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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss Warmland.

Posts from the Essays Category

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Photo by Jeannette Breward

Content warning: birth, change in birth plan, failed induction, caesarean section, surgery, previous miscarriage, placenta (including picture of my placenta at the end)

 

I’d planned for a totally natural water-birth at home with my team of midwives, a doula, and my partner with our gentle shepherd dog looking onward. I had read about orgasmic births on Ina May’s farm and which essential oils were best for birth and the benefits of salt lamps and yoga balls. I arranged my birth pool rental and for my placenta to be encapsulated and wrote things like seeding and delayed cord clamping into my birth plan, which I printed out and secured in the binder the midwives gave me to keep at home with my charts and information for after the baby was born along with instructions on how to contact the woman who was to encapsulate my placenta and a phone tree with the phone numbers of family and close friends and who was responsible for each call. In the weeks leading up to my due date, I ate spicy food, had lots of sex, walked my dog for hours up and down steep hills, walked the stairs in my building repeatedly (note: these aren’t easy things to do with a 70+ pound weight gain…), took evening primrose oil, drank a ton of raspberry leaf tea, made art, and wrote affirmations about trusting my body and welcoming my baby.

Then, my due date came and went. I wasn’t too stressed initially, two of my close friends who had given birth within the past year had both gone 10 days over their due dates and I knew that, statistically, something like 60% of first time birthing people went over their estimated due dates. But once I was officially 41 weeks, with my induction scheduled, I started to feel stressed out. I knew I didn’t want an induction and I resented the fact that my baby was already being forced to adhere to some schedule without a medically relevant reason. Sure, there is an increase in some risk factors (including stillbirth) associated with going past 41 or 42 weeks, but my ultrasound and nonstress test showed a happy, healthy baby who we expected to be a bit on the larger side. As the threat of medical induction loomed, I drank two doses of midwife’s brew, a concoction containing apricot juice, castor oil, almond butter, and a strong infusion of lemon verbena. Although I had multiple friends tell me to prepare to go into labour shortly after taking the drink, as they had, it did absolutely nothing to help bring on my labour.

After a long conversation with my doula and an even longer one with my partner about options and how to navigate balancing advocating for my dream home birth with my midwives and their concerns, I decided to go into the hospital, as instructed, at 41+5, to receive a medication that would make my cervix more favourable (I’d been stuck at 1cm dilated for a couple weeks already with no forward motion) in hope that when I went home, I’d be able to relax a bit more and dilate my way into having my home birth after all. I was technically scheduled to continue the induction process (with the midwife breaking my water and starting me on Pitocin) the next day, but I was hoping I’d be able to avoid that part.

When I got to the hospital, I had a long conversation with the patient OB who had followed me throughout my first trimester (due to a history of recurrent miscarriage) and he explained his concerns with me not giving birth within the next few days. He pulled up a chair and took time to answer all of my questions and heard me out about about my concerns. By the end of the conversation, I honestly believe that he was committed to supporting me and my team in achieving as much of my birth plan as possible and that a bit of medical assistance was warranted in this situation. The first step remained what I had already decided I felt okay about doing- the medication in my cervix to increase its favourability. I also opted to stay in the hospital for the night and to reconsider my home birth. The extra couple of days increased the risks for my baby and, at this point, that was my only real priority. I also knew by that point, although I didn’t say it out loud, that the medication was unlikely to work. Something was causing my cervix not to dilate and I just felt, like, SO deeply, that it wasn’t going to budge.

 

The medication was super uncomfortable. I started cramping, and by the time my partner my doula, and I went out for dinner, I was feeling pretty awful. I hoped this meant that I was wrong and that it was working. The next morning, when they checked my cervix, it hadn’t changed at all since the day before. As per my discussion with the OB, he agreed to administer a second type of medication meant to achieve the same result- one that my midwife said tended to work better in her experience. Six hours later, my midwife attempted to check me and, this time the check was so painful I screamed. My cervix still hadn’t changed, it was still so far back she could barely reach it and now so irritated, the extreme discomfort I normally experienced during cervical checks had become a searing pain that terrified me far more than the idea of labour itself. My midwife decided to check in with the OB to discuss possible next steps and came back within a few minutes to explain that neither of them felt comfortable moving forward with the induction as we had planned it, but that at 41 weeks and 6 days pregnant, my pregnancy was too high risk for them to feel comfortable with it continuing. I was presented with two options:

  1. Get an epidural and go through with the induction plan otherwise, in spite of my unfavourable cervix and hope it worked
  2. Elect to get a cesarean section

I was scared. All I wanted was my baby safely in my arms and I didn’t feel that continuing to put my body through an extended course of failed intervention was particularly respectful to it. There’s also something incredibly emotionally exhausting about your body repeatedly reacting poorly to failed methods of induction, both natural and medical. I started to cry and asked the midwife if my partner and I could have a few minutes to discuss what we were going to do. We talked about the options, and my partner brought up that his main concern was me feeling sad or disappointed in straying so far from my original birth plan, and I explained to him that, at this point, the game had changed and I felt good about adjusting my expectations. I explained my feelings about something going on with my cervix that we didn’t understand and not wanting anything else to be stuck in it and also that I felt that, for this reason, this birth was going to end up in cesarean whether I continued to put my body through the induction process or not. I tearfully phoned my doula and talked through the situation with her and she, along with my partner, supported my decision to do what I needed to do to emotionally process the change in plans and to shift my mindset around how my baby was going to enter this world.

