Transcendence on the loose!

Honestly, I started to get sick of the linguistic moans of my own tortured soul.  A year of blogs strewn with grief and “second world problems”. (Is there such a thing as second world?  I don’t feel like I’m part of the first world, over here in the medieval farmlands of Italia, with hot water heated by the wood stove during winter and a twenty-year-old, patchwork Fiat… But our toilets DO flush… so it can’t be the third world…)

 

I feared I was a broken record, bemoaning all my woes in electric pink typeface, as tears streamed down my thirty-nine year old cheeks.  But soft beams of light are now bleeding from the not-too-distant end of my dark-assed tunnel, and they whisper promise of being gloriously blinding one day.  

 

When I first landed in Italy, my friend Miriam (who has lived in this intense region herself) said I had found “my people”.  Inside I thought, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME???” These intense loudmouths, who prefer shouting over each other to good old fashioned sharing and listening… But a year and a baby in, I wonder if she might be right.  Maybe I am a loudmouth lunatic at heart. Haha.

 

My Italian still has a long way to go, but I can understand enough to get the jist of 69% of conversations…  And I’m starting to feel damn fond of the passionate, giving hearts of these people. I can’t even get through a trip to the grocery store without being barraged by heart-full glances, words and acts of service (Yesterday and old couple gave me front-cuts and then paid for my water and cashews before I even knew what was happening!).  I can show up at anybody’s house at any time and be received with fervent hospitality and enthusiasm: snacks, tea, toys for Serena, casual conversation and smooches on both cheeks. 

 

In California, I usually radiated an aura of friendliness that reflected back on me in most settings… but still… there is a very unique and delicious collective signature over here.  America still reeks of that deep-seated, Declaration of Independence, “each man for himself” vibe. Get ahead, muther fuckers. But Italy is full of die-hard, family oriented children of the earth.  Often, I’m the only one under seventy at the spring where I collect water. Cars parked on the side of the road, “their people” foraging blackberries, wild asparagus and soon, my favorite– CHESTNUTS!!

 

Yesterday evening, me and my cute little family went to a celtic harp concert at the Saraswati House- a renowned school of Indian music, nestled deep in the green, furry hills above our home.  Giordano’s dad has studied and taught there since the stone age or something. He is a master of bansuri flute. Celtic harp isn’t exactly “Indian”… but somehow this exquisitely talented earth angel made her way onto the roster.  

 

I have a serious “thing” for harp music.  Always have. Maybe it evokes visceral memories of Where I Come From.  

 

I stopped chasing transcendence at least a decade ago… because I only exhausted myself in the fruitless pursuit of the elusive I AM that I AM.  No matter what I did and didn’t do, I never could touch or taste this elusive “IT”. Since then, I’ve had a few unsuspecting brushes with this hallowed magic carpet of timeless contentment, whence I am swept into the palatial Presence of The Infinite.  

 

Last night was one such stroke of auspiciousness: Nestled on a mattress against the wall of a hippy-ish room- the floor covered in oriental rugs and cushions facing a low stage. Profoundly imperfect and devoted husband to my left, wriggling but silent almost-four-year-old soulmate daughter to my right, fresh, eternity-drenched baby boy in my lap.  Transfixed by quick agile fingers plucking evocative, golden melodies out of thin air. I was hypnotized by the unbroken motion of a marvelous tree who offered up her lusciously green leaves to the wildness of the wind through a rectangle of window within my view. Tears stung my shy eyes as the complex strings of my very own heart were masterfully struck.  The fantasy-stained revelation of every moment already lived, yet to be met… washed out in the understated perfection of this eternal, fleeting NOW.  

 

As I recount this precious, revelatory scene, I wonder what of THIS “eternal, fleeting NOW”?  Is it less transcendent and special? Am I less content and realized? Nah… This is a damn delicious slice of hallowed Existence too.  Dangerously groovy beats streaming into my ears, Forest a-slumber in his carseat at my feet, clinking plates and muted conversations casting a backdrop of ambiance as I dive deep into Athena Graceland and offer relics of my consciousness in the name of Creation, Revelation,  self-pleasure, cosmic posterity… The poetry of Existence as sung by this awe-struck, God-drunk One.

 

But what about the “yucky” moments that arise?  I’m getting better at savoring them. Last night after the concert, Giordano and I found ourselves in one of our blessedly frequent squabbles.  They are mostly so stupid that I quickly forget their content… they are usually to the tune of me feeling unheard, unseen, criticized, insulted, telling him as much and being met with a revolving door of attack and defense.  We are two people from distant galaxies living under one roof. We collide and clash and throw off dangerous sparks as easy as we breathe. I was doing the dishes and spitting fire. A light came on inside as it occurred to me that I could savor this flavor of relating-  the ridiculous, riveting play of me-and-him-ness. As the sleeping victim inside me awoke and undressed, I became slippery with sass, inebriated by the epiphanic rush that none of it REALLY mattered. Two bruised up children, gleefully hurling mud pies at one another, while their ever-wakeful souls spill with mirth.  And maaaaaaybe, just maybe…. I even LOVE him…

 

This past year I scratched lines into the walls of my cell, meticulously counting the days of my stay in hell, dreamt of my impending escape, struggled not to drown in the goopy swamp of self-hatred, wondered how in fuck’s ugly name this could possibly be my “Highest Destiny Manifest”, God’s Omniscient Wisdom and Love in Action…. 

