Ten Years

10 years ago right now I was wheeled into surgery prep. I was crying, silently, as doctor after doctor approached me and asked me questions. The same questions. After the third one I wanted to begin throwing punches. Couldn’t they see the tears running down my face? How could they be so cruel? Their giddiness at seeing a rarely performed procedure – a late term abortion – was obvious and I resented the fuck out them for it.

These were my sons, after all. One already gone and one barely clinging to life and slated to die.

They took me into another room and forced me to sit up. I was so swollen with fluid from the preeclampsia that trying to bend was painful for me. The anesthesiologist began prodding my spine to give me the spinal block and he started asking me about my tattoos. As if I wanted to discuss my fucking tattoos in that horrible moment! I believe I said “Fuck off” although it might have only been in my head. I was pretty doped up.

The rest was horrible. I woke up at one point during the procedure and tried to run away. I heard my kind doctor yell at the anesthesiologist telling him to give me more. And I cannot describe the moment of waking up alone in the recovery room feeling so empty.

Ten years. Ten long and hard years where I both succeeded and screwed up my life. I miss them still, my Nicholas and Zachary. The legacy of their loss in my life is huge, from the weight I still carry trying to cope with my grief with food, to the tears that still come each year at this time.

There is a positive legacy too. In the last ten years I’ve received dozens of emails from other women who have experienced a similar loss and were grateful to me for writing about it because they felt less alone. Even more amazing are the ten or so emails I’ve received from women who told they remembered what happened to me and spotted their signs of preeclampsia before their doctors did, and as a result got the early treatment that saved both their lives and the lives of their babies.

This is why I haven’t pulled down my blog entirely, even when I am unsure still about blogging. Because my posts about my experience with my sons get hits daily, and all I can hope is that my grief and pain become a tiny light in the darkness.

Years ago I wrote a post about feeling jealous of the other bloggers I knew who had babies that survived over terrible odds. It was a tone deaf post during my “anger” phase of grieving, and another blogger snarled at me in the comments that I should be happy for those bloggers, particularly the one that “lost a living child.” I thought of her comment yesterday when a friend posted about a tiny baby that died of SIDS at four months old. Because the truth is, ten years into this journey, I know that she was right. I cannot imagine losing a child you’ve held in your arms. Because the grief of losing my two boys, three months away from birth, nearly killed me. Losing Tori after she was born would have killed me, I’m sure of it.

Gah. After months of silence here, I’m sorry to return with only this sadness. But as this day approached I couldn’t imagine not writing here.

So let me end with this: if you are currently pregnant, know the signs and symptoms of Preeclampsia. In retrospect I can see that my disease with my sons could have been addressed much earlier; my blood pressure surged as soon as I was pregnant but I was never treated for it (not the case in my pregnancy with Tori; I was on slowly rising doses of blood pressure medication throughout that pregnancy), my constant and extreme nausea, and my massive fluid retention (I went up two and a half shoe sizes) were all symptoms that were evident as early as 16 weeks pregnant. So if you feel like something isn’t right – your weight is going up too much, you aren’t urinating enough, and your heart is racing – go see your doctor. Specifically ask them to screen for early signs of preeclampsia. Don’t just assume your symptoms are normal pregnancy symptoms like I did. I thought everyone felt as horrible as I did during pregnancy. I had no idea.

I wish I had an elegant way to end this post, but I don’t. All I can say is this: ten years later, my heart still grieves for my boys. I miss you still, my sons. Each and every day, even now.  Nicholas and Zachary, I still miss you, even though I never got to see your faces. You are missed, dear boys, still.

New Project: #500WED with Lift.do

500WED

Many years ago, my grandmother bought me a subscription to Cricket Magazine. Her college roommate, Lucy Johnston Sypher, was featured frequently in the magazine and she thought it would be great for a kid who read as much as I did. I loved Cricket Magazine and devoured it cover-to-cover each month.

Six months later, I decided to enter their monthly poetry contest. I wrote an acrostic poem with the word “mountain” about the lovely mountains of New Mexico. I didn’t win. But writing became something I wanted to do – so I did it, often badly – for the next twenty years.

Then I got sober, and writing left me. The words simply vanished. It was agonizing.

Luckily, I had help: Rachel Simon, my first true writing mentor. As my brain began to heal from drug and alcohol abuse, Rachel guided me back to writing. Some of this was in a professional category – she and I were both event coordinators for a bookstore chain, and I had to write my event calendar each month, and she quite literally held my hand through the process – and some was simply because she believed in me (Rachel has an excellent book about writing as well). Never underestimate the power of someone you admire believing in you.

Today writing comes easily to me. Because I earn my living writing, much of what I write isn’t particularly creative, but I put words on paper (metaphorically, of course, it’s all digital these days) each and every day. I am blessed to be living as a writer forty years after I wrote that first poem.

One of the things Rachel told me early on has stuck with me. “In order to really call yourself a writer,” she said, “you need to write at least seven hours a week.” Today I write more like 25 hours a week, but that an-hour-a-day idea helped me focus as I grew as a writer. For over a decade this blog has provided my place to spend that hour of writing creatively, and I’m proud of the writing I’ve done here.

