through my thrift store sandals.  “They will vote for him, because he is not unqualified,” she says with razor sharp certainty.  This truth leaves me sinking, but her wisdom pulls me back.  She tells me about how the political pendulum always swings from one extreme to the next.  She says with profound calmness and clarity that we will have to find ways to get women access to abortions and we’ll rely on civil society to do to so.   She tells me we will survive this and I believe her. Her wisdom and perspective is my buoy.    

The feeling of lightness is replaced by sinking now.  If I sink down far enough, I will find the place where I hide all the rage.

Yesterday, as we stood there hugging next to the table, she told me that she remembers watching Anita Hill testify during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing 25 years ago and how she has found herself thinking “have we not learned anything?” as she watched the shit show unfold on national TV.  She is going out of town and won’t be at the meeting for the next three weeks.  I instantly feel bad for myself.

Trauma is experienced collectively.  It unmoors itself and circulates through communities at specific times—cued up my the callous actions, fear and animosity of white men.  I have learned this through my own efforts to “decolonize” my mind and develop an understanding of how black people feel when a police car drives by.  While I won’t set up a false equivalency, there is a parallel experience women are feeling right now, a pain that has some common origins.  It’s a deep, hidden pain that has been built through decades of assault and abuse by white men—a pain that is circulating amongst all of us who identify as women right now. 

I have been wondering lately, what is my #metoo story?  Do I have one?  I have never been raped or assaulted though like many I have had some close calls.  I could list the same litany of things we do everyday to avoid being sexually assaulted like the fact that I run on the treadmill everyday since Mollie Tibbetts and Wendy Martinez, or my inability to sleep in home alone without taking Benadryl and triple checking to make sure all the doors are locked when I home alone.  There is the boss that snuck up behind me and unhooked my bar as a “practical joke.” There are the drunken nights when I didn’t say no, but didn’t say yes either.  There is waking up and wondering if I deserved to feel like shit.  There are the more subtle forms of domination that happen in our daily silencing by men who do not see us for who we are, that are blinded by their own sense of knowing. 

There are the countless stories I hear every week from survivors in recovery. There is my friend who recently relapsed.  I remember the bruises on the top of her breasts as she pulled her oversized white shirt to the side.  She showed me the marks after our meeting when everyone went out to get $10 tattoos.  It was sex work, sure, but she didn’t tell him he could do that.  She’s a beautiful women who photographs births.   

There is my sister in the hospital—a scene that is defined by unknowns that characterize the type of rape that happens through a toxic mixture of drugs, alcohol, groups of belligerent white men and vulnerable young, intoxicated women.  There is the not knowing what types of drugs they put in her drink, who did it or how many.  There is her inability to tell us anything about it.  There is her wild disassociation from reality, her decent into schizophrenia, the disintegration of her being and our lives as we knew them.  Eight years later, she talks to me about what happened at CZ and how she still needs to “address it.”  There is a part of my brain that will never understand what happened, so I just say, “yes, you didn’t deserve that and I hope you can heal.”  I let all the unknowns fall down into the pit.    

I was sitting on the couch this evening looking for my new version of a trap door, one that does not involve a secret trip to the corner liquor store.  I woke up feeling like I needed get away.  I tried to buy a “trashy” book on my kindle.  I tossed and turned on the couch. I didn’t want to talk or be touched.  I want to curl up in a ball, so I can protect myself. 

As I let go of Anaheim last night, I tell her “there is pit of rage I have buried deep down.”  She gives me a knowing look. 

What will we do with all this anger?  What will we do with all this pain? Where will it go?

Let the weight hold you.

“Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor.   You get used to the weight, how it holds you in place.” – Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever

It begins with a hospital dressing gown, worn backwards, the strands of cotton fiber used to close the faded blue fabric look like old shoe laces, haphazardly hanging on your chest.  The nurse talks about how you will see a heartbeat today as she prods your sore breasts. 

Then there are moments of swollen silence as she scans the grainy screen—a cool pressure moving between your legs.  Your eyes scan the monitor looking for something that resembles the “10 week ultrasound” images you Googled the night before.

