Claiming My Voice Again

        Voice by zephy0 at Deviant Art

I was confident using my voice as a little girl.

I started singing in a giant church around 6 or 7 and I was often awarded solos. The annual Christmas event took place at the San Diego Convention Center and I was fearless in front of thousands of people. I sang in church and school choirs for years. As a high schooler I sang Whitney Houston by request of my friends, who liked hearing me sing while we travelled to speech and debate competitions. My sophomore year of high school I tried out for Grease by belting out The Greatest Love of All and was given the part of Rizzo. I was the only vocalist in the play who could be heard at the back of the theater without a mic. I owned my loud and powerful voice.

I felt comfortable taking up space as a teen.

While I was socially introverted and quiet, I had no issue being vocal in class or being openly creative. I was smart and I knew it. I was ambitious and trusted what I was capable of. I did math-olympics and the county spelling bee and won medals and ribbons. I was in the classes for “gifted” kids and I was part of the class leadership team. I also competed in speech tournaments.

By sophomore year I took up space visually. I was one of the only punk-goth kids in our rural school and even by that context my style was eclectic. I may have been quietly lurking the halls, but everyone knew who I was because of my wild outfits. I wore biker boots and my step dad’s camo pants one day and long skirts with scarves tied in layers around my waist the next. I scoured the stores in San Diego for unique pieces I could take back to our rural coastal town that carried last year’s fashions in its stores.

It all changed when I got pregnant at 16 by a mixed race older bad boy on his way to the first Desert Storm because the military was the only chance he had to make a life after years in and out of foster care due of a dad who beat the shit out of him. Later I learned through court papers that he is disabled and diagnosed with schizophrenia and PTSD. I never saw him again.

During the course of my pregnancy: my high school tried to force me out because they believed I was a bad influence on other students by merely existing; I lost most of my friends because our worlds changed so drastically; the father told me he believed I got pregnant on purpose to trap him though he was the one that claimed the condom was too tight; and the German foreign exchange student I loved the year prior came back to town and shamed me for having sex with someone else (even though he had told me we should do so while we were apart). When I had my son at the beginning of senior year I left behind honors classes and school dances for the alternative school the outcasts attended because on-site childcare was available. Fortunately it turned out to be a fabulous year with a teacher who honored my intelligence and curiosity.

When I returned to singing in the church choir after my son was born I discovered I couldn’t sing a solo in front of others anymore.  I was so scared that my voice came out all wrong. This was the first time I lost my voice because of my identity as a marginalized mother (teen, single, and on welfare). It would be a few years before I found my voice again by doing poetry readings in college and singing Karaoke with friends.

Fast forward almost 20 years during which I claimed my space as a writer, artist, professional, and community leader.  

Four years ago I lost my voice again because I chose adoption for my third child. I was ashamed for getting pregnant when I should have known to use protection every single time. I am ashamed for not wanting to raise him, and for not making the same choice that I did for my other children. I put my babies above all else knowing despite my youth and naivety that they needed a healthy relationship with me more than anything else. But I also believed I would have freedom the second half of my life. I clung to that dream of freedom with ferocity. If I raised this child I wouldn’t have known adulthood without full time parenting until I was 60. I chose myself and my freedom over my son. Deep down I believe this was incredibly selfish and even question using the term freedom because it sounds like children are chains when really they are commitments. I chose to commit to myself.

Not only am I struggling with shame, I also felt significantly more birth mother grief than I imagined I would since I was able to have an intimate relationship with my son as an Amma. No one tells you how intense the grief is, or that it manifests in your body for months, as if your body is reaching for a baby that isn’t there. That giant grief  was coupled with the grief of simultaneously transitioning to an empty nester. My daughter moved out the year after my second son was born. There is a great emptiness in me now that I am not on a mission to be a good mother.

Birth mothers, also known as first mothers, are taboo. I can tell when it makes people uncomfortable that I talk about it. Everyone knows how to celebrate the adoptive parents that finally have the child they dreamed of. But I’ve learned no one knows how to be with the first family that lost a child.

And – I am not a young single woman who can say my child will grow up in better circumstances. I’m a 43 year old woman who now knows how to mother well, in a happy marriage and with more income than I’ve ever had before. In a culture with tiger moms and soccer moms and desperate women trying to become moms, I know many consider me a terrible mother for giving up custody of my child, let alone to a lesbian and a trans man.

