Tag Archives: love

Marriage counselling part 1: clearing the decks, building skills


us

My husband and I have been going to couples counselling now for around three months, seeing the fabulous Frances Amaroux who specialises in working on relationships. She has chops as a poly counsellor and understands the intricacies and complexities of building relationships within a poly framework, whatever that may be for the couple concerned.

When we first began seeing her, our relationship was under a lot of stress. We’d just lost our baby in early pregnancy and were trying to unpack the fallout. My husband was struggling with the anxiety of going through the visa process to qualify for permanent residency. We’d sunk into a state of constant conflict and competitive arguments, with a big empathy gap on both sides (despite me thinking at the time that my husband was the only one lacking empathy – I’ve since realised I had some work to do as well). Neither of us was enjoying the day to day of relating to each other because of some serious relationship skills deficits on both sides. Our first appointment was pretty rough, and revealed starkly just how much we were struggling.

Frances was robustly caring, yet pretty frank that we had a lot of work to do. She was also frank about all that we had going for us. She sort of presented us with a choice: break up, or work on our relationship. Neither of us wanted to break up. We just wanted to not feel so miserable all the time.

She took us back to the basics – she talked about the three circles to be cared for: our individual circles or “I spaces” and then the third circle of our relationship or “we space”. I know, it sounds hippy dippy but hey, it’s good stuff to contemplate and getting ‘back to basics’ has been good for us, and in three years we’d just been feeling it out and hoping for the best. She quickly assessed some of our biggest hurdles, and gave us simple tools to start taking them apart.

Thankfully, both of us had a starting point of goodwill, and I’m grateful that’s the case. Knowing that about ourselves, and each other, is the best start. Cunning Minx, a poly commentator who has been podcasting with the amazing Poly Weekly for over 10 years, mentioned in a pod-cast I was listening to the other day that “the assumption of good faith” was a really important ingredient in communication and negotiations. That really struck me and I’ve taken it quite to heart. I now try every day to assume my husband is working on things in good faith, and try in as many ways as I can, to reassure him I am doing the same. That assumption makes a HUGE difference – because how can you possibly work out a problem if you’re convinced your partner is out to get you? Instead if you’re uplifted by the assumption that you’re both trying your level best to work things out with each other’s well-being in mind, you’re liberated from a certain cynicism that really shrinks trust.

We both love each other enormously, and thanks to Frances we’re no longer in constant “emergency” mode. We’re getting increasingly skilled at checking our ego at the door of our marriage and instead focusing on being well in ourselves, taking care of each other’s wellbeing, and taking care of the “third circle”. We’ve concentrated on being ambiently aware of each other’s mental health, how the other person’s day is going, and we’ve also started to assess our individual happiness – how much we are taking care of ourselves personally (because this has a huge impact on how we relate to each other, obviously.) I think my husband has been doing too many practical things for our relationship, and not taking enough time for exercise or hobbies, and he is starting to address that. I’m trying to take better care of my health, and I’ve taken up crochet, which really comforts and engages me. Having a hobby again is great – something just for me. Poly is still kind of on the backburner, but is on the “discuss again soon” list now that things are settling down. Getting our relationship right before engaging with others has been a priority.

Some of the key skills and ideas we’ve learned include:

