It’s All Fun and Games Until I Crack My Skull

First confession: I spend an inordinate amount of time in-line skating (rollerblading) and listening to 80’s pop music. I’m stuck in the 90’s, love the 80’s, and taking my skates and my music and hitting the trail is my favorite escape from the now. The trail on which I skate was once a railroad line that has been paved over and is a popular spot for all sorts of recreation. The section I frequent runs through wooded areas, farmlands, and marshes. Though it’s a popular trail, many trailheads and parking areas situated on the borders of nice suburban neighborhoods, it’s not nearly as busy as some of the trails in the parks closer to the city. That’s why I like it. I can feel like I’ve gotten away from it all on a trail that’s just around the corner from my house: just me, my skates, and that 80’s music. For the most part, alone. It’s one of the rare times that when I say I’m living the dream, I’m not being sarcastic.

Confession number two: I hate personal protective gear. Absolutely despise it. I wouldn’t wear it as a kid—it was off the second I was out of my parents’ sight—and up until recently, I refused to wear it as an adult. The shit’s uncomfortable: it inhibits motion; it itches; I just don’t like it. In addition, as a former figure skater, I’ve always been pretty cocky about my need (or lack thereof) of it. However, the “up until recently” coupled with the title should indicate where I’m going with this.

One minute, I’m skating, taking advantage of being alone on the trail to really get into the music and how my body moved to it. The next, I’m waking up, the right side of my face flat on the pavement, both tingling and throbbing. Both numb and in pain.

I’d fallen before, and the figure skater who is still very much alive within me knows that falling is no big deal. Get up; brush off; keep skating. But this time, for the first time ever, I couldn’t.

“Get up,” the voice said. Sometimes when people talk about accidents or traumatic experiences, they talk about how they weren’t really alone, like there was a presence with them. Some people credit a guardian angel; others have mentioned their higher selves. I don’t know what I believe the entity speaking with my voice inside my own head was, but whatever she was, whomever she was, she’s kind of a bitch.

“Get up,” she repeated, voice stern, no time for sympathy. I, however, was still rebooting and taking assessments of the damage.

Rebooting-Terminator vision

Still rebooting, kind of like a terminator.

I could feel my fingers and toes; I could move my head. Good signs, but there was something wrong with my vision. I was blind in my right in my eye. “Close it,” the voice said. I obeyed. “Can you see well enough with your left eye to navigate yourself out of here?” I nodded and responded to myself in the affirmative. “Then get up.”

I tried to push myself up, but my left arm wouldn’t hold my weight. You know those survival stories in the movies in which the hero digs deep into their spirit and proves that it really is mind over matter and all you have to do is want your body to work badly enough and it will? Bullshit. All of it. My left arm was useless.

“How’s your right arm?” the voice asked.

“Seems okay.”

“Then get up.”

I sat up and the world spun. I focused on the ground under me as the blood dripped from my face and splattered in little droplets on the pavement. I wanted to lie back down.

“That would be a horrible idea,” the voice admonished as I tried to remember how many serial killers had come from Washington state.

It was at that moment that I realized the pepper spray, which I always keep tucked in my bra when on the trail, was no longer there. I spotted it about ten feet away and tried to push myself onto my knees and crawl to it, but the dizziness hadn’t subsided, and I swayed and fell. Ten feet or ten miles made no difference. For the moment, I was utterly helpless and alone.

I reached for my phone—which had also fallen from my bra to the pavement, but hadn’t gone nearly as far thanks to the earbuds still attached and in my ears—and tried to call my husband. He was also on the trail, but he’d been jogging, so he was way behind me and wouldn’t be covering as much ground. Given the time (the plan was to go 20  minutes down and then turn around), he was likely already on his way back to the trailhead, expecting me to skate up behind him any minute.

It was then that I lived one of my actual recurring nightmares. Do you ever have the dream where you’re trying to operate your phone and you just can’t? You can’t tap the numbers, or you consistently dial the wrong person, or your keyboard is set to the “moving staircase at Hogwarts” setting, created especially for nightmares and stress dreams? That became my experience in the waking world. I couldn’t make my brain and my fingers work together to make the call. I just sat there and stared at my phone and fought the urge to cry.

“Panicking won’t help,” the voice reminded me. I’m honestly not sure if she was talking about my inability to use my phone or what happened next.

I saw people coming and—glancing longingly with my good eye at the pepper spray I couldn’t reach—I could do nothing but hope that they meant me no harm. I couldn’t have fought if I’d wanted to and panicking about it wasn’t going to help. I reminded myself that I was on a family trail, running parallel to the freaking suburbs. I really didn’t have anything to worry about. These people were probably far more likely to be of help than harm.

Then I reminded myself how often the murder shows on the Investigation Discovery channel take place in the suburbs and how many times the killers seem nice and helpful.

I held my head up, which I was grateful I could do, and smiled, trying to look as well and healthy as possible. Drip…drip…drip, I heard my blood hit the pavement and wondered how grotesque my smile must be.

