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6 Many thanks to Susan Mrosek for the cover art titled Skirmish and for her extensive contribution to the Naked Truth section with photos and her sketch titled “I’m the Caretaker”. Visit ponderingpool.com for more of Susan’s art.
All internal photos/ sketches are from istockphoto.com unless otherwise noted. Editor in Chief & Publisher Heather Janssen Contributing Editors Corey Radman Abra Houchin, Assistant to the Editor Stephanie Rayburn Art Director & Designer Makeesha Fisher Marketing Consultant Kyndra Wilson
Naked Truth A Little Bit of History... Susan Mrosek
Hope in the E.R. Susan Mrosek
Freshman Halloween Party Diane Hope
Hear/Listen Irma Fisher
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Finding Spirit h show for breast cancer research. I titled my speec I was recently asked to speak at a fund-raising dance goes like this: “Tatters” after a poem by artist Susan Mrosek, that them together in an informal pattern just to suggest I’ll collect my tatters, the perfect pieces of me, and notch a short breath, I’ll be fine. myself. Then I can start the welding process, and in of cloth. iful woman composed entirely of tattered pieces The poem is coupled with an illustration of a beaut words to my arduous journey: The end of my speech connected Susan’s beautiful come to understand. I gave up my breasts, a small I am no longer a whole woman in the definition we’ve four s, those brilliant centers of fertility through which my sacrifice for the greater whole. I sacrificed my ovarie of my loss the to Yet these tangibles pale in comparison daughters were breathed their lives. I have lost much. . The of assurance and security, no matter how imagined naïveté, the loss of a future I took for granted. The loss with sation conver a in my little girl or the pause to take net gains exist—I have an early-morning waltz with a gained such wisdom. I gaze at my scars and murmur my nine-year-old that leaves me wondering where she they took the fall so I could remain. thanks to my absent breasts and ovaries, grateful that succeeded and I will run like hell when and if the cloud I am broken, but I will be whole. Death has not yet of the bright, nor do I awake every morning blissfully aware shows up again. The days are not endless Pollyanna enough. gift of life. But sometimes I dance, and, for today, it’s for prose www.ponderingpool.com, and feasted on her gift After I made my speech, I went to Susan’s website, ity of similar on a whim, utterly humbled and moved by the coupled with her illustrative genius. I wrote to her that the however conflicted, messy or unpalatable, knowing our missions: to give voice to the truths we hold, telling of these truths results in untold beauty. and her for the honor of putting her art on our cover, She wrote back! Lucky me! Lucky get born! I asked ile comp to tion you see on the cover, and as I began she enthusiastically agreed. I chose the amazing illustra ng Spirit.” the tone, the theme of this entire issue was “Findi the content it became more and more clear that be born baby, we insisted that, at the heart of it would When Katie Cassis and I first conceived of this get the have a forum where women and their allies would Finding Spirit. It was critical to us that we provide d. ing the Divine. In this issue, this hope is fully realize freedom to dialogue about their experiences in engag taking breath the From . n when life comes from frigid death And how apt that it be our Spring issue—a seaso ter’s documenting the miracle of his premature daugh photo essay Todd Newcomer graces our pages with, ience Heather Schichtel had at a church outside of fight for her early life, to the poignantly hilarious exper g that the main character has in Laura Salamy’s movin her tradition, to the wrenchingly painful realization and make sense of our role as selves, as parents in a flawed short story, this issue is about the ways we try to Her. or whatever way we define Him complicated world, through engaging the divine, in round out , and I knew I had a luxurious trinity to beautifully Then Susan sent me her sister and mother’s prose Spirit. of y utterl ly visual, profoundly moving, and what is sure to be a memorable issue—breathtaking
Naked Truth ...
Susan Mrosek pays tribute to her late sister, Diane, the “muse for and loudest celebrator of Pondering Pool.” Susan says, “If it weren’t for her, I doubt it would even exist. Her essence is strung throughout the whole collection and pretty much everything I do.” In this unique collection, we honor the power of creativity spanning a generation through Susan, Diane Hope, and their mother Irma’s writings.
Credits: Diane Hope spent a large part of her time in Tucson, Arizona writing, drawing, performing and most important, raising her daughter. She was deeply interested in bringing awareness to the silent agony experienced by those, like herself, suffering from brain disorders. She always said life would have been so much easier, she would have received more understanding and help, were she in a wheelchair. Diane was also eager to see holistic healing included in the existing mental health system.This would provide more options to people like herself who are unable to be helped by typical treatments. Another passion of hers was working with children diagnosed with ADHD and teens with issues such as anorexia, bulimia, and “out of control” behaviors. Diane Hope passed on July 31, 2008. Her family is committed to carrying on her cause.
Born in Buffalo, NY, in 1954, Susan Mrosek moved with her family to Tucson, Arizona, at age four. She has loved being one of six siblings, and spending time with their children; she and her husband of 32 years opted for a cat. Her 34-year career in the arts has included time spent as a potter, painter, writer, illustrator, and sculptor. Susan’s creation of the Pondering Pool, in 2000, arose naturally from the unique, humorous way of healing she shared with her sister/soul mate, and has become a place where many others congregate to do the same.