  • The importance of developing ambient empathy – being aware of each other’s wellbeing and state of being as a basis for making decisions and communicating with each other. We do this by checking in through the day with texts, phone calls, emails or whatever works and using a numbers system – asking how each other are on a scale from “1-10”. That establishes a bit of a baseline from which we can ask questions. “How come you’re only feeling a 5? What’s happening today?” Or “I’m glad you’re an 8! I’m a 9 because I’m getting a lot done at work today.”
  • Not flooding. I’m a BIG flooder. When D asks me a question or we discuss something I TALK AND TALK AND TALK and he only really processes the first two things I’ve said. Using the numbers system above helps make emotional information a bit more concise, and then he can seek out more clarity, little by little, and get a picture of what’s going on that he actually understands. Nothing is gained by me talking if he is unable to process what’s being said. So slowing down and chunking out information is important.
  • Active listening. A lot of lip service is paid to this, and sure I’ve HEARD the term a million times but actually practising active listening well is pretty hard. What is active listening (other than something I need to practice a lot more?) It is when somebody talks and you reflect back to them, paraphrasing and without judging or commenting or adding to it, what they’ve said to make sure you’ve fully understood them. They can then clarify if you’ve not totally grasped it. When you have fully understood them, you can move on to the next point. “So what I hear you saying is that you felt pressured when I asked how long it would be before you can get your citizenship?” Reflect, seek clarity, reflect. Rinse and repeat. It seems like such a simple thing but it really reduces the chances of conflict based on misunderstandings.
  • Owning your shit and not talking for others. This is pretty important because we were both shocking for it. Rather than just talk about how we personally felt about something, we were talking about what each other thought/felt, which was causing a lot of aggrieved feelings. Pretty much nobody likes being spoken for, especially when the other person is making a bunch of negative assumptions. Increasingly, we just try to speak about our own perspective and then inquire as to what each other are actually thinking/feeling.
  • Topping up on affection. Frances encouraged us to keep, as much as possible and is consensual, a constant drip feed of affection and care flowing between us. It could be something small – a touch of a knee, a kiss on the head, a nice friendly text, a shared joke, a cup of tea made, or generally reminding the other person you think they’re pretty cool. Keeping the other person aware that you love them, and they are loved, means the “trust account” gets filled up all the time. When shit hits the fan, we are finding we are now so much more resilient and accommodating of each other because of that baseline of care and tenderness.

I’m really glad we’ve started this process in the aftermath of the loss in early pregnancy of our baby, Elliot, because I think it will make us stronger parents. Both of us (and some of our friends if I’m being honest) were feeling scared about the consequences for a child of our poor communication; my pregnancy with Elliot had really highlighted some of the major flaws in how we connected. And rather than split up and waste the last three (mostly really enjoyable) years, we decided to work on our stuff collectively so we could deal with the issues at hand before I got pregnant again. I am so glad we did! Things are looking so much better, and now that we’re feeling functional again and can go weeks without conflict (and when conflict arises, we are dealing with it SO much more carefully and thoughtfully) I feel we have a fighting chance of having a relationship that actively supports the well-being of another life.

We just got the great news that my husband has been made a permanent resident, which is a huge weight off his and our shoulders. Now that lots of pressures are off, we can breathe a little, and try to enjoy each other as we prepare for the next stage of our lives together.

Next up on this blog: negotiating “job roles” as we embark on our next pregnancy! TBC…

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Active consent and Aspergers: a wobbly week


hands and ringsI’ve written here before about navigating a marriage with my rather wonderful ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder/Aspergers) partner and I guess it’s time for another installment because…what a week.

A week ago my husband and I decided to have children next year which is a massive step for us – and not without complications. Since it’ll be a non-neurotypical pregnancy all round – with one partner with Bipolar and PTSD on a cocktail of meds and the other with high functioning ASD – there’s been plenty of reason for our mutual therapist to question the sanity of having offspring. We’re a fairly determined, hard-working and stubborn pair with a lot of community support though, so we tend to have a fuck-you attitude to suggestions that we not have a family because our brains were born queered.

Of course, life has a sense of humour so it was inevitable that we’d have some AS roadblocks through the week. Honestly, it felt a little like the universe was taking our thrilled enthusiasm and poking at it, grinning, sneering “oh YEAH? We’ll see about that.”

So what happened and what have I learned?

One of the biggest issues for all ASD+non-ASD romances is communication. Because my husband is high functioning and has loads of shields that helps him move in the world of human relationships without tripping the radar of NTs (neuro-typical people), I sometimes forget he has ASD. Seriously. I forget. The moment in which I remember feels like the most horrible, stomach turning moment, when all becomes frozen and fractious and there feels like no way out.

In this case, it was during a moment of getting-it-on. I thought we were running one intimacy script and he thought we were running another, and playfulness ended in the most awkward irritation you could imagine. My bratty, cutesy taunting was taken not as bratty, cutesy taunting but on face value as real meanness. Things that another partner would understand as play and silly cheek, based on a bunch of non verbal cues and context, my husband takes literally. And the first I knew of this was when he suddenly withdrew, became extremely cold and irritated and asked with a degree of hurt in his voice “what are you doing?

It felt like standing in the snow in a warm jacket, only to have it ripped away. My reaction was one of sudden emotional whiplash, and this small and seemingly unimportant interaction took on huge significance and became about ALL intimacy and the WHOLE relationship. I was hurt and he was hurt and everyone was having a bad time. The ensuing conversation was not the best, and we fell asleep feeling exhausted and pained – two people on different continents, staring across at each other in hostile rebuke and wretched mystery.