 

But from my autumnal perch in “Dolce Peccato” cafe, in this happening fondly known as “Today”, it seems like what’s on the other side of all the suffering is True Freedom.  (Probably what is on the other side of all suffering…) Like a slow-flashing strobe light, I keep having glimpses of this delicious state of consciousness. I breathe deep and flood with the gentle ecstasy of self love.  

 

Forest is a miracle worker.  He has bathed our family in healing light.  Day by mundane day, I am rising (as opposed to “falling”) in love with my imperfect little life.  Shedding layers of incongruent “supposed to”s. Last winter, a woman I hold in The Highest suggested that “loving what I have” might be The Path.  This seemed like crossing an impossible ravine. No conceptualizing my way across…`

 

But my poetically persuaded homeboy Hafiz called it, way back in the fourteenth century when he said, 

“This sky where we live

Is no place to lose your wings

So love, love, love.” 

 

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A bridge between hearts

On the outside, summer has melted into the cool breath of autumn.  The gods have ostentatiously announced this turn by hurling copious lightning bolts and savage booms of thunder upon the green heart of Italy, as Umbria is fondly known.  Deluges of rain drench the earth with abandon.  This transforms the suffocatingly humid air to cool, sweet delicacy.  The trees are still green.  (I am dreading their impending shedding and nakedness…)  The days are no longer unbearably hot.  Just warm and friendly.  But winter winks and whispers from not too far off.

 

On the inside though, my hellish walkabout through emotional, spiritual winter is showing signs of thawing.

 

Forest’s arrival was NOT a graceful transition.  Preparing for birth gets so much hype… but often, the postpartum period gets left to the wolves.  This is mostly how it was for me.  I made a few feeble cries for help… and received a bit of blessed support around the ragged, jagged edges… Mostly in the form of a meal here, and a meal there… But my primary experience as a sudden mother of two with a thrashed and bleeding vagina, and a ripped open heart, was a desolate one.  I do NOT recommend this experience.  If you are pregnant, or intending to become pregnant…. ASK FOR HELP.  Demand help.  Feel wildly worthy of help.  Saturate yourself in support, postpartum.

 

I could get lost in the gory details of my searing postpartum experience, but that’s not what my heart longs to share.  I survived.  My body is resilient and strong.  Now Forest is one and a half months earthside.  And spring is breathing light and warmth upon the barren scapes of my heart and soul.

 

Don’t get me wrong… Life is demanding, and my body tense from holding and nursing a baby all day, while perpetually juggling the needs, demands and whims of an almost four year old and maintaining the impossible tidiness of a not-so-small house…

 

During my pregnancy, Giordano often expressed a hope that Forest would bring us all closer and balance the dynamics of our family.  Though deep down I shared this wish with him, I still mostly cringed when he spoke it… because it seemed like way too much responsibility to load onto a nine pound human with a soft, open skull.  (He’s twelve pounds by now…)  From my vantage point in this moment, it appears that Forest’s mighty soul IS actually capable of this superhuman feat.

 

It always comes back to the timeless chicken and egg quandary… Does the inside give rise to the outer?… Or…???  But as I grope about in these invisible realms, my intuition says that what we perceive as “inner” and “outer” are but one sentient, infinite ISness.

 

I always have a figurative finger on the pulse of The Collective.  Recently, I felt an intangible shift that was beyond me and my own paltry circumstances. AND at the same time, my said paltry circumstances began to shift…

 

Witnessing the depth of love and care that Giordano has for his son made it increasingly difficult to abide in my cherished, long-standing fantasy of fleeing with my children to the familiar and now legendary land of California The Beautiful.  I still mostly did not like my husband… but this distaste began to pale in the bright luminosity of his paternal love.

 

I challenged myself to practice approving of him… even in the face of my glaring distaste for his ways.  I really CAN be a critical bitch.  Honestly, I’d hate to be on the receiving end of my curdled criticism.  Simultaneously, Giordano became less aggressive.  He began to apologize faster and touch (and actually FEEL) me more.  You could argue that this was a function of my behavioral shift… but my sense is that there was a larger energetic gale at play.

 

Theories and hypotheses aside… more lightness is dawning upon our home and family.  I still don’t luxuriate in the company of my husband… but nor do I drown in distaste and pain, as I oft did before.  Forest is a bridge between our hearts and minds, where before it was mostly impossible to pass.  With this exotic flavor of newfound affinity, anything is possible for us…

 

Concurrent with my nuptial blossoming, I experienced a delicious, pivotal moment in my relationship with Italy.  I was at the grocery store with my kids…

 

Italian people are wild about pregnant women, and even wilder about babies.  Everywhere I turn, I am serenaded by a chorus of impassioned exclamation, “AMORE!”.  Women, and even a few men, lust for a peek at the angelic face of my slumbering baby snuggled against my bosom in his wrap.

 

So there we were, civilizedly foraging for food at the aesthetically mediocre Coop, which is nestled in the archaic heart of Gualdo Tadino, being fawned over by the masses.  An almost young, blue-eyed man offered me front cuts in the intimidatingly long checkout line.  But there was another couple between me and him.  Flustered, I looked to them for a read on the situation.  I was shocked when they both smiled and waved me in front of them, as though it was sheerly autonomic.  A red carpet sprawled open beneath my astonished feet.

 

I attempted and mostly failed to share a friendly conversation with the kind man who instigated the front cuts, but despite the lack of intellectual understanding, my heart and the entire mOMent overflowed with warmth.

 

Pushing the shopping cart into the warm, sunny morning, I had the warm, fuzzy thought, “I like it here in Italy.”  Followed by the stunned realization that I had never had that thought before.  I fondled and reflected upon this new awareness for a bit… and concluded that it was probably a fleeting fluke.  After all, my emotional waves tend to be drastic and dramatic and watery.