Irma Grams Fisher was born in Buffalo in1921, moved to Arizona, then to Denver where she lives at Heritage Club senior/independent living. Her career choices at age 13 were marriage and family or social work. She had both: six children, six grandchildren, four great grandchildren and 20 years as a social worker. Irma now delights in her third career as an author. Her books include Life’s Clicks, Kicks, & Musings a collection of poems, and Reflections of a Bleeding Heart, a fact-based book highlighting her years as a social worker.
A Little Bit of History... Susan Mrosek
a single care taker -- it took a village. Complicating that, she could never tolerate living with anyone or even having someone stay overnight. She absorbed people’s energy to the point of pain (it was like there were hundreds of people living in her). She wanted us to stay close, but keep our distance, which was an impossible feat.
y sister, Diane, by far, bore the brunt of our father’s sexual and emotional abuse.
From the age of 12, she was back and forth to psychiatrists, labeled “mentally ill,” given psychotropic drugs, and yet never removed from the abhorrent situation, which lasted at least through high school. As a result, she had no self-esteem, became self-abusive, paranoid, and unable to function in the world. Over the years, she was diagnosed with several disorders; OCD, PTSD, bipolar, acute anxiety disorder, to name a few.
From the family’s perspective, we tried EVERYTHING we could to help her. From her perspective, she felt ostracized, talked about, labeled, disrespected, misunderstood, out of control and blessed to have our support. She was indeed conflicted. All I know is I would have done anything to heal her. I now know only she could heal herself.
Diane was brilliant, compassionate, overly generous, hysterically funny, extraordinarily creative, and downright intoxicating, yet she was never really able to take her gifts out in public.
We, the family, were both awed by and deeply admired Diane’s mothering skills. It was the thing she was most proud of (and most tortured by). She was a loving, compassionate, nurturing, fun, single mom who despite her raging challenges managed to raise her daughter to be, as she would say, “A shiny star in a sky full of circles.” This, of course, was with lots of help from family and friends, but it was her spirit and wisdom that shaped Taylor, who is now 20 years old, and screamingly independent, hysterically funny, generous, creative...a lot like her mom.
Her injuries (and our own) affected each of us in various ways -- we all survived/ coped differently and throughout the years, took turns caring for Diane, as we were all better off than her. It was a roller coaster of joy (because she was an incredible person), despair, guilt, humor, sorrow and Hope (which of course is her name) -- ultimately exhausting, depleting, vicious then forgiving. Toward the end, her needs grew beyond
... Hope In the E.R. Susan Mrosek
I couldn't draw her to me with my cold claw, and prayed for the circulation of a warm hand. Even still, I didn't know how to hold on loose enough that she could follow, yet lead. I told her to sit, they would come to us, she needn't hip and toe the entire causeway to the check-in booth, but she didn't hear me â€“ she was already there. And we waited. I tossed some jokes...she didn't catch. Instead, she dove through the bag of distractions we'd packed to bargain with the monster, exchange pain for play, we travel that way a lot. Time lapsed. They insisted help was on the way.
I'm the Caretaker 6
The monster, no longer amused by the toys, gradually resumed his preferred entertainment, watching her spiral after the apparition he paid to play tag down her left, no her right, yes her left side. Suddenly, she torqued through mid air toward her vast reservoir of hope, for that is her name. God, let it never run dry.
What do I do? How do I handle this with sanity? I want to cry. I feel my heart sinking. Sadness grips me, scares me, confuses me. I trust her. I must. I have given her a good foundation. She will find her way. I cry for the others who have no anchors, whose parents are never home to see them change, to hear their music, angry and vile, the “fuck you’s” thrown so easily around by little girls with chains and dog collars around their necks. Was it just yesterday they were suckling at their mother’s breast? How quickly we turn on them, disappear, get on with our lives. They still need us, maybe even more. They have not grown up. They are children trying to fit, wanting to know. I swear I can still see the milk moustache around her mouth.