How many hearts have grown, expanded, joys multiplied on that screen?  How many fantasies fulfilled, storylines completed?

And how many hearts have shattered there on that grey backdrop?  How many times has the breath been sucked out of throats when the mind registers that the teeny, tiny pixels are not vibrating, that there is no hum of life displayed on that 24”X 24” digital box?

The doctor will come in and ask you to clear your bladder, so he can “get oriented.”  He is having trouble distinguishing organs from cysts and failed pregnancies.  The nurse will offer you an extra blanket to cover you as you walk down the hall.  You’ll say no, grab the shoelaces and throw them around your shoulder.

You walk towards the bathroom with your arms wrapped around your chest, clutching the blue grey fabric.   Your eyes are feral, red rimmed, your bangs are matted to your forehead,  a mixture of sweat and tears.

No one in the hallway will look up at you.  There is something hot and untouchable about fresh pain.  The nurses will avert there eyes, turn their heads as you walk past.  They’ll continue clicking keyboards, jotting notes on charts.

You return to consultation room B.  The doctor will ask you if you want to take a break.  You’ll wonder if it is he who needs a break from your wide eyes and tears and blank stares.  He explains that you can either take a pill and have the abortion at home or schedule a surgery. 

“You seem like you just want to get this over with,” he’ll say.  He is right about that.

The procedure is scheduled for next Wednesday.  But first, they’ll refer you to the wrong clinic.  A nurse will call you and do an intake for an elective abortion.  She’ll explain that you can “put the infant up for adoption” instead of having an abortion and that you have several options for birth control including the Nuva ring or an IUD.  You’ll tell her that there is no infant and that she doesn’t need to ask you these types of questions.  She’ll say she is legally required to give you this information and that you have to respond “yes” or “no.”  You hang up the phone and want to put your fist through a window.

You’ll wake up the next morning.  Your first breath a gasp.  This is how you greet the day.  Hot tears rolling down your face, leaving a gray puddle on your face.  You’ll instinctively grab your phone and start googling “recurrent miscarriage.”  You lay in bed reading infertility blogs looking for answers. 

You click the email icon, refresh and see an announcement that your baby is now 10 weeks old.  You should unsubscribe from everything, you tell yourself.  But your thumbs are on autopilot.

Your cousin posted photos of your grandmother.  There is a sentence that seems like a final thank you followed by a broken heart and prayer emoji.  The post seems to point to a clear message, but your mind takes a few moments to decode the meaning.  

“Is Mamique dead?,” you call and ask your Dad.  It’s 9:37am.

“Yes, honey. I’m sorry.  She died yesterday.  It was my job to call and tell you today.”

“I found out on Facebook.”

Losing a family member puts the mind in retrograde motion, the rewinding of memories and moments lived. 

Our lives begin in the womb of our maternal grandmother. We’re nested like Russian dolls, a womb holding a fetus holding an unseeable egg.  Energy flows across membranes, memories, unspoken pain, unyielding love, bravery, tenacity, all move in the space that exists before “ life.”  We inherit all this energy,  all this stuff that we carry around with us, because we are family and we are born together.

You’ll think of Mamique, of the time she threw wine in your step grandfathers face, of the white, vintage Jeep Wrangler she would drive up and down the coasts of Cape Cod, the sea salt air heavy, coating the cold metal frame.  The Jeep had no doors or seatbelts. We’d all pile in and feel the wind, exposed to the elements, the black pavement moving steadily below the tires.  It would be so easy to fall out.  Maybe that’s why I felt so free riding around in that Jeep,  hoisting my arms above the roll bar, eyes squinting, baby fine ten year old hair blowing back.

This is how my maternal family taught us to live.  Exposed. Alive. Unafraid to feel.  Unafraid to fall.    

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over again to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”- Pema Chodron. 


Scenes from Justice 4 Stephon

A bead of sweat drips off my face and hits the gray concrete sidewalk as I bend over.  I lock my dusty black road bike to the cold, metal bike rack in front of Sacramento City Hall.  A chubby tall, white man with a barely visible ring of grey thinning hair around the base of his head talks loudly on a cell phone.  He paces back and forth.