 

To my surprise, the feeling has lasted.  I realize that I have adjusted to life over here.  For the first year, I was painfully aware of what was missing.  Foods, friends, family, comfy swings that cradle your butt at the playground, the ability to have a damn conversation….

 

But I’m starting to develop a taste for pizza… I make my own peanut butter.  I found pickles that don’t totally blow.  I brew my own water kefir.  The list goes on… but the moral of the story is that I am synching up with my new environment and life.  I am not devastated by the often silence between Giordano and I when we drive places together.  Sure, in my ideal world it would be swell to love to talk with my husband… but silence is kinda okay too… He DOES put his hand on my leg mostly always…

 

I love our land, abounding with fruits and foragables… I love how safe I feel here.  Serena can wander about freely.  (Not that she does, mostly.  She tends to cling.)  I am able to understand quite a bit of Italian, even if my speaking is butt-ass remedial…

 

Reflecting on my suffering, my dear friend Dara invited me to reflect on my original Desire/intention for coming to Italy.  I had to dig a bit to get back there… but it was FAMILY.  I ached for family.  And now I have it.  Gloriously imperfect, as Life mostly is… but nutritious and beautiful too… if I’m open to it.

 

Given the incessant imperfection of life in/as duality, may I embrace the grace that is always here.  What a shame it would be to awaken to this ever-flawed goodness as I am blinking out of this existence.

 

The almost free birth of Forest (part 3)

How in Fuck’s holy name would I survive a twenty minute car ride???

 

Giordano may not have “lost it”… but nor did he have it together…. He asked me if Forest was moving anymore… I reflected on this, and then realized, no, he hasn’t moved for a while.  Still riding the swelling wave of fear that “going to the hospital had catalyzed, now I was paranoid that my baby was in distress.

 

I waddled into the hallway.  I braced myself on the small white desk that abides there (for lack of a better home).  Another vicious contraction and furious push.  Another.  And another.  OMFG.  Rapid fire.  “Good position or NOT, this baby was on his way out.  I took my police pants off again and somehow made it to the living room.

 

I climbed into the ugliest brown armchair you’ve ever seen (I’d been wanting to excommunicate it from our house since the moment it found its way in), braced myself with hands on the wall.  Gave a few more colossal pushes.   COLOSSAL.  I had no other choice.

 

THE RING OF FIRE.

 

The women on video chat had instructed me to “hang out here” for a bit… rather than pushing straight through it… so as not to tear.  Stretch open slowwwwly.

 

I had not met the ring of fire while birthing Serena.  Up until this moment, it was but a dramatic and terrible title.  Well… for those of you who, like me, haven’t a lucid intimacy with this fearsome BEAST…  It truly lives up to its name.  Irreconcilable BURN.  Like a dragon breathing fire on your genitals, burning them to oblivion.

 

I “hung out there” (haha, there was nothing casual or relaxed, as “hanging out” implies…) for maybe two contractions.  Three at most.  And then BAM!  Out popped…. SOMEthing.

 

Giordano was standing behind me, pouring with intensity and panic.

 

He announced it was Forest’s head.  He said Forest looked dead.  Like a damn fool (or maybe just a vulnerable, birthing woman in an altered state), I believed my doom and gloom husband!  Desperate to get his whole body out ASAFP, I pushed again.  And again.  The second time, part of his body slid out.  Third push, VOILA!!  Giordano and I clumsily caught him together.  Blood guuuussssshed out of me, drenching the ugliest chair in the world.  (A dried up, crimson splash still remains on the wall next to the radiator!  I want it to remain forever.)

 

The umbilical cord was wrapped around Forest’s neck one loose time.  I untwisted it.  (I want to “normalize” this occurrence.  Hospital culture would have you believe this is an “emergency situation”.  Rarely.  Many babies get benignly tangled in their cords.  I discovered this on the freebirth podcast, so I was not alarmed in the least.)

 

I held my jumbo, blood-bathed son!  He gasped for breath.  He sputtered, still full of amniotic fluid.  I sucked his nose and mouth.  This didn’t seem to help.  He cried.  (Giordano says he cried immediately… but as I had just pushed a nine pound human through my vagina, my chronology is not quite as crisp.)  Little Forest looked like a “fish out of water”… Alienated by this lickety-split miracle of moving from  spirit to form.  Breath, body, blood, otherness…  Ugh.  (We all must be NUTS to come here and subject our Selves to all this hoopla!)

 

I asked Giordano to hand me a towel.  Of course it was white! Speaking of white, my white tank top was now mostly RED.  The towel too.  I cradled my slimy baby in the rough, line-dried towel.   He was alive!  After he cried for a minute, he quieted and looked around.

 

Watching my newborn son register his arrival on planet earth was perhaps the most incredible moment of my entire life.  (With Serena, the nurse wiped her off with objectionable wet wipes from a package, which caused her to scream her head off for a few solid minutes before passing out on my chest.)  Forest was calm and wide awake.  His open gaze slowed time and silenced mind.  He abided in this sober, wakeful presence for at least an hour.

 

Meanwhile, I cradled him and waddled around the house in a wide-eyed stupor, his umbilical cord still plugged into the depths of my womb.  Blood gratuitously spilled from between my legs, leaving an artistically rendered trail of my haphazard course.

 

Giordano had called his Mama back in the “we are going to the hospital” chapter, asking her to accompany us.  (Apparently the Italian stereotype about men being super attached to their mamas is no joke.  I tease him that she is his first wife.)  Within minutes of Forest’s arrival, in came “Nona”.  This was a plot twist, but it felt right.  Forest called in Family.