Hear/Listen Irma Fisher
A tree fell in the forest No one was there. Was it heard? A tree fell in the forest A hearing person was there. Did he hear it? A tree fell in the forest A hearing, listening person was there. He heard it. I speak You interrupt. I speak You formulate rejoinders. I am hard of hearing You are not. I am not hard of listening You are. Am I heard? I am not. 7
Freshman Halloween Party Diane Hope
The baby thumped at my womb, forcing me to release my breath and catch another shallow one in its place.Through the veranda screen, I stood and watched the baby’s two brothers splash and wrestle in a wading pool.Their playful shouts didn’t provide enough sound to drown out the chatter and cries of too many ragged, destitute street children that lived in shanties outside our home in Bangladesh. Once again I wondered how to face this overpopulated, overtaxed world with another baby growing inside me. Our family was complete. A third child had never been in the picture. My husband and I had already replaced ourselves—the world didn’t need any more from us—but, it was getting one. In addition to being distraught over this “oops,” baby, I so dreaded the excited, happy congratulations—which I believed should be reprimands—that I kept my expanding belly beneath baggy shirts as long as I could. Then before anyone could start whispering about how fat I was getting, I gathered all my friends in a big circle in my living room—Bangladeshi style. We had just eaten lunch and I was growing nervous, holding in my secret. The expatriate community in Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, was the most social happening group of which I had ever been a part. I think it was because Bangladesh was difficult psychologically— the poverty, corruption, poor sanitation, beggars, disease— expatriates tended to go overboard in an effort to throw off the heavy oppressiveness of Bangladesh. Therefore, our community created relief in the form of balls, regattas, triathlons, costume parties, dinner parties, lunch parties, dance parties, theme parties— anything would do. I, however, was known for being rather slow at hosting such parties. In fact, this was the first “big” gathering outside of birthday parties for my two young sons that I had hosted. Finally, as everyone sipped their tea between conversation, I cleared my throat and in my booming Texas voice, started my announcement: “I’m sure y’all are wondering why I got you all together here.” My proclamation was followed with
a knowing laugh—yes, the party slacker. “I have an announcement to make, but I have some rules everyone has to follow,” I continued. “First, I don’t want any congratulations. No, ‘Oh, I’m so happy for you.’ Nothing like that. I’m telling you because I can’t keep it a secret any longer in aerobics class. I’m pregnant; I’m not happy about it, and I’ve never been one of those glowing pregnant women. We didn’t plan this and I’m really pissed at him for not getting a vasectomy.” The expected gasps, stilted laughter, and then everyone was talking at once, but not to me—at least not at first. I hadn’t really given them the option to say much to me, but they eventually ignored my bravado and told me that despite what I felt, it was all going to work out. They pointed out that this time around I had someone built in to not only wash diapers, but to change them! (We mothers all employed an ayha, or nanny, along with other household staff.) Once the baby was eating solids, there was someone to cook and mash up the food. One young mother reminded me that there were play groups available almost every day of the week for every age group. Another mom tapped her foot on the floor, commenting on how easy it was to clean up potty-training accidents on the prevalent concrete floors of our Bangladesh houses. I didn’t, however, appreciate their efforts to turn my attitude positive; it was 9
“Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.” ~ Jane Austen
seriously difficult for me. After learning I was pregnant, I dove into a troubling depression; I screamed at the kids. I glared at my husband, my concentration at work and at home shattered, and I cried just sitting at the dinner table. My entire pregnancy was a psychological battle. I didn’t want anyone to know; I couldn’t face the questions or the cheery congratulations that people gave despite my orders. Once, while in a restaurant, I watched a mother and father try to calm a screaming baby; I fled the place in tears.
It was my women friends, of course, who came through with the support and encouragement I needed—with stories of their own. Barbara had the same experience a few years earlier: Two sons, family finished, but, an ironic twist—a husband working in family planning in third world countries. She had an emotional three months, trying to resolve her feelings, when she miscarried. The emotional backwash was devastating. She said she could never go through that again. Her husband took her seriously and had a vasectomy.
I wrote to a friend that a wave of emotions continually washed over me: guilt, frustration, anger, stupidity. Guilt at having violated one of Tim’s and my strongest environmental convictions: that of having no more than two children per family—a broken conviction tough to accept while living in the overpopulated country of Bangladesh. Guilt, and frustration, when I bumped into an acquaintance who, I knew, for the last two years was desperately trying to become pregnant. Anger at Tim for not having a vasectomy and at myself for my negative feelings. Stupid over our carelessness. And afraid. Afraid of being worn thin, afraid of stressing an already stressed family, afraid of pushing a roller-coaster relationship to its limits.
Another friend, with three grown children, told me that years ago she faced an unplanned pregnancy when she and her husband were living in India. They were not diplomats, their savings were depleted, and their future was dismal. She felt there was no choice. She had an abortion and says she aches every year on the anniversary of that action. My friend Donna was anxious and depressed when she found herself in an unplanned second pregnancy. When she found out it was twins, she felt defeated. Even for the first few days after they were born, she couldn’t face it. Then, mercifully, the bonding grabbed her. Although she can’t imagine life without them, she parents alone. Vasectomy or not, she and her husband split after the twins.
Tim was also afraid. His first concerns were very male: we’ll need a bigger car, a bigger house, a bigger salary. Although not proposing it, he offered up the subject of abortion, and respected my emphatic choice against it. But, by the end of the pregnancy he was almost obsessed with his uncertainty of bringing any child into this world clouded with hate, crime, and moral destruction.
Then there was the story no parent wants to hear. I wrote Mary, a mom of three planned children, and asked how she juggled three. Her reply came two months after my baby was born. She said that if she had written a few months earlier when she received my letter, she would have warned me of how much more work three children are. Instead,
she only wished the work was still there. Her 14-year-old son had been killed in a river-rafting accident that summer. My friend Angie was empathetic, trying to console me with her struggle over an unplanned third. That third, though, became such a joy, such a pleasure, that Angie confided that she wanted to have a fourth—an idea beyond my capacity to comprehend. As pregnancies do, this one ran its course. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl that we named Mallory Irene. I dressed her in little pink dresses and sang to her: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine….” Her smiles and tiny hands reaching up to me flooded my heart. How quickly I remembered that there is simply nothing more powerful than that bond. She was a joy, a miracle, and I loved her as completely as I did my two “planned” sons.
