sabato, giugno 25, 2016

International pain and gain

Big week, in Shanghai and now Tokyo.

It's the first time I've been away from Godzilla and I was wondering what to expect there. It turns out that I was dreadfully sad to leave him and then pretty much okay, and he was very happy to say goodbye while he played with his cousin and then dreadfully sad every time he saw me on Skype. All the maternal worry and guilt I was worrying about feeling didn't get felt, though that might have been different if I wasn't getting frequent reports of what a great time he's having in Canada, or if what I was doing here wasn't important for A) work and B) me.

Shanghai was a conference, a more or less mandatory one, and Tokyo has been a rather personal form of mizuko kuyo for the baby that died in December, who was due to be born yesterday or the day before. I visited some jizo shrines and decided to create one myself in my home; it was very moving to visit them, but I couldn't bear the idea of a little statue representing my child in a place I'll only ever be able to visit again a few times in my life. So many of the little jizo statues I saw were totally untended. And of course the Zojo-ji temple was crawling with tourists ignoring instructions about where not to walk and not to take photographs - walking along the rows and rows of jizo statues click-clicking away. Considering my dream funeral is getting chopped into pieces and fed to birds, such a cold and public thing wasn't the memorial I wanted for my child.

And there's another thing, which is that as far as I can tell the mizuko kuyo ceremony is weirdly wrapped up with guilt over terminating pregnancies, which happens a lot here. Birth control pills were illegal until 1999, the range available now is small, and sometimes doctors refuse to prescribe them. And like everywhere, men are fucking assholes about wearing condoms. Meanwhile, abortion up to five months is legal, readily available, and not socially stigmatized. But of course lots of the women who get them feel awful, and get scared over stories about angry or despairing ghost babies, and pay for the mizuko kuyo ceremony. There are accusations that the temples are taking advantage of emotionally vulnerable women; accusations I was willing to overlook because the ceremony seems like such a beautiful, necessary idea, until I asked at the temple about the price of the ceremony, which was about Euro 9,000.

And at that point, or rather price, it struck me: yes, mizuko kuyo is a beautiful idea. Yes, women need to be able to access some sort of formalized emotional release over losing or terminating a potential child. And yes, this is a fucking scam to extort women who are feeling guilty or scared. There's something reassuring about travelling and learning about other religions and realizing that scammy bullshit isn't limited to the religion I was raised in.

Anyways. I spent yesterday mostly in contemplation of what happened and was very moved by the shrine visits, moved to tears, but it was a form of what happened already a month and a half ago, when I had the eleven/twelve week checkup for the baby I'm pregnant with now, and overheard what I wasn't supposed to overhear about another woman's loss. The walls holding my pain in and other people's pain out coming crashing down again. Not a great feeling, but the right one.

Otherwise, Tokyo is pretty awesome. Post-Brexit I'm tempted to just stay. 

venerdì, giugno 03, 2016

The Conversation

I feel good about it, because it took a year and a half, but finally the Conversation was had the other night.



"Have you noticed . . . how ugly German children are?"

"It's not just the children. There are a lot of plain-looking people here."

"There's about three cute children at Godzilla's kindergarten, and he's one of them."


"I don't get it. The kids are all cute in the Netherlands and Belgium, and mostly in France, and in Italy."

"Well, I can't explain it. Germans just sort of look like that."

"I mean there are ugly people everywhere, like there are some Italians who are like monster bog people, and you don't see a lot of super-ugly people here like that, but . . ."

"They don't look good."

"No." Pause. "Remember that Nosferatu-looking kid at Godzilla's old daycare? The one who looked 500 years old?"

"I'll never forget. Starting straight into the darkest places of your soul."

"I miss that kid."

mercoledì, maggio 11, 2016

Well, that was a strange day.

I went to see my gynecologist this afternoon, and given this was around, by our estimates, 11 weeks - which is the age where the last fetus died - I was feeling odd in the lead-up. Nerves, I guess. So far as I feel nerves, which when it doesn't come to public speaking just comes out as a sort of carefully suspended existential numbness.

And, lately, the manic and somehow comforting repetition of a strange version I'd recently read in some weird corner of the internet of the five remembrances (a skittled version of this, and yes, it is striking me that my brain is insisting on a version which doesn't mention being the heir of my actions; maybe I'm not ready for that yet):

I will lose my youth, my health, my loved ones, all I hold dear, and finally life itself, by the very nature of being human. 

So I went in, and waited. Then peeing in the cup, seeing that my blood pressure has climbed back up to the dizzy heights it hit when I was pregnant with Godzilla - fine, I thought, finally a problem I reckon I know how to manage - and then getting vaginally wanded by the gynecologist.

Almost as soon as the stick went in, she got this fucking look on her face. German words tell you everything; German faces tell you nothing. The last gynecologist, as soon as he got a look at the fetus that had died, hardly changed expression at all and immediately said "it's not okay"; I knew, immediately, it was dead. This one said nothing and just got a look on her face like she'd been expecting chocolate and got lemony dogshit. I waited.

"It's so big," she said.