We told the midwife that I was going to opt in for the cesarean section, and within an hour I was being taken through paperwork, given information by my midwife, by the OB, by the amazing nurse, and by the anesthesiologist, who told me he would be putting a spinal block in so I wouldn’t feel the procedure at all but would be fully awake. I signed the papers, and got to hug my doula before I was taken to the OR and the spinal block was administered.

Everyone in the OR was amazing, casually talking about their weekend while checking in and communicating with me every single step of the way. At some point, I started to cry…not because I was sad as much as because I was a crazy mix of scared for both my body and my baby’s body and also because I was just so physically and emotionally exhausted from the past few days- no- from the past week since my pregnancy had changed to increase in risk each day. My midwife checked in and asked if I was okay, and I said “yes” unable in that moment to explain to her exactly what was going on for me. My partner came into the room (I learned later that when the anesthesiologist had gone to get him, he had warned him that I was pretty emotional) and didn’t need to ask me any questions- he knew exactly where I was at emotionally. He was confused about how violently my body was shaking though, until the anesthesiologist explained that it was from adrenaline. My partner stood right by my head and the procedure began. The midwife and anesthesiologist talked me through the whole thing, though I remember very little of what they actually said.

When they cut me open, they were surprised at how much I bled and I remember the midwife warning me there was a lot of fluid and there was going to be a lot of the sound of suctioning going on. My blood pressure got very high (unusual for me, whose baseline blood pressure is barely that of a conscious person) and also dropped very low at certain points, so the anesthesiologist kept having to give me medications to alter it. The team asked my partner if he wanted to see our baby come out of my body, and he asked me if that was okay with me. I said, “of course”, and he excitedly peaked over the curtain to see our baby be taken out of my body, head and one arm first, and then the rest of him. I heard him cry, and thought with relief, “that’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard”. Someone held him up above the curtain and I saw his screaming, bunched up, red face and thought, “there you are” and “who ARE you” and “holy shit, there WAS a human in there”! This abstract thought that was my “rainbow baby”, who I was almost afraid to believe, even until the end, would ever be here, was real after all. He was here. After almost two years of pregnancies, three miscarriages, and a day short of 42 weeks with this being growing inside my body, I could barely believe it. Wilhelm Erik Warmland was born at 6:27pm on March 2, 2020, weighing 7lbs 15.6 oz at 20.5 inches long.

The midwife placed him on my chest and I held this being who I knew so intimately and it was completely surreal. After a few minutes, the midwife asked if my partner wanted to do some skin-to-skin as well while they finished closing me up. My partner asked if I was okay with that and I said, “of course”. I just wanted one of us to be with him. They went back to my hospital room and I joined them shortly after. I held my baby and didn’t let him go for hours. My dad and brother came to meet him and eventually my partner did more skin to skin and my brother went out to get us food and then he did skin to skin with his long-awaited nephew while we ate. My friend came and took gorgeous photographs of our first hours together.

The woman who was encapsulating my placenta was on route, so my doula reminded me that I could ask my midwife for a “placenta tour”, which I had mentioned being interested in. When she did this, she noticed that my placenta contained an extra lobe with veins. This can happen when the pregnancy started out as a twin pregnancy, though I also wonder if it could be related to my previous miscarriages, including an early miscarriage I had the cycle before conceiving Wilhelm. It turns out this can cause issues with bleeding if it’s ruptured during the process of water breaking and often results in cesarean section, which validates my decision to stray from my birth plan. This wasn’t the only extraordinary thing about Wilhelm’s birth though. In spite of being almost 2 full weeks “late”, he had vernix on him and there was tons of clear, meconium-free amniotic fluid. There was also no calcification of my uterus at all. My body knew. I kept saying I knew I could trust my body, and it turns out I was right. It just didn’t look the way I expected it would.

