My oldest child, Corah, had a feeding tube from the time she was 3 weeks old. For the first 13 months of her life, that meant that I was pumping my breasts every few hours to trickle my milk through a tiny tube in her nose. At least once a day, but often more than that, she would lace her chubby fingers through the tube and rip it out of her nostril. It never took me more than a second to stop the machine so that the milk wasn’t wasted. I would run and grab a clean yellow tube, give her a little milk from my breast directly for comfort and then quickly push that tube up her nose and down her throat. A fresh piece of Tegaderm to hold it in place and we were all good. The hardest part was catching up on the lost milk since she was on a continuous drip and couldn’t tolerate larger boluses.

When Jamie and I realized that this way of feeding her was not going away any time soon, we consented to having a more permanent tube placed into her stomach directly. It required surgery and we had it scheduled while she was already under anesthesia for another procedure. Still, it had been a difficult experience for us, and for her and we were prepared to do anything to avoid repeating it for as long as possible. The doctors explained that if the tube was removed for even just an hour, the stomach would begin to heal and need to be surgically opened up again. They gave me a kit to replace the “button” that allowed us to put the feeding tube directly into her stomach instead of the down the throat technique. Corah’s cheeks were raw from all the tape and we were over the process of causing her pain every single time it got pulled out. The new tube was harder to pull out but much more dramatic when it did happen. At least at first.

I was one of those baby wearing, extended breastfeeding type of moms with all three of my babies. Honestly, I just didn’t know any other way of mothering. They were happiest close to me and so that is what made me happiest too. But Corah’s tubey was hard to maneuver in a baby wrap. On good days, I could put the machine in a backpack and snake the long tube carrying milk through the straps of my Ergot and get her adjusted on my front with the bag on my back. I could feel her feeding tube button pressed against my own belly and we both felt safe and comfortable in that position. BUT our days were long and there was so many opportunities for it to get caught on something in that position and ripped out, so I often just strapped her into a stroller where I could have more control over that long snaking tube.

I pushed Corah in that stroller all over the city every single day. I technically had a drivers licence, but I wasn’t comfortable driving in the city. I never even attempted for the first few years that we lived here. My mom had held true to her word that she wouldn’t let me take driver’s ed, (I wrote about that here: https://redneckaidsorphansurvivor.home.blog/2023/01/25/coach-p-edophile/) and even though I learned after she died, I still wasn’t confident.

Jamie was working long days and often having to work out of town so Corah and I had our own little routine down. I would mix up the formula that WIC provided, and I would fill the feeding tube bag to the top so that we would have hours of mobility before we needed to head home and refill. I would strap Corah into one side of a double stroller and the feeding tube bag onto the other seat. Then we would walk miles around our city, walking from our apartment in the East End to her doctors’ offices in the West End. Then down to the playground to slide down the slides with tubey on my back. Sometimes, I would disconnect her from the tube long enough to swing in the baby swing untethered for a few minutes. After that we would walk down to the grocery store which was on our way home and fill up the space under the stroller with as much as I could physically push and walk the rest of the way home. It was great exercise and it worked for a few years, until it didn’t.

We pulled this routine off for a few weeks without any glitches until one day we had wandered down to check out a new yarn shop that I had heard about. It was down in the Old Port in a big warehouse type of building. The yarn store was down a flight of stairs and I realized that I couldn’t get the stroller through the door of the building so I got the backpack on and started unbuckling Corah from her side of the stroller. That is when I heard the dreaded Pop! of the button coming out of the hole in her stomach. I lifted her little shirt grateful that she didn’t have a onesie on and saw the milk gushing out through that opening. So much panic went through my head all at once. Too much milk was coming out! I started calculating. I had one hour before it started to close. I scooped her up into my arms and flew down those stairs.

I had never stepped foot inside this yarn store before and even if this wasn’t happening I would have felt out of place. The Old Port is a tourist attraction and a young low-income mom was hardly the target customer for a place like this. Still there was no time for shame. I threw the door open and laid Corah out on the rug while I scrambled to find the replacement kit for her button. I had never had to put one in but I understood the concept. The button itself is farely small about the size of a nickle in diameter but much fatter. There is a two inch long fat tube that you push into the hole in her stomach and then hold it in place so it doesn’t pop back out with one hand while drawing a syringe with 2 ml of water with the other hand to fill the balloon on the end of that tube inside her stomach to hold it in place so that it wouldn’t pop out again. All the while I was rambling to the very confused and frightened shop owner who was a middle aged white woman, trying to explain what was happening and why it had to happen right then on her rug. I was on foot so I couldn’t do this in my car or get home in a timely manner.