Exclamations of, “Oh my God!” and “Do you need help?” came the second the man and the woman on bicycles got close enough to see my face. I noticed that the man had blood on him. The woman began explaining, as she gathered my scattered belongings, that she’d just bandaged her companion after his bike accident only moments before, and that she didn’t have any more band-aids but she’d do her best to clean me up with what she had left. I think that ended up being a clean napkin and some of the water I had left in my bottle, but unsurprisingly, I can’t recall.

The woman was quiet as she handed me my pepper spray, a silent acknowledgment between us that it wouldn’t have done me any damned good in this situation. If anything, had someone wanted to hurt me, I’d have supplied the weapon. Still, she smiled approvingly as I tucked it back into my bra. She and her companion helped me up and got me to a nearby picnic table so we could continue to assess the damage.

They kept talking to me and asking me questions. I assumed this was because, though I knew exactly where I was and what had happened, I’d had a hard time communicating it. I can only guess what these truly kind people must have thought when they heard me barely string together slurred words, and they did their best to keep me alert. Bless them! Soon, a third cyclist, a woman who told us she was an EMT, also stopped to help. She asked which trailhead I’d started from and if there was someone waiting for me.

“My husband!” I exclaimed. “I need to try and call him.”  I took a gamble at trying to operate my phone with an audience. My vision had started coming back and I was sure that if I concentrated hard enough, I could make the call. I had to. I’d heard the EMT whisper the word “ambulance” to the others and I assure you, nothing scared me more than that word.

For the handful of international readers my WordPress stats tell me I have, I want to be clear. The United States health “care” system would be a joke if it wasn’t already a nightmare. It’s bad enough if you have to visit the emergency room, but you definitely don’t want an ambulance to get you there. Depending on your economic status and your healthcare coverage, an ambulance ride and the subsequent ER visit can be financially devastating, especially if you end up being admitted to the hospital. Even with “good” health insurance, the debacle that followed the care I sought…well, that’s a whole other story. The short point is, I knew there was no way in Hell I was letting anyone call an ambulance. I’d take my chances with The Reaper first. I prayed my husband answered his phone.

“Hi babe, what’s up?” his chipper voice answered. He’d been enjoying his jog.

“Where are you?”

“I just turned around a few minutes ago.”

“Well, I’m gonna need you to turn back around.” I calmly told him what happened and that I was going to be fine, but his assistance was definitely required. He said he was on his way.

The vision in my right eye was returning in time to watch the swelling in my right cheek rise underneath and impede my vision in a different manner.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard the voice in a while. All of my thoughts were distinguishably my own. I had the sense to thank the source of the voice mentally rather than verbally. I really didn’t want an ambulance ride.

Talk of an ambulance had stopped since reaching my husband, but the EMT kept telling me that I really need to go to the emergency room, that I was pretty badly swollen and continuing to swell quickly. She told me that she was concerned about broken bones in my face, and when I told her about my arm, she was adamant that I get that checked, too. Still, I very clearly stated that I was already feeling better and that I had no intention of going to the ER.

Based on where my husband told me he was when I’d spoken to him, he made it to that little picnic table on the trail in record time. A look of suppressed panic crossed his face when he saw me; a look that said, This is really bad but I don’t dare tell her how bad this is. As if I wasn’t dying to take a selfie to see it for myself.

I told him what happened, and then each of the three wonderful humans who’d stopped to help filled in bits of information. “She needs an emergency room,” the EMT wasted no time telling him. “She says she’s fine but she’s very clearly in shock. Where are you parked?”

There was much discussion about the best way to get me back up the trail. Do we walk the 2.5 miles back to where we were parked? Where was the closest trailhead? Should my husband go back to the car and drive to that one? No real option was better than the last.

“The best way for me to get out of here is to skate out,” I said. I was tired, and nothing good could come of me wasting time sitting there if I did have a serious problem that needed attention.

“No,” literally everyone responded in near perfect unison.

“Any way you slice it, I’m going to have to get out of here, under my own power, on foot,” I said, trying to keep exasperation out of my voice. Everyone there was trying to help me, after all. “The fastest way is to skate.”

Turns out, threatening to skate was the best way to convince everyone that I was fine to walk back to the car. I thanked my trail angels and swore that I’d be okay. My husband thanked them and promised that we’d get some medical care. He took off my skates and carried them, while I strolled down the trail in my socks, holding my arm and smiling sheepishly at every passerby who gasped at my appearance.

The first selfie I published after the accident.

The first selfie I published after the accident. It’s not a trick of the light, I really am bruised from my brow to my collar bone. I got the hat because my mixed-race hair was being done by my very well meaning, but very white, husband and it showed.

By the time we reached the car, some of my shock had worn off and so some of the pain had set in. Though I’d had the opportunity to take a selfie and had seen how mangled my face was (no one but me, my husband, and my doctor have seen the selfie from the trail), I still refused to go to the ER. We went to Urgent Care.