“You know I am a white man, so I just here to support and take orders from you all.”  I hear him say.  He is wearing a black oversized T-shirt that read “Build. Black.” in purple and white letters across his bulbous chest. 

I am here at City Council for the community forum about Stephon Clark, a man who was murdered by the police in his Grandma’s yard on March 18th, 2018.    

I am trying to figure out how to place myself in this scene.  I am alone and traveling by bicycle–a strategic way to get from place to place in a city that has been erupting in sporadic bursts of protest for the past week.  You don’t know what streets will be shut down and when, so you cruise on by.

I put my bike helmet in my backpack and stand up straight, stretching my arms to the sky.  I am trying to look natural mask the subtle anxiety that starts churning in my belly.  I feel like a high school student who had to show up to a dance by herself.  She stands on the sidelines, a wallflower watching the mob of people sway back and forth under cheap disco lights in her school gymnasium.  It takes some courage to walk towards a crowd alone.  I may have left my courage at home today.  So, I fake it and try to look natural.

I roll my shoulders back and pretend to stretch again, biding my time.  I look behind me towards a row of tall oak trees that line the city street.  News trucks are crammed together, parked next to a curb.   I see a row of cheap plastic tables and a line of people waiting with vacant expressions waiting in front of them. 

It’s a peculiar scene.  It seems so out of place.  A petite woman with gray, wrinkled skin serves bowls of beans and loaves of bread to the outstretched hands. A homeless man paces back and forth throwing his hands up in the air and intermittently screaming things like “we’re just here to support you guys” and “they shot his ass.” 

Nuns feed the homeless here.  I make a mental note. 

I start walking down the block and turn towards the massive concrete building.  I shimmy my shoulders adjusting the weight of my backpack.  I feel painfully conscious of every move I make.

  A woman is standing in front of a circular fountain handing out shirts and buttons that read “Build. Black.” Everywhere I look I see people wearing these shirts.  A thin white woman offers me a “Build. Black.” button as I walk by.  I shake my head and say “no, thank you.”  I am skeptical of the forces at play here—about who is trying to brand this moment and create the next hashtag, about who is swooping in and trying to turn a tragedy into a photo opportunity. 

I walk towards rows of gray, tinted windows that must be over 50ft high stretching up from the concrete and obscuring the City Hall chambers from the gaze of the outside crowd.  A mass of black bodies all stand in front of 3 metal detectors that are perched in front of the entrance to the building.  It’s 4:35 pm and the “community forum” is supposed to start in 25 minutes.  The chambers are full and crowds of people are still waiting to get in.

I stand on a black metal park bench, trying to get an aerial view of the crowd, trying to get a sense of where the lone white lady might fit. 

My efforts to “show up” feel futile.  I feel sheepish.  My eyes scan back and forth.  I pull my home-made from my bag and just stand there, on top my this black metal park bench, watching, taking it all in.  I feel the gravity pooling in my ankles, a weight holding me in place.


As I stand there, I think of a term my mentor told me, “sacred presence.”   It’s where you don’t have to give or say or do anything, you just show up and learn how to be with people.  This is not easy for an overachieving alcoholic, but I “fake it til I make it.”  I stand there and just hold my sign, breathing, trying not to worry about what happens next.

It’s been 10 days since Stephon Clark was murdered.  The waves of shock have stopped reverberating through people’s mind and now everyone is sitting here in line, holding back anger and sadness that would spill out in unpredictable spurts from next three and a half hours.

I scan the crowd and see Mary, a 50 something elder, radical lesbian woman who has been on the streets of Sactown for year.   I know from my Friday Women’s meeting.  Our eyes connect, we give a knowing nod and half smile.  I jump down from the bench and go stand next to her, feeling relieved to see another white, alcoholic woman alone in this crowd.  We’re about 100ft from the entrance to City Hall standing next to a speaker that is projecting the voices from within the City Hall chambers. 