The morning brought more discord and my ramping PMS did not add coins to the situation at all. I was back in jesus-fuck-I-don’t-get-you land and he was feeling…well, I don’t want to speak for what he was feeling, but it appeared difficult. We walked to our morning bus holding hands, trying hard to reach over the water between our continents and mostly succeeding.

All that morning I felt so isolated. It is difficult knowing not one soul in my situation. I don’t know anyone with an ASD partner and that’s lonely at the best of times. When in crisis, it feels utterly bleak. I reach out to friends and feel met with either a rejection of my partner (which angers me – I don’t want to leave him, I want strategies to stay with him!) or a rejection of me for having feelings (because apparently anything less than a wholesale celebration of ASD and a suppression of the difficulties of loving these wonderful people is flawed). Both stances are fucked and unhelpful. And then, of course, there’s the friends too busy with their lives to give a shit because they have their own problems.

What I really need is just one damn friend who has an ASD partner, with whom I can have coffee, who will reflect back to me the mutuality of love and frustration that is this way of life. From whom I feel no judgment, and receive unequivocal support – not just of me, but of my marriage.

That night, we went to see a movie together because we love doing that. We splashed a little cash to do it, despite needing to save for our Europe trip in September, and it was seriously the best decision. Being able to bond again over something that we found emotionally neutral and fun, to see each other again as desirable and a comrade, to make out in the dark on Norton street…these were ways to meet in the middle, and not travel to poles apart.

We briefly discussed through the day by text, too, the idea of moving towards a more heightened active consent model. Inspired by an article I’d read about how very active consent is good for people with ASD who find negotiating these situations hard, I suggested we talk about it. It came out that the problem with the intimacy exchange where things had blown up was because my husband had just not known what the fuck was going on. In my mind, it was obvious, but it wasn’t to him.

To me it was incomprehensible that it wasn’t obvious but that’s where the divide between ASD thinking and non-ASD thinking comes in: what I can intuit is often a garbled non-language to my husband. He needs it stated, he needs the checkin, he needs the clear-cut discussion. He needs me to use a safeword or to signal that I’m playing before I play. Non-verbal cues that might just be enough with another partner are lost on him. He doesn’t do information that way. And while that’s completely excellent to know (now), I hadn’t known that before and adjusting to that new way of doing things requires practice and some thinking.

This morning we had another one of those overwhelming “different planet” discussions where I brought up where we were going towards active-consent practices and what we were reading/doing/thinking, really eager to do some work with him on it (I tend to get over-excited about relationship work and want to roll up my sleeves and get cracking right away).

Thrown, he became immediately stressed and hostile that I’d raised it in that moment, saying we had too much to do today. As the discussion wound on, with ebbs and flows of arrrgh, wtf, etc, it became apparent that the very same issue that had come up with the intimacy exchange 48 hours before had blocked us again. After some teariness and wariness of each other, he eventually stepped me through the fact that having no time to reflect and consider before entering into a difficult emotional discussion freaked him out immensely. In his mind, the plan of the day was eat pancakes, do dishes, hang laundry, do study…not discuss emotional things with no notice. The plan was disrupted and the plan was important, and disruptions to the plan were unacceptable or at the least really difficult.

Everything was ok once I understood this…not perfectly ok, or crytallised into easiness, but I could see how it had come to pass that this conversation (so easy and natural for me) was actually fairly horrifying for him.

I find it hard to admit just how much of the work we do is slowly skewing towards supporting the ASD perspective in our relationship, but in the end, that’s life. I am the more flexible one, thus I must bend. What else is there to do? I will feel angry and I will feel tired, but would I change out him for someone else? Fuck no. I love him for all his complexities, just as he loves me for mine. And there are many things about his ASD that make him a kickass partner, and much better for me than someone without ASD.

I can honestly say that despite the tears and the exhaustion, the week has rounded out with us both even stronger in our bond and our resolve to be our best selves for each other.

What’s my takeaway learning from this? It’s a little like a lot of what I’ve been reading on teh internets and more and more the penny drop moments that partners of an ASD cutie express really track for me too.

1. My partner needs notice before things that are potentially emotionally fraught. This includes intimacy – which is hard to read for a lot of us, but sometimes completely unfathomable for my partner. Active consent practices are something that can help – simplifying the feeling of ‘not knowing’ for him by integrating systematic checking in regardless of how time goes on, or however comfortable we feel. Rather than waiting for him to intuit, open up the floor for him to tell me and ask questions by starting a conversation every time we are close.