Urgent Care took one look at my face and sent me immediately to the ER, which I thought painfully silly. I said that, though I was concerned about a concussion, my injuries overall looked far worse than they were. I insisted that if Urgent Care wouldn’t treat me, my husband should just take me home; my husband decided we were going to follow recommendations.

Picture of the manicure that survived.

The manicure survived.

At the hospital, I maintained that it all looked far worse than it was. The X-rays and CT scans said that I was basically right, but it still wasn’t good, and yet it still could have been worse. I’d broken my right orbital (eye socket), but I wasn’t going to need any reconstructive surgery.  I’d also fractured my left elbow, but when I saw the orthopedist, he advised against a cast, so I thankfully didn’t need that either. My vision fully returned.

The accident happened at the end of last summer, right before Labor Day (at least it didn’t wreck my whole summer), and so it’s been a year since. My elbow has healed, though sometimes it locks, and my smile is still a little crooked from the last bit of a swollen hematoma that my body has yet to absorb. It makes the right side of my face pull up a little higher and wider when I smile, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, only half. I’ve been assured that my Joker face will heal, but if I hadn’t had a similar hematoma on my hip from a previous accident that ended up taking  a year and a half to re-absorb, I’d be really discouraged by it.

A shot of Jack Nicholson as the Joker and a selfie side by side

Who wore it better?

And yet, I have a love/hate relationship with my crooked smile. In my better moods, I think of it like the sexy scar marring the tragic hero’s face just enough to be unnerving. I like to think of my new facial flaw as being barely noticeable in the right light, but just unsettling enough to suggest that I’m not to be trifled with. After all, I’ve been through some shit (no one besides us needs to know that it was something as silly and avoidable as a rollerblading accident). I’ll likely miss my crooked smile the second it finally heals.

First skate of the year early this spring. I wasn’t thrilled about the gear, but I do look kind of bad-ass.

I do wear protective gear now, but that also means I skate a little less. One of the things that draws me to skating is the feeling of freedom, and I can’t help but think of helmets and padding more as shackles than safety devices. It’s a tiny inconvenience and yet, more often than I’d like to admit, the drudgery of donning my armor (no matter how bad-ass I look in it) has been the deciding factor when choosing not go to the trail for a skate, and going without gear isn’t an option.  As an American, I really can’t afford the thousands of dollars (after insurance!) a mistake like that costs.

But, as I said, that’s a story for a different post.

Oh! And if you’re one of the human angels from that day, thank you for not being a serial killer. Thanks to you all for being kind, and wonderful examples of humanity. I appreciated it more than you know.

I Didn’t Change My Mind

I sat in the exam room, answering the standard questions doctors ask when getting to know new patients. My tone remained flat until we got to the subject of surgeries.

“I see you had a tubal ligation in 2017,” she said. I suppressed a smirk. I knew what was coming next. “And how many times have you been pregnant?”

“None,” I answered, and allowed the smirk to surface.

“Oh! Okay,” she said, and then repeated the word “okay” a little too reassuringly. I’d have taken it as a judgment (no matter how hard she tried not to make it) had I not seen a split second of envy cross her face. Make no mistake, the expression was as fleeting as her initial surprise, that little crack in professionalism that I’d instigated completely, but it was there long enough for me to guess—and it’s only a guess—that she had at least 3 kids, and likely a rough morning with them.

I haven’t written a lot about being child-free by choice (CFBC), mainly because it’s not that remarkable. All the voluntarily childless did differently than anyone else is make the perfectly valid decision not to procreate. We’re not even all that rare anymore. In fact, we’ve become so common that most of the articles that turn up in my search to show how common we’ve become are at least 2 years old. We’re literally old news.

What I haven’t found a lot of is what to expect in your real, day-to-day life when you are not only CFBC, but you’re a woman who decided to cement your decision with sterilization. What happens when the people who insisted you’d change your mind find that you’ve doubled down and had yourself surgically altered to be sure your body can’t betray your made-up mind? *Cracks knuckles* Shall we begin?

Things I Expected

I’ve already written about all it took just to have the procedure, so I won’t rehash it here, but to say there were obstacles—sexist, misogynist obstacles—would be understating the issue. Of course, those obstacles were set under the guise of concern that I’d change my mind because apparently women are flighty and incapable of making life decisions (but not too flighty to birth and raise children). So, when I finally had the procedure, it came with a strong sense of victory.

A lot of people turned out to be pretty cool and congratulated me for finally getting what I wanted (even if it wasn’t what they wanted). I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have a lot of really supportive people around me. However, as expected, there was a handful of not so cool people.