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Photo by Jeannette Breward

Sarah* had been through some shit. She started working at an art gallery for a well-off man known well around town. Lots of people liked him, he was friendly and spent money at local businesses and sat on town council voicing his concerns about the local economy. He started making sexual comments to Sarah and talking to her about all the affairs he’d manipulated other women in town into. She was clear that she didn’t want anything to do with knowing this information or being part of any of his future stories, but he didn’t stop. If anything, he escalated. She ended up filing an anonymous complaint with the town- anonymous because she had already thought of all the things they would say about her for daring not keep quiet-

“she’s mentally ill, she’s probably making it up.”
“if this has been the case with other women, why haven’t they come forward”
“she’s just causing trouble”
“That’s just the way he is”

When others came out (also anonymously) and one person put her name and face to the same kind of stories, they heard all these things and more.

This man was Sarah’s boss, she counted on him to not only keep her job, but not to make her job miserable. When she tried to assert her boundaries gently, with compassion for both herself and for him, he ignored them. When she asserted them by following a formal procedure, she was burned at the stake.


 

Kayla* was dating a guy in a band. She watched as people got absolutely wasted at shows and the men scouted out the women to flirt with and, eventually, fuck. Both parties had liquid courage. Sometimes they were aggressive- the men and the women too. Sometimes the men fucked women who were close to passed out. Sometimes they fucked women who were passed out. She watched as women traded sex for guest list spots and men traded guest list spots for sex- always on their terms, let’s be clear.

She watched as these dudes smoked outside the van and traded stories from the show the night before, always including degrading, objectifying statements. Then, she waded into the crowd to hear the women trade stories from the night before, brimming with excitement that the man they idolized, whose work they celebrated, had dedicated their time and attention to them for a while.

When Kayla brought this up to her partner, he explained that this was just the way the scene was. That the rush was real, and this was the game to play to survive successfully. When some women started talking about their experiences and how they felt about them years later, they were accused of lying, of attention-seeking, of not understand that that’s just the way it is.


 

Jen* worked in a field that was mostly woman-dominated, where consent was literally written into the code of conduct because the nature of the work involved touch. She worked in a place where multiple other people all did the same job, but operated as individuals, just out of the same space.

When women started coming forward about having been touched inappropriately during treatment, the entire workplace changed vibes. Local (and, eventually, less local) news outlets picked up the story and people started boycotting the business. Now everyone else who worked there wondered, as they were being investigated, how the choices their coworker had made would affect their careers.

They were told they were complicit for something they’d known nothing about. They were told they were being unsupportive of the women who had spoken about about their abuse for voicing their concerns. They were told that the public reaction was just the way it is.


 

Malorie* worked at a local theatre. She saw the artistic director harass queer women who worked there and heard rumours of sexual assault perpetrated against actresses who passed through as they performed in shows and other rumours about underage girls he’d bee inappropriate with. When he started touching her inappropriately and describing what he’d like to do to her in private, she found ways to never be in a room along with him. So he got sneakier about conveying his messages to her.

When the emotional cost became more than she could bare, she quit and got another job. She spoke with a lawyer and began a multi-year long pursuit of justice- which resulted in her being dragged through the mud by all angles.

People told her that she was lucky to have had that position. That she dressed too scantily to be taken as a professional, especially given how beautiful she was. That he was a gift to the community whose creative work ought to be admired and that that’s just the way he is.


 

With the cannabis industry booming, a business opened up on a reservation and offered amazing opportunities to marginalized people- Indigenous people, women, disabled people. They were explicit in their support of hiring and walking alongside people who had some healing to do and may not have done well in other industries. The man who owned the business was doing good work in advocating for these marginalized people in a powerful industry.

Rachel* was going through a time in her life where she felt vulnerable when she was hired there. Some things had happened that were out of her control, resulting in her technically quitting but essentially being constructively dismissed from her underpaying management job with another large company in the industry.

When the owner started making sexual comments and jokes involving her, she laughed it off. She’d worked in this male-dominated industry for a few years already and knew that this was just the way it is. When he started being more forward, she deescalated and redirecting the situation by saying things like “maybe if we were both single! Now about that project…”. When he started to get more physical, often in front of other employees, none of whom said anything (after all, they all knew, that’s just the way he is), Rachel started looking for another job. When she found out that she had been paid less than what had been agreed on all along, it made it that much easier when she received another offer. She left and got out.

The better part of a year later, two men who had worked with Rachel, one of whom knew a bit about how uncomfortable she’d been, contacted her to tell her that another woman had written a semi-open letter detailing some similar behaviour to what Rachel had experienced. Eventually, Rachel received the letter the other woman had written and was taken aback by the similarities in their experiences. The other woman had worked there longer, and it had escalated farther, but a few of the most disturbing and disgusting things she described were things Rachel had also experienced.

The thing that complicated matters further was that Rachel had advocated for women who had been sexually harassed and assaulted in the past. This had gained her a reputation for being a strong advocate with some, but also for being a troublemaker a lot of people in power felt threatened by. It had cost her jobs, friends, and, at times, her sanity. Death threats and rape threats will do that to you.

