You Can’t Have the Beautiful Without the Ugly.

After my 10th negative pregnancy test, I reread my last blog post dated January 8.  After almost a year, these words I wrote then strike a chord with me as I have come to a new phase of this journey:

‘There will definitely be many moments of uncertainty and fear because that is the natural rhythm of life.

It is precious and quick, awful and beautiful. Always uncertain.’

Over the last 11 months, I have grown spiritually, emotionally and physically in different ways. Trying to get pregnant at 38 as a queer woman with bipolar disorder has not been easy or particularly fun, but it has shown me I am capable of great strength and patience when I quiet my mind and follow my intuition and my heart.

It also hasn’t helped my anxiety and stress to be living during a time of such chaos and upheaval in our world and our country. I’ve had to turn inward and focus on myself while also trying to stay present with what is going on in the outside world. I manage to engage when I feel I can and then there are times I have to tune out or I start to feel I am going numb from the constant injustice, death, tragedy, pain, and suffering that feels amplified over this last year.

More than anything else I’ve discovered myself on a spiritual journey and it has helped me find some inner calm to see beauty amidst the ugliness. As an Empath (this result hit the nail on the head for me!), I feel things more deeply than some and with my form of bipolar disorder, I get too up when things are good and fall too low when things are bad. I used to feel it was “all or nothing” and you couldn’t have the good with the bad. It had to be one or the other.

My ex used to say to me, “You can’t have the beautiful without the ugly.” It would drive me crazy because I just didn’t want the ugly anymore. I struggled to see any beauty, only darkness. This was what depression is for me. Feeling bathed in darkness and unable to find any light.

During a Qigong class recently my teacher explained the concept of yin and yang, a concept I learned years ago and had forgotten the significance. There is always a little bit of light within the dark and a little dark within the light. There is never one without the other. This concept makes sense to me and helps me to see that it will never be all bad, even if it feels that way sometimes.

I have come to the decision that part of my #ttcjourney is over. I will give my body a break and enjoy the beauty that is the family I have and the love and support of amazing friends. Life finally feels calm after a year and a half of personal upheaval and I will revel in that calm for a while longer. My wife, Diana will be going next to see if she has better luck. The good within the bad in this case is the perk of having two uteruses in the relationship!

I will have to find other ways to experience the beauty and joy of meeting our child(ren) through my wife and it will be another exercise in patience and trust that things will always work out somehow and we will always have the beauty within the ugly.
I will try to share more as I can. One thing that has helped me tremendously is to read other family’s accounts of their stories thus far. There are so many of us going through the same roller coaster ride that is trying to conceive, start a family, adopt or even foster. None of us are alone.
XO,
KT
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Always Uncertain.

“Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.”
—  Jon Kabat-Zinn

As 2017 begins and people are either starting New Year’s Resolutions or trying to avoid them, I am working on reflecting and resetting as I try to do every Sunday.

2016 was filled with one change after another, some good, many not so good.

My personal experience of the past year involved a great deal of loss and sadness. In the spring, my wife and I left jobs we loved in a city we loved leaving behind friends we loved and relied on for support. Summer we traveled around the country to visit family and too soon learned we would have to say good-bye to her incredible mom. As fall began, deep in the muddy waters of grief, my grandmother died after living a full life of 102 1/2 years. Finally, winter brought the death of my companion of 18 years, my cat Leah.

I admit that I don’t really want to reflect on the last year too deeply, it’s just too painful. I know that I need to if I want to move forward because a big part of the last year has also been spent on plans for the future. Plans that include the hope of new life.

I’ve struggled with the decision to put my personal life and feelings out in the world on this public blog. I feel more vulnerable and open to criticism and I decided to do it anyway because I feel compelled to express myself this way. I’ve spent my whole life holding back because I worry what people will think of me.

I started This Queer Femme because I wanted to push myself toward something that scared me and still felt right in my heart. I am one of those people who is ruled by the ever fickle heart. I know it sounds cheesy, and I am okay with that!