Some people continued to harp on the idea that I might change my mind. The best of them shrugged and told me there’s always adoption; the worst of them insisted that I’d be sorry and actively tried to upset me. Methods of agitation varied from extensive lines of questioning designed to make me feel regretful (always an entertaining volley), to pure and simple judgment. I once had someone more than imply and all but say, “I had to do it. What makes you think you can get away without doing it?” Just sit with that implication for a second.

A very small number of people were so offended by my decision that they don’t have much to say to me at all anymore. Their silence is an improvement. Your mileage may vary.

Given the timing of my procedure, two years ago today on March 10, 2017, there was speculation as to whether I was undergoing the procedure in response to the election; that I’d bought into some fear mongering propaganda and believed I’d lose all rights as a woman. I admit that as I sat at my yearly exam, talking to my OB/GYN about birth control, the political situation certainly crossed my mind, but that was just the newest reality on a long list of reasons I’d wanted to be sterilized for years. My story shut down speculation for anyone interested in hearing it more than making their own point. That said, looking around, if I had gotten my procedure out of fear of the political situation, I’d have been absolutely justified. And that’s all I’ll say on the topic.

The thing is that all of this was expected, and I made my decision anyway. So…

Things I Somehow Didn’t Expect

Women who have had children often talk about their pre-baby bodies, or getting their bodies back, or how they love their post-baby bodies, or literally anything to be said about the fact that a woman’s body is different after childbirth. Basically, a whole lot of things that go wonky with our bodies can rightfully be blamed on carrying and birthing children. “Damn kid destroyed my body!” a friend exclaimed before smothering her son in kisses.

So, what happens when there’s never been a pregnancy and there’s no child to blame?

You fall apart for no damn reason at all, that’s what!

My mother and I were talking about aging, and though I’m 25 years my mother’s junior, I had a lot to complain about that day. “I just don’t understand!” I exclaimed about my latest little infirmity. My mother laughed and said, completely free of judgment, “I imagine it’s harder for you. I got to blame you and your brother for screwing up my body, but you? You’re just getting old.” She laughed and laughed.

Thanks, Mom.

The other thing I didn’t expect was the guilt. Not the obvious guilt like the how-could-we-not-give-our-parents-grandchildren variety (which we actually never got from our respective parents, though I know I heard it from a family friend or two), but the little voice in my own head that says, “You know you have the time for that. It’s not like you have kids.” Whether it’s a career opportunity, volunteering my time for a cause I support, or sitting at my desk to write for another hour, that little voice is always there reminding me that there are no little me-s I have to deal with. My time is mine and I can spend it as I please. So, maybe I shouldn’t spend it all watching reality TV? (That is not an invitation to recruit me to your cause.)

Things I’d Been Warned About That Didn’t Happen

A coworker and I got engaged around the same time. We were chatting one day, and she told me how the ring wasn’t even warm on her finger yet and she and her fiancé were already being interrogated about having kids. I nodded, rolled my eyes in commiseration, and chewed on a corn chip. I knew what she was going through. I’d already hurt a couple of feelings with my responses to the same questions. Though she was more open to the idea of having children than I was, that didn’t say a whole lot. I swallowed my corn chip and didn’t take another. My coworker’s expression had changed. Her lips still formed a smile, but her eyes had gone a bit dull as she told me, “I said I really wasn’t sure about kids and then they asked,  ‘What’s the point of getting married at all if we weren’t having children?’”

Most of that conversation is lost to the deepest archives of my memory, but that last part still resonates. How dare anyone say that to someone still basking in the glow of an engagement? How dare anyone say that to a woman at all? We’re not incubators. Still, her story proved just how tactless friends and family can be and so I expected to spend some time defending the decision to get married. Part of me still does, but so far, no one has tried to invalidate my marriage (at least not over lack of children), and I’m not sure if I’m relieved or if I was so prepared for the fight that I’m a bit disappointed not to have it. (That is NOT an invitation to start some mess.)

But the crown jewel, the most important thing that I was warned would happen that didn’t—and I’m sure you can guess—is regret over my decision.

I realize that someone is thinking, it’s only been two years! They’re not wrong. The thing is, I’m not wrong either, and the only reason someone would set out to prove me wrong is to make me feel wrong. Why would I give someone like that the time of day?

We actually do have a couple of really adorable kids.

And, should I ever start to wonder longingly about what my life with children would have looked like, all I have to do is hop over to a mom blog or group on social media to remember why I made my decision in the first place.

Look, I get it. Moms are stressed from their cores to their split ends (because no one makes sure Mommies get haircuts), and need a place to vent about their little miracles. Sometimes that place to vent, combined with a fishbowl size glass of wine, is all a mom has to look forward to, or so the memes tell me. But then please, moms, please don’t act all shocked and shaken when some of us decide not to join you in the world of motherhood. Don’t question our decision and then get offended when we answer truthfully. I can only imagine the pressure—the weight of the world—that mothers handle daily…and that’s why I chose not to be one.