And – we failed in our experiment with radically open adoption that was based on trust rather than legal documents. We failed at becoming the intentional community we imagined, sharing our son and a home. And so I feel more shame than ever, because my grief kept me from being present to others. I didn’t just center myself in choosing adoption, I centered myself within my grief experience and shut everyone else out. While I tried to give voice to my experience, I didn’t share the truth of the darkness I was wrapped in for four years. Now I see the light of day, every day, and I am ashamed of my own aftermath.

And – there are other pieces to this puzzle involving speaking my truth and being fired or bullied or rejected for it. To say it’s easier to hide away in my quiet little life is an understatement.
So I struggle with using my voice. I am being offered opportunities to be paid for my writing and I am being validated by people the times that I do write publicly. And yet I choose silence far more often than I do being visible. It’s like I’ve hit a wall and I don’t know yet how to get over, under, around, or through it.

Celebrating My Partner

I strongly dislike being away from my husband this week, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have a partner that is not just showing up, but is working his butt off to achieve a position where he can support us no matter my health status and how much I am able to make at any given time in the future. He is investing in us and me.

This is such a big deal to me because I’ve been the only or primary breadwinner for my family since I was 17 years old. Both of my children’s fathers were a hot mess and neither contributed financially. For twenty-five years I bore the weight of survival for two other humans on my shoulders (which are literally knotted from the strain), even when I was married for 8 of those years.

My ex-husband spent most of our marriage sitting on our bed and playing video games. He did not work at all for 4.5 of our years together, not because he couldn’t, but because he didn’t care enough to carry the weight of survival with me. He didn’t look for work. He didn’t clean house or cook either. And I let him get away with it because I had been so lonely doing it by myself for 10 years. A warm body in the bed and someone to talk to was better than nothing at all. I imagine I was also influenced by the fact that my mom supported my alcoholic stepfather for years, until he was classified disabled and the government supported his addicted existence. I grew up with a man living off of a woman’s labors, or the welfare and child support she received for her children. As much I loved him, I realize now that it’s a terrible thing that he lived off of money meant for us.

Near the end of our marriage, when I told my ex that he did not live up to being a coparent with my children, he argued that he was a good dad because he drove my son 7 miles to school every morning the next town over. In his mind that was his great accomplishment in 8 years of fatherhood, or perhaps it was all he could come up with because he knew he failed us and couldn’t bear the shame of it. Both of my children, who were teens when we separated, chose not to continue a relationship with him. I think that says everything.

Before Eros, my life was a story of men who either abandoned their children or refused to be partners, men who lived off of women’s labor and children’s benefits, or allowed women to carry the weight of a family’s survival by themselves. I once lived in a low income apartment building with 8 units and every one was occupied with single mamas raising their babies alone. I also helped create a home for teen mothers and their babies, every one of whom were abandoned by the baby daddies (and by their own parents).

Sadly, a man who shows up for women and children is a rarity in my world. A man who does everything in his power to be a partner and make a life for his family is a f*cking rock star. The way Eros has adapted to every challenge in our lives, including becoming an involved birth father to a son he never expected or wanted to have, is a miracle and worthy of celebration every single day for the rest of our lives. I adore him and want to shout it from the rooftops.

Why I’ve Been Quiet

It’s been 3 months since I last posted to this blog. This piece I just posted to Facebook gives a good explanation as to why.

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I had a harm reduction and intimacy session recently during which I analyzed my wtf moment around sabotaging my writing opportunity and uncovered one of my core issues. I’ve been struggling with my voice off and on for 25 years, beginning with when I became a teen mother and couldnt sing in public anymore (I had been a soloist at school and church). Even though I came from a lot of trauma and obstacles as a child/teen, I always believed in myself as an intellectual and creative. It wasn’t until I had a baby too young and “ruined my potential” that I started doubting my gifts or that others would see me beyond my “failure.” It’s been an off and on issue since. The latest iteration is losing my voice after finding out I was pregnant with my birth son. I can claim many other reasons, but the truth is I’ve been doubting myself ever since choosing adoption, more so since things went wrong with the adoptive parents last year. I failed my son and myself.