My husband, who seemed to like to live dangerously, waited to have his vasectomy until I threatened him. I told him that if he hadn’t had the snip by Mallory’s first birthday, I would invest in peace of mind—a tubal ligation—at his expense both monetarily and in childcare responsibilities. He had it after I had departed with the kids for a summer back in the United States—two months before Mallory’s first birthday.
❀ Carol Jones is a freelance writer and editor in Fort Collins. She is working toward publication of her book, “Ready, Willing, Able: Preparing Your Teenager for Success in College.” So far, her oldest kid is successful in college, the middle one is avoiding it, and the third one-that little girl she used to dress in pink-is still in high school. A Web site about the book and other work is coming soon.
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Despite that rocky beginning, I instantly fell in love with Mallory—nursing her, rocking her, watching her clutching hand relax as she drifted off to sleep. She was healthy and happy. My husband and I marveled at her beauty. Her brothers adored her and she, them. I can’t imagine my life without her or her brothers, or, with any more.
However, unlike my friend, I never wanted a fourth. I slammed full face into the fears and anxieties I had during pregnancy. Whenever I left my home in Bangladesh, the severe consequences of overpopulation affronted everywhere. Barefoot street children gathered and grinned, malnutrition in their eyes, their tired mothers out of sight, struggling against fate. I vowed to teach my children the strictest of conservation ethics, to be compassionate, and to be gentle to their earth. Always short on patience, I seemed to have misplaced it altogether when I needed it the most. My seven and four-year-old sons still whined and demanded, particularly while I nursed their sister or changed her diaper. Intimacy? Well, I thought, maybe in another 10 years or so.
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Dispatches from Mars is the story of parenthood told by get born dads. In this, our first photo essay, photojournalist,Todd Newcomer, documents the first two years after his daughterâ€™s much too early arrival.
Todd Newcomer lives with his wife Kim and their daughter Ella in Fort Collins, Colorado. An avid outdoor family they are looking forward to the upcoming river season. Todd works as a photographer shooting for a variety of publications and as a portrait and event photographer. More of his work can viewed at www.NewcomerPhoto.com.
Ella was born at one pound, 14 ounces through emergency c-section due to my wife’s rapid onset of Eclampsia. In this photo Ella was 40 days old and weighed just over three and a half pounds.
A nurse took this photo about 45 minutes after Ella was born as my wife was en route to the ICU. I still remember Ella curling those little fingers around the tip of my ring finger. I will never forget the joy, but it was fleeting because of my worry about my wife.
ď€´ Early on, Ella was tethered to her isolette by a variety of cords including her heart rate monitor, oxygen, and feeding tubes. We felt so separated from her and frightened to hold her tiny body.
I love this photo because it shows how all of us in the family were feeling after Ellaâ€™s homecoming: completely exhausted. Our baby no longer had 24 hour, professional care inside a climate-controlled isolette, and Kim and I slept no more than 45 minutes at a time. ď€ś
When Ella came out of her shell she did so with a vengeance. A big bright smile from ear to ear normally accompanies her screaming red hair. Besides her petite stature, Ella has grown into a toddler with no side affects from her early delivery. We are very fortunate.
ď€ł Ella always seemed to be just out of reach, from those early days of barely being able to hold her and seeing her vitals flat line in the NICU, to being stripped of what we saw as enjoying a normal birth experience. After the powerlessness of those first few months, we thrill to finally see her reaching effortlessly out for us.