For a nice, morbid shift, I’ve been asked very directly about my deathbed. If my husband goes first, do I really want to die alone? Will I regret my choice then? Maybe I’m a jerk, but my response has been to ask how they can guarantee that they won’t die alone just because they’ve had children. Anything can happen. Maybe their kids are assholes (I know some of them to be just that). Maybe they’ll be surrounded by loved ones when they pass, just not their children, or family at all. As it turns out, people don’t like thinking about their own mortality and tend to drop the topic the second it’s turned back on them. However, since I don’t mind it, and while we’re already being morbid, I think there’s something to be said for dying alone, in peace, without worrying that you’re leaving behind someone who still needs you.

The point is that there are no promises in life, so I’m going to live mine on my terms.

Turns out, kids aren’t part of those terms.

My Acting Teacher Was Right About Writing, Too

Each flyer, poster, and playbill on my acting teacher’s office wall represented a show he’d worked on, and the wall was packed. Some prominently displayed items came from university productions and were covered in student autographs, while others came from bigger things—New York and LA things. Though I couldn’t have been more than a college sophomore (and had gone “off to college” the distance of a whole 20 miles), I was convinced that I knew what I wanted in life. A wall like his was on the list, but there was a problem.

My scene performances were falling flat, and though the teacher I visited was neither my advisor, nor the instructor of the class in question, we had a rapport and I trusted his advice above others. Besides, the Theatre Arts department was a small one, so he didn’t have to lead my class to know that some students crossed their fingers to ward against drawing me as a scene partner.

One of my old headshots. The fresh face of a young woman who knows exactly what she wants in life. She is, however, wrong.

My teacher and I had a conversation that I now imagine we must have had a million times, that went over my head a million and one: Do you really want to be an actor? Of course, I do! Why else would I be here? And paying tuition, no less! Acting requires both bravery and vulnerability. Well, yeah. I’m standing on stage in front of a crowd of people, vulnerable to judgement and rotten tomatoes. That’s bravery. You’re going to have to find a way to empathize with the character and that might require digging deep and pulling up ugly stuff you don’t want to look at. In the real world, I wouldn’t have auditioned for this role in the first place.

His advice didn’t sink in in time for me to connect with Blanche DuBois, to live truthfully within her given circumstances, and my grade on the scene reflected it. I heard my scene partner got the playing-to-a-brick-wall curve.

Still, much to the dismay of potential scene partners of the future, I performed well enough overall to advance to the next semester’s acting class. Much to their delight, I didn’t last long in the department after that anyway. Halfway through my college career, an acting teacher asked me to drop her class. It should have crushed me, but I’d never been more relieved. I did one better than drop her class and changed my major altogether. If I was going to dig that deep—if I was going to take a character’s hand and let them lead me into some scary place I didn’t want to go, time after time after time, it would be a character I created. I’m a writer, now, I’d chirp, though I knew on some level I always had been. Fade out.

Fade in to the other day. I sat at my computer, frustrated as I ever let myself get without taking a breather. No matter how I wrote, rewrote, and wrote it again, my scene fell flat.

The observant reader knows exactly where this is going: I wasn’t (and am probably still not) digging deeply enough to do the job right. I understand it, now; truly grok it in a way that I hadn’t when I thought I was an actor. I’m working on a novel with a lot of ideas and characters. I don’t necessarily like all of those characters, but to write them correctly, to do any kind of justice to the world I’m building or my protagonist within it, I’m going to have to find a way to empathize with them and dig deep and pull up ugly stuff I don’t want to look at, or it’s all going to keep falling flat.

So, that’s where I am, folks!  I’m pulling up ugly shit I don’t want to look at, and it sucks as much as it sounds like it does. However, it’s what needs to be done to make sure the novel doesn’t suck, and that’s the important part…even if it is taking a bit more time and a bit more out of me than expected.

And maybe, if I work really hard and write a really good book, some interviewer will ask me: So, how much of this character is autobiographical? And maybe, in the most appropriate answer to the question yet, I’ll summon a demon to devour their soul.

Time to Level Up

I took a sip of the champagne—the good, imported stuff. This was a celebration and I couldn’t have been prouder of my husband for getting the raise and soon, the title, he’d worked so hard for. Still, the thought tickled the back of my brain like the bubbles tickled the back of my throat: I need to level up in my career.

Let me take a moment to acknowledge that what follows is the sappy song of someone who got everything she wanted in life; the kind of stuff that rolls eyes the internet over. It does not provide any concrete solutions to anyone’s problem. It will neither be discussed as sage wisdom in the forums of accomplished women, nor taught in the halls of learned men, though it may get a few hate shares (a click is a click). So, if you’re not rolling out the guillotine yet…

The day job. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s the job that pays the bills while you’re working on the career, particularly a creative career. I’ve taken a lot of criticism over the years about how I balance the day job with creative endeavors, and it has mostly come from creative circles. From barely audible side comments and “just sayin’” observations, to dramatic tales of sacrifices made for art, I’ve lost count of the ways people tactlessly opined that I put far too much energy into the corporate resume and not enough into honing my craft. That these observations often coincided with something the observers wanted me to do for them is perhaps why I continued doing what I needed to do to live up to my own standards as a grown woman and paid little mind to their criticism. The bills weren’t going to pay themselves, and it seemed better to work towards a job I could tolerate than to keep bouncing from something I hated to something I was about to hate in the interest of conserving energy for art (or using misery to fuel it).