Fuck, I thought, in a mighty rush of relief and annoyance with the inscrutability of German Resting Face. "Is it okay?"

"Oh yes. Moving around a lot, good heartbeat. But I think we need to revise the due date," she said, looking about as perturbed by that as the last gynecologist had looked at having to tell me my baby was dead.

Fucking Germany, I love you, you socially retarded ass of a country.

The baby looks beautiful. It has toes, and it was darting around as far as it could, already being big enough to seem a bit crowded.

So she reckoned I was at week 12, and we chatted about how useful testing would be for Down's Syndrome. I was of the mind that though I'd decided not to terminate the pregnancy in any case it would be good to know how it was going to come out; she was of the opinion that if I was determined not to get an abortion I might as well not bother with the tests, since the range of health issues and abilities or lack thereof in Down's kids was so huge that even a sure positive wasn't going to usefully prepare me for what would come out.


This is May, in case you haven't noticed. Which in Europe is almost as useless a month for trying to get things done in as August, because of all the holidays. The French know it and admit it with all sorts of sayings and proverbs. Le mois de mai, on se rigolait. En mai fais ce qu'il te plait. Putain, abruti parasseux, fais pas comme c'est le mois de mai.  Germans don't have a proverb about how little they work in May, but they don't work that much in May. They really don't work that much at all, I'm realizing. This place is at least as half-assed as Italy. It's just better organized about it. Which I appreciate.

And on top of May being rotten with holidays, my new gynecologist is going on holiday the week before I go to Canada, and on top of that, it's a busy practice; I guess this city is full of women who'd rather see a lady gynecologist, and there aren't enough of them. Which is a long way to say that the clerk and I were having a hard time finding an appointment.

Finally, she decided that I'd better see the other gynecologist at the practice. She told that gynecologist's assistant, who was passing, to ask the other gynecologist to call her and check in that that was okay. The other gynecologist was seeing a different woman - one, I realized later, who had come into the practice at the same time as me, and who I had waved ahead of me at the desk because she looked so wiped out.

The clerk and I waited, and waited, and the other gynecologist's assistant came back out, looking perturbed, but her being German, for all I knew she could have been planning her fucking wedding dinner or something.

"What gives?" asked the clerk who was helping me. "Why hasn't the doctor called back?"

The assistant looked at me, and said something about her being busy.

"Busy with what?" asked my clerk, annoyed.

"The kid -" she said, and I saw her mime out of the corner of my eye - she held her hand over her stomach, and made a quick crossing motion, which in its eloquence was about as good as this. And it hit me about as profoundly as it had when I looked up the ASL for "miscarriage" in a crossover moment of mourning and interest in gestural language back in January. "Now do you understand?" she asked my clerk roughly.

I think I made some sort of sound; at any rate, they saw that I had seen. It was a very odd moment, and got a little odder. The clerk asked me to call in the morning to make the appointment, since the doctor couldn't talk then, and at that moment the other gynecologist called her to tell her she couldn't talk then, and then I remembered my old gynecologist making an almost exactly similar call to his front desk while he was in the middle of explaining the death of my baby to me.

So, I left. Muttering something about how I was sorry about the other lady's situation. And I left, and nearly burst into tears.

To suddenly realize that a woman, in the next room maybe ten feet from where I had been lying down with an ultrasound wand up my twat and being reassured over what had been my uttermost fear that morning, was living that nightmare I lived four or five months ago - this emotion, if it even is an emotion and not something bigger than an emotion, is a whole new emotion to me.

As far as I understand, there is no word for it. It's like some wall came tumbling down between me and the universe. A wall that kept my pain in, and other people's pain out.

And as I stood at the tram stop, and looked at all the babies and little kids there in their prams with their mothers hovering over them - all these little babies and little kids who hadn't died on a crowded tram stop of people who hadn't died - all that pain and all those beautiful creature and all the ways that we were all still alive and how utterly random it was that we had ever existed at all - something fundamental and unnameable about existence as a shared or at least universal experience came crashing in on me in a way that was beyond pleasant or unpleasant.

All it's left me with at this point is the conviction that we have to be kind to each other.

martedì, aprile 26, 2016

Week 8 of terrification

Oh goodness, you guys, I can't stop watching this:


I wasn't a Prince fan, by any stretch of the imagination. He was just another musician I was aware was really talented in a way that I didn't have the time or inclination to appreciate. Seriously, there's about five bands or acts I actually listen to over any given year. But this is just so perfect and naughty. You can even imagine him getting dressed before the show: "Hmm, what would a Travelling Wilbury wear . . . this . . .  bright red cowboy hat. Perfect." And that little fella son of Harrison's - I bet he's the one who actually wanted Prince there. "Make me stand in the background and mime, will they? Fine. I'll get Prince in and make everyone look like an aging bar band."

So, I'm still pregnant and a little terrified. This is all pretty strange. I doubt it would have been less strange if we decided to wait a few more months after the miscarriage to try again. Maybe even more strange. Anyways, this is where we are. I calm myself down by reminding myself I'm doing what I can, and the baby will do what it has to. That mostly works.