 

Hubby-Dearest and his Mama tag-teamed with the mop, cleaning up endless puddles, streams, rivers, dribbles of blood.  (One “pro” of birthing in the hospital, is that the family can just chill and swoon while the “hired help” does the dirty work.  And trust me, it was a lot of dirty work…)  I remember standing at the bathroom sink, cradling Forest, and marveling at my two smeared, bloody footprints.

 

Blood continued to flow like wine rivers after I found my way to bed.  We had been so good about covering the bed with a shower curtain and a janky old duvet cover… I forgot to account for the messy aftermath.  Our *one* pair of summer sheets now shall sing the story of Forest’s birth forever more.

 

Oh.  And Forest’s HEAD.  Whoa, people.  When he first came out, he looked like an asymetrical UNICORN.  His head went on a magical mystery tour to pass through my vag.  Good gracious.  I think I texted or called Karen back and asked her if this was “normal”.  To my profound relief, she affirmed normalcy, and reassured me that it would quickly reshape.  It did.  But Lordy, I wish I had snapped a photo.  It was remarkable.  (I wish I had photos and video of the whole birth…. But there was no one I wanted to invite into my sacred space to play the roll of photographer.  This is a minor tragedy.)  I took a selfie when I got into bed.  Then I asked G to snap a couple more.  The rest must live in the mythic distortion of my and Giordano’s memory.

 

When got back in bed, my body shook violently.  This continued for at least half an hour.  Completely involuntary.

 

I offered Forest my breast and waited for the urge to birth the placenta.  Nearly two hours later, I was still waiting.  I consulted Karen, and she told me to get the thing OUT… so I lightly tugged on the cord, as I pushed.  My placenta was not so jazzed to part ways with my womb, but finally blubbered out into  the plastic, orange bowl.  What a fucking relief.  Now Forest was not attached to the inside of my body any longer, but to a bowl hosting a blob of bloody meat.

 

Next on the thrilling itinerary, Giordano and I burned the umbilical cord.  (This coterizes it, so a clamp is unnecessary.  I also preferred this means of release, for its ceremonial and elemental aspects).  I wanted  to give Forest plenty of time to reabsorb all the goodness the placenta had to offer… and yet, after two and a half hours, I was done with the large-scale production of cords and bowls and bloody organs.

 

The cord burning was the quintessential scene for a movie… though living through it was traumatizing.  Giordano, who by this time was crabby and way less than generous, was holding the candle.  I held the baby and the cord?  G kept scolding me for holding the cord too close to the flame.  He had the patience of a piranha.  Thanks dude.  I guess he forgot that I had just pushed a human out of my vagina, and was still in the process of losing gallons of blood.  I kept asking him to be nice.  But apparently he didn’t have access to this particular virtue at this particular moment.  It probably took eleven minutes.  The longest eleven minutes of my life….

 

Our bedroom now smelled like a barbecue.  The three inches of remaining cord protruded from Forest’s little belly like a white worm. I ate a ripe banana and went to sleep.  It was a little after 4am.

 

The nearly free birth of Forest (part 2)

The facet of freebirthing that was most compelling to me was not being “checked” to see how dilated I was, or being told when to push, or any other externalized reference points along the Journey of Laboring.  Instead, the birthing woman is totally undisturbed and able to experience from the INside-out.  (I’m imagining that some readers will find this perspective audacious.  Like “WHAT??? YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY KNOW HOW TO GIVE BIRTH WITHOUT A TRAINED PROFESSIONAL TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO AND WHEN.”)

Well guess what?  You CAN.

Except here’s where I lost connection with my inner authority:

Expectations…. I imagined that the second baby would be easier.  It was taking waaaay too long.  I was in waaaaaaay too much pain.  When would I feel the fucking urge to PUSH???

Night had swallowed day, candles danced wiggly, golden light about the dim ambiance of my pink bedroom.  I finally felt a mild urge to push.  I guess I texted my doula friend Karen in California… and asked her…. something.  She video called me on fb messenger.  As Grace would have it, she was about to give a chiropractic adjustment to three mamas (two of which I had known for over a decade).  Suddenly I was being supported by FOUR women from across the world.

Mostly this was soothing and helpful.  But in retrospect, the call lingered beyond its expiration date.  I lost touch with the inner authority that had been the coveted treasure of my freebirthing quest.  I was lost in the wilderness of pain… Vulnerable and reaching outside for salvation.

The call sprawled on for over an hour.  Contractions.  Pushing.  Lioness roars.

I asked Karen if breaking my own bag of waters (which was still intact) would accelarate the process (I had heard this in other birth stories…) She said go for it. When I reached inside, I could feel the bulging bag… At first I was tentative about breaking it with my nails. But after three or four tries, it burst. Gusssssssh….

Nothing changed, save the manky bedspread, which was now cold and wet.

I felt inside to see if Forest’s head was at the door yet. I felt SOMEthing…. But it was not very “head-ish”… It felt like two squishy peaks, with a valley in between. WHAAAAAT??? Not a foot. Not a head. Too small for a butt…. Was there REALLY a normal baby-shaped person inside me??? Or just some random, alien scraps, all smashed together….

When my waters broke, Karen said “He’ll be out in two pushes.”

My inner authority flew out the window and I placed the weight of my salvation in this statement. Time bled on…. My concern mounted as my endurance dwindled.

Now, please allow me to pause and comment.