What I got for my effort was a resume full of day jobs that led to good jobs in my field, which I shaped into the corporate side of my career overall. On the corporate side, I have enough experience that I’m in demand but not so much that it works against me. I like what I do and I’m good at it. I even really like my current position, which I get to fulfill from my home office. Things are going well.

The problem is the self-induced career stagnation. When an opportunity to advance the corporate side comes along, I think, If I throw my hat into the ring and it works out, then that’s what I will be—not a dark fiction writer. Though I am no more correct than the critics I’m able to ignore, when the thought is my own I tend to give it more attention than it’s worth, and that can lead to missed opportunities. This phenomenon is not unique to me; I’ve been discussing it with fellow creative people for a long time. In fact, many of the people who’ve criticized my balance of steady jobs with creative pursuits have also confessed to experiencing this same phenomenon, and I wonder if their criticism comes from not being 100% pleased with their own decisions on the matter.

Yet, there I was, trying to make a crossroads out of a clear path, when my husband called to tell me he got his raise and to give me the details about pending promotions. Now, I don’t really believe in signs. It stands more to reason that we see the signs we want to see based on the decisions we’ve already made, but if I had been waiting for a sign that it was time to level up ton the corporate side, that would have been it.

As I said, I clearly don’t have any answers or concrete formulas on how to manage a career (I was literally just talking about signs). If there’s a point at all, it’s that:

No one can determine your path, assign your priorities, or define your success but you, and it’s perfectly fine to ignore anyone else who tries.

And THAT’S how we do motivational posters around here.

New Year, Old Me

“Did anyone get the number of that speeding year?” I ask about 2018 as I sway and swoon and sink into 2019.

It’s true; 2018 was a whirlwind in the best possible way and if that’s vague, I’m sorry. No one likes an internet humble-braggart. I will simply say that 2018 was a busy and amazing year for me personally (though I won’t talk about the state of the world in this post), and I’m still a bit tired.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because they don’t stick. Honestly, why does anyone even bother with them anymore? I do, however, set goals. Some of them are about as useful as resolutions (join The Avengers), while others are actually kind of doable (finish the first draft of my novel). Ringing in the new year with the yin and yang of the impossible and the possible is typical of me and so, as the title suggests: new year, old me.

Also suggested is that I’m not going to start writing frequent posts just for the sake of posting frequently. My career isn’t at the point where I need to create regular content to generate clicks or keep people engaged with my digital space (though I’m hired to do it for other people from time to time), so I’d far rather only write here when I have something to say.

So, you mean to tell me that you haven’t had anything to say for…

No, no. Stop scrolling and counting. I acknowledge that it’s been a minute and, like I said, 2018 was a bit of a whirlwind.

I’d intended to write a piece about life since my tubal ligation on the first anniversary of my surgery, but the second anniversary is coming up, so that extra year of experience can only make the writing better, I guess.

I’d intended to write a number of pieces about my career. I’m very driven when I know where I’m driving, but the GPS has been a little spotty in that area. I’ve gained some clarity (more on that), so that can only make the writing clearer, right?

I’d intended to acknowledge the two or three people looking for updates on my novel and let them know how it’s coming. I even intended to create a page just for novel news and updates. Now I guess I’ll have to acknowledge that it didn’t happen and provide an update letting folks know why.

It seems that catching up on my intentions just made my list of goals this year.

I suppose I could have just written and posted these pieces rather than writing this rambling preamble, but frankly, the preamble keeps me honest. I said it out loud; I published it; I have to follow through with it because, whether I publish my thoughts regularly or not, it’s probably still not cool to let two birthdays pass between posts.

I’m Child Free by Choice and I Finally Got My Tubes Tied

Actually, I had my fallopian tubes removed altogether but we’ll get to the specifics later. What’s important right now is that finally, after more than a decade, after being turned away twice, after enduring the endless condescending comments on the matter, I’ve been allowed to make my own decision about my own body and reproductive choices and have myself permanently sterilized.

My journey to sterilization started in Pennsylvania, which is important to note because in addition to spanning many years, this journey crossed state lines. I acknowledge that getting a tubal ligation (or in my case, a bilateral salpingectomy) was easier here in Washington state than it might have been in some other parts of the country. I urge you to look into the laws in your state and talk to your doctor regarding facility policy and the law.