After some time, I wanted to share the gift Rachel gave me. At a couple of years sober, I began teaching creative writing to women living in long-term drug and alcohol rehabs. The time I spent with those women was such a gift! For myriad reasons, writing was hard for them. For some it was because they felt their education wasn’t complete, others believe they were stupid, and a few had undiagnosed learning issues. Spending weeks helping them find the capacity to trust themselves enough to write creatively was powerfully rewarding. I still have a folder of their amazing writing that I often refer to for inspiration.

Recently, the good folks at Lift asked me if I’d like to do that sort of work again, and I thought once more of Rachel. Last year she came out to see me give a presentation and she told me again how gifted she thought I was, and how she can’t wait for me to publish my book (the book that is still in process, alas). I eagerly agree to partner with Lift to create a month-long writing challenge that will start (very soon) on September 1st.

Called “500 Words Every Day” (#500WED is the hashtag), the challenge itself is free (as is registering at Lift). Each day I’ll share a writing prompt, and participants will be asked to write 500 words on that prompt (or anything else they’d like to write about). The goal isn’t to complete a novel or any particular project (unless you’d like it to be), but to fall in love with writing. To trust yourself, and to believe in yourself as a writer. The project will become available on September 1st, so go quickly.

If you’d like, you can also sign up for personalized coaching from me. I’ll be able to digitally hold your hand as you embark on this project, much like Rachel held mine back in 1996.

I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to work with other writers again. Feel free to email me if you have any questions!

On Taking Back My Story: Thoughts on #BlogHer14 and Ten Years of Blogging

I’m at the BlogHer conference in San Jose. It’s the tenth BlogHer conference (and my seventh trip to the conference) and, coincidentally, this year I also celebrated ten years of being a blogger. There’s a strong sense here of blogging “growing up,” if you will, as well as many questions about what’s next. Today some of the sessions I plan to attend will be focusing on just this subject – what’s next for the Blogosphere – and I’m looking forward to it because I honestly don’t know what is next for me either.

These days much of my creative and writing energies is geared toward corporate clients with the goal to make the client – not me – shine. I buckled down and faced the reality that in order to succeed I had to stop thinking like a blogger and started thinking like a business owner. Making that decision at the beginning of the year shifted my thinking and my approach and now that work is paying off as my client base grows. Work is really, really good and I’m proud as hell about it.

So I’m here, at BlogHer, and I’m wondering what is down the road for me as a blogger. Last night as I listened to the readers during the Voices of the Year (an event where bloggers read posts selected by a panel of judges), I was reminded again how powerful blogging can be, how it can build a community, and how the power of story can be transformative and magical. I know, deep in my heart, that blogging is still revolutionary and important – particularly blogging by women. Blogging still matters.

Yet at the same time, I’m not sure it matters if I blog anymore. I’m not saying this to be dramatic or for pats on the back or to elicit pity – trust me, I am really and truly okay with my life as it is, whether or not I continue to blog. But there are new torchbearers telling the stories that need to be told out there, and maybe it’s their turn. Maybe it’s time for an old head like me to stand down, and get out of the way to let others shine in the light and community of the blogging world.

Yet, of course, here I am on my own personal blog, thinking my thoughts out loud. For ten years I have processed the world this way, and in many ways blogging for me is a bit like breathing, a bit like sitting down with a group of friends and saying the things that need to be said, even the things that are foolish and foolhardy and insignificant and hypocritical.

But the problem with thinking out loud on a blog is this: once you hit publish, you cease to own your own story. And I think, quite possibly, that it is time for me to take my story back.

Because the internet is bigger now that it was a decade ago, and sharing on my personal blog is no longer like sitting down with just a few friends. There is a much bigger audience reading and much of that audience lacks compassion and has zero interest in giving the writer the benefit of the doubt or understanding that what is shared is just a tiny sliver of life and not the whole picture.

I started blogging because I felt isolated and alone in infertility, and blogging offered me a community. It transformed my life and gave me so, so much that I have zero regrets. Telling my story allowed me to survive and has helped other people and I am so happy that I was able to do so. I have made friends from this community that I treasure beyond all else and thank God for every single day.

But I know that I got lost for a while. Blogging was the wild, wild west and seemed full of opportunities and money and fame and I saw the opportunity to finally live full time as a writer and fulfill my childhood dreams. I saw that brass ring and I reached for it and became singularly focused on it in a way that was probably dysfunctional and ultimately detrimental. And then I saw others reach the goals I thought I wanted and I became bitter and hungry and did and said plenty of shit I regret. I became a person I didn’t like very much. I made stupid choices, and I wasn’t always the best member of this community, and I acted unprofessionally at times, and that I do regret.

Usually people get their emotional well being together and then begin making professional changes, and I did just that early in my recovery. This time, however, it was the shifting of my professional focus that has pushed me to look long and hard at what is working in my life and what isn’t.

It probably sounds like bullshit, but I’ve been working to extricate myself from the content farm that was Babble for the last year or so as well as shake off the “mommy blogger” label, so the changes at Babble came at just the right time and made it easy to quit, finally. And now that I have the mental space to look long and hard at what I’m doing across the board, I have more choices to make.

What’s next for blogging? I have plenty of ideas and thoughts about that. But as to what is next for Cecily, I just don’t know. But I do know one thing: the next decade will look a lot different, and I’m pretty fucking happy about it.

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