My writing style is especially feminine. Rooted in and informed by feeeeeling. Decorated with poetic metaphors. Striking, abstract imagery. Frivolous, philosophical meanderings. Bursts of unapologetic raw-ness…

And then there is Athena Grace writing about BIRTH.  Exponentially feminine. I notice a voice inside who is critical of my “failure” to walk a straight line of “chronology”. Well, I am going to grab my ovaries and overtly affirm– FUCK THAT SHIT. I am a WOMAN.  I have a woman’s (heartful) mind, and I am sharing my Woman’s Voice. I never really identified as a “feminist”… because I’m not into raging against the machine. But it turns out that at heart, I AM. The world held hostage by our severely crippled systems NEEDS women’s’ voices to resound boldly through the Collective, heal the heart of ALL, and purify the waters.

This story is a wild, bucking spiral montage of images, mOMents, feelings… and of course a juicy climax (or three). By the Power Vested in Me, I declare that this is RIGHT and BEAUTIFUL and perfectly natural. Not to negate straight lines. I reserve the right to ride those tamed beasts as I please.

At the start of this account I forgot to mention that as during my labor with Serena, it was increasingly impossible to pee. I was hoping this condition would not recur with Forest. Frown.  I had to squat or sit on the toilet for a million years of discomfort before a pathetic trickle would dribble out. Not being able to release deterred me from drinking too much. I was hot and sweaty. I needed fluid. I drank sips and tangoed with the terror of bursting my bladder.

I also forgot to mention an essential, terrible (and retrospectively comical) thing about Giordano’s role during my labor. If I had a nickel for every time the man asked me “WHY”…. I’d be one rich bitch.  MEN— Listen. When a laboring woman makes a request, DO NOT ask her WHY.  Fucking never. Each time he did, I told him this. But obviously, it didn’t go IN. Because his WHYs fired off like a machine gun, driving holes in my peace and sanity.  WOMEN— if your man asks you WHY while you are laboring, send him to me and I will personally rip his over-active head off. And for anyone who finds themself asking “WHY not ask WHY?…”

I’ll tell you.

BECAUSE. It engages a part of the brain that should NOT be active while a woman is in such an intense, intuitive, altered state.

And NOW, back to our riveting story.

I didn’t feel that I was progressing. (I WAS… but not in an outwardly measurable way, like I WANTED to be…)  Karen said if Forest wasn’t out in another half an hour, I “should” go to the hospital.  Eeeeeeeeeek. This would be a major MESS. It was after eleven pm. Would they cut me open? Give me a hodge-podge of horrific interventions? Give my baby antibiotics and injections? Burn me at the stake for birthing outside The System? There was nothing bright about this proposed path.

Except the survival of my child and myself.

Giordano became anxious. Ugh. Just what I needed. He did NOT want to go to the hospital…. Which was actually a surprise to me. I thought he would be the first to subscribe to conventional protocols.  But at this point, he was scared of all the same shit as me. Only more so… because dude tends to expect the worst. But actually, I was impressed by his ability to stay grounded and “calm-ish”… given where the current was carrying us.  In the end, he didn’t lose it.

Through brutal contractions and involuntary baring down, I made a phone call to Manuela, who was holding energetic space for us… and told her that I thought we should go to the hospital. She said “Be wise.”

I forgot this part, but apparently I had also texted Benedetta– “HELP”, at some point.  (She reminded me of this a few days ago, and I had a good laugh about it.) She said she awoke to my text and freaked out. She had become a contact point for a slew of people who were eager to be updated about our progress and wellbeing. She said she called me. I vaguely recall trying to speak to her through excruciating contractions and pushing. Haha. It sure is funny now!

Then I pulled on my beloved, well-worn Berkeley Police sweatpants and a WHITE TANK TOP (what was I thinking???) and attempted to walk. I had to stop every couple steps and breathe and puuuuush.

I HAD TO.

How in Fuck’s holy name would I survive a twenty minute car ride???

 

The nearly free birth of Forest (Part 1)

Forest

The second one is sposta pop out like a ping pong ball… right?

 

That’s what I thought….

 

I was wrong.

 

It took about the same amount of time laboring to get Forest out, as Serena.  Twelve hours.  But this time, I did it at home.  Alone.

 

Well… alone with Giordano.  Was this intentional?  Yes and no.  I wanted to have a woman/women with me… who would just sit quietly in the corner and hold a streaming vigil of prayer and presence.  But apparently God did NOT want this… since both of the women I asked to be with me were cosmically thwarted from attending.

 

“Free Birth” is the term for birthing without a slew of “trained professionals” getting all up in a birthing mama’s grill.  I was intrigued by this idea while pregnant with Serena… but not nearly courageous enough to trust my deepest inner knowing in the boundlessly deep waters of the feminine mystery that is birth.  So I deferred my inner authority, and opted for the hospital route with her.  Which was perfect.  (Marin General is the creme de la creme of hospitals that truly support natural birth.)

 

But this time, I was familiar with the territory. (As familiar as one can be with the cryptic wilderness of the Divine Feminine! Ha!)  Well, lofty philosophy aside, it’s what I FELT TO DO.  So I spent the months of my maternity gathering information and validation, mostly via birth stories told on the “Free Birth Podcast”, and by the time my tiny man was ready to emerge, I felt ready, and even enthusiastic, to do The Thing!

 

Everyone knows that expectations are the devil.  Of course I tried not to have any.  But this was impossible.  I imagined that as with Serena, I would go into labor on my due date, July 14th.   Or at LEAST by the full moon (lunar eclipse), July 16th.  Nope.  Besides the painful fights with Giordano, those days passed without much fanfare. Only a few egoic efforts to get my labor juices “aflow”… long walks, sex, orgasm… the basics.  But as it turns out, all “magic feathers” and lore aside, birth has its own cosmically informed intelligence, which I boldly hypothesize has NOTHING to do with the overlay of “wizardry” many of us get off on professing.