My heart has known three things completely and wholly. First, it knew that I would never be truly happy unless I was with a woman. Second, it knew that my wife Di was “the one” even if it wasn’t always crystal clear. Third, it has always told me I will be a mom.

I will be attempting to get pregnant through insemination this year and I don’t have a clue how it will actually turn out. In my wishing and hopeful mind, I see a healthy baby (or babies!) and Diana and I become moms along with running thriving creative businesses.

The events of this last year have forced me to learn how important it is to acknowledge the brutal truth: no matter what you want to happen there will always be ups and downs you didn’t anticipate or plan for. There will definitely be many moments of uncertainty and fear because that is the natural rhythm of life.

It is precious and quick, awful and beautiful. Always uncertain.

My intention for 2017 is to share bits and pieces of this journey to queer parenthood. It feels more important than ever to document something that has only become the “new normal” in recent years. I am grateful that future generations will not know a time that didn’t include queer families just as my generation has with interracial marriage.

Stay tuned!

XO, KT

 

Leah Belle Marston

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Princess Leah Belle Marston died on December 14, 2016, 13 days before Carrie Fisher, who played her namesake in Star Wars. She was 18 1/2, which would have made her approximately 74 in human years. She was my first fur baby and constant companion until I had to move to New Jersey without her in April of this year.

I adopted her when she was a two-month-old kitten in East Lansing, MI. I was 19, had just finished my 2nd year of college, and I was impulsive. I didn’t think twice when I said I wanted her out of the litter of black and white squeaking puffballs that needed homes.

Having a cat when you are in college is quite inconvenient, but I took her with me everywhere, even to work when I cared for Sara. Not everyone found her to be as lovable as I did, though. She quickly earned the nickname Shitty Kitty from the guys at the frat house where we lived one summer. She was quick to lash out if she felt threatened or didn’t like the way someone was petting her. She was adventurous, tough, feisty and a survivor.

When it was time to move out of the fraternity to a new apartment she was nowhere to be found and I spent the next month passing out fliers with her picture in the neighborhood. People said they saw her occasionally and some would leave food for her, but no one was able to catch her. Finally, after two whole months of being out on her own, she showed up back at the fraternity house and I got a call that they had her.

She was an excellent hunter and would frequently bring me presents left under my bed. One time she brought me a chipmunk that was still very much alive and I had to chase it out the door with a broom. Another time I found a live mouse in her food dish that she was saving for later.

As she got older she became more of the sweet girl that I knew her to be and she was happy to be in a warm lap or curled up on her window seat watching the birds she used to hunt. She loved to snuggle under the covers and sleep as close to my face as possible. I was devasted when I developed allergies to her (and as it turns out all cats). She had to be kicked out of the bedroom so I could finally sleep without congestion and sinus headaches.

When we moved from San Francisco to New Jersey it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do to leave her behind, knowing that I would probably never see her again. I am incredibly grateful to Catina Chang for taking her in as a foster kitty and giving me constant updates as I searched for her permanent new home.

In July her new home was found with Linda Sturdivant in Point Reyes Station, CA. Linda loved her as much as I did and called her Queen Leah. She gave my girl the comfort and love in her last months that she deserved and I will always be grateful. I truly believed that Leah would live to be 25, but as the vet said she had already lived past her expiration date.

I will always miss her softest, mink-like fur against my cheek and her scratchy kisses on my chin. She was there for me through so many dark times in my life. Linda told me that the memorial candles left on her grave stayed lit through the night even in the rain. I like to think that her strong spirit is still there comforting us.

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My Grandmother, Lucy Carlton Marston

My grandmother, Lucy Carlton Marston, died October 15, 2016, just over six weeks after I watched my mother-in-law Marian die from breast cancer at age 63.

Lucy was 102 and a half when she died a week after suffering a heart attack that did not initially prove to be fatal as expected. She rallied in the hospital after people were already canceling plans to be ready for her funeral. She went back home under hospice care, where she struggled to stay in bed.

“I just want to move!” she said to a visiting friend, who found her putting on her shoes as she pulled back the covers. The day before she ended up dying peacefully in her sleep, she was salsa dancing with a neighbor in the living room!