At 5:02pm, the forum begins and I am startled by the disembodied voices that pour out of the speaker.  The mayor drones on about the pain and suffering and all the policies, protocols and other irrelevant things that were going to happen.  A councilman from the Meadowview community then takes the floors.  More words float through the air. They are sorry. They know the community. Insert all politically correct diatribes here.  The numbness is ruptured by a sudden silence, rumbling, and string of expletives pierce the air.

“Man, shut the fuck up,” I hear as I look at Mary, realizing that the droning on of political appropriate jargon had ended.    

Stevante Clark, Stephon’s  brother, just took over the city council meeting, rushing past security, jumping on the mayors desk and screams “fuck you” in his face. He hoists his sagging pants above his hip bones, thrusts his fist in the air and does a celebratory dance like he had just scored the winning touchdown at his high school football game.  I’d later learn that this was his winning moment.  The few moments where he had control of the dialogue, a say in what happened next.

 He has a red and white bandana tied around his cleanly shaven head.  Bright white head phones draped around his neck.  He is wearing black felt slippers—the kind more “appropriate” people would exchange for shoes upon leaving their house.    

“The rent is too high.” “Dre T is mayor now.”  A reference to Sodom and Gomorrah.  I stand in semi-circle of people watching anger burst from between Stevante’s lips.  It’s a string of non-sequitors, ideas that emerge and disappear as quickly as they form.  It’s a mix of pain, grief, sadness and  impending psychosis.

I am watching this all unfold from behind the tinted glass of the City Council chambers, standing in a concrete courtyard surrounded by Black people–most of whom are doning “Build. Black.” shirts.   We’re all staring at a TV screen next to the window.  The screen gives the crowd a close up of Stevante’s coup unfolding inside. 

A homeless woman with tan, weathered skin and her meaty pitbull lay on the concrete underneath the TV screen.  She is curled up next to our feet.  We are all looking past her.  She is wearing a “Build. Black” t-shirt as she lays on her red tattered sleeping bag, one arm draped over her white and tan spotted dog.  She has a soft smile on her face and looks peaceful even as the swarms of bodies around her grow more agitated and shocked.  She doesn’t move. The gaze of onlookers, the crowds of black community members watching as Stevante screams into the microphone filling the chamber with disconnected words and ideas, don’t seem to disrupt her rest.  Perhaps she is immune to this, the gaze of others, the world churning on as she tries to get some rest.    

Over the next several days, the nation would watch Stevante Clark’s mind unravel, his thoughts growing more and more disconnected.  We’d watch his nostrils flaring, eyes narrowing, seething with anger.  “We haven’t slept. We haven’t eaten. I didn’t ask for this.”  The next moment he flings his fists in the air, knees bouncing, jubilantly dancing seeming electrified by the attention of onlookers.  He throw his body on his brother’s casket.  “I love the mayor,” he’d declares on national television no less than 48 hours after telling his to “fuck off.”


It’s been two days since the City Council meeting and I am pushing my bike down the sidewalk looking for the Black Lives Matter protest.  We were supposed to meet in front of D.A. Anne Marie Schubert’s office at 3:00.  It’s 4:00 and the sidewalks are all empty, save for one white woman and her partner standing in front of the D.A.’s building.  “I just got off work.  I don’t know where everyone is.”  She is holding a sign that reads “Justice 4 Stephon” in green lettering.  A white PVC pipe holds the poster paper in place.  She gets a text from her friend and says the protest moved to the courthouse.

I ride several blocks, round the corner and head towards the courthouse.  I see Stevante Clark dressed in a oversized white t-shirt marching down the side walk toward a crowd.  He is surrounded by semi-circle of large black men, his “body guards.”  I feel strangely star struck.  He’s become a symbol for police violence and collective resistance in America.  I watch Stevante walk towards  a group of about 50 protestors are chanting “justice 4 Stephon.”  A line of bodies are blocking the on-ramp to the I-5 entrance.

Stevante makes his way towards the center of the crowd. He grabs the bullhorn and screams “anyone blocking the streets is disrespecting my family.”  I stand on the outside of the circle and listen to his rant and scream, “I didn’t ask for this.” “Do y’all love me?”  “I am….(Stephon Clark).”  A black, cloth high top sneaker flies through the air and lands at the base of a telephone pole about 3 feet from me.  Stevante had taken off his shoes and hurled them through the air.  A older white hippie dude hands the shoes to one of his body guards the shoes. 