And this – I utterly failed at nurturing community when it mattered most, so what nerve do I have writing about community and calling myself a community builder now?

I also get quiet when I’m afraid of where my writing will lead me. I’ve been hiding from the truth that came up 4 years ago – I need to birth and mother myself into being, through my writing. And I don’t know what the f*ck that means! How does one birth themselves?

When I was trying to decide what to do about the baby in my belly, I was working with the same beloved who is supporting us now, and she reminded me how we talked about my need to birth myself and that was a big part of why I didnt want to raise another child. But instead of birthing myself, I focused on the baby and my relationship with the adoptive family, up to sharing a home. That was not what my soul was calling for. Instead of claiming my freedom to find the fullness of myself as a writer and creator, I remained in the “safety” of putting family and a child first. I know how to be a sacrificing mother. Along with being a good employee, that’s most of who I know how to be. Now I can add good wife. But these are all defined by their relationship to others, and are predicated on me being “good.” Who am I without my relationships and roles? Who am I if I am not the good girl, good mother, or good employee?

Being a writer and artist comes from within, from a relationship with myself and what inspires me and me alone. My creativity is also transgressive, taking me further away from what our culture calls appropriate. The truer I am to myself, the further I travel from what is known as good and right and normal.

And yet, writing and art were my dreams from as far back as I remember. Before babies. Before lovers. And after. And in between. To write. To sculpt. To evoke emotion in others through my creativity. So why am I hiding?

Everything my soul is asking of me is new territory and it’s scary as f*ck. So scary I am doing everything except listen to the call to write. And now I understand why. It isnt just about writing, it’s about discovering the bounds of my sovereignty and finding my meaning beyond my roles. It’s about truly finding and knowing myself, a self that does goes against everything this culture stands for. I’ve been wrestling with this for 4 years. I’ve been directing my mother energy into everyone and everything except myself. And honestly I am unhappy with the results. This is a piece of why things went bad with the adoption and this harm reduction work is necessary. I was not being congruent with what is true for me and I lost myself. If I am not intimate with myself, how can I truly be intimate with others?

I’ve been wrestling with all of this for a good long time. What’s different now is that I am no longer distracted by the need to heal and I am feeling the discomfort of not following the call of my soul. It’s becoming painful. Yesterday was an epic battle with resistance and It won. But I’m here writing today and that’s something.

Resilience in Motion: Redefining the Holidays

69f44ec467997175d2b556db61b27162I’ve been trying to avoid holiday shows on television, but I love This Is Us and had no idea that it’s holiday episode would trigger deep sadness in me at the end due to too much similarity between how it ends and some of the Christmases I’ve had that were brutal (like burying my mom the day after because that’s how the timing worked best for our family). I cried so hard, in a good way I think, because I am all about releasing right now and I need to release the grief – or no, not the grief – I need to release the hardness and suffering of holidays past. Grief is beautiful because we feel the missing of those who are no longer with us or far away and the great emptiness we feel is equal to the great love we feel for them and love is always good. I miss my mom and my sister and my children and the friends with whom I shared holidays past. I can feel that and still enjoy the holiday season in a different way with the person that I am sharing life with now, in the present, with whom I have the brightest and biggest love I’ve known, which is worth celebrating every single day all on its own.
 
It’s only the second Christmas of my adult life that I won’t be with any of my children and that is hard. Being an empty-nester is much harder than I imagined it would be. I’ve been trying to block the holidays out of my awareness as much as possible while being surrounded by holiday everything everywhere; but the truth is this has mostly been a joyful time for me – a season of light, sparkle and generosity with beautiful rituals – and I know now that resilience looks like reclaiming the holidays in some new way with my husband, since he’s the one I know will be there every year as long as we’re both alive. It’s time to let go of the kind of holiday that is mostly about the children. It’s time to figure out how we do an intimate and adult holiday season around the Winter Solstice since we’re magical people who run with the rhythms of nature.
 
This year I understand this rhythm better than ever, the rhythm of descending into the darkness and incubating in a seed and knowing that I am going to bloom again with the light. I’ve been in the dark a long time. Four years. I had no idea how dark it was until I had to face myself this summer and autumn after I was stripped of everything I thought gave me value, meaning and reason for being. I have to admit that I am looking forward to truly feeling the air and the light in my life again.