 

For about five nights straight, I went to bed fondling the precious hope that I would awaken in the night to contractions, as I had with Serena.  At two am on July 18th, my hope materialized.  Elated, I opened my eyes to the juicy, round, beam-dripping moon, dancing beyond my bedroom window.  I savored every twinge of deep, delicious ache in my womb.  God those moments live legendary inside me now… I felt totally alone and yet sweetly intimate with ALL.  My heart steeped in transcendent joy.

 

As with Serena, the contractions stopped when I got out of bed.  My labor had a very keen intelligence, and when I was focused on caring for Serena, it would ebb… After I dropped her off at camp, the waves resumed.  When she returned from camp, another pause.  It wasn’t until my saintly friend Benedetta came and picked Serena up (with her own nearly-newborn and four year old sun in tow) at around 4pm, that labor REALLY went full throttle.

 

I had imagined laboring in the little wooden house, nestled in my garden (which I have adopted as a temple…) but by mid afternoon, it was way too hot in there, and the mattress felt like a granite boulder.  After turning a few too many dizzying circles of indecision, I realized there’s no place like bed.

 

Oh dear… This event occurred exactly two weeks ago, and by now, the whole epic event is a goopy smear in my mind’s eye.  I guess I had a butt-ton of contractions in said bed… It didn’t take long for them to start firing off fast… which made me certain that Forest would soon emerge.

 

I was inspired by the birth story of a woman named Jinti Fell… She had an idyllic, peaceful freebirth in water, with only her husband, three year old daughter and sister present.  She said she concentrated on affirmations of opening and surrender.  So with each contraction, I relaxed my yoni and imagined my cervix blossoming open… melting INto the pain, rather than contracting in reaction to it.  I felt powerful and courageous doing this.

 

Until I hit a point where the contractions were coming so strong and rapid, that I lost access to this enlightened response.  It became a matter of survival.  No holds barred.  I felt that if I gave myself over in melt, I would be eaten alive.  This continued for hours.  I focused on my breath… and alternated between chanting gutterally based AUMs and “blowing through an imaginary straw” with each exhale (Benedetta taught me that technique, touting that when the jaw is relaxed, so is the yoni.  She said her first baby slid right out of her as a result… ummm… I can’t say that was MY experience…)

 

What of my wild card husband?  As I imagined, he was not the Masculine Rock that I wished he could be.  When I looked to him in the heat of intensity, his eyes were perpetually a-wander in far-off lands.  This was no surprise.  A restless, wild mind is his M.O.  Still, I wouldn’t help wishing for his solid, unwavering presence.  But given his nature… he did well.

 

As I had requested, he didn’t impose himself in my space.  He made himself available… but hung back until I made a direct request for support.  I felt the wounded place inside me, where I was tentative to ask for help from him… fearing rejection or disconnect.  (By now, our “track record” is brimming with disappointments and blood-bathed conflict…)  But when one is in enough pain, one must transcend the fear of rejection.  I asked him to rub my sacrum, which by now was screaming with ache.

 

At this task, he succeeded beyond measure.  I felt… profoundly felt.  He touched me as if he were inside me.  And at this point, I didn’t care if he was thinking about all the money we owe, or his perpetual craving for pizza, or whatever runs through that man’s mind… I was journeying through a realm of unceasing pain, and he was minimizing my suffering.

 

Until he got hungry.  And then the salvation of his touch withdrew and wandered to the kitchen.  A while later, he returned to the bedroom with a plastic tupperware full of tuna salad.  The smell ruined my life.  He innocently offered me a bite.  DISGUSTING.  I shunned him from the bedroom.  But the smell saturated the warm, thick atmosphere of late July.

 

When he returned (I had no sense of time by now), I asked him to light an incense to mitigate the terrible stench.

 

Then what happened?  Contractions raced through my body like a freight train with never-ending cars.  The sun crept toward the horizon, and eventually sunk into darkness.

 

The Poetry of Darkness

My inner perfectionist is ALL UP IN MY BUSINESS as I sit here contemplating what to write about.  I want to write something genius and get drenched in positive attention and validation, because these days, I mostly feel like a mediocre nobody.  If only I could show up here in Athena Graceland like a blazing comet that takes your breath away….  THEN I’d be worth the love and belonging I crave.

 

Ahhhhh feels so good to name that.  It was like taking a giant poop.  It’s the shit that lurks, unacknowledged in the shadows that can really “crush the ball”.  (My favorite Italian phrase.  Referring to testicles, naturally.)  It’s amazing how much stirring of the shadow is occurring in here lately.   I oft wonder “was this stuff always running me from the bowels of my psyche, and I just couldn’t make contact with it?”  This is my hypothesis…

 

Which makes it damn exciting that I am starting to be able to have some real, snuggly intimacy with it.  I guess.  If I give myself permission to digest, release, transcend.  Permission.  It sounds so easy.  But walking through it is like swimming through honey.  Except not nearly as sweet.  Maybe shit flavored honey…

 

I guess I could start by saying really fucking nice things to myself on a regular basis.  The kinds of things that would be glaringly obvious to say to ANYBODY I love and care for, when they are struggling.  The kinds of things I want YOU to say to me upon reading these words.  The kinds of things you HAVE been saying to me.  And for a few sacred mOMents, everything feels ok.