The same disconnected bursts of sadness and jubilation are spilling forth in an unpredictable sequence.  Synapses in his brain can’t seem to connect on idea to another.  I imagine someone giving a lecture on trauma and showing a photo of a brain lit up like Christmas lights—one part isn’t communicating with another.  There are just flashes of random lights.

As an addict, I have banned myself from most social media—installing apps that prevent me from accessing Facebook, but I have broken all my self imposed social media rules these days.  I re-watch videos of the City Council meeting and my eyes fill with tears. Watching Stevante’s very public decline into hysterics reminds me of my sister.  He is acting out a pattern I have seen one too many times before.  I am reminded of times when I was with my sister in the emergency rooms.  She would verbally and physically act out as nurses and doctor’s trying to restrain her.  She’d yell one disconnected thought and then another.  A stream of emotions and ideas flowing through her mind so fast and she is grabbing onto whatever piece she can, just trying to stay afloat, but nothing will hold her.  “I didn’t ask for this.”  “I am…. (Stephon Clark).” 

As I watch these scenes unfold over the past week, I am desperately trying to form a coherent thought around all of it.  I am trying to piece together the senseless, lawless murder of young black man, the public decay of his brother’s mind, the homeless woman clad in a “Build. Black” t-shirt peacefully sleeping on the concrete as history unfolds around her, of my sister who also suffered irreversible trauma and is now locked in an institution far from me.

I found an article on Facebook that is helping me figure this out, helping understand the deep connections that just underneath the surface of all this.  The article is entitled “White People Don’t Understand the Trauma of Police Killing Videos.”  It’s written by  Monnica Williams, a black social activist professor who studies race-based trauma and mental health disparities.  She writes: 

“We need the world to see what is being done to our people to help bring it to an end. And it’s not just black people – these things are happening to Hispanic people, Native Americans and the mentally ill. The stigmatized and disenfranchised among us. I feel solidarity with all of them.”

I feel solidarity with all of them. 

The scenes I saw last week will be lodged in my mind for a long time.  I don’t doubt that as I go back to work next week, I’ll be refreshing browser and trolling Facebook looking for answers and information.  I don’t know exactly what this all means yet and that makes me uncomfortable.  The poet in me likes to think I am OK with ambiguity.  But, if I am honest, the alcoholic, who prefers control and black and white, wins every time.  So, I’ll keep sitting here with this discomfort—unsure of what to think of it all.

What I can say is that I do feel a new form of hope growing inside me in the midst of the chaos.  Growing up with the sort of chaos that never really gets better, hope is never a word that resonated with me.  However, I learning to open up to it and to let a little hope grow inside of me. 

For now, my hope is that as we Build. Black., we, as a Sacramento community, cast a net wide enough, we grow a vision large enough, that it can hold all of us together.  For me, Building. Black. is about bringing the margins to the center, and allowing us to feel solidarity with “the other.”       

When did you first realize you were white?

Trying to patch together a cohesive story about my experiences of whiteness and race makes me feel a little bit like a kindergartener making her first collage.  I picture my clumsy hands reaching around a wooden picnic table grabbing random pieces of stuff— a noodle, a piece of yarn, a straw—and trying to make all the pieces fit together. The end product is no work of art, not something to be proud of, but it is something.  And there I am, holding up a soggy piece of construction paper, with a crooked smile that says, “see I tried to tell the story.  Will you accept me, because I am trying?”  I think a lot of us white folks feel this way—like children, vulnerable, exposed and partially informed, incompletely aware—when we start to talk about our own whiteness which is probably why it doesn’t happen very often.