I am not sure if I was just so flustered or if I really did have the wrong size syringe, but either way, I just could not get the syringe to twist onto the appropriate spot to insert that 2mls of water into the balloon. I tried tirelessly for about 10 minutes before realizing the clock was ticking and I wasn’t going to succeed. I raced back up the steps with the milk still oozing out of Corah’s tummy and the backpack now thrown into the seat uselessly.

“Do you need me to call an ambulance?” I thought about that for a second but Corah and I had already had an ambulance ride before and this did not seem to necessitate that kind of a trip again. I knew I could get up to Rite AID or to another little medical center and find a syringe that would connect in the right spot. It was the same kind of syringe that the pharmacy will give you to administer liquid meds to a small child orally. It just has a slightly different tip. That was my best bet. I sprinted with that double stroller past the enormous cruise ship, past the coffee shop with the line of people waiting for muffins and lattes and past about a dozen bus stops that would have been helpful if I had ever taken the bus before. I was still such a country bumpkin. I hadn’t figured out how to navigate this city at all except on just my own two feet.

By the time I ran through the doors at the medical center, sweat was pouring down my face and I was panting for breath. It had taken me 10 minutes to get that far and so now I was down to 40 minutes until that hole closed.

“Please! Hi! Can you help me?” I pointed to Corah in the stroller, who without the feeding tube bag attached to her, just looked like a “normal” healthy toddler. She wasn’t in any pain so she wasn’t crying or anything. “She has a feeding tube and the button popped out and I can’t get it back in and I need a syringe to replace it and if I don’t get one right NOW it’s going to close up and it means another surgery! Please! All I need is a syringe!”

“Are you a patient here?” The receptionist was looking at me skeptically.

“No…But my daughter is a patient of Maine Med and I don’t have a car and I can’t get all the way there in time. Please! She’s a child! All I need is a syringe. I can do it myself. I just need the syringe. I’m not asking you do to do anything. Just give me the syringe!” I was clueless about the way that this woman was taking in the situation. To her, I just looked desperate and screaming about syringes.

“No. We can not be giving syringes out to just anybody off the street! What are you thinking coming in here like this?”

My jaw fell off of my face. I am really good at navigating my way through the medical world at this point, but back then, I was still too quick to rage. “WHAT?! IT’S FOR MY BABY! You know what? I don’t have time for this!” I ran out of there so fast when I realized that it was a dead end at best and worst case scenario, that receptionist was looking at me like she was about to call the police.

It was still ok. I walked these streets everyday. I knew that I could get to the hospital in time if I ran the whole way. I also knew there was a Rite AID. I bolted straight for the pharmacy. They were a little more understanding of the situation and also I had learned a little since the last attempt and came at it with a slightly calmer approach. They showed me the syringes that they had but they were all like the one I already had. None of them had the right tip.

There was only one thing left to do and that was to run from the East End of my city to the West End. I dialed the doctors office while maneuvering my way out of the heavy Rite AID doors. By the time I got through all of the beeps and” push 6 for this doctor” and “push 4 for that line… ” I was already one block closer.

Finally, I had a person on the phone. “Hey! Susan! Hi! It’s Corah’s mom! Yeah, I just pulled out her button. Well, actually it was like half an hour ago now, but I can’t get a new one back in, because I don’t have the right syringe and no one will give it to me and I am on the way to you right now!” I explained the whole thing while sprinting down main street with a massive stroller, panting and gasping between words.

“Ok. Calm down. Take a breath..”

“Susan! No! The doctors said her stomach can close in an HOUR! I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE ANOTHER SURGERY!”

“Ok. Ok. Well can you reach Jamie? Or call a cab so that you don’t have to run the whole way?”

“Jamie is working in New Hampshire today and No! I can’t call a cab. I have to get off the phone. I just have to go! We will be there soon. Please, be ready for us!” I was embarrassed to say that I had never called for a cab and didn’t know how and didn’t have the time to learn how to in that moment.

I was trying to focus on getting there and making my lungs work and not crying. I walked miles everyday but I hadn’t run for exercise in years. Plus, that double stroller was heavy to be pushing around. Sidewalks in my city are completely inaccessible and broken everywhere so trying to navigate with a wheelchair or a stroller is damn near impossible without a lot of jumping off the sidewalk and going on the road over broken places.

I ran and ran and somehow made it to the Pediatric Offices. Up the elevator and into the office without that precious skin healing closed. I finally wept as the nurse showed me the correct way to insert the tube myself. They made me do it instead of doing it for me so that I would feel confident the next time. All the while, Corah was ok. She was used to doctors offices and drama and nothing hurt so she wasn’t upset.