Struggling with My Value as a Professional

I am on the job hunt again. Due to a variety of circumstances I have been job hunting for most of the 2.5 years I’ve been in Portland and I’m over it. And yet…while I was able to get myself together enough to hang an online shingle for my own business as a Transformation and Ritual Guide, I haven’t promoted it at all and I’m working out why (definitely has something to do with trusting my value and “selling” myself, which I do as an experienced admin professional but not in this new arena working one-on-one). I clearly have some things to work out and evolve into. In the meantime, starting in January I need to bring in a certain amount of income until Eros works his way into driver at UPS (we’re hoping for 2017 to be our year as he becomes eligible for driver in February and they call for them in April), so I’m looking for work with the hopes it will be a short-term gig. Unless it’s an awesome part-time gig – like working for an entrepreneur I respect – that will keep me feeling useful and valued while I continue working on my book, my creative projects, and getting my own business off the ground.
 
But it’s tough to get excited about interviews and organizations after already doing this so long, as well as being undervalued, disrespected, and involuntarily terminated by the three employers I’ve had here. I am not accustomed to failure, so this has been a major hit to my pride and my internal sense of value. I know I’m an exemplary admin who does excellent work for my people and my peers have always reflected this to me. But the leaders are a different story, which is why I don’t want to work for others any longer than I have to (and I know having to is within my power and I am definitely in some kind of healing process around my ability to offer my gifts to the world).
 
It’s a strange experience being an excellent candidate who gets phone screens and interviews for at least 1/2 of my resumes sent out and gets to the point of final interviews for at least 1/2 of those – meaning that out of hundreds of candidates I am often in the top 10 and then in the top 2-3. I’m great on paper, I have excellent references (I’ve been told so repeatedly by potential employers), and I clearly interview well or I wouldn’t get through the first and sometimes second or third levels as often as I do. And yet I’ve been in the last interview phase more than 25 times in the last 2.5 years and have only been chosen twice. It’s frustrating and I can’t help questioning what it is about me that doesn’t feel like a match to those evaluating me.
 
I have recognized that my one weakness coming to Portland is that I’m used to softer people and cultures when it comes to professionalism. Humboldt County is an unusual place and since I grew up as a professional there, I assumed most non-profit work cultures were softer and more open, where it’s easy to be myself. That has not been my experience in Portland. I’ve learned that I need to achieve a new level of what is called professionalism, although I see it as repressing our humanness to project an image and that’s hard for me. I don’t do false image. I don’t repress my humanness very well. I don’t want anyone to have to repress their humanness ever, which is why my mission is radical inclusion.
 
I am an emotional being and empath who reads the emotions of the people around me and I prefer to tell the truth about how things feel. If a culture feels harmful and my people are unhappy, I’m going to tell my leaders so. I’m accustomed to having excellent relationships with my leaders where that openness exists and my perspective is valued. That has not been the case in Portland. In the position I worked for 18 months, I was terminated for telling the truth about my experience with my supervisor and the organization’s leadership. I was just supposed to ignore being outright refused to bring more value, and my job and my involvement on the team being diminished to nearly nothing, to the point that my supervisor even forgot to meet with me for four months (she actually said it was my fault I didn’t remind her to do her job). It was like the leaders just forgot I existed except when I fulfilled the few responsibilities they needed and they expected me to be satisfied with being radically under valued and put on a happy face every day. This was in an organization with a mission for building community. How do I trust that other organizations here are going to be any different?
 
I’m also frustrated at myself that I wasn’t as ready to launch my own business as I hoped during this six months of unemployment, which I know has to do with healing from birth mother grief and emotional abuse trauma and losing my chosen family and my professional losses, and yet I can’t help feeling disappointed that I’m back to putting my professional well-being in the hands of others.
 
Both Eros and I intuitively feel like our time is coming, that we’re almost there as far as finding our happy rhythm professionally and financially. It’s this liminal space between that is just so damn uncomfortable – and it’s a place I have lived in nonstop since I found out I was pregnant with my birth son four years ago. This is why I know I can hold great space for others living in the liminal spaces of transformation. I know this territory so well. I just need to trust myself and find a way to express the value I offer to others.
 
Thank you for listening.