No wonder she lived to 102 1/2. She never sat still.

At her 100th birthday, she was trying to help set up chairs at the tables. We tried to get her to sit and rest instead, but she wanted to be doing something, to be helping in some way, to be useful.

Born to a dedicated Southern Baptist family in Oxford, Mississippi on March 21, 1914, her entire life existed of constant service. She was active in her church, teaching a women’s Sunday school, giving speeches and talks to the congregation. She volunteered at the nursing home up until she herself was 95. She took care of five kids, one of whom had Down’s syndrome and she cared for him until the same year she had to give up volunteering and living on her own due to a stroke.

The stroke may have slowed her down, but it sure didn’t stop her! Even with limited use of one side of her body, she managed to walk herself around the house and up and down stairs, only rarely relying on a walker. She still helped with laundry, dishes, and picking up around the house.

After the stroke, she was unable to properly verbalize her thoughts, which frustrated her to no end. She was also unable to write down her thoughts. As a writer, this would be my nightmare. I often find it easier to communicate with the written word.

What she ended up being able to do was copy what was already written down. My Aunt Mem would write out my grandmother’s letter, based on what she could interpret from knowing her mother well enough to decipher what she was trying to say. Lucy would then painstakingly copy each letter with a pencil, the lines shaky and curving down the page with each sentence. Sending personal cards and letters was always important to her. Knowing how much it meant to her that it was written by her own hand, I will always treasure the correspondence from her I’ve saved over the years.

A couple years ago, it was discovered that I look exactly like my grandmother when she was in her twenties. The pic below shows the two of us posing in front of the photograph of her from 1934 and the resemblance is uncanny. I felt a connection with her I didn’t have before. I was also reminded that we shared something else. A love for writing. Memories of her sitting at her typewriter started coming back to me after reading her poems and the speeches she had written.

I didn’t agree with all of my grandmother’s beliefs, just like she didn’t agree with all of mine, but I loved her deeply and I’m grateful to have been able to reignite a bond with her in her last years.

She loved bright red cardinals, being with her family, community, her church, and helping people. She was a genuinely good hearted person and I am grateful to have had her as my grandmother.

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Jewelry as Memory Tokens

I admit it. I love jewelry. It doesn’t have to be expensive. What it usually does have to be is meaningful in some type of way for me to love it and wear it. Don’t get me wrong – I can find meaning in a ring that is dazzling and sparkly, with shiny stones that I love if only for the simple fact that they are pretty.

I go through phases, depending on my mood, on how expressive I want to be when I choose what pieces to put on each day. I realized recently that for the last few months as we had been dealing with Marian’s illness and death I was wearing only very simple pieces, often none at all except my wedding band, not having the desire to think about wearing or picking out things that felt frivolous to me at the time.

The thing I love most about jewelry is that it can be empowering and expressive, and I especially love jewelry with a story or connection to a person. Marian wanted us to pick out pieces from her collection after she died, and I was immediately drawn to a stunning Tree of Life necklace that I wore to her memorial service. The other night I wore another piece – a necklace with a large gold pendant swirled to mimic the sun. Wearing it I could actually feel Marian’s strength and it gave me great comfort, and even confidence, to have a tangible part of her with me.

Many of you may know that I made and sold my own jewelry with my small business Katie Wood Jewelry. I’ve taken a break since we moved in April and I’m now a merchandiser for Chloe + Isabel – a fantastic company that empowers women to run their own businesses. I love that the jewelry is high quality at low prices, plus all pieces come with a lifetime guarantee! Right now, we are having a sale on all necklaces and bracelets – 25% off until Halloween – the links will take you directly to my online boutique.

To benefit Breast Cancer Awareness Month, special charity charm necklaces are available and 20% of proceeds are donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. In addition to benefiting a good cause, these sweet necklaces come with different stamped charms, great for yourself or a gift for someone who may need Love, Peace, Faith, to Believe, be Brave, or just to Dream. They are only $33 with the current special!