They let me sit and catch my breath for a few minutes in the room before I had to head back out for the long walk home. I got Corah’s machine all set up with clean formula and a new “tubey” button and let her nurse at my breast while the formula simultaneously trickled in through the tube in her stomach. One ml per minute. If we increased the rate, she would often throw up. She loved to nurse and would do it often, but could not get in enough that way because of the amount she needed due to her kidney disease.

A week later, the tube popped out in the grocery store. This time, I went to the bathroom and washed my hands. I pulled out the syringe that I kept in the front pocket of the backpack and I easily and quickly replaced the button. I did that procedure so many times over the next 6 years that I can’t possibly remember how many times or any details about those times. It became as second nature as changing a diaper or giving a bath.

She no longer has her “tubey” as she affectionaly came to call it when she was old enough to name it. We had it removed for the last time when she was in the first grade. We felt confident that we could push water orally and that she had proved that she could swallow pills instead of needing them to be administered through the tube.

We had a party to celebrate the end of the era. We had been reluctant to consent to the feeding tube in the beginning and reluctant to part with it when the time came in the end. It was such a big part of our lives. Such a big part of Corah. She has always processed through art and she made a card to honor the moment with the words, “Bye-Bye Tubey” scrawled across the inside. Inspired, I baked a chocolate cake with the words Good-Bye G-Tube” and let her cover it in rainbow sprinkles.

Now she is a teenager. There have been many more tubes and many more procedures. There is a beautiful scar on her stomach where tubey used to be. The hole in her stomach did heal up fast, but the outside skin is still scarred in a “second belly button.” She boldly shows it off in the summer, wearing bikinis that won’t cover it and she dreams of getting a tattoo someday, not to hide it, but to decorate it in her own way.


My mom made this diaper bag for me when I was born and I still have it.

I was just a little kid the first time I heard the word rape. Where I come from, as a girl, it’s just a hard fact of life. Mother’s start teaching their daughters how to avoid it when we are still learning how to tie our shoes. But I found out about it by accident. 

Mama had a higher tolerance for me listening in on grown-people’s conversation because I was her only child and because we were so close. She wanted me around as much as I wanted to be around her. But there was this one time that mama shooed me out the door. 

The public housing apartments were all in a row, halfway up the side of a big hill. These particular ones were reserved for single parents, so every home had to have a kid in it. The “Brooklynside Kids” were a little gang that took over the front yards. No one cared if you were out there hollerin’ and horsin’ around in the front, but the back yards were people’s private spaces. Plus, there was an intimidating wall of rocks held in by mesh wire in everyone’s backyard. I guess to keep the top of the hill from crumbling down on us. I was never one to be out there horsin’ around anyway. Everyone referred to me as “Little Mama” because I was always trying to keep all the other kids in line, kissing boo-boo’s and being bossy.

This one day, I tried to bring myself to join the game that the kids were playing. It was some variation of tag. I should have just put my foot in the circle to be tapped along with the others. “My. mother. told. me. to. pick. the. very. best. one. and. you. are. IT!” I was on my way to do just that when my mama’s face popped into my head. She was keeping something from me, and she never did that. We kept secrets together, not from each other. Something was wrong. 

Mama had sent me outside as soon as our neighbor Tina came over. Tina was a teenager, just a few years younger than mama. She was over to our house all the time with her fat little baby boy. I loved him. He weighed almost as much as me with his little bald head and his two front teeth. He was my real live baby doll. I would carry him around while our mama’s had coffee and gossiped at the table. 

I turned away from the kids. I suddenly needed to know what my mama was in there talking to Tina about. I snuck along the side of the brick house and pushed my ear right up close to the sliding glass door. Mama and Tina were inside at the kitchen table. They were both beautiful to me although neither of them was seen that way by society. Tina wore acid washed parachute pants and her short, bleached bob was hair sprayed until it didn’t move. My mom’s was hair sprayedtoo but she wore hers softer. Mama would force curls into her limp hair, and I would stand beside her flattening out my big natural poofy curls. Mom always wore bright blue-green eye shadow. It was so bold, but it was the only color she ever wore. 

Now in the kitchen, I could see mama’s leg was crossed and her foot was bouncing up and down fast like it did when she was angry, excited, or just in the middle of a good story. Her head was buried in her hands and when she lifted her face to speak the blue was a smeared mask across her eyes. Mascara streaks were dripping down her cheeks and her lips were trembling. 