 

Like “Athena, you DON’T always have to be producing something in order to be valuable.  YOU are enough.  If only you could see the exquisite artistry of your BEing as you move through your days.  Even when you feel depressed and hopeless, your magic is contagious and inspiring.”

 

Yep, made myself cry.

 

Been feeling like a mediocre mom a lot lately.  Up until recently, at least I felt like I was succeeding at that.  Serena tells me how much she loooooooves me…. too many times a day too count.  Inside I’m like, “Really???  Even though lose my patience and shout at you too much???”  So much for “conscious parenting”….

 

I think I’m doing better than I give myself credit for.  It just hurts my heart so bad when I yell at this beautiful, perfect being who is my daughter.  (Tears silently spill down my face as I expose this intimate dimension of myself.  Maybe not “brilliant” writing… but honest.  Which is courageous.  Maybe lots of moms secretly feel like shmucks, but don’t want to admit it…)

 

Exhaaaale.  I just don’t know how to navigate the frequent moments when Serena yells and screams and rebels “for no reason”.  I’m sure in HER world, there IS a reason.  Even if she cannot name it.  She’s probably mirroring my emotional intensity.  Maybe this is glaringly obvious from your kush seat in the overstuffed armchair…. She’s also a scorpio.  I didn’t know exactly what that meant when she was growing inside me.  But it’s no joke, people.  Scorpion energy is emotional masturbation.  So indulgent and intense.

 

But I digress.  Sometimes (often lately), I feel like I just can’t handle my girl’s said intensity and unwavering push-back.  I wonder if it would be different if I was adequately reSourced.  I don’t have fuckin’ ANYBODY who shows up to take Serena out for the afternoon and give me a break.  Not even my husband.  (He’s too busy bacon hunting.)  I chose such a fucking hard Path.  Dianne says to keep going and never give up.

 

I’ve always been a spiritual PollyAnna at heart.  My Ma used to passionately wish that this was her last incarnation on earth.  She was OVER IT.   And I’d feel so damn good about myself, replying that I would come back here as many times as I was needed.  But I guess the ingredients I needed to thrust me into “Camp Over IT” were motherhood and a painfully difficult marriage.  Oh, and a seeming lack of ability to plug into higher Purpose.  That’s really the one that slaughters me.

 

Mom, I get it.

 

Did I ever tell you that when I told my mom I was pregnant with Serena, she stopped talking to me for like three days?  Seriously.  And we were living together in her sweet little one-room loft apartment.  It was INTENSE.  I didn’t get it.  But now I imagine that she foresaw the terrain ahead, and was grieving for me.

 

She WAS seeing through the filter of her own struggles, of course.  And probably I will triumph at some point.  Probably some day I will heal my precious inner child, get my writing off the ground and enjoy a more autonomous, focused and gratifying existence.

 

I guess I can lay the groundwork now.  By being sublimely kind to myself no matter what.  And appreciating the Grace of everything that Life is laying at my feet.

 

I’m grateful that it’s summer.  I might be conflagrating in soul-angst… but I’m no dummy!  I am still able to luxuriate in frequent near-nakedness.  I am still deeply moved by the ambiance of overflowing birdsong that pours upon the warm, bright world each day.  The disarming, supple softness of Serena’s three year old skin.  And the way everything is play for her.  Gorgeous trees dripping with glistening, red cherries, of which we are free to eat as many as we please.  A husband who often falls short… but is a die-hard who stands the fuck up after he falls, and sincerely does his best to learn and grow and evolve.

 

A husband who loves his unborn son more than I do at this point.  Giordano’s love for Forest is palpable.  Sometimes I’m scared that Forest will be too much like Giordano…  Sometimes I feel like Forest is the steel-jawed trap that keeps me bound to a life I hate.

 

OMG.  A monk and a nun exiting the grocery store, pushing a full shopping cart!!!!  One of those monks that looks like Friar Tuck.  And a nun who resembles…. Whoopie Goldberg.  Haha, just kidding.

 

Anyway, I’m looking forward to holding my son in my arms.  It’s still hard for me to believe that a baby is going to come out of me.  Even though I’m giant and exhausted and insanely emotional.  It was like this with Serena too.  But I imagined that the second one would be different, given that I’ve done it before.  Nope.  Still unfathomable to me that in about four weeks, I will have a SON.  A tiny human will emerge through my vagina and depend on me for EVERYTHING.  Whoa.  And he will be oozing with the fresh scent of Heaven.

 

Okay, I guess this is the part where I just breathe.  Dunno what else to do now.  Oh, except to keep being earth-shatteringly sweet to myself.

 

From my heart,

Athena Grace

 

Sunlight and Sweet Relief

Mmmm somebody at the table next to me is wearing aftershave.  As a kid, I used to relish watching my dad shave before work (swing shift in the casino!).  He’d squirt a shamelessly generous poof of Barasol beard buster shaving cream into his hand, spread it about his five o’clock shadow and go to town with his blue bic razor.  Fast and focused.  I’m sure he could have performed this ritual in the dark.  Then he’d rinse, dry and pat his tender, virgin cheeks with enchanting, blue splash of Aqua Velva.  To my seven year old self, this was the scent of a man.

 

Smell.  So powerful.  A memory orbiting a distant moon, suddenly fallen like a smoldering comet in my nostalgic lap.

 

I’m happy today.  And profusely hoping that I can ride this wave all the way to shore.  Wishing said shore was days away.  One of my earth angels, Dianne, said that with sunlight and a heart that says yes, I am a force to be reckoned with.  I feel that today.