Rachel was faced with the question: does she stand up for herself the way she has for other women in her community and face the inevitable backlash she’d already had more than enough of a taste of? After all, that’s just the way he is. Or does she continue on with her life, grateful that she got out when she did.

After months of uneventful, even joyful, stability, Rachel felt sad and angry and everything all at once.

When she tried to reach out to one of the men who had spoken with her about the other woman coming forward, he ignored her text.

When she tried to talk with her partner, he focused on reframing the situation in hope of avoiding her misery by telling her that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought, why should she care either way?

When she tried to get more perspective from another ex-coworker, he told her that he’d been informed not to talk about the situation.

That’s just the way it is.


 

Don’t get wrong, I’m a big believer in (radically) accepting that things are the way they are. What I’m interested in, in the context of sexual harassment and assault, is how we get to a place where that behaviour isn’t just the way it is. As a woman who has advocated for other woman, a woman who has been harassed and assaulted in the past and tried to minimize it or to explicitly call it out, as a woman who is faced with the reality of raising a son… I have a few perspectives.

I believe the way forward (at least a step forward) is two-fold:

Compassion: When people feel attacked, they’re rarely willing to do the work it takes to create a paradigm shift, whether that’s from a “victim” perspective or a “perpetrator” perspective. When we pause to consider where someone is coming from, we have a better opportunity to understand why they’re acting or reacting the way they are.

Why did the women in the stories stay in situations where they were being mistreated? Why did they often try to minimize or accept what was going on for them rather than getting right out?

Because they men in the situations were in positions of power. That’s true in these individual stories and it’s also true within the greater systemic context of the way Western society operates. Because there are consequences for every and any reaction, but when women challenge the dynamics that are “just the way they are”, the consequences can be violent- if not literally, subtly at least. Being fired from jobs, having jobs made even more challenging, having people talk shit about them to prevent them from future opportunities…

Given the opportunity, I like to believe that most people will choose to respond with curiosity and care, sometimes we just a radical remodelling of what that looks like.

Honesty: It’s hard to be honest when you’re afraid of the consequences, but at some point, we have to weigh those risks. At some point, we have to trust that we can tell people, even people in power, when their actions aren’t acceptable and that they need to do better. That we believe they can do better.

Sometimes, we have to be honest with ourselves about the victim mentality we place on both “victims” and “perpetrators” in these situations, because, as these stories make clear, some will always see each person, “victim” and “perpetrator” as the opposite of how they see themselves. Whether there is an inherent truth somewhere there is less relevant than the fact that it’s just the way it is.

I’m deeply frustrated that people of all genders are in the position where there is nothing close to a “right: thing to do, where no matter the choices they make, they’re trapped in a losing battle.

So we can shift the way it is to be a more open, honest, compassionate dialogue in general.

Not talking about sexuality or expressing sexual desire isn’t the answer here. Not acknowledging the systemic power dynamics that privilege men over women or gender-variant people isn’t the answer here. Cancelling men isn’t the answer here. Pitying the women who are living these stories every damn day of their lives isn’t the answer here either.

Shifting the way that it is through compassion and honesty is a step towards something that might look more like an answer.

* All of these stories are based on true stories I’ve heard over the last few years, but none of the names are the names of the people involved.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about unpaid labour and care work.

My experience with care work started when my mother was dying and I felt compelled- by myself, by my family, and by society in general, to prioritize my young life around caring for her. I used to go with her to chemo appointments, I’d sit with her in her bed and sing to her while she suffered, and I tried to pick up some of the things she’d done before she got sick. With help from my aunts and uncles, my dad and I became a care team. But I was only fourteen, and I didn’t have the capacity to balance that work with forming an identity outside of that. It was all consuming. I stopped playing music and doing theatre. I did well enough in school, but didn’t care to immerse myself fully in anything academically, even though I may have been inclined to. I held down a part time job and did well at it, but it wasn’t my focus. My whole life became care work.

When I fell desperately in love at only eighteen, I did what I had learned to do best: I cared for him. I worked hard to build a life where I’d be able to contribute enough financially and emotionally to support him while he lived his dreams of being a professional musician. I went to school and volunteered with a feminist organization and provided a lot of financial and emotional support for survivors of gender-based violence through fundraising and community outreach. When my friends were struggling with the stress of school or relationships or parents, I was the first one to drop everything I was doing to be there for them. When my partner wanted to move to a small, rural town where he’d grown up, I agreed. After all, I liked the idea of living in a small, artsy town. I liked the idea of building a life where we could raise a family, engage with our hobbies, and maintain humble but generally fulfilling careers.