I knew at a young age that motherhood wasn’t for me. Sure, I had hypothetical children, but they only got mentioned when declaring how differently I would do things if and when I had kids. Sometimes, I’d read a book or see a movie and there’d be some kick-ass character with a cool name and I’d think, Hey, that’s a really cool name. I’d totally name my kid *Blah* but that’s about as far as any aspirations of motherhood went. So, in my early twenties (in Pennsylvania), I asked my doctor about tubal ligation. Her response was that I was too young to know for sure that I didn’t want to be a mother, that they didn’t ever sterilize women my age unless they’d already had a couple of children, and that I needed to wait until I was at least 25 to have this discussion. The first time around, I could see my doctor’s point. I was 21 or 22 at most and in the height of my party days, not my serious thought and knowing what the hell I wanted from life days. At the time, even I conceded that maybe waiting was best.

Fast forward a handful of years—we can skip over the times I white-knuckled it, begging the heavens for my period to start any time it was so much as a second late. I’d turned 25 in December. January found me back at the doctor’s office asking about tubal ligation. I knew with certainty that I didn’t want to be a mom, but my doctor had other ideas. She looked over my chart, confirming that I had not yet had any children. “You’re single?” she made her statement a question. I confirmed that I was, in fact, single. If anything, I thought that would help my case, but then she looked at me and said the words I’ll never forget: “What if you meet a man who wants kids?”

An educated, successful woman had just let those words come out of her mouth. I was dumbfounded by her betrayal. I’d already ended a handful of potential relationships because the men in question wanted to be fathers someday and it hurt to break up, but by goddess I did it because I knew for damn sure I didn’t want children. How dare this woman not take my word for it!

I don’t remember what I ended up saying to her when she told me to ask again at 30. I just remember feeling betrayed, angry, and helpless. I knew in that moment that I absolutely despised her. I know that still, in more private forums, I speak of her with all the spite I can spit.

I’d met my now husband by 30 and he was more than willing to get a vasectomy after we got married and were certain that we weren’t having children. (I told him that if he was marrying me with hopes that I would change my mind about motherhood, he shouldn’t marry me.) While his offer to get a vasectomy was sweet, it always stuck in my craw that he had to make it at all. Yeah, I get that vasectomies are easier to perform (and reverse) and are less invasive than tubal ligations. I get that there are fewer risks associated with vasectomies. But what I also get is that if I’d been allowed to make my own choice about my own body, the situation would have been taken care of long before I’d ever met him.

Let alone that a vasectomy on my husband’s part would only protect me from his business. In a world where women are disproportionately victimized by men and society is happy to look the other way and saddle women with the consequences of their attackers’ actions, having my husband cut simply wasn’t good enough for me.

 The Consultation

Fast forward some more. We’d moved out of Pennsylvania, spent some time in Connecticut (where, in fairness, I might have had an easier time getting a tubal ligation but my husband was still trying to convince me that snipping him was the better idea), and then moved on to Washington.

We’d been in the greater Seattle area for just over a year when it occurred to me that my last gynecological exam had happened back east. So, I looked at our health insurance plan, found an in-network doctor and facility, and made my yearly appointment.

The physician’s assistant and I started going over the standard new patient questions. I confirmed that condoms were my method of birth control because I hated the pill and wasn’t thrilled with the idea of an IUD. She asked if I was happy with my current method of contraception. No, I was not happy. I told her that I’d been wanting to get my tubes tied for a while but had been turned away twice, the last time on the grounds that I apparently hadn’t met a man to tell me what I was allowed to do with my body yet. The PA was offended on my behalf. She said I wouldn’t face those kinds of problems here and gave me the name of the doctor she recommended for the consultation and surgery. Due to the nature of our health insurance policy, I decided it would be best to schedule my consultation after the new year.

I still feared being told I would need my husband to sign off on my decision, so I brought him to the consultation with me. He wanted to be there anyway ‘cause he’s a good dude like that, but when I told my doctor about my previous experiences and my particular reason for having him there, her disgust was clear. She told me how she hadn’t even believed that my story up to this point really happened to people, that stories of young women being turned away for being single and childless were nothing more than sensationalized urban legends, but now here I was: her fourth patient to tell her the same story.

We started going over my options. We talked about non-incision (hysteroscopic) methods like Essure, but since I wanted my procedure to be immediately effective and I don’t generally fear surgery, we focused on laparoscopic (surgical) methods. Clamped or clipped, severed and cauterized, or removed altogether? All options were highly effective (98%+) in preventing pregnancy*, and if I understood my doctor correctly, all would reduce my risk of ovarian cancer; however, bilateral salpingectomy stood out for its higher level of risk reduction. It’s not like I was using my fallopian tubes anyway. They were pretty much just sitting there being beacons for cancer. “Pull ‘em out,” I said.

The 30-day Waiting Period

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. If it had been, I’d have lain back and let her take them that afternoon. Since sterilization is a procedure with a high regret risk attached, I had to sign a form that said I understood that my procedure was permanent and that reversal procedures were often ineffective. The paperwork also needed to prove that I’d been given at least 30 days to consider my decision; so, once signed, I actually had to wait the 30 days. By my calculations, I’d been waiting for something between 16 and 18 years, so what was one more month but time to consider the inevitable blog post?