My conversations with God are limited to two minutes a day; this is how long my oral-b toothbrush is set >>
They happen at night when I reflect on the day. I clear my head as I clean my teeth. Sometimes I multi-task touching my toes, stretching my hamstrings, examining my chin for stray dark hairs. But usually I reserve this time to think about what is positive and good in my life. Religion has always been a mystery to me, something I have examined from afar. When I was little, my dad would take us skiing on Sunday. As we scanned the Colorado horizon, bundled from head to toe, looking over the majesty of Gore Mountain range, my dad would exclaim. “You are a lot closer to God here!” Nature, excitement and cold toes became our Sunday morning ritual. Not too bad for a kid, especially when combined with hot chocolate. Despite our mountain pilgrimages, I still yearned for a bit of structure. I always wanted to be catholic. In fourth grade I had a crush on Michael Klebba and he was catholic. He went to church with my best friends’ family, the Moffats. They would take church camping trips and gather around the fire with a guitar. On Ash Wednesday they came home with black crosses on their forehead. Then there was First Communion with white, marshmellowy dresses, a big party and cake. I wanted a cake. The only religious affiliation we had apart from mountaintop explanations over hot cocoa was an occasional trip to my Grandfather’s dark, bare Lutheran church where
we were consistently being told to be quiet. There were no big, marshmallowy dresses and I couldn’t find a guitar for the life of me. As I grew up, my relationship with God evolved into a more personal, private one. I don’t participate in Buddhist chants or whirl like a dervish. I get hives taking communion, worried that someone will point me out and yell “imposter”! I do, however, love going to church, sitting in an oak pew in the back, feeling the smooth wood underneath my palms and sending good thoughts to those in need. My favorite Christmas was spent in a tiny village in Bavaria. Perhaps it was the combination of church in the mountains; the best of my spiritual worlds. I went to Christmas Eve mass with friends of mine. I couldn’t understand a word the priest said but I was entranced by the sweet scent of incense and the beauty of the renaissance cathedral. The richness of the atmosphere seeped into the evening like the candle dripping from the chandelier. I cuddled down into my wool coat, listened to the choir, thought about God and my lucky life. When we filed out of the church, the cobblestone streets were filed with a fresh layer of snow. We drank Gluhwein at a small stand and listened to an oompah band play Christmas carols. I gazed up at the star-studded sky and silently thanked God. That was a religious experience. We have had a rough couple of years. We lost our son and our daughter has been very sick. We have had many, many people praying for us. Groups have 17
gathered together, made prayer shawls and prayer beads. I know from my two minute nightly conversations that someone out there is listening. Heck, I would be outside covering myself in chicken blood if I thought that would make a difference. My life has been marked by rituals; traditional and not so much. When our friends invited us to church, I was touched and I thought I could use a little meditation time. Perhaps some soothing music and feel of a polished pew underneath my hands. I could use a prayer. I accepted their invitation but had a feeling I would be going alone. My husband’s struggle with religion had been a little more profound than mine. Ever since his parents dropped him and his brother off at Sunday school and went out to brunch without them, he has been bitter. Seven-year-old Brian missed out on years of French toast. He is also not very good at being told what to do. I knew, if I went to church, I would have to go alone, leaving my husband at home with the paper and coffee. I told Charlie and Harriet that I would like to attend next Sunday. I informed them that I would bring our daughter but probably not my husband. They were ecstatic. Charlie called Saturday night to give me precise directions. Services started at 10:00. I actually looked forward to the services. I would sit in the back, sing hymns and reflect on my life. It would be a good way to start the week. On Sunday I pulled into an industrial park, home of the New Hope Church. I’ve never
I don’t participate in Buddhist chants or whirl like a dervish. I get hives taking communion, worried that someone will point me out and yell “imposter”!
been to church in an industrial park. I was a long way from Bavaria. I made my way across the hot, asphalt parking lot into unit 1A. Charlie stood at the door greeting parishioners. “Heather, welcome. So good to see you. Where are Brian and Sarah?” “Sarah had a tough night last night. She had a couple of seizures. Brian is at home taking care of her.” This was true. Sarah did have a tough, late night. I couldn’t bring myself to wake her up. I left her snoozing in bed with her dad.
front row by myself. The rock band, a group of 20 something boys, came up on stage. “Hey there everyone,” the lead singer said. “Let’s stand up and sing to the Lord.” The group behind me stood up and started clapping their hands, some raised their palms to the sky, other people held bibles high in the air, eyes closed. I slowly stood up and started
“Well, welcome, we are very happy to have you.” I shook hands with other people; names I don’t remember but everyone was very friendly and happy to see me. I made my way into a large carpeted warehouse set up with folding chairs. A plastic cross was lit up with Christmas lights and the stage was set with a rock band. Harriet came up and hugged me. “So good to see you!” She introduced me to the minister, a woman with short blond hair, bouncing with energy. “We have all been praying for you, Brian and Sarah,” she said, “So happy you are here.” I felt a little uncomfortable. I didn’t know these people but they sure seemed to know a lot about me and my family . Harriet led me to a row of chairs in the front. “I have to play the keyboard so I will be up with the band but I will join you a little later. Charlie is helping with collections but will be back for the sermon.” “Okay,” I said and took a seat in the
clapping my hands. Harriet was on the stage playing the keyboard and rocking out to the song. I looked cautiously for the little man to come out and scream, “Imposter!” I couldn’t have felt more uncomfortable if I were wearing cactus thong underwear. The group got louder, getting into the emotion of it all, swaying back and forth, clapping rhythmically.