When we moved, I quickly realized that my single undergraduate degree wasn’t going to get me far in the field I had dreamt of working in. It turns out, social work is a lot more about following government guidelines than actually actively caring for people. In this community, I fought my way into a grassroots charity organization where I attempted to use my creativity and advocacy experience in a way that met their mandate. I attempted this work for years, and when paid opportunities came up, they were never for me. I worked with a few counselling and direct support agencies for minimum wage with no benefits or support, but it wasn’t sustainable physically, emotionally, or financially. I managed a multi-million dollar company for a couple dollars over minimum wage for a few years until I requested some reasonable disability-related accommodations the company refused to meet. So I started working with another multi-million dollar company where I was paid less than what I’d been promised in the interview and was sexually harassed to the point where I no longer felt comfortable making the forty minute commute to be paid $16 an hour.

During this time, I volunteered in my community theatre company and volunteered at a radio station pushing boundaries with a show that addressed topics relating to discrimination, empowerment, recovery, and care. I initiated an annual rally against gender-based violence in my community. I advocated for equality at a municipal level and became a go-to outreach support person for women in my community. And all of this went unpaid.

As I make the transition to motherhood, which has, naturally, been an arduous process, I’m reflecting a lot on my priorities, on where I’m placing my energy, on where I’m at in my life and what this transition means for me in terms of my future. I’m realizing that my failed career paths come down to the fact that, in a world of Bell Let’s Talk days, the society I live in isn’t one that prioritizes active care.

We want to say, “I’m always here to talk with you”, but we rarely know how to practice the kind of active care or advocacy that is required to make a change in a person’s life, and when we do, that work isn’t sustainable under the rule of capitalism. That kind of work doesn’t lead to job opportunities, it doesn’t lead to being able to pay our rent or buy our groceries. It’s no surprise that mental health is poor for almost everyone or that we live in a culture that is deeply traumatized as a baseline. We’re all just trying to make it month to month, day by day.

As a pregnant, disabled woman, I’m in a position where my career won’t be prioritized the same way for quite some time. While I grow this human, while I give birth and attempt to heal my body, while I feed and raise my son, I know from my past experience mothering (because, let’s face it, I’ve been mothering since I was fourteen years old) and from the experiences of mothers around me: this will be all-consuming. So how do I meet the demands of capitalism as a woman who has dedicated her life to unpaid care work so far when I push that boundary further?

Content: mention of self harm, suicidal ideation, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, rape, disordered eating, self-harm, consensual sex, naked bodies, posting nudes online

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There are two things you need to know about me right off the bat if we’re going to talk about this:

1. I used to be really into self harming and I also have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The combination of these things manifested for me as an eating disorder when I was a teenager and coping with trauma. I developed dysmorphia, which means I didn’t see myself the way I was. The way I saw myself was distorted.

2. I was raped when I was seventeen.

Okay, heavy, I know. But it’s all good, I’m still here. And, no word of a lie, taking and generously sharing nude photographs was one of the key contributions of my wellness plan during, arguably, the most significant time in my recovery.

I was in university, the most crushing waves of grief around my mom’s death had run their course, I had my own apartment, and I had embarked upon the most exciting a sexually adventurous relationship of my life. I was learning that sex could be powerful and sweet and absolutely filthy all at once and it was incredibly healing. This intimate new relationship also meant that I was accountable to a person who cared deeply about me and who I connected with on a level I’d barely even ever dreamed was possible before it happened. It meant I had to stop cutting and start eating, even if it was almost unbearably uncomfortable.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by obsessions, often in the form of “intrusive thoughts” that infiltrate your brain repeatedly until you’re ready to do anything to get rid of them. My intrusive thoughts focus on either contamination or suicide. I’m either obsessed with the things in food I become convinced are killing me or I’m repeating over and over in my head “I wanna die I wanna die I wanna die…”. Starving myself became one of my compulsions. I’d go through rituals around counting calories or simply restricting compulsively. When that stopped being a feasible option since it became so difficult to hide, I decided I needed to find a healthier way of feeling good and in control of my body.

The good news is that, as I mentioned, this was also a sexually explosive time in my life. I was living an hour and a half away from my new partner and, as many young couples do, we used technology to stay connected (okay, and to get off). We’d sext and send nudes and I realized how much I got off on it. I loved the intimacy, the (seemingly, anyway) undivided attention, and providing something that gave pleasure to someone who gave me so much pleasure. I got to engage with my own body on my terms in a way that felt good to me- a huge deal for any sexual assault survivor and for someone who had a history of disordered eating. I was finally feeling good in my body.

I started a blog of nude photos online. I loved the engagement, just being honest and confident in my body. Repeatedly posting photos where I had chosen the pose, the body part(s), the time of day I posted- everything. I got to choose how I responded to any comments (if at all). I got to choose my aesthetic- trashy, authentic punk girl. I came up with a name (based on a song my partner had written about my blowjob skills) and it was a blast. There’s something about repetition that really works for me. Repetition and intentionality. Writing things out (like “things that feel good“, saying things out loud a few times, and posting nudes.