I encourage you to look through your jewelry collection (if you have one!) and ask yourself: What special meaning, if any, does each piece have for you? Donate or sell any pieces that you don’t feel a connection to. Or have a jewelry swap party with your friends! I love having a pared down selection of the most special pieces that bring me joy, and when I gave away the ones I no longer felt a connection to, I was able to give someone else joy and their own meaning to cherish.

One of my earliest memories is pilfering through my Grandma Wood’s collection of costume jewelry. I adored trying on her fun and sparkly baubles, some fashionable and most antique. I have a ring from her that I was able to pick out after she died and every time I wear it I absolutely feel her energy through it. It has the most calming pink mixed with almost purple swirls on a simple yet elegant stone, nothing flashy, but beautifully unique.

My favorite necklace is also one of hers. It is a shiny antique gold with stunning purple amethyst stones and gold chains hanging down that curve up just above my navel. It makes me happy when I wear it – it’s so distinctly 70s and I try to picture where she would have worn it to. It makes it that much more special to me that it belonged to her. I even have some lovely jewelry that was my Grandmother Marston’s, a perfect reflection of her simple aesthetic in contrast with Grandma Wood’s sparkles.

Sometimes I worry that the joy jewelry brings me is superficial and hollow. My heart was definitely not in it when pain, suffering, death and sadness was at the forefront these last few months. Finding joy in wearing Marian’s jewelry has rekindled what is to me, at my core, a way I can still feel a connection with someone after they’re gone. I also believe that it’s okay if I love shiny, sparkly things!

Marian

Marian Owens Heom was my mother-in-law. She died September 1, 2016, after battling breast cancer for more than nine years. There are so many positive stories and memories shared of her by those who knew her as “Smarian”, a nickname she had been given by her father after she refused to change out of the coat she was wearing for a heavier coat more suited for the cold winter night in New York City. According to her siblings, Henry and Susan, the nickname started as Stubborn Ass, then progressed to Stinky Marian, and finally Smarian, or Smar.

In her obituary, we wrote about her being a Brown graduate, one of the first women to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1975. She met her husband, Jim, in Boston where they worked, and in 1986 they moved back to New Jersey with their two kids, Diana & Andy to be closer to their families.

Marian continued to work as a software engineer, eventually advancing to a position in management, all while adjusting her schedule so she could be home with the kids after school as much as possible. She was an integral member of Temple Har Shalom for 30 years, singing in the choir, teaching Hebrew to young students, and volunteering for a stint as Treasurer.

She loved playing Mahjong, casino trips with her friends, and baseball. She was the kind of person people gravitated toward. She was passionate about politics and would have many intense discussions as a staunch Democrat amidst many fiscal Republicans in her affluent community. One of Diana’s earliest memories is from the presidential election in 1988, where Marian took seven-year-old Di to the polling booth to learn about the importance of voting. She instructed her daughter, “You must always vote Democrat”.

I first met her in 2009, after Diana and I had been dating for six months. She called me a peepee maker because I went to the restroom twice during our meal. I immediately loved her and we became close over the years, going on family trips she always planned to spend more quality time with her kids. She always said, “Quality over quantity”, but I know she wished her kids didn’t live so far away.

She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, electing to have a lumpectomy and chemotherapy at the recommendation of her doctors. She ended up in remission for a number of years, until it came back and never went away. She endured multiple surgeries, chemo, radiation, and the myriad side effects that come with it. She was eventually put on an experimental treatment that worked for almost a year until it just didn’t. The cancer slowly over nine years built up a resistance, then chipped away at her healthy cells, growing and spreading despite Marian’s strong spirit.

She was able to enjoy many moments over those nine years, and I am grateful for that. I think she was as well, especially because she was able to be there at her daughter’s wedding. She was as radiant and full of joy as Diana and I were, and she was thrilled to have so many people who loved her there to witness such a special and happy event.

She advised me to give myself a break. “You’re too hard on yourself, Katie!” she said to me when I asked for her advice on why it was difficult for me to do certain things that seemed to be easier for other people. It was like a weight was lifted off my chest. Getting permission to relax and stop beating myself up from someone I respected and admired and wanted to think the best of me was just what I needed to feel a bit better and thus more able to push through my insecurities.