A friend of mine from the south once went to a tent revival. She said everyone really got into the sermon and started speaking in tongues. She didn’t know what to do so she started speaking in tongues too. Hoping I didn’t have to babble, I continued to clap and glance around at the crowd behind me. The minister got on stage, out of breath. Thanking everyone for being here today, she said we could all sit down. Gratefully, I took my seat. It had been a busy week at the New Hope Church. Two babies had been born within six hours of each other. One of the dads was in the band. He looked like he was about 16. His daughter had been born six weeks early. She was in intensive care, hooked up to oxygen. The screen ahead of me displayed a picture of a tiny babe with tubes extending from her body. Well, great, I thought. Being the mom of a sick child, I knew this photo all too well. Tears immediately welled in my eyes. “Let’s get up and sing to the Lord for little Baby Kate,” the minister shouted out. The group behind me jumped up and started dancing. I got to my feet and clapped halfheartedly, bouncing up and down a little. I scanned the warehouse and felt a little envious of these people who were celebrating and dancing in a state of religious euphoria. My conversation over the toothbrush was never like this. The band stopped again and people sat down. Thank God. It was time for
those who needed an extra prayer to come up to the pulpit. They called up Baby Kate’s dad. He got down on his knees to pray and the congregation gathered around him. All hands were on this new dad, voices raised to the sky as they prayed for baby Kate. I moved my chair back, trying to make myself inconspicuous. Another worshipper came up and asked the group to pray for his sick mother. Hands went in the air as people knelt down by this man. People shouted out, tears were shed. I squirmed in my seat, trying to adjust my cactus panties. I spotted Charlie kneeling at the end of the pulpit; his head was bowed as he waited for the minister. “Charlie, who needs a prayer today?” Charlie looked up at the minister, his blue eyes moist. “Sarah needs a prayer today.” “Sarah needs a prayer today!” The minister shouted out to the congregation. The congregation moved its mass over to Charlie, hands extended in the air. Well crap. I couldn’t sit in the front row while everyone prayed for my daughter. I got up, moved through the crowed and knelt down on the pulpit next to Charlie. He put his arm around my shoulder as dozens of hands touched my back and people shouted out for a miracle. At first I bowed my head and sobbed, deep shaking cries from my gut. It felt good. A profound pressure lifted from my body; this feeling lasted about ten seconds. Unfortunately, the congregation continued to pray over my shoulder for another minute. The minister had hunkered down close to my ear, asking God for a miracle and squeezing my hand. Too close, too close, too close! I wanted to shout
out to the congregation. I don’t know you! Stop touching my head. I started to hyperventilate a little. I felt like the sacrificial lamb….baaaah. I closed my eyes and held my hands tightly together. Finally, they moved onto another woman, a mother whose daughter was getting divorced. Wearily, I made my way back to my seat. I don’t remember the rest of the sermon. I stood up and clapped when the rest of the group did. But I spent the rest of the time trying to figure out what happened and why I felt so uncomfortable. Didn’t I want people to pray for Sarah? Didn’t I want them to send good thoughts? The two hour service was finally over. I thanked Charlie and Harriet and was one of the first people out the door, briefly shaking hands with the minister. “We will keep praying for Sarah,” she said, pumping my hand. “Wonderful, thank you.” I got home and promptly came down with a migraine. We were supposed to have Charlie and Harriet over for dinner that night. I knew I lacked the physical, emotional and spiritual strength to host dinner. My husband walked up the hill and apologized, saying we were going to have to cancel tonight. Six hours later and recovered from my migraine, I made my way onto the couch. Brian had gone to his brother’s house and Sarah was sleeping upstairs. I watched two hours of back to back Simpson’s episodes and had a beer. The next morning I woke with a Christian rock song in my head. I will dance, I will sing, to be mad for my king. I turned my oral-b toothbrush on and gave God two minutes. The day before, my personal spiritual space 19
had been invaded. It was like planning for an intimate dinner party that turns into a kegger. It’s ok, it just takes you aback, rattles you a bit as you run through the house setting down coasters for plastic beer cups in order to preserve the antique coffee table. I relayed the story to a friend of mine also raised Lutheran. She giggled through the phone. I got to the part where I was on the pulpit and started crying. “Aww Heather, I’m so sorry,” she said. “It was ok. It actually felt good to release that pent up emotion. It just lasted too long. Once I stopped crying, I felt these unknown hands, praying for a miracle. I wanted to get up and leave. It was my spiritual one night stand. I didn’t want to cuddle afterwards .” I could hear Heidi laughing, choking on her coffee. “I can’t believe you said that. You are so going to hell.” I thought about my analogy between sex and religion later. My comment about the one-night stand seemed so blasphemous but then it hit me. Intimacy. If it’s spirituality, sex, my family, my baby girl, God…. I hold these things close to my heart. I can talk about it but I don’t feel right dancing and singing about it. I would be playing a part that’s not mine. I love the prayers for my baby girl and I won’t argue when someone gets on the pulpit to dance but you won’t find me doing the same. I’ll be in the corner with my Oral-b.