2. My partner needs notice before emotional discussions, to gather his thoughts and do reading, research or even just note what he’d like to say and feel prepared. I need to find out too what is happening in his head before emotional discussions. Does he have a script running that I’m disrupting? If the goal is a healthy, happy discussion, how can I help facilitate that and accommodate the fact that he has additional needs in these contexts?

3. Accept the ASD/non-ASD divide and the fact that there is inbuilt inflexibility in working on problems that mean things will tend to go towards accommodating the ASD perspective. Having to do a lot of work and make ‘concessions’ is part of the package. Rather than complain about the dark, light a candle, and if you just don’t want to deal with the dark, you know what you need to do. If leaving the relationship is really not your goal, then it is time to accept some things – and vent, sure, but ultimately work on your shit.

4. Find your people. This is my big project because I really feel like I don’t have anyone, yet, who I feel can support me well in this aspect of my relationship. And yeah, I feel pretty scared about that in the runup to having kids. So since I’m working on my shit, it really is time to make “finding a tribe” (so to speak) a bigger priority. Because fuck, coffee with another partner of an ASD person sounds like the biggest craving I have right now.

It’s all a continuous learning curve that leaves me very aware of just how deep my connection with my spouse runs. We stick out the hard times for each other consistently, and that’s what my grandparents and parents have taught me of love.

We are not mere mortals. We are something more when we are together, and that more is difficult to put into words. So instead of try, when I hit post on this post, I’m going to go give my husband a massive life-affirming hug.

 

 


Remember your peaks: when relationships go right.


Sometimes I wonder how much happier relationships would be if we could bottle the scent of a companionable silence and, when disaster struck, release it to run amok with shaky hearts.

Human beings seem very adept at breaking down, with critical ease, the failings of their relationships. They can name, categorise and carefully label the pains and torments, the inadequacies and faltering steps. I’ve definitely been a labeller, at the ready with my sharpie to write away the past with a deft flick of the wrist.

Yet it is rare, rare indeed to see someone praising their relationship’s moments of happiness in a way that is effusive and unreserved. It’s true also that often when someone tries, they’re hampered by a lack of genuine language that leads to a slow tipping forward into a heap of cliche that threatens to smother the purity of their sentiment. And so they don’t try, or they sound like a hallmark card.

I’m drawn to folk to whom a sincere contemplation of the good moments of their relationship and a pursuit of honest praise of such, comes easily. I wish it did me. I find my mouth filled with too much chatter and not enough meaning. The carelessness with which I choose crucial expressions makes me cringe. I want to underscore what I mean with what I usually have: words. But they fall together painfully and land wrong.

And it hurts me more not to try. Right now I’m sitting here, my skin warm and flushed and my stomach fluttery with the joy of being partnered to a person so completely invested in my happiness and his own fierce right to it, that when we converse it is filled, brimming with light. Independence and faith in equal euphoric measure.

Sometimes it isn’t this way, and the contrast, the relief brings a spot on smack to the forehead that dizzies me. You need to know struggle in a relationship, I think. Not abuse – that’s not struggle, because it isn’t consensual to start with. But you need to have done the taxing work to know what it is to laugh with abandoned, graceless, hedonism in the balm of each others regard.

Sometimes I feel angry at my partner. I have, recently. Sometimes we feel trapped. And then we talk, and take space, and talk more, and go to therapy, and talk more and then, then something opens and…there. We find the clearing. Giddily we stand there together, shouting ‘oh there you are!’

The product of that work and thought is this feeling, right now, and I want to record it. Being able to negotiate boundaries that work for us, to do so with giggles and unabashed admiration, to want each other’s pleasure, to be ready to be the government of our connection and to reject the rules of the surrounding world – it feels so sweet.

I do, in this moment, regard him as a wonder. I don’t care that he’s on the other side of the world. I don’t feel far away. I don’t feel powerless, I feel lit up like a thousand street lamps.

In the good times, you feel like you can conquer the world together, or alone and with the grinning cheering on of them at your back. You feel like you’ve climbed a really high thing and you’re sweating and waving from the peak.

I wish I could bottle this, and give it out for free.


So I’m getting married (again).


