Connection

The urge to write is unbearable, yet the words, the arc, the pretty package is escaping me. So today, just the raw words. Credit card points are a beautiful thing. We thought we were clever when we paid for IVF with our hilton honors card, joking that we would use the points one day to sneak away for a night or two in chicago after our second baby was born. It is one of those things we have been fully committed to since Henry was born, we would find time for just us, preserve our marriage, our foundation. We wouldn’t look at the calendar one day and realize it had been 2 years since we got away. And thanks to my amazing mother in law and brother, we do get that time. We were certain we would have another baby and committed to preserving our time as a couple. Weeks later, we got the news we were going to have twins. The hotel would have to wait for a while.

We were thrilled and scared out of our minds, and we laughed, and we cried, tears of joy and absolute terror. Adding one baby at a time is daunting enough, how would we possibly prepare for two. We needed to buy a new car, make some changes to the house, and mentally and emotionally prepare and pave the way for extreme love and chaos.

As the months passed Twin A and Twin B transformed to baby boy a and baby boy b and then to Jackson and Finn. And we met them and held them and loved them so fiercely so immediately that my heart was bursting from my chest, and as they clutched our fingers with their tiny hands we whispered in their tiny ears that they were perfect and we would never forget them. And just like that they breathed their last breaths in our arms and were on to the next life.

A year ago today we did find ourselves in that luxurious hotel in Chicago, paid for with IVF points. We were home to celebrate my sister’s wedding, and to bury our baby boys ashes next to their grandfather and great grandparents, to be looked after, to honor their short lives in the place we both grew up. We sat in the hotel wrapped in each others arms, in a cloak of heartbreak, beauty and simplicity, in pure indulgence, just 54 days after our sweet boys passed away in our arms.

Amanda went for a run, desperately trying to transform her postpartum body back to the way it was. Sitting on the balcony, drinking my coffee and sleepily overlooking the city street below, my phone rang. It was my brother Mat, his voice shaking, “Hey, what’s up, I have Kristin here too. I don’t know how else to say this. They found dad. He’s dead. I love you.” Dead silence….”No. Way. When did he die, where did they find him?” “They found him dead in bed, covered in bottles of booze, in an apartment in Bangkok. Suspected suicide.”

I couldn’t breathe, my mouth agape, i shut down. “Ok. Are you ok? I love you both. I am so sorry.” It was his 63rd birthday, almost 20 years to the day that he disappeared.

We all have those moments in our lives, before and after moments, where things change forever, anchored by an event. While most of my life had been marked by the disappearance of my father, the birth and death of our sons marked an almost unbearable new line.

Most of my childhood and early adulthood years were spent in survival mode, and to accomplish that I shut down emotionally, compartmentalizing my life. To let any of the pain in would have shut me down, so I moved forward, head down, got shit done. My compassion and empathy for others overflowed, crying walking by a homeless person on the street. My empathy and compassion for myself was non existent. Marrying Amanda was the beginning of my exterior cracking, real vulnerability showing its face, slowly breaking down. Then Henry was born and my heart oozed, the foundation crumbling.

After his first 17 days of life, in great health, he almost died. 6lbs 9ozs and he had rsv. They told us to prepare for him not to make it. And I broke open completely, like i had never done before, feeling the full blast of all my emotions. Aching for the life we were going to have with him, that after 2.5 years was finally here and now we were losing him. And we stayed strong and let our friends and family in, to love us and care for us and help us believe he would be ok. And then suddenly he took a turn for the better, and he lived. He is our miracle baby, no doctor could explain his quick recovery, inches from death to a healthy, happy, nursing baby.

Jackson and Finn’s death ripped my heart out, i felt like I was walking around inside out. The depth of our love for them in the short time they lived was astounding. We held each other and were cradled and loved by all of our friends and family. And I was open, and in touch and not putting up the walls and the facade. I didn’t hold it together and I didn’t need to. I was finally the vulnerable person I teach others to be.

Somehow, the death of my father triggered me back to being 13 years old again. Feeling unsafe and compartmentalized. All the opening I had done, all the undoing of those habits, all the work, one instant shut me down again.