I had control, I had a reaction, and I was learning what it felt like to love and appreciate the body I was in and the ways in which it contributed to me feeling good.

I read about a woman who was a professional (or semi-professional?) vocalist. When she lost her hearing, she learned to memorize the way the sounds felt in her body. That’s kind of how I  started to feel about my body when I was posting nudes regularly as a person with dysmorphia. Each time I went through the process, it felt good. So I began to associate my body with good. Being in my body felt good, and that is something I’m grateful I learned.

I don’t post nudes publicly anymore, though I sometimes send them to my partner or my girlfriends. But I still hold on to that feeling. It’s like that work during that time in my process flipped a switch for me. I can honestly say that taking nudes contributed positively to my mental health.

Content- This essay contains my miscarriage stories and suggestions about what to say to people in your life when they’re miscarrying. This advice is based on my own experiences, but you know your friends best. This is meant to be a starting point and also to generally start more conversations about miscarriage in general, because it’s more common than we think…
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Almost a year ago, my partner and I decided we were ready to have a baby. We’d always talked about wanting a family, and we were at a place where we felt that financially and emotionally we were ready to start it. After 6 months, I took a test and found that it was faint, but positive. I tested religiously the next few mornings and watched the line darken- just a bit. Within another week and a half I was bleeding and a visit to the doctor confirmed that my HCG levels had fallen to 4. They called it a chemical pregnancy.

Two months later, I was pregnant again. I hoped that this was the time, but I was secretly waiting for blood. I started to feel sick, I monitored my HCG levels, and then started to see them rise more slowly than they should. I went to the the hospital for an unrelated reason, and when I told them I was 7 weeks pregnant, they offered to do an ultrasound for me to confirm that my organs were all in decent shape, related to my reason for being there. They weren’t looking for  heartbeat, but they also didn’t find one. I was referred to an OB who sent me for a more in depth ultrasound. It was confirmed that there was no heartbeat. I opted to wait to miscarry naturally, hoping for some miracle baby that was just hiding. A few weeks later, after a visit with my midwife, who I was planning to get my care from, where she answered all my questions, I got my final confirmation. My next choice was to take a medication to help pass the pregnancy or to do a D&C. I was still hoping not to have a D&C, so I tried the pills.  

They caused some bleeding, but nothing like what I was expecting. A scan a few days later proved me right, I was still pregnant, but there was no baby. I tried another version of the medication and I had a day of pure hell where I thought it was all over with, but my next follow up showed that there was still tissue inside of me. They told me they would do a D&C that day and I texted my partner asking him to come to the hospital. When he had to go to work, my dad showed up to drive me home and make me soup and walk my dog. When my partner got home, he sat with me and we talked for a while and then went to bed early.

**Important side note: the “abortion pill” became approved and available in Canada over the last few years and is only covered by six provinces. Without OHIP, each round of drugs would have cost me $337.25.

All in all, it’s been one hell of an experience trying to expand our family. My partner and I had been of the mindset that is was something to be open about with the people close to us, since it was something that was a huge deal in our life and support (or at least understanding) would be nice in the case of a loss. What we found when we told people about our losses, was that most women we knew had their own miscarriage stories. We also found that, like with any loss, people rarely know what the “right” thing to say is.

The short answer is that there’s no right thing to say because there’s nothing that can be said to change that your friend/family member/whatever has experienced a loss. That’s not always the most practical (or sensitive) thing to say in the moment though. The only thing I heard more than people’s own miscarriage stories was “people really need to talk about it more”. And we do, and I gotta tell you, it felt good to hear that my story wasn’t unusual. because grief is lonely enough without acknowledging that miscarriage is such a common reason for so many people’s grief.

Here are some ideas for things to say when someone in your life has had a miscarriage:

1. I’m sorry you’re going through this.

As someone who has experienced a decent amount of significant deaths around me, I feel pretty confident saying that this is solid way to respond in any situation where someone is grieving for any kind of loss. You acknowledge that they’re going through something and it’s appropriate, regardless of your relationship with the person or how close you are to them.

2. Do you want to talk about it?

If you’re fairly close with this person, it’s worth asking if they want to talk about it if you have the emotional capacity and physical time to take that on. If you don’t have that emotional capacity or physical time, just don’t offer.

This shows that you’re able to hold that space for your person and encourages them to process what they’re experiencing. Even early loss can feel like crap (to say the least) when you’ve been trying to get pregnant and found out that you were. Some people don’t process through talking about it, or they may just not  want to in that moment. By asking, you’ve given them the option to talk about it or not with you.