The best way to find out if someone is trustworthy is is to trust them.

– Ernest Hemingway.

Image

So, I’m getting married…again.

My partner and I had already exchanged silver commitment rings on a bone white clifftop along the trail that lead to Marley Spit from Bundeena. We found the rings from a hippie shop on King st – Russian wedding rings, the bands intertwined. We un-shouldered our packs, took some photos, ate Vita Wheats and then slipped the rings on each others fingers. Took more photos. Felt a bit giddy.

Afterwards we jumped around in this big sandy rock puddle in bare feet in the wind then decided to walk back against the falling hush of late afternoon. We got muddy, we laughed and cracked dirty jokes. There were tiny birds following us in the bushes. I peed beside the path and he stood as lookout. We finally came down to the beach and waited for the ferry. The sky was fired up in pink and grey and the mosquitos started biting.

And then we rode back on the ferry, talking in the wooden boat about kink, our dreams, our families. Our future.

That was my commitment day and it will remain in my memory as one of the more profound, sweet and easy-going exchanges towards a solid bond I’ve had. It was all us, no ceremony. Our families and friends were not witnesses which at the time was a desired absence. For that commitment, at that time.

I’m not especially into big weddings. I’m into hella sucessful relationships and I actually think big weddings can exclude some of the possibility of that by generating needless stress and worry and weighing folk with expense and debt. It feels so needless and so theatrical. At times hysterical.

But I’m not against weddings altogether, or marriage. For the longest time I raged aloud that I was against both, seeing big weddings and consumer overload, seeing my history, my own painful past marriage, my hatred of convention. I’m really not a conventional person. I was projecting my issues and writing them in big fucking capital letters across the sky for all to see. I like this quote, from Jean Kerr: “Being divorced is like being hit by a Mack truck. If you live through it, you start looking very carefully to the right and to the left.”

And it isn’t that I was wrong. It’s that I’ve dealt with some of that stuff, and I feel better. Which is pretty wonderful, I must tell you. To find some peace is something I have struggled for, long and hard. I found it long before I found Librarian; he is not the arbiter of my soundness of mind. Those props go to big pharma, my family, friends and therapist and the ambling of time.

Here’s what I believe about marriage: I believe in consensual healthy all-people marriage. That means all sexes, genders, and groupings of people, across all races and religions and so on. I believe in group marriage – being polyamorous – and I believe in marriage rights that recognise the trans and intersex community as well as the same-sex marriage lobbyists.

I acknowledge I have massive privilege in being able to decide to get formally married by the state because I am female bodied and my primary partner is male bodied. This is something nobody should ever forget, if they are married. By luck of birth, you can choose a form of relationship recognition that others are barred from. And it behooves you to at least remember that and show some respect and kindness and join the struggle for those communities across a range of issues they deem relevant.

So yeah, I’m getting married again. I had just been to a funeral of a beautiful woman, the mother of one of my brother’s best friends. It was terrible of course but she seemed such a sprite, such a fantastically funny woman who loved hard but laughed harder. And we were walking along Harris St and passing by the ABC Centre and the moon was awfully big with trees bashing silhouettes against. And there was traffic and we were arm in arm and I asked, will you marry me?

He’s sensible. He took a few days to think about it. And he answered me in response to the lyrics of a Bruno Mars song from a youtube video I was fascinated by, as he was walking out my friend Anna’s gate to a concert, throwing it over his shoulder like the cheeky man he is. There was zero cliche romance in the making of any of it – it was just a pretty unspectacular proposition with an unspectacular reply. I like that it’s pretty much only cute to us, which makes it an anti-hype story that’s too boring to retell at a million dinner parties. Have I mentioned I hate cliche? I hate cliche. I also hate pink. Not puppies or Christmas though.

The one thing I’m not going to write here is why. People ask the question with such gumption, as though they would accept it if I thought myself in a place to question their personal decisions. Folk who do this should reconsider or I’m going to start asking you who you vote for, and why, and look at you like you owe me a damn answer.

Fact is, and so I’ve learned from experience, divorce is cheap and easy – unless you have a million assets but that all remains the same if you’re in a de-facto relationship. There’s certain benefits to it when the person you’re marrying is from another country, despite him already having a work visa all on his own-some. For instance, there’s stuff around having kids together that works better when married. On paper, it’s not very romantic. It’s binding, it isn’t, it’s meaningful, it isn’t. All of those arguments seem like straw-men to justify ourselves when we should be asking just why people presume it’s their business.