❀ Heather Schichtel is a free-lance writer, parent advocate and full time mom to her daughter Samantha. You can follow their story at www.samsmom-heathers.blogspot. com or contact Heather directly at heather. email@example.com
Crossroads Laura Salamy
When Johnna extends her arms and they velcro them down, she knows how forsaken Christ must have felt. At least his ass was covered, she tells herself. A blanket – only temporary – hides her nakedness. The O.R. nurse and the anesthesiologist speak softly around her. There are platitudes, “Take it a day at a time, hon.” And information, “We’ll drip saline first, then start mixing in a cocktail.” Johnna nods vaguely to each. She has no control over the anesthesia any more than she has over the passage of time or grief. She remembers last week’s exchange with her husband. “But you’ve moped around ever since I got pregnant.” “That’s not true!” “So, you’re okay with it?” Silence. “Then maybe it’d be better if I miscarried!” And just like that, it happened. Three days later, in the bathroom at work, Johnna discovered the spotting. After an invasive ultrasound – who knew they’d shove a wand up there? – and a terse chat with the doctor, she was making arrangements for a D&C. Simeon, the blind, old prophet in the temple, so it goes in Luke’s gospel, tried to warn Mary that her child would die a terrible death and that a sword would pierce her heart too. No doctor, not even What to Expect When You’re Expecting, ever told Johnna about the unbearable sadness, the emptiness of losing “almost a child,” of being “not quite a mother.” The anesthesiologist checks her pulse or some other vital sign on the monitor. “Just a few minutes more, Johnna. Dr. Hansch is scrubbing in now.” He pats her arm. Johnna smiles graciously despite her circumstances, because years ago her parents taught her the importance of manners.
❀ Laura Salamy lives in Franklin, Massachusetts with her husband, adolescent daughter, and two dogs with attitude. “The house is awash with emotion and the transfer of estrogen; it’s as if the child is sucking it right out of me.”
Johnna’s parent’s had four children; she’s just trying to make one. Once she thought she might like three. Time got in the way. It was getting late when she and Travis discussed marriage and children. “But I want kids – at least two – and you can’t possibly.” “Why do you say that?” “You’ve already gone that route. You have teenagers, for God’s sake I wouldn’t want to start over; I can’t believe you would.” “Maybe I’d like to do it right this time.” She had to take him at his word eventually, because she loved him. The truth, though, was that she’d seen his rose-colored glasses the whole time. He didn’t mean to deceive her; he just wanted to be with her. “You won’t feel any pain during the procedure, Johnna. Just some tugging. Stop us if you feel anything else. Do you have any questions?” She shakes her head. 20
“Okay, Johnna. We’ll start the drip now. It should be a fairly pleasant sensation. You might fall asleep.” Johnna wonders how any of this could be pleasant. Even birth isn’t pleasant. Family members and friends have filled her in even though she and Travis never told anyone their news. To be safe. In case they miscarried. Practically everyone she knows is being fruitful and multiplying. Apparently, it’s contagious. Except Johnna had a hard time getting pregnant, never mind staying that way. On top of that, requiring a less than enthusiastic partner to participate in the process stressed Johnna way out. Maybe God had been trying to tell her something, something she ignored at her own risk. The light above the table is very bright; it all but blinds her. A nurse lets go of her hand. Johnna hadn’t even realized someone was holding her hand. I’m a little warm, she thinks, but not uncomfortably so. It’s like being at the beach. She squints her eyes into the sun. The light, she corrects herself. “Everything okay, Johnna?” “Uh-huh.” “How do you feel?” “Lemme see.” Johnna pauses to assess herself. ”Well, I feel like I’ve had a few of the margaritas my husband makes.” She giggles, thinking about sitting out on their deck sharing several of the limey, alcoholic drinks. Her glass is the one with the salt on the rim. She makes Travis put it on even when she has canker sores in her mouth. “Isn’t that like rubbing salt into your wounds?” he asks her. “Yes,” she states happily, “but the contrast of the salt with the sweet and sour is too good to give up.” “Have it your way”, he tells her. “We’re about to start the procedure, Johnna.” A pause. “Johnna?” The procedure, she thinks. Yes, the D&C. They have to suction the dead baby and its placenta out. This notion should bother her, but she remembers how even God let his son suffer. “Johnna?” The doctor’s voice is more insistent this time. Someone wearing safety glasses and a surgical mask comes between her and the light. “Yes,” she says. Was she supposed to answer a question? “What are your plans for the evening?” Dr. Hansh asks. Johnna considers an evening after the procedure. Then she remembers the evening she originally planned. “I… We were supposed to go see Blue Man Group at the Arts Center.” So long to those tickets, she tells herself. The thought of throwing away good money, something usually quite loathsome to Johnna, troubles her not a whit. “Why aren’t you going?” Duh. Johnna doesn’t say this to the doctor. Again, good manners triumph. Her father would have taken his belt off if he’d ever heard her or her brothers talk to an adult – any adult – that way. Jesus himself was an adult when he sat in the garden and
asked his dad if he could pass on the cup. What if he’d walked away that night instead of praying, just snuck out of Jerusalem before Judas and the soldiers turned up?
dispose of the uterine blood and tissue she doesn’t need. She would gesture towards her splayed legs, the procedure going on between them, but her arms are still tied down. “Um, this ?” Who, she wonders, would go to a theater event when they’ve just had a miscarriage? Travis would, but that thought doesn’t get her down. “Don’t you want to go?” No hesitation. “Of course, I do.” Besides the cost of the tickets, Johnna’s been dying to see this show. She looks back up at the light. If she directs her vision to the metallic shade, she can see distorted reflections of everyone around her, even herself.