 

I feel that filled with this happiness, I can do ANYTHING.  I feel wealthy and bold and creative.

 

Even though I barely slept.  Sleep is not my forte lately.  Most nights, I fall asleep with Serena in her bed… wake an hour later, pee (at this point, I spend half my life peeing) and then snuggle like a soft, squishy animal into bed with Giordano.  At which point, I rest into the weight of my struggle and the suppressed force of my Desires.  He is exhausted and quickly becomes a virtuoso performance of gentle snores.  I lay in his arms, envious of his ability to relax and release, calling out to an unresponsive God to fucking help me.

 

How’s THAT for glamorous?

 

Quite frankly, in this moment it DOES seem a bit glamorous.  Angels in heaven don’t have such privilege and pleasure.  WE get to swill grit and darkness by the cup-full.  WE get to embody a spectral depth of poetry that cannot be fabricated or feigned.  Of course I can only say this because my Merciful Lord hath lifted me to “the surface” for a generous hit of sunlight and existential relief.  From here, the depth of my Journey looks stunning.

 

I AM so thankful for my people.  If I died in this moment, my heart would explode like a huge cream-filled balloon and your BEingness would shatter and refract as rainbow sunlight in every direction throughout all space.  I’m feeling you all.  Seeing your faces, hearing your unique music curl like incense smoke throughout my Infinity Within.  In the eyes of my ego, I am so imperfect… but in my love for you, I am limitless, pure and perfect.

 

I was suffering because Giordano has been WORKING.  He leaves early in the morning, and returns home at bedtime.  During the day, he sends me loving little audio messages.  Nothing fancy.  He’s not a poet.  Nor excessively feminine.  But his heart is sincere.  This makes me miss him and want more….

 

We planned a sunday trip to the “seaside” (adorably, that’s what he calls “the beach”)  and sweetly anticipated it all week.  I can’t recall a single time since I’ve been in Italy, where we’ve done something together and had a harmonious, nourishing, pleasurable experience… mostly it’s hard to connect, I feel lonely, we fight…

 

But still, I brought my Beginner’s Mind on Sunday.  When the rubber met the road, he was “nervous” (and mean as a biproduct).  And I was like, “Really???  We’ve been anticipating this beautiful day all week, and now THIS is the best you’ve got???”

 

But apparently it was….

 

As is often the case, he didn’t respond when I talked.  He interrupted me.  He complained and ruminated on things not of the Present.  He drank a small bottle of white wine with lunch, like he does on most of his few days off… as if this were a legitimate escape from the burden of his overactive mind.

 

Little by little over the course of the day, my heart closed.  Despite this, I strove to enjoy Serena’s refreshing, innocent company, let the sunlight and warmth recharge me, release my burdens to the salty, undulating sea.  I sort of succeeded… in a decapitated fashion.

 

But LISTEN.  I am NOT telling you all this to defame my husband.  I understand him pretty well… These days, he is living beneath an intensity of pressure that would break most mortals.  Considering this, he’s actually been pretty damn nice.  He’s breaking through some deeep-assed patterns of anger and cruelty.  Doesn’t mean I’m loving it… but my respect for him grows.  This is a big part of what makes me stay.  That, and his love for our unborn sun.  He loves our baby (and Serena) too much for me to leave without giving him a chance.  Though the notion of leaving is an unrelenting devil on my shoulder, who taunts and seduces me until I am stumble drunk on his hollow promises of happiness in distant lands.

 

Last night, we nestled into bed pregnant with The Unspoken.  Instead of passing out, he stayed with me.  Slowly we unraveled some profoundly unwieldy knots.  He impressed me with his capacity to receive my harsh honesty, and stay open.  I wish he was more consistent in this domain.  But perhaps, with practice he will be.  Because he didn’t used to be this good.

 

We talked until we were empty and united.  Then he asked if he could lick my…. Uh-huh.  I have been feeling so sexually shut down these days.  Depression and lack of trust is not exactly an aphrodisiac, as it turns out.  But what did I have to lose???

 

He rocked it.  In general, he has good technique… yet mostly, I feel like HE’S not loving it.  He’s just being courteous.  I’m all for courtesy… but there IS something to be said for The Zone.   The alchemical expanse where giver and receiver melt and meld into one sprawling puddle of pleasure.

 

I’m not gonna give you all the details of my sex life.

 

That’s not my point.  My point is that I don’t believe I should hide the full spectrum honesty of my existence out of shame and cultural conditioning.  Sex should be normalized and healthy and spoken of at LEAST as freely as struggles and fighting.  And another point is that talking shit out is rad.  I mean like super rad… but it can only get a couple so far.  The rest must be said with wordless lips, with touch and lust and passionate, embodied love.  I dare you to argue.

 

I awoke early this morning, and the freshly hatched day was a-flood with sunlight and the exotic, diverse songs of birds.  It also happens to be Giordano’s birthday.  My body was still brimming with pleasure.  I got up and made us coffee, brought it back to bed, and we tandemly geeked on our phones.  (As much as I despise it, my phone is a portal to so many loving connections.  Sigh.)  Oh, modern day romance… not too romantic.  But the Moral of the Story, is that I felt happy.  And leisurely.  Serena slept until 8am.  And I found myself laughing at the “problems” that usually plague me and sink my blessed ship.

 

Then I wrote it all down, and feel Brilliant.

 

May this wash of sweet relief sustain me for…

Days…

Or perhaps lifetimes.

 

Thank you for your LOVE.

Thank you for your Courage.

Thank you for Believing in me.

Thank you for BEing.

 

Love,

Athena

 

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