I wish the people questioning me had diverted their energy to ask me how I was feeling about getting married again. That would have been actually useful and not antagonistic. Because it isn’t like I was going to sigh “ok, I fold, you’re right – this is madness!” At least my therapist had the decency to ask first how I was feeling, though to be fair she’s being paid to care a fair bit about my feelings.

I’m feeling excited. Scared. It’s bringing up a lot of memories for me. I’m apprehensive of almost everyone expressing any desire to involve themselves. I don’t want a production and I’ll fight hand over fist to keep the planning autonomous. There’ll be no hype, no bullshit, no big fucking dress, no catering and no white attire anyfuckingwhere. If the thing costs more than $50, we’ve done it wrong.

I’m sure of him though. As sure as a human being can be of another human they hope in. All human love is frail, of course it is, and all trust has the capacity to expose us and falter and fail. I have a few friends who view human attachment with a cold and cynical eye. They act like they were the only ones ever given reason to doubt the rightness of caring for another person in such a way as you’d hitch your wagon to them. I view it with a warm and cynical eye, with a carefully open mind. I’m no Elizabeth Taylor, but I’m no dyed in the wool denier of my squishy heart with it’s squishy loving-people needs.

I know what I want to do with my life, and that’s give the greater share of it to a partner well-matched, a small family, my work and my community. I’m bloody ‘well’ enough now, with a good career underway. I’ve found my grooves and I have my community. I’m so far from the stroppy, messy, unsure, anxious and malleable 21 who married an Irishman on a hill over Tamworth. I’m nearly 30, and I’m a big girl.

And I’m sure of him, my Librarian, my accented man who brings me tissues and juice when I’m sick, and wrestles like a big mean puppy with me, and finds me rare books, and hates conservatives, and hides in caves in the middle of nowhere with me, makes plans to swim in winter pools in the summer with me. Talks lustfully about the same boys I talk lustfully about. Communicates honestly, openly, gently. Who asks me if I want to live in Montreal one day. Who loves a long train ride and shares Laura Viers on his iPod with me.

My Librarian with his tall spine and scratchy beard and serious demeanour and long legged gait. With his willingness to get drunk with my family the first night he met them. Who tells me he misses my brothers. Who singlehandedly wins my friends over. Who hates the prospect of monogamy as much as me. Who teases and whispers and shakes me to my toes. Who has seen half the world and still prefers to look at me.

I can hardly wait to stand with no fanfare in no expensive dress, with no fancy food, and no fancy appointed place, to say how excited I am about the reality of being primarily bonded with this person for, hopefully, a long fucking time.

Here’s to a long fucking time!


Dear love: I am struggling.


Dear love,

As you know, I am struggling with your transition because it means we can’t have a child for a long time.

This is really hard for me because I feel like I’m a bad person for being sad. I want to be able to be just filled with joy for you, and supportive in every way. Yet there is a part of me that is grieving the loss of the little family in the near future that I had envisioned, in the ways I had envisioned it. Suddenly the road just got really complicated and hard for us both and I’ll admit: I’m pissing my pants.

I am so glad you have found a way to be more of yourself, to become who you want and need to be. I never wanted to stop you and though it hurts for now, I think our choices are the right choices.

I hope you understand that my sadness is a separate entity from my gladness. It is hard to feel at once like you believe in what you are doing, believe in the person you love and what they are doing with their life, and also feel like you want to throw a lamp through your window in total crushing disappointment. Also I am freaking my shit out about having to face IVF one day maybe. With the chance of pregnancy loss being so high, and the chance of success so low, it is a really frightening prospect for me. So, it is pretty strange to accommodate competing emotions like that.

I know this is really hard for you, in different and similar ways. You didn’t choose to have a partner who is baby crazy any more than I chose a partner who needed to inhabit their gender so it makes sense. We’re just awesome like that, and we’re doing our best with some awkwardly competing needs. I love our communication and how it is so honest.

I want to thank you for being truthful with me about what you really needed even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Thanks for holding my hand and letting me cry in a crowded restaurant. Thanks for not making me feel like a selfish bitch for being sad. And thank god for napkins, hey.

I hope we can grow together and maybe one day make a really attractive toddler that at least three other kids in daycare crush out on.

Also, I might be kinda weepy sometimes about this. I hope not too often. I hope you understand.

xx so much love and hope,

Bettie.