So hear I sit in our small town coffee shop, on the heels of my Dad’s 64th birthday and anniversary of his death, watching 9 month old twins scream in their stroller, yearning for that chaos. Tapping into my practice, my heart, my family, my foundation, trying to find my way back to connection, to wholeness.

Cracked Wide Open

Truth, vulnerability, love, loss, envy, fear.  We play the highlight reel, even with those closest to us, rarely talking about what is really going on in our lives, our hearts and minds.  We grin and bare it, keep our tragedies and sad stories to ourselves, quietly suffering, quietly overcoming.  Living in deceptive collusion.  And we are alone roiling in our pain.  We share our successes, and our love, and our happy moments forgetting that without suffering there is no happiness – we are all human, none of us immune.  And one day you whisper, you leak, you share, and find you are not alone.  Here’s to love and pain and heartbreak and vulnerability – we are not alone, you are not alone.  You are just like me, and I just like you.  Maybe not in this, but in some suffering.

All hospital rooms are not created equal. This room left us feeling dirtier just for being there. Left wanting for assurance that everything was going to be ok. The white board across from the bed below the clock was mostly erased remnants of the previous patient’s doctor and nurses names. Scratched and cracked, mostly blank, it gave me the eery feeling that no one was taking care of us. We moved across the hall, the cleanliness was luxurious. No longer under observance in the Maternity ward we were back in labor and delivery. Liz, Betsy and Jodie had just left, a small smile still on your face from the laughter. J arrived from Chicago and the mediocre indian food delivery was a feast. All was quiet – the nurse loved us and moved us to the biggest room. We all had room to rest, your chromatic bed with extra blankets just out of the warmer, me in the chair next to you, J across the room, curled into a tight ball, snoring lightly. I yearned for the filth and neglect of the maternity ward. There was no going back, we were in it for the long haul, 90 more days or 1 more hour.

As I drifted I heard the soft closing of the bathroom door – your constant urge to pee, the easier part of this pregnancy.

Too much time had passed, even at 3:30 in the morning, it felt too long, you couldn’t still be peeing. Peering through the door, your were quivering, white faced. I knew it was time. I woke J, told her to get the doctor.

They arrived in a flurry, prepping the room and you for birth. I sat by your side, holding your hand, prepared to be the best partner I could through the births. Trying to match your strength and support when Henry was born. I am good under pressure, this is my strength, and yet I couldn’t shake the fear that I would let you down.

And then all of a sudden you were pushing. You were so brave and so strong. the words “push push push… push, breathe” came out as the tears rolled down my cheeks. Your strangle grip on my hand gave me strength, this was for you, for Jack, this was our family and our path. There was no going back. After about 10 minutes of pushing, there he was, head crowning, he came out peacefully. There was no screaming, no Apgar, his eyes were closed. The rush of the NICU team hurrying him to the warmer, cleaning him off, checking his vitals. and there it was, his first, ever so slight, breath. his beating heart visible through his delicate skin. 4:48am – Jackson Vincent was alive. I carefully cradled him, taking him from the doctor. we held him, and in an instant loved him so deeply – weeping. taking in each tiny detail of his perfect face and body.  So tiny, yet so heartbreakingly beautiful.

Our perfect moment abruptly interrupted by the attending physician. The contractions had stopped, your cervix stopped dilating, there was hope for Finn. A fleeting moment of hope. But Jack’s placenta hadn’t delivered and was torn. If it didn’t deliver in the next hour you would be induced. The Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor confirmed that their was no decision to be made, if the placenta didn’t come out you would die.

We drank up every second we had with Jack, snuggling, kissing and loving every little bit of him. His short life so peaceful and so full of love, until his last breath in our arms. Your mom held him so gentle and firm, so protective, no longer breathing forever alive. and we waited. no placenta. Finn was still kicking and moving when they started the epideral and pitocin. Tears streaming, no turning back. Your life on the line, your body refusing to budge – refusing to let go of the beautiful life moving about. Your eyes empty, your body strong – your soul exposed. 4 hours later – the contractions finally started, our worst nightmare coming true. How do you push when all you want to do is hold – knowing that each painful contraction and push means coming closer to losing our sweet Finnie boy.