Watching her deteriorate over her last months, and finally last days, was excruciating. A few days before she died, in one of her clearer moments, she asked for me to come say goodnight. I leaned in close to kiss her and to hear her voice that had become weakened from the tumors in her lungs, and the morphine that made it easier for her to breathe. “I’m sorry I won’t be there,” she said. I told her, “You will always be here with us.”

I miss her deeply, and there is a huge gaping hole left behind in her absence. I believe she is with us, though, and that brings me comfort. I am beyond grateful to have had her in my life, even if it was too short. I will love you always, Marian Smarian. img_1682

 

Star Bright

This is a bit long, but I wanted to share and it seemed fitting after my previous post about Sara. I wrote this short story based on what I imagined her inner life may have been like.

Star Bright

The day I was born, I wasn’t expected to live through the night. When I was four, I was not able to speak, so I laughed and giggled. When I was eight, I could not walk, so I swam. At 16, I lost the ability to breathe on my own, so I was given a machine to do it for me. I lived in this world until I was 24, and that’s when I learned how to fly.

My mom nicknamed me Star because she wanted me to always remember that I was special. Every night when she put me to bed, she would sing:

Star light, star bright,

Sara is the first star I see tonight.

I wish I may, I wish I might,

Have the wish I wish tonight.

My wish was always the same. I wished I could fly.

I always had an active imagination. One summer I was a mermaid queen in command of an entire city of merpeople. My strong tail fin could get me from one end of my underworld kingdom to another in minutes. I knew all of my subjects by name and where they lived. They would bring me bouquets of seaweed and coral and ask me to tell them stories about what was beyond the kingdom. I would thrill them with tales of pirate’s ships and lost treasure and remind them that they were always safe in the kingdom with me.

In the mornings I would wake up before everyone else in the house and have conversations with the birds outside my window. They would tell me about flying, and how freeing it was to be able to soar over the trees and twirl and dance in the air with the wind rushing through their feathers. To my dismay, they would fly south in the winter. My mom never understood why she would find me crying when she came to help me get ready for the day. I missed my friends. They were the only ones who truly understood me. I didn’t need to have the ability to talk to them with words. I understood their songs and they comforted me, telling me that one-day I would also be free and able to soar through the heavens.

I knew my mom was sad because I would have to leave her someday and I wished I could tell her I would be all right. My birds would take care of me. They would teach me to fly and show me the way. Since I couldn’t tell her, I tried to smile as big and bright as possible so she would know. She asked me if I was happy and I nodded emphatically. It was only a little bit of a lie.

I had some other friends, too. Real friends who would make silly faces they knew would make me laugh the hardest. Some of them were family and some of them took care of me when my mom needed help. We would watch my favorite TV shows and movies together. I loved comedy of course, but I also liked to be scared sometimes. They would paint my face and nails so I could feel pretty, even though I couldn’t do it myself. When they showed me what I looked like, I would laugh some more. They always ended up making me look more like a clown, but that was okay.

On good days, I could go to school and see my other friends who were more like me. No one was exactly like me, and most of them could do more than me, but that was also okay. I enjoyed watching them play and sing songs. My teachers were always very kind and tried to make sure that I was participating somehow. I could blow bubbles if they put the wand with magic soap in front of my mouth. I loved to see them bounce and pop with the see-through shimmer that sometimes had rainbows inside.

On bad days, I was in a lot of pain and everything hurt. My mom could tell that I wasn’t feeling well, so she would rub my feet and put a warm blanket over me, play my favorite movie and let me cry.

Summers were when I truly felt some happiness. We would all go to our cottage on the lake, and my dad and brothers would take me out into the cool, crisp water where I could actually float. That’s when I pretended to be a mermaid queen and they were my subjects. They would spin me around in an arc through the water and I loved the feeling of weightlessness as I slipped through their arms. The sun warmed my face and I wanted to stay there forever. As soon as I was back on land it was just like before and my arms and legs were useless, unlike my strong fins.