3. Do you want some company? I’m available at [time, days].

This is another way of identifying a way you feel capable of being supportive. Sometimes it can be lonely when you’re grieving and it helps to have people around physically. Sometimes it’s nice to have a distraction from feeling bad to talk about completely unrelated things.

Miscarriage can be an intense experience, both physically and emotionally, at times, but it’s important to consider that even grieving people are whole humans and their grief isn’t all that’s going on for them. It can be a really helpful way of supporting your person.

4. I get that you’re going through a lot right now. Take whatever time you need.

We live in a society where we put a lot of pressure on women to carry on with their lives during their pregnancy, especially early pregnancy, which people are typically expected to hide. My experience of early pregnancy was that it can be pretty challenging to carry on with everything in your life when you’re exhausted and nauseous. Miscarriage can be painful, physically and emotionally.

Sometimes, knowing that people realize you need a little more gentleness or time or space or care can be really helpful, whether that’s an extra day off work or understanding around missing a meeting.

5. What kind of soup do you like?

Bringing people food is rarely a bad idea, especially if they’re sad or not feeling well. Soup is warm, comforting, and most people like at least one kind. Be a friend. Bring soup.

IMG_5128The trans pride flag at George & Orange.

Yesterday was Transgender Day of Remembrance. Cobourg Queer Collective describes this day as a day where “we remember and honour our transgender siblings who have lost their lives due to transphobia: from hate crimes, from illness, from murder, from suicide, from substance abuse. And we acknowledge that transgender people of colour and two-spirited Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by this due to racism and xenophobia.”.

I started my day by checking in with (and being checked in with myself) by a few transgender and gender variant queers in my life. This is something that happened throughout the day, and it was the most powerful thing I experienced throughout the day (which is saying something, because there were tons of powerful moments). These check ins weren’t heavy or energy draining, quite the contrary, actually. They were gentle and energizing:
“Hey, how are you doing today?”
“I’m feeling good, stoked for some events today”
“Awesome, I’ll see you there!”

These simple questions are transformative. They go to highlight one of the many messages tied to this day- we are not alone. The work we have done and are doing, both personally and in the context of our communities, is noticed by the people around us and this day is a time to be conscious with the space we create and the energy we put out into the world. We are all capable of caring and being cared for.

At 4, I went to George & Orange, a wine bar and restaurant in Cobourg and held a chair while my friend, Ariel, stood on it to put up the trans pride flag in front of the restaurant. Her friend, Jenna, is the owner of the restaurant and has been a long-time supporter of transgender rights, even flying the trans pride flag for the entire month surrounding Pride this year.

IMG_8268Jenna and staff at George & Orange.

“Trans Day of Remembrance is about celebrating the lives of people who have lost their lives to violence against trans people in the past year and years past, as well as raising awareness about discrimination against trans people in general,” Ariel shared, “”Jenna is a good friend of mine, I also used to be an employee here. She’s always been an outspoken supporter of the transgender and LGBT community in general- and also of me as an individual.”

It was powerful to see that flag flying out front of this local, small-town, woman-owned business. It was also powerful to feel the loving energy that filled the place as the staff, Ariel, and myself chatted about what this day meant for us. The restaurant also planned to support the efforts of Cobourg Queer Collective, who would make their way to the restaurant after the rally they were holding later that evening.

At 6:30, Cobourg Queer Collective, lead by Ashley Bowman and Kim McArthur-Jackson, met outside of MPP David Piccini’s office on Division Street in Cobourg. Although this wasn’t the original location intended for the event, Cobourg Queer Collective stated, “This year, we will also recognize that the forward momentum that we had hoped was happening, seems to be reversing in many areas. In our own province, our governing party (the Ontario PC Party) felt it appropriate to acknowledge our trans siblings plight by putting forth a motion to further marginalize them, by not acknowledging their gender identities and removing mention of them from school curriculums. While the leader of the party had stated that this will not move forward, it should NEVER have come up to begin with.”

46508459_1945928008775805_4744591144292188160_nPhoto by Jay Boyd-Stofleth of rally participants with MPP, David Piccini.


There were around 50 people in attendance, including PC MPP David Piccini himself, who attempted to answer the many questions people had for him while also listening to the speakers.

“It’s pretty amazing to see quite a few people here. This cause is very close to our hearts as allies and we’re so happy to be here. I’m hopeful that our MPP will recognize that Northumberland County will be unwilling to accept the level of prejudice that the PC government is considering putting in place,” says Heather J.

While some people’s motivation for attending the event was largely political and about using their privilege to make systemic change, for other people, especially trans and queer people, this event was about just being there with a shared intention.

“I’m here to show solidarity for trans people who have lost their lives,” says Natalie K., “I just felt it was important to show up, maybe take some pictures, and be a part of such an important event in our community.”