Empty Chairs: tips for acknowledging a silent Mother’s Day


Death generally makes people one of two things: silent, or awkward. We clothed bipeds find death pretty confronting, after all.

Now take death and stir in some child death. This escalates the level of standoffish charm to something approximating a total communication blackout. In fact, you get up, leave your chair and exit the metaphorical room because it is all. too. hard.

On Mother’s day, other women are being showered with flowers and breakfast in bed and cards and calls from relatives and outings. But because of what I like to call “The Empty Chair Syndrome” women who have lost children in early or late pregnancy, stillbirth and childhood, receive a whole lot of fat nothin’.

Well, not nothing. If they’re like me, they’re lucky enough to have one or two friends who remember. Remember who the child was, their name, their intended life, the swirl of love felt when they were present. These friends validate it.

In the May of my first year without my baby, after having carried her through her first trimester and then having her leave me, I experienced my first mother’s day. August died in February, so it was only a couple of short months later. The proximity was terrible. Still morbidly depressed and teary at every prick and annoyance, I feared and longed for the day to arrive.

I held my breath, wondering what would happen, but I was sorely disappointed. No calls from family – from either my husband’s side or my own. The phone didn’t ring. No flowers, no gifts, no cards. I ended up having imaginary conversations with them, thinking what they would have said, what would have felt nice but didn’t happen. I was surrounded by a sea of empty chairs.

Well, one card. The one and only card I received was from my friend Erin, and despite the now large distance between us, the memory of this kindness and the enfolding hug that accompanied it moved me deeply. The card depicted a bird making a nest, and the nest had an egg in it. Inside, she’d written such warm words about motherhood and the enduring spirit of it – and that to be a mother is not dependent upon the immediate presence of the child. Mother once, love like that once, and you’re always a Mum.

I felt seen, I felt heard, and I felt real. Being a silent mother makes you a ghost having conversations with the dead. Acknowledgment, even now, adds flesh to the rigging of my ribs, to make me whole and moving through a world more tangible.

I still have the card. It helped me get through the day and focus on my own experience, rather than have it obscured by anger at the lack of emotional dexterity or remembrance from those nearest and dearest to me.

Another random act of love happened last Mother’s Day. My beautiful flatmates Cassie and Andrew gave me a custom made necklace engraved with a lemon tree, and August’s name engraved on the back, along with a sweet card patterned with baby elephants and gentle messages written inside.

I wear it on special days that I associate with August, so she’s sitting close to my heart. I’ll be wearing it tomorrow.

I’m grateful for the ways in which those around me have tried to help me make sense of Mother’s Day by their participation. I know, though, that in many instances this would not have happened for women quieter and less outspoken than me. It is partly because I speak of August often that I receive love and care; when you agitate for something, it is bound to happen.

But this post is not for myself, this year. This is for the women too quiet, still too tender, forced to be too ‘polite’ to talk about their little lost ones. For the women who have had miscarriages that their community has treated as ‘par for the course’. For the women who have made a choice to have an abortion but still grieve, despite knowing it was the right thing to do at the time. For the women who are surrounded by people who think talking about dead babies is inelegant and gauche. For the women who are given plenty of support at the time, only to have it evaporate in a month or two.

If you know a woman who has miscarried, had a late term loss, a stillbirth, or an abortion you know they grieve, here are five simple tips to marking Mother’s Day so they are less a ghost.

1. Give your fear it’s due but get over it. Yes, it feels strange and scary to talk to a woman about her dead child. But you are a grownup. You push through fears about plenty of things – push through this. They’re not going to think you’re rude; they might be quiet and not say much, but you’re not doing it for feedback.

2. Remember that your fear and awkwardness is less than the sadness and loneliness of being ignored at a really important moment in your life. Cover the distance between those points with action informed by love.

3. Acknowledge them with words. A card, a letter, an email, a phone call, a visit. Even a wall post on facebook or a tweet. Speak and affirm them just as you would any other mother.

4. Make your affirmation positive. This is Mother’s Day, not death day. You’re affirming all that they did for that child in the time they were here. For instance, maybe you could include a specific memory of admiration if you knew them when their child was around. “I remember how hard you worked to keep healthy when your baby was with us, and that makes a great Mum.”

5. If you can’t speak to them or write to them because you don’t know what to say, act. Send flowers, or a small gift, or take them out to dinner. Offer to help with some chore to make the day easier. Offer to keep them company. Bake them a cake.