But you did it, you did what you were told, i held your hand and coached you again… to push, push push…almost there, push…and there he was -10:06am Finnean Mathew, bigger than Jackson, rounder, more muscular. Sweet love, mouth open, tiny little breaths. Deep love and adoration, It was over and yet it had just begun.

“Sometimes I feel like I never been nothing but tired.. Sometimes I lay down, no more can I do, then I go on again, because you asked me to. Some days i look down, afraid i will fall. and though the sun shines, I see nothing at all. and I hear your sweet voice, oh, oh, come and then go, come and then go. telling me softly, you love me so. The peaceful valley just over the mountain. I may never get there in this lifetime, but sooner or later, it’s there I will go. Sooner or later, it’s there I will go.” Patty Griffin – Just over the mountain, MLK’s song

All we need

I recently had the honor of contributing to the naming ceremony and bris for dear friends of ours. While I found many beautiful buddhist prayers and writings, none resonated like the heart inspiring yet simple words of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Adapted by me and read by my heart centered friends to their newborn son;

“We will love and support you to be aware of your innate goodness.
The seeds of love, compassion, generosity, patience and wisdom already exist in your heart and mind.
We will help you to cultivate this aspect of your true nature.

We will cultivate a self confidence in you that is not based on transient, superficial factors, but on a deep awareness of your own inner goodness.”

If only every child could start out in the world with parents that start from here.

Pursuit of Happiness

I was just perusing facebook when I can across a friend’s post, “Life can be amazing and miraculous one minute and horrible the next, here’ to waiting for the next amazing moment”. And it got me to thinking – We hear a lot about the pursuit of happiness and our right to it. What we fail to see is that it is precisely our pursuit of happiness that causes our suffering – and thus keeps us from that “happiness” we are looking for. I have spent much of my life in that same pursuit – barely tolerating the less than pleasurable experiences in desperate search of the next happy moment. When that moment comes I cling, and maybe you do too, not wanting the feeling or experience to change or dissipate.

I remember the day I gave birth to my son Henry. It was the mist intense experience I had ever had – anticipation, joy, pain, absence of pain and pure joy. I felt each emotion as if I imagine it would feel like if I were born blind and one day was able to see. The visceral feeling of each moment of that day will never leave me. And while I was very focused on the moment and appreciating each second (with the exception of the excruciating pain of the last stages of labor of course) I was terrified for the experience to pass. I instantly started worrying that my 12 weeks of maternity leave would not be enough – and I mean immediately, as in hours after giving birth I was crying and anxious. So I clung to each day as if it were my last – and I cried each day anticipating the day that I would have to leave my perfect little boy at home while I went to work. That extreme clinging to the moment and anticipation of the future took away from my ability to just enjoy and cherish where I was.

And then one day, a month into my maternity leave as I was rediscovering my meditation practice and study I read a paragraph from Mark Epstein’s “Thoughts Without a Thinker” that jolted me into a brief glimpse of awareness. Awareness that I was causing my own suffering. It was around the idea that the pursuit of pleasure leads to dissatisfaction as pleasure itself is not sustainable, primarily because we become content with what felt “pleasurable” initially, so we seek more.

“When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are made so that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution” – Epstein

It was an awareness that the contrast of my pain from labor allowed me to appreciate the absence of pain once he was delivered. And that if I continue to seek that moment, even if I have the moment again, it won’t be the same, it is not sustainable in a constant way. By yearning for my environment to not change I was not appreciating what I had in the now. So I slowly let go of clinging to the idea that this utopia we had created in Henry’s first few months would change, and pursuit of a constant state of anything only leads to discontent. We are not wired for contentment.

So if you are like me in any way, and are clinging to a moment, a feeling, a touch, anything – let it go and know that the next painful, frustrating, or even mildly annoying experience you have will only help you enjoy the next “good” moment that much more.

Promiscuous Intelligence

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