As I spin through the rolodex of memories, there are times when my whiteness comes into sharp focus.  There are these moments when I am acutely aware of  what whiteness is and why it matters, like when I change schools in 7th grade and become a “minority” for the first time.   And there are other times when whiteness just fades into the background—a discomforting static sound plays as all the melanin seeps out of the landscape and I am surrounded by sameness.  Everyone and everything is white, so I just don’t notice it any more.  This randomness and lack of continuity makes me uncomfortable, because I want to know the whole story.  I want to see how all the pieces fit together, to know the how and why of how all those experiences came to be before I start writing.  I know that there is a historical context to all of my experiences—the ones where I crossed borders and other where I was pulled behind large wrought iron gates.  I am not a historian and I don’t have much energy to do intense research, I’ll lay out some imperfect pieces—a random noodle here, a button there, a broken crayon somewhere in the corner—the kindergartener’s collage of my own racial memory, of what my experiences of whiteness have been and why they matter.  (The collage metaphor was bad.  But maybe it was so bad, it’s good?)

So, that’s how I feel about this task, but where should I begin? I’ll start with a simple (or not so simple) question: When did I first realize I was white?


I first realized I was white while I was riding in the car on the way to swimming lessons.  My friend’s dad, Mr. Holden, was bringing us to the pool that day.  His sky blue hulking, pick-up truck pulls into the driveway of our house.  The exterior paint is chipped and battered.  I throw open the passenger door, take my gym bag off my shoulder and sit down.  My friend Andrea scooches over taking the middle seat, her legs straddling the stick shift. 

Growing up, my parents didn’t have  tons of money, but I didn’t know it. Soccer practice, swim and piano lessons, I had all the opportunities a child could dream of and then some.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I became aware of the creative things my parents would do to give us opportunities and exposure without spending money.  Carpooling to the free swimming lessons at the Southwest Community Center was one of these strategies.  Free swimming lessons required us to travel pretty far, hence the carpool with Mr. Holden and Andrea, from our rural homestead in Onondaga.    

As the truck churns down the road, I can feel every bump and pothole.  The pick-up truck feels large, lumbering and hollow, the jagged, angular frame provides a thin shell that seems to barely shelter us from world whizzing by outside the window.  The truck is a bit like Mr. Holden—rough around the edges, a little beat up, sort of hollow, a tough exterior, a weak frame.  He is the night custodian at our elementary school and has a really “I don’t give a shit way” way of speaking and being in the world. Rich white people might call him “white trash.”   

The truck tips forward and we head down highway 175 toward the City of Syracuse.  The road is steep, tombstones pass by the window, a cemetery stretches out for days across the gray monotonous sky.  Tall boarded up buildings take the place of  Onondaga’s sprawling cornfields.  Barbershops and liquor stores emerge.  Dilapidated Victorian houses with expansive porches line the sides of the narrowing city street.  People with skin as dark as the soil gather on these tall, feeble porches together—watching traffic go by. Limbs hanging over banisters, black faces staring blankly at the passing traffic, children running along the sidewalk, barbecues smoke billows from backyards. 

The truck grinds to a halt at the intersection highway 175 and Brighton ave.  Mr. Holden grips the wheel.  I can see threads of sinewy muscle along the sides of his face.  Small tensions rising, muscles wrapping around the bones that connect in a big knot to form his jaw.  

 “Just a bunch of goddamn porch monkeys,” Mr. Holden spits out as he grips the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white.  “Look at all these goddamn porch monkey’s.  Get off your damn porch and get a job.”  He sticks his head out the window and contorts his face and screams, “what you looking at?!?!”   The light turns from red to green and the truck forward pops forward as Mr. Holden moves his foot from the brake to the gas and accelerate quickly. 

“Hahahaha, look at the porch monkeys,”  Andrea says and slaps my leg.  She turns her head toward me, looking for affirmation.  I stare blankly at her and then force myself to laugh along.       

Something inside of me recoils. I stare out the window.  My ten year old brain had trouble deciphering exactly what a porch monkey was or why it boiled up such feelings of hatred in Mr. Holden.  What I see outside the window—the dilapidated Victoria houses and sprawling porches—takes on a new meaning.  My insides churn, my thoughts halt, synapses too scared to fire.  The mind registers only a break in connection—an us and them.  There is a difference and there is hate and there is something called a “porch monkey.”  My childhood brain is trying to process what that means.  

