Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Sick Mama

I almost can’t believe what I am about to write. Warning: it’s graphic, and maybe a little shocking. And quite sad.

But let me step back. I loved bussokuseki’s evening comment on my last post, “Sick Kid”:

My Zen teacher said something to me on Sunday that I have been sitting with since, and of which I am reminded reading this post: “Could it be that this moment, this very moment, is the moment I have been longing for?”

Not just accepting…but longing for…? Even if you aren’t sure of the answer, what incredible space this question opens up.

I thought of this twenty minutes later, when Lex was vomiting so hard he had puke in his eyes, his nose, his ears and his hair. We took him into the bathroom and gave him a bath, and then my sweet boy lay pale and red-lipped in his daddy’s arms while I put his bed back together. I decided to sleep in his room that night in case he needed me, but the sickness had passed and he didn’t throw up again. I asked myself whether I could have been longing for that moment, and decided I was: one of the beautiful, fundamental things about being a parent is being needed. And I was not unhappy to be going to bed that night knowing I’d be needed the next day, and maybe even that night. I was ruminating a lot on parenting, and how it throws your life into tumult, and how you must long for that tumult. I thanked bussokuseki in my head for helping me see that.

I was seven weeks pregnant, you see.

At four a.m. I woke up feeling like I, too, had the stomach flu. I started to vomit and have diarrhea and I was so uncomfortably…uncomfortable I couldn’t quite sit with myself. On the way to the bathroom to throw up, I passed out on the floor. I made it into bed, and spent the day in agony. Calls to the advice nurse yielded little since we kept insisting that my son had stomach flu and I must, too. They agreed. I was not bleeding; I was not miscarrying, I kept thinking, because I was not bleeding. But I was in so much pain and agony that I kept passing out. I’d huff too much air in an effort to get over a wave of nausea–though I’d stopped throwing up much, much earlier–and black out. Eventually around 7:30 p.m. I told Marc we needed to call 911. He was skeptical, I think we both were; the cost, the extravagance. But I knew I was dying of dehydration if nothing else, and I suspected something else might be really wrong. And I knew I could not get myself into the car and over to the emergency room without help.

Marc called my friend Steph, then 911. Steph took three minutes to get here. 911 took six. When they arrived–six uniformed men straight off the cover of a firemen porn magazine, and me sweaty, my teeth unbrushed, unable to breathe, dying–I felt enormous relief that someone else could take over. Being carried into the back of an ambulance, given oxygen, asked questions, prodded, poked, none of it was as I’d have expected. I kept thinking how I could not long for any moment that had happened all day, not one of them, save perhaps being in the back of an ambulance and not having to deal with the agony anymore.

At the hospital, it was more of the same: they gave me fluids, they gave me oxygen, they did blood tests. They were still treating me for extreme flu. I started to worry that I would leave the hospital feeling no different than I had, just slightly more hydrated. The doctor mentioned an ultrasound. Yes, I thought. Could the baby live through this flu?

Around midnight, the news all came together: my hemoglobin count was at 7, the pregnancy hormone was 9,000, I was anemic. The ultrasound happened and the doctor put it this way: “I think we have a bit of a tubal going on here.”

I don’t remember when everything registered, but all of a sudden I got it: I was anemic because I had an ectopic pregnancy and my fallopian tube had ruptured. I was bleeding internally, hence the horrible stomach pains. I needed emergency surgery and the fetus, unviable, was floating around somewhere and needed to be removed. There was so much blood they couldn’t see for sure which tube was ruptured. Just the week before I’d found myself thinking how much surgery terrified me and that I hoped I’d never have to do it. In the hospital I realized I had no choice: I would likely die if they didn’t operate.

The story has, I guess, a happy ending: an hour or so later I came out of that operating theater alive. I lost a liter of blood and one fallopian tube and, obviously, the fetus. Marc was with me the whole time, minus while I was being operated on. I have an active imagination for the “what if?” and he and I have needed to go over it a hundred times: what might have happened if we’d waited any longer? The good news is that we did not. The good news is modern medicine. The good news is those EMTs. The good news is Steph so gracefully arriving to sleep on the couch until we called my father in law, who came from the city in the middle of the night to relieve her and get Lex to school the next morning. The good news is the friends who have brought food and taken Lex for playdates. The good news is my husband, who has been an incredible nurse, even with his Ratchett-like moments (forcing me to drink the last of a raw kale smoothie, insisting on a walk down the block). It is good to be nurtured and encouraged to heal. The good news is my parents flying out this afternoon.

The sadness is there, but it’s secondary, floating, strange. Since telling my family and a few friends what happened so many women have volunteered their own losses: multiple miscarriages, absorption of twins, other stories of ectopic pregnancies. I was even in the very hospital ward where my friend C had to spend five weeks because one of two identical twins was stillborn and she needed to be on bed rest until they could safely deliver the other. These stories all put mine in context. What feels different is that the loss of the pregnancy is almost a separate issue, because it turns out we could very easily have lost me.

I hesitate to ask if this is all TMI–too much information–for a blog post. But I don’t know how I would go on in this blog if I didn’t come clean. I wonder how the Buddhist practice supports one through a trauma like this. I think I will be figuring that out.


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The Newtown Dukkha

We spent the weekend at Pt. Reyes, which, if you have never been to California, is a gorgeous peninsula on Tomales Bay. Or maybe it’s on Drake’s Bay. Either way, it is typical coastal Northern California, which is to say: often cold, foggy, and wet. We went with friends, all of us celebrating a 40th birthday. Lovely to be away, not listening to NPR. Lovely to go for some wet hikes, eat good food, rest a lot, laugh a lot, read, and catch up with friends.

One of the women who was there is a Buddhist, and she invited me to chant with her on Sunday morning. Her sect of Buddhism is called Nichiren, and she chants twice daily. Such a different practice from the one I have been cultivating (a silent practice; I managed six days last week!). The chanting felt like something I’d like to do more of. It’s very grounding to put your voice into the silence. But I am still sort of in a catch-all, learning phase of my practice, so I don’t think I’m ready to sign on with one sect/teacher/persuasion. I might never be.

It feels a little false to blog, today, about anything other than the tragedy in Connecticut. So I won’t say much more, besides that I am holding love and light for the families who lost beautiful little children at the hands of a troubled man. It occurred to me this morning that the true mindful way would be to hold love and light for that troubled man, too, though it’s difficult.