I was at a camp for kids like me when I got really sick and had to go to the hospital because I couldn’t breathe. They put a tube down my throat that helped. I didn’t like how it felt and I wished I could pull it out, but even if I could I knew they wouldn’t let me. I remember my mom’s face when she ran into my room at the hospital. She looked so scared. I wanted to comfort her so I smiled around the tube to let her know that I was okay.

Later they moved the tube by putting it into a hole they made in my neck, a place called my trachea. My mom had to learn how to clean it. Sometimes it would get filled with a thick fluid and made me feel like I was drowning until she suctioned it out with a long thin tube that made a loud slurping noise. I couldn’t eat without choking so they put in another tube coming out of my stomach. It felt funny, and it was strange to see my food, which looked like a tan colored milk, flow down from a bag hung overhead.

The machine that helped me breathe made a loud whooshing sound every time it put air into my lungs. At first, it made it hard for me to sleep, but I got used to it and it even felt comforting, knowing that it kept me alive. I started to wonder, though, if I still wanted to be anymore.

After they put in the tube coming out of my stomach, they also made a hole where my guts were and my poop came out of it into a bag my mom had to empty every time it filled up. It was stinky and gross and I didn’t like it, but there was nothing I could do about it.

My mom needed more help to take care of me now, so I ended up with more friends who came to see me almost every day. I was so happy to see them, especially because I knew my mom could go shopping and get out of the house if she wanted to without worrying about me.

The years kept passing by. I could no longer go swimming at the lake so I cried a lot more and time seemed to move much more slowly. I could still go places sometimes, but it would tire my mom and I out so we didn’t do it very often. Only on very special occasions, like Christmas. Christmas was my favorite holiday. My mom would bake cookies and sing carols while she decorated the tree. She would tickle my nose with shiny silver tinsel and I would laugh and giggle, so happy to see her happy.

If there was not too much snow, they would load me up in the van with the machine that helped me breathe and we would go to my aunt’s house and open presents. All my cousins would be there and I loved to watch them open their gifts and squeal with delight. Usually, people gave me movies that I could watch later, but watching my family on this special day was the best movie ever.

For my 21st birthday, my aunts surprised me with a party and my friends and family were all there. I even got to have a small sip of champagne that tickled my nose and it felt like there were tiny bubbles bouncing on my tongue. I got a lollypop, too, and I loved the sweet taste and the way it turned my tongue blue. There were lots of balloons and music and everybody danced, swinging my arms for me so that I could pretend I was dancing with them.

When everybody left, I was tired and sad. It had been a great day and I was glad everyone had a good time, but I still wanted to feel what it was like not to be trapped in my body. I overheard the doctors tell my mom years ago that I would never live to be 17, much less 21. I knew my mom was happy to have me here with her, and that made me feel better.

I had done many amazing things in my life I would never have been able to without my mom. She did everything she could to try to give me a fulfilling life and I was grateful. I wished I could tell her with words, and not being able to just made me cry even more.

One day, when the first snowflakes started to pepper my window with crystals, I saw a flash of red. A cardinal’s scarlet wings mesmerized me and I asked if he had come to teach me how to fly. He nodded and tapped at the window toward my breathing machine. I knew then what I had to do.

I waited until it was the middle of the night when my mom and dad were sleeping. There was an alarm on my machine that would wake them up if there was a problem, but I hoped maybe they wouldn’t hear it right away. Sometimes if I tried really hard I could hold my breathe like I was underwater and the tube would pop out of my trachea. This night I knew the birds must have helped me because it worked on the first try and the machine didn’t go off right away just like I had hoped for.

It was scary at first when I started to feel like I was drowning again. I couldn’t get air into my lungs and it burned. For a brief moment, I wondered if I had made a terrible mistake. What would my mom do without me? How could I do this to her when she had taken care of me all these years?

I heard her voice even though I couldn’t see her and she was singing…

Star light, star bright,

Sara is the first star I see tonight.

I wish I may, I wish I might,

Have the wish I wish tonight.

I wished to be flying with my birds and suddenly I was. I could see my bedroom and then my house getting smaller and smaller as I moved quickly up and up.

I was free. I finally got my wish and it was wonderful.