An ineffable hatred spews out the windows of the truck and engulfs the landscape.  I can see it hanging there, invisible as Mr. Holden grips the wheel and steering his busted pick up truck, speeding down residential streets, braking and accelerating, our tiny bodies restrained by black, rusty seat belts.

           I look out the window and I wonder if all the black people know that Mr. Holden hates them so much.  I wonder if they think I hate them too.  I want to get out of the truck, but I am stuck there—feeling the engine vibrate, feeling every bump in the road.

This is what whiteness feels like.

A few weeks later, at that same intersection, the stoplight was red and my dad turned to me and said, “You see all this?  Every town has a place where they keep their black people.”  He lets out a long sigh and shrugs his shoulders.  Something between dejection, resignation and indifference seeps out of the air squeezing between his parted lips.

Porch monkeys.  Every town has a place where black people are kept.

This is what whiteness feels like.

If people ask me where I grew up, I usually say Syracuse, NY, though that is not true.  I grew up in Onondaga—my most formative years from the ages of 5 to 15 were spent in a poor, rural community on the outskirts of the Onondaga Nation Territory.  My early introduction to the city, to the place where black people were kept, was on the those long drives to the Southwest Community Center—where they offered free swim lessons to any kids that showed up.  My friends and my brother and sister were often the only kids in the classes taught by a large black man with dreadlocks that hung well below his waist. 

We were probably the only white kids within a 5 miles radius of the community center.  The two of us, me and Andrea, floating there in that Olympic size pool, learning to egg beater our legs and push our Speedo covered torsos above the water.  Kick your legs hard and keep breathing.   White kids learning to swim while black kids drown.   

The Southwest Community Center is located in the poorest part of the Syracuse.  The city’s Southside some of the highest concentrations of extreme poverty amongst blacks and latinos in the nation.  Rewind the clock about 400 years, when the first enslaved Africans set foot on American soil, and you start to understand how this landscape formed.  Slavery set in motion a momentum so fierce it would shape the landscape the city forever—the lynch pins of oppression and social isolation persisting for eternity. 


Syracuse, like most urban areas in America, has history etched into it’s landscape.  The timeline looks like this: slavery gave birth to Jim Crow.  Jim Crows became redlining which morphs into predatory lending and economic collapse and then “redevelopment.”  It’s the dispersing and containing of disposable black and brown people under the guise of development and progress. 

It’s also white kids in pick-up trucks learning about “porch monkeys.”  It’s free swimming lessons that black kids in the neighborhood don’t attend.  It’s misplaced guilt and blame.  It’s a hazy anger and fear that some of us learn about from the time we are young, and can only start to make sense of with lots of time and distance.    

And yet life continues.


A post script—sort of

GOD is a Group Of Drunks.

Fast forward 24 years from the moment I learned I was white, and I am sitting in a taqueria in California.  Four circular patio tables and pushed together—blocking the soda machine.  A 60 year old white lesbian with salt and pepper short hair and hearing aids, a beautiful thin black woman with a thick English accent wearing corvette red lipstick, a meek 40 something middle eastern house wife with her hair pulled back in a low bun, several loud talking 30 something women and a smiley entrepreneur in her early 50s are all eating greasy hot tortilla chips, scooping salsa out of tiny plastic and spilling chunks of tomato all over the tables.  Everyone is saying happy birthday to one another.

“I used to fill the wine bottles with water after I drank them, so my girlfriend wouldn’t know how much I was drinking.  Then I would drink the water a few weeks later,” one of the 30 somethings says.  “Why would I drink the water? I don’t know.  It’s just what I did. And you see, I don’t even have to explain why I did that to you all.  You just get it.”

How the hell did this group of people get together?  And how is it their birthday?  This is what I imagine the people staring at us as they pass by are thinking.

I am learning in A.A. that when we come together around our shared inadequacies and deficiencies, and love each other unconditionally,, that all of this difference, this whiteness, this thing that can not ever be wiped away,  this thing that must be deeply considered and simultaneously surpassed, stops mattering so much.  We are just there together, smiling. Because God is a Group of Drunks. 

Also, Trump: FUCK YOU

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