What do women do when this happens and they don't have an explanation? How would I be coping now if the last one had just suddenly come out, instead of showing up dead on an ultrasound while my body merrily went on being pregnant around it?

Because to be honest, before the miscarriage happened, I didn't understand how miscarriages or stillbirths worked. For some reason, I assumed that the mother's body shut it down and the baby got ejected. I didn't understand that most of the time the baby gets ejected because it shuts itself down and the mother's body can only tolerate the dead tissue for so long. Of course once I took that on board, it makes a lot more sense. It's a much more complicated process for a mother's body to recognize a catastrophic problem with a fetus and shut down being pregnant than it is for a fetus to have catastrophic problems that it can't survive. I question why I held that first belief now, and I think it has something to do with over-buying into some sort of Freudian hyper-powerful motherhood concept.

Anyways, it's all still weird and terrifying, but I am as sick as a fucking dog and choosing to be reassured by that. Last time I wasn't that sick. With Godzilla I was sick. You take reassurance where you can find it - even riding the porcelain bus every morning. 

martedì, aprile 05, 2016

Back in Aspromonte, and this time more or less in the thick of it as we've decided to stay in Gambarie. Gambarie is a whole other species of depressing from the rest of Calabria. It's as beautiful as anywhere in the world, I daresay, and the fact it isn't crawling with German tourists - I can see them eating this place up with a spoon, with its hiking and history and "off the beaten track" qualities and what have you - is a real testament to the awful, retarded power of local organized crime and corrupt officials to shit their guts out where they live.

We're in a national park, in fact in the area most of the scouts are based, and the town square is still crawling with wild dogs that the restauranteurs keep fed so they won't threaten the few tourists who actually make it here, up the horrifically bad road that was meant to be replaced with a highway about thirty years ago. . . the picnic areas closest to the town are festooned with years of garbage and the maintenance of the paths looks close to nil; they're only still visible because of the number of people who tramp them to score mushrooms in the autumn.

Villas and hotels crumbling not just from neglect but from the seismic qualities of the area; it's as trembly as Japan here, but things are not Japanese quality. One day everything will just collapse again, like it does every hundred years or so. Abandoned houses, I guess held on to in the speculative hope that someday the highway will be built - it's not even halfway up the mountain yet, thirty years on - and that in any case tourists will be able to get to Reggio, which is a massive pain in the ass to fly into from anywhere else in Europe.

There's an airport there, with daily flights to Rome and Milan, but just Alitalia - none of the cheap European charters that are the lifeblood of tourism in Southern Europe now, which means that if I had flown here from a hub like Frankfurt, it would have cost more than a flight to Canada. And considering the awesomeness of the local beaches, the potential tourists attractions and historical sites stretching from the Neolithic to the Baroque, and the number of people from Reggio and this part of Calabria living elsewhere in Europe who come back often, there's no good reason for that lack of service relative to a place like Bari or Lamezia besides somebody not wanting it to happen; my guess is the families who control the ferries to Sicily.

But Gambarie is a little different from my father's hometown and from Reggio not only because it's exquisitely, almost painfully beautiful, with its mountains and old forests and views over the Straits of Messina to Sicily, but also because people are fucking trying here. They are trying to make things really nice. Italian culture being what it is, that doesn't extend to trash pickups or general community efforts - fuck, do I detest this macho insouciance bred into the culture that makes you coolly pretend nothing is a problem until it's suddenly punching you in the face - but people here are doing what they can to build businesses, and restaurants, and to find a way to share their beautiful home.

So I'm enjoying it, in my bitchy way, and enjoying the time with my parents - after three and a half weeks together, I've moved from the joy of reunion through being so frigging annoyed with them in some sort of adolescent throwback to coming to some sort of loving equilbirum again - and enjoying Godzilla, who is enjoying the beaches and the forest playground, and enjoying the rest of my extended family here, although they will never not drive me nuts.

Also I'm pregnant again and happy about it, in a pukey way. After the loss last time I wasn't too sure about sharing here so early (about a month in, I reckon), but then my parents started blabbing to everyone even after I fucking told them not to, which was part of the earlier annoyance I was feeling with them (I might not have even done the test so early if they weren't such frequent tipplers and I wasn't concerned about whether or not I should join in; in the course of a normal week, I might have three beers, and around my family, that consumption tends to increase exponentially just because they're always at it). So no matter what, if things go wrong again there will be no choice except some sort of public-dealing-with-it.

I feel hopeful. I'm incredibly fucking sick, which is much more remniscent of the pregnancy that worked, with Godzilla, than the pregnancy that didn't, which was just sort of generalized discomfort. And I'm also a little encouraged to hope by how fast it happened after we decided to try again, like maybe this kid really wants to be born. But we'll see. I keep reminding myself: I'm not bulletproof, and my love won't make anything bulletproof. The universe isn't making any plans to do things to or for me; I'm a part of the universe and the events of my life are a drop of water in its flow. This new child has its own destiny, like Godzilla and like the one who only lived 11 weeks. I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky, I should be so lucky in love. Que sera, sera. Et cetera.