Travis actually cried one night after she’d stopped taking her birth control pills. They’d been having a private party and drank a lot of Bloody Marys. Later Johnna regretted the stronger margaritas they’d switched to. The conversation took place while they were lounging naked on their family room floor. “Dr. Hansh said we can go ahead and try any time .” “You mean sex, right?” She laughed and held her salted drink up as a toast. “Of course. Wanna go another round? Maybe it’ll stick.” “I don’t think I can.” He looked down at his penis. Definitely not. She realized that the day to face this down had finally come. “You said you wanted kids with me. We talked about this before we got married.” Again he regarded his flagging phallus. “I know. I’m sorry. I just don’t see why we have to change anything. It’s good the way it is. And I already have two.” She tried not to get angry, but failed. “I don’t.” He buried his face in the fluffy couch pillows they’d used to make themselves comfortable on the floor and was silent.
“We’re almost done here, Johnna. And it’s only a little after eleven. There’s no reason you can’t go to Blue Man Group tonight. Take it easy the rest of the day, and you’ll be fine.” “Oh,” says Johnna, surprised, but happy. What will she wear? She closes her eyes to the light. It’s starting to bother her. _________________ The last thing Johnna remembers is a gloved hand on her shoulder as she closed her eyes. When she opens them, she’s no longer lying on the O.R. table crucifixion style under a bright light. In fact, she’s in a reclining chair under a blanket in a completely different room. Someone has pulled a curtain around her, and her clothes are in a marked bag on a small table. She realizes there is still a hand on her shoulder, one without a glove. A naked hand. It’s Travis.
She realized that he was crying and that she’d never seen him cry before. Nonetheless, she too had nothing to say. Eventually, they came to a compromise, if one could call having one child a compromise. Secretly, Johnna hoped she’d have twins. They ran in her family, after all. What they didn’t realize was that it would take so long for Johnna to get pregnant: almost three years.
“Hi, love.” He kisses her cheek. Johnna smiles as she’s been taught. Her insides, however, are roiling. They have more room now.
Three years of lots of sex (at first, Travis didn’t mind the extra duty), then countless medical tests, then planned sex with fertility meds, and finally sporadic and barely interested (or, for that matter, interesting) sex with fertility meds. Travis said he was happy for her. Johnna was relieved first and happy second. She also felt guilty. All the time . Even while she was secretly hoping for twins. Because Travis was happy only for her.
“The doctor says we can go to Blue Man Group tonight,” he tells her. “I’ll see.” He’s trying to cheer her up, she knows. He has the capacity, the space, because he’s not in any real pain. Unless you count seeing her suffer. She knows she should go. She used to assume her pain – and her happiness too - were his. “Can we go now?” she asks groggily, trying to rise. Gently, Travis holds Johnna down. “In a bit. Technically, you’re still in recovery. The nurse will tell us when you can get dressed. And the doctor’s coming in to check too.” He pours something from a can on the table. “Apple
“I asked why aren’t you going to the show, Johnna.” The doctor mumbles something to his O.R. personnel. Something stirs in her very numb pelvis. Nothing that really hurts; more like a monthly cramp her body uses to 22
juice?” Johnna grimaces, though in truth she’s parched. “Water,” she tells him. “Crackers?” “Yes, please.” Her last meal was the night before. They make small talk, because talking keeps Johnna from thinking, reflecting on what she lost, from crying. Crying would be difficult for them both. After about fifteen minutes, a nurse pulls back the curtain some and tells her she can get dressed, the doctor will be right in. The curtain closes, leaving Johnna and Travis alone again. “I’m sorry,” Travis tries after helping Johnna puts her clothes on. She’s pretty sure he’s not talking about lying to them both during that very important conversation years ago. Her eyes tear. She’s glad that the light is dim in here.
mood, “You came through with flying colors. We didn’t see anything strange, so it’s just one of those things. Lots of women miscarry. More than you’d think.” He pauses to let Johnna ask questions. She has none, so he goes on. He looks alternately at husband and wife and tells them, “The lab will give us a report, but there shouldn’t be any reason you can’t conceive again. Give yourselves a little time to mourn and regroup – can you take a vacation, get away?” Neither Johnna nor Travis answers. “Then,” he continues, “like I said, relax some and start trying again.” He puts a hand over Johnna’s and smiles at her. “Go to the show tonight, Johnna. It’ll get your mind off this for a little while.” And then he’s off to fight someone else’s battle of life and death, or at least obstetrics and gynecology . “You ready?” Travis asks. Johnna nods affirmatively and hauls herself out of the chair. She knows that, once home, she’ll cry again. Maybe the rest of the day. She’s not sure about Blue Man Group, and she’s even less certain about her marriage to Travis. He turns to her before they leave. “See, you can try again,” he tells her softly. “If you want to.”
“Hello there, sleepy head!” booms the voice of Dr. Hansh. He shakes Travis’ hand even though Travis told Johnna that the two men spoke after surgery. He looks right at Johnna, the patient, and lowers his voice and his
And Johnna knows she will. Once she’s passed on this particular cup and left Jerusalem for good.
August 31, 2009
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