I stopped being flippant about that month the very next day. I was on the phone with one of the ladies from the billing department at my doctor’s office trying to find out about medical codes and oh-so-fun health insurance stuff. She asked what I was having done and somewhere in my response the words, “rip that garbage out,” rolled off my tongue.

I’m a writer. I understand the power of words and I had just used the word “garbage” to refer to working parts of my healthy, functioning reproductive system—the system that creates life. The implications smacked me in the face.

The next thing to roll off my tongue was an apology to the woman on the other end of the phone. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t say that. Just because I’m not using my fallopian tubes doesn’t mean they’re garbage.” She was gracious, but we were both clearly jolted by my contempt for my working system.

So, of course, I had to address that contempt. It wasn’t hard to figure out where it was coming from. It came directly from years of being denied my preferred choice in managing my reproductive system. A little contempt was understandable, justifiable even. What I needed to figure out was whether I was letting it cloud my current decision. Was getting my tubes tied more about finally getting my way and proving someone else wrong than really wanting to have it done?

I ended up spending the next 30 days as the good folks of the establishment hoped I would. I asked myself every question about my motivations from personal to political and back again, and it turned out that only one question mattered:

Do I believe that there will ever come a time in my life when finding out I’m pregnant would be anything short of personally devastating?

No.

My decision was clear.

 The Procedure and Recovery

My surgery was scheduled for the afternoon of Friday, March 10, 2017.

The intake process went just slowly enough that I was happy I’d brought a book, but quickly enough that I didn’t make much progress. Multiple times I was asked to confirm which procedure I was having and whether I was leaving the hospital that afternoon. I knew from previous surgical procedures that all the repeated questions were safety precautions, checks to make sure everyone was on the same page, but they’d always made me nervous.

I asked for sedatives. I got them. I got sleepy.

And then I was waking up.

People were smiling. I was told that I’d been trying to make jokes. It’s the “trying” that concerns me. My humor is questionable when I’m wide awake; there’s no telling what I think is funny when I’m half out of it, but people were smiling so I’ll take that as a good sign.

One of the doctors asked me if I was feeling any pain. I said that I had some cramps and he pushed a magical little button and the pain went away almost immediately. I must make it clear, though, that the cramping wasn’t bad in the first place. The day after the surgery, a friend asked me if the procedure hurt or if I was in any current pain and I replied honestly that at no point did I suffer worse than I do with second or third day menstrual cramps. All women are different, and I don’t know if my statement is one of how bad my monthly cramps are or of how painless the procedure was, but there you have it.

I was left with one tiny little incision in my belly button, and an even smaller one a few inches below.

While the doctors and nurses were all great (really, they’re angels in my eyes for finally doing this for me), I was especially touched by the nurse who took my hand and told me that she, too, had made the decision not to have kids and that she never regretted it a day in her life. It was like this special moment of solidarity, validating that our choices belong to us and we’re not any less women for making them. We can still be goddesses without being mothers.

I was told not to do any intense workouts or heavy lifting for a week after the surgery and not to have sex until cleared for it in the post op appointment (about two and half weeks after surgery), and that was it. I left the hospital with a weight lifted off my shoulders and a pocket full of pain prescriptions.

It was going to be a good weekend.

I returned to work on Monday.

Was it worth it?

At the time of this writing, I’m only a few days removed from the surgery. Gauze pads have given way to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Band-Aids. I’m not in any pain, even without pain meds, and I’ve got the tell-tale itching of wounds beginning to heal. Little in my life has changed. I’m still child free by choice, only now I don’t really have to think about it. Once I am cleared for sexual activity and I get over shuddering at the thought of unprotected sex (yes, even in my monogamous marriage), I predict that I will enjoy a lot more spontaneity and passion in my sex life now that the once ever-present fear of pregnancy has been removed. The truth is, I have never felt this free in my life and my only regret is not having this done years ago.

But like I said, I wasn’t allowed to make that choice then.

 

*Tubal ligation does not protect against STDs.

Random Thoughts: On Writing, Politics, and Silence

I really love what she has to say about silence vs. being loud.

Reggie Lutz

Today, I am supposed to be writing a dinner scene among a family between whom there is no political agitation. Given the political agitation that is currently in the very air we breathe this is no easy task. The brain desperately wants to engage with that while the particular demands of the story I am writing now require that my brain engages with something else. The fictional family’s conflict that I am writing about has to do with combatting negative paranormal energies that they are, as humans on the living side of the equation, unaware of. This has nothing to do with politics, as far as the moment goes. Except that I remember in fiction, as in politics, conflict arises when character agendas diverge and come into opposition. So maybe I can use the present turmoil as a way in, as I write, even though the characters are fighting with…

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