46499318_2492231567484224_6765956174316568576_nPhoto by Jay Boyd-Stofleth of event coordinators, Ashley and Kim.

Event co-organizer, Ashley, says she’s “hoping to achieve more awareness of trans issues at both a local level and a provincial level” at the third annual Transgender Day of Remembrance event for Northumberland County.

Overall, the day was powerful, though it also left me with a few questions. Why only one local business acknowledging this day? Why only a single event in Cobourg? Why nothing at all in Port Hope or the rest of the county? These events take an incredible amount of work to coordinate and it’s easier to hope that someone else will take on that labour. With such high rates of violence against transgender people, next year, lets do even better.

46508674_339706093275213_6089201377236484096_nPhoto by Jay Boyd-Stofleth of the rally.

Big thanks to Jenna, Ariel, and George & Orange and Cobourg Queer Collective for the work they put into commemorating this day!

IMG_7292

“I texted my friend to say I wanted to talk with them about something and it made them really anxious and now they want an apology.”

It’s never fun to get those texts or to be the person who genuinely just wants to have a conversation and finds out someone was distressed by their message. We’ve all been there, probably on either side at some point or another. Whether in romantic relationships, friendships, or even professional relationships, our actions affect one another.

If you’re a person with anxiety, you can probably relate even more. Catastrophizing is a thing we do by definition, and “Hey dude, can we talk when you get off work?” can quickly turn into “Hey dude, I think you totally suck and I don’t want to be friends with you anymore ’cause you’re the worst”.

This  fear relies on the concept that things are being done to us, and that means that we have no control over our experience. By giving into this fear (which, yeah, is real and uncomfortable), we allow ourselves to give any power we do have over our reactions away. And then our fear is enforced. It’s also a way we tend to avoid accountability for our uncomfortable feelings. If we can blame someone else instead of taking ownership for ourselves, that’s a lot easier in the short term. This then allows us to justify our feelings, which are often unavoidable within ourselves, rather than just giving ourselves permission to feel them. I wrote about this before when I wrote about escaping and preventing toxic communities:

Escaping and preventing toxic communities comes down to changing our perspectives from “they did this to me and this feels awful” to “this happened and it feels awful because I’m perceiving it as something that was done TO me that I have no control over.”. The reality is that you do have control over what you do with your hurt. Sure, communicating to the person you felt hurt by may be helpful, but what will be really helpful is you changing your perception (and thus, your reality) of the hurtful thing. It’s not about ignoring the hurt or “choosing not to feel it”. I mean, that sounds nice, but we all know it’s not that simple. It’s about feeling it and acknowledging that it probably had nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person/people. What is yours is your reaction. When we accept people for where they are at, it makes for far healthier and happier interpersonal relationships. And when we can’t reconcile where someone’s at with the reality we’re choosing to actively build for ourselves, we get to choose the context in which we relate to that person.

This works on a smaller level than just in the context of community-building. It also works in individual relationships. So here are three easy steps for what to do when someone makes you feel bad:

1. Readjust your paradigm.

Did someone make you feel some way? Or are you feeling someway about something what happened?

2. Take back your power.

Once you’ve shifted your paradigm to a place where you’re recognizing that you have control over your reaction rather than simply being a passive recipient of something someone else does to you, you’ll find you have a lot more choice over how you respond. No, this isn’t a magical anxiety cure- but it does help.  A lot. This is the time to make an in-the-moment decision about what’s going to happen for you. Sometimes, (okay, a lot of the time) that reaction is emotional and it’s totally okay to let yourself feel it. But don’t act on it immediately. Take a breath and give yourself a little time and gentleness to feel what you need to feel.

3. Make a decision about how you want to react.

Sometimes people do things that violate our boundaries, which is one of the most common reasons we end up getting in our feels. The good news is that we’re in control of our boundaries and we can shift them as we need to. Although emotions aren’t always negotiable, actions (and reactions) are. And it can feel really empowering to choose who you want in your life and the context that you choose to have them. Sometimes it’s worth the work to communicate about your boundaries and to negotiate your interactions with people, and sometimes it’s not. The cool thing is that it’s your choice.

I’ve mentioned that emotions aren’t always negotiable, especially for people living with anxiety disorders, but I also need to acknowledge that we live in a social world where so much is out of control. The way our disabled bodies operate in a late-capitalist system, the way race affects peoples’ experiences, the way our gender dictates literally how much we will be paid or how likely we are so be raped… We don’t have control over those things. And I want to be very clear that I am not talking about systemic violence in the rest of this post. It’s also well worth noting that people have the choice to use whatever privilege they may have to hold some space for oppressed people’s reactions for being oppressed. That shit is real.

What this post is about is about how we do our best to operate within this world and how we can tangibly go about standing in our power when we do have control over what happens. Because that’s real too. And all of these things can exist simultaneously.