No matter what you do, remember that ‘making someone cry’ by speaking their truth out loud is actually a good thing. When people talk about August, I often cry. It feels good to do so and I’m grateful for the people who are more than their programming and let me be that vulnerable with them (and they, in turn, make themselves open to me).

Just be present, in some way. It lets a little light and love in. Be brave enough to take a stake in a whole park bench and let us sit beside you to just…talk.

Or even just to sit in the weight of the day. Together.


Original Sensuality: the delicious delicacy of attraction


My first true memories of the distinct chemistry of attraction are strongest around my first girlfriend.

There she sat, across the room from me, completely unaware of how she was bringing me undone. Ginger curls licked at the slight dip of her collarbone, and it was all I could do not to burst into a profession of adamant love and longing right then, simply because of the way those gently twisting fronds lay against her skin and picked up the beat of her pulse. The tiny tremors in their weft and shine made my breath come in juddering gasps I hoped I hid well.

Later it would be the smell of her washing powder, the crispness of her neat hands turning the pages of an exercise book, and the slight musk of her room when it had been shuttered up for a week as the winter set in. The creak of the radiators as they came to life is sharp in my memory; thinking of the ping of the metal as the oil grew warm starts a deep running of music in my veins – my chest grows tight as I recall how it felt to sit so close, yet so cavernously far away.

I remember retiring to my room after we’d sat and watched our shows together, and weeping in frustration under my doona at the pull of my observations and the burning in my throat and eyes and the very tips of my fingers. It would be a long time before I satisfied the tingling to reach out to seek her touch, but oh – how the wait was a delicious pain! There’s nothing like first love, for that.

There are earlier imprints, of course. I remember feeling all funny about a boy in the 1st grade then kissing him in the boys toilets and standing stunned afterwards under an autumnal tree dropping leaves on me. I felt rather inappropriately for my year eight English teacher, whose tight jeans and position on the edge of my desk made for a few cleared throats and lots of shuffling about in my chair.

The way we’re attracted to others fascinates me. I’m not really interested in the why, but the details of the how. I love nothing more than hearing friends describe their crushes in great detail to me while we sup on tea and biscuits. I am fixated by the finite, specific components of the rabble of their lust. This is the closest we come to breathing and walking our poetry; it is in the very desperate way we want one another that we inhabit a liminal space – standing abreast of this world and paradise.

I like knowing about where hands hold hands, or hold shopping bags, or hold door handles, or work at hairbands as an upwards glance swings to find the other person who is watching intently and cataloging the moment with shining eyes.

How would we even begin to record it all? So much constant data. At some point we’d fry the logs and give up, or start again. Human beings – not always, but often – are creatures of heady crusade towards sensory drowning. We want to submerge and find ecstasy, and I’m not talking about fucking: I’m talking about the emotion of attraction. All the electricity of it.

So given all this babbling about the collection of experience, what’s making my thing go zing right now?

– a redhead on my bus twisting hair around her pencil and kicking the blade of her foot against the back of a seat

– the small strip of flesh under the hip bones that appears just as a woman starts to take off her jeans

– beards and tickly moustaches

– the promise of touching before touching begins

– standing in my kitchen listening to someone talk, in an apron, making them food…then watching them eat

– small teeth under lips, glistening as words form

– polka dotted skirts and cardigans over blouses with high frilled necks, worn on a shivering woman who stamps to ward off the cold

– flirting on the internet in a completely obvious way

– drunkenly sitting at two ends of a couch and feeling the hold the other person has over me…wanting to move near

– thinking about them while I listen to Nina Simone

– tracing shapes into someone’s palm

– the ten minutes it takes me to write a text because I’m terrified to write something sweet

– seeing a guy lick raindrops off the back of his hand and then smile shyly when he realises I’ve seen him do itt

Maybe the onset of colder weather is making my head all silly and cloudy, but all I want to do is skip and wear warm hats and pick up reddening maple leaves to tuck into the pockets of sweethearts. There’s nothing nicer than feeling decadently young in that way; a way that has little to do with lived experience or biological age. We can all be sweethearts if we want to be; we can all admire and swoon and battle on the high seas of discreet affections.

Anyway, a sense of lust for another is a good sign that you’ve a healthy lust for living, I think. Blushing and crushing make you light up.

So go ahead – burn bright!


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