I wanted to bang on the door and shout for her to let me in. I wanted to hug her tight and make her stop crying, but my body was paralyzed with fear. My mom and I were so in sync that watching her body shake sent shivers down through my own body.  I put my ear up against the glass to listen to the words that mama was choking out between sobs. I could not understand them. Mama was not making any sense. I listened closely. 

“Rake!” I heard that word over and over again. It felt like a big and nasty word even though I knew what a rake was. People come from far and wide to see the beautiful fall leaves in the hills of my hometown. Why was mama saying rake like that?Wait… What?!? Mama said, the man next door raked her when she went to babysit his kids! I didn’t know mama went to babysit his kids. Maybe this happened when I was at my dad’s? I had so many questions. I felt so confused and scared.

I looked up suddenly to see if the man was outside even right now! The way mom was carrying on, it sounded really bad! Finally, the image in my mind of a man raking over my body out there in the backyard sent me screaming through the kitchen door. I threw myself onto my mom’s lap and clung to her for dear life. She crumpled over my back and eventually Tina scooped her baby boy up from the rug on the floor and left us there like that.

That night I curled up next to my mama in her bed, still clinging to her. I laid awake for hours staring at the window. Any shadow from the trees falling across the room would send my heart racing. I pictured him out there right now with his rake. I just knew he was coming back for both of us this time. When I finally went to sleep, he came through the window in my dreams. I woke up bawling and mama said, “It’s ok baby. It’s just the bobcats down in the swamp. They sound like a woman cryin’, don’t they? Remember, Crystal Fawn, never go outside if you hear a woman cryin’. That means the bobcats are out there.”

Coach P.edophile

I had been obsessed with basketball since I was a little girl. Even though I was only on the JV team, we shared locker rooms and practices with the Varsity team. We felt like we had officially made it. Walking into the locker room felt like a rite of passage. We were no longer children. Instead of loud silly immature giggles, the locker room was filled with people who HAD DROVE THEMSELVES THERE. We couldn’t hear exactly what the small group of seniors were saying because our huddle of lockers was on the other side of the room, but I imagined they were discussing sex, parties, drinking, driving, college, and who knows maybe even things I hadn’t even thought to think of yet.

Here I am, #22!

We tried not to stare at the bodies draped over the sink to fix a ponytail in the mirror, applying deodorant standing around in nothing but a sports bra and shorts, or laying down on the bench with headphones. These bodies were somehow so much older than our bodies. We were fascinated, but we also knew that they would call us “dykes!” if they caught us staring. It was important to not get caught.

This was the scene the first time my new coach walked in on us. Half naked girls out in the open in every direction. “Ope! Sorry! I thought you girls were done in here!” The JV coach, Let’s just call him Coach P., was standing before us with his hands in front of his eyes but his fingers spread so our bodies were still in view.

Girls were diving behind the stalls and hiding with whatever towel was closest to grab. “Hurry it up! Get to practice. You should be out there by now!” He yelled at us like we were the ones who had just done something wrong or embarrassing.

When he stomped away and we heard the door slam behind him, I heard an older girl say, “Fuckin’ Perv.”

“OHMYGOD! I CAN’T BELIEVE COACH JUST SAW US IN OUR UNDERWEAR,” the new JV players were all freaking out about this.

“I can’t go out there. I had my whole ass out! Oh my god.”

Now the older girls were paying attention to us. It was like someone called a meeting and we hadn’t realized. Suddenly they were all looming over us. Instinctively the JV girls all sat down to make ourselves smaller and show deference to these Varsity players. One of them rolled her eyes at us. Then they handed down their wisdom, that we really could have used 10 minutes ago.

“Get used to it.”

“Yeah, he does that ALL the time. It’s so fuckin’ gross.”

“Listen. If you don’t want that old man to see your shit, just get dressed behind the lockers and don’t fuck around when you get outta the shower.”

“You get used to it. It’s not a big deal. He’s just an old perv. His wife is so fuckin’ ugly you can’t really blame him. He’s harmless though.”

We were shocked. We had a male coach in Junior High but he had never once stepped foot in our locker room. What the fuck?! They looked at our horrified expressions and laughed at us.

“Listen girls. You don’t like it? Work hard and make the Varsity team so that you don’t have to put up with his shit as much. He’s an asshole to play for too.”

“Yeah, the Varsity coach is an asshole too but at least she’s a good fuckin’ coach and she doesn’t try to see our titties!” This girl reached over and grabbed the breast of the girl sitting beside her to make a point. We all laughed. Ok. This was a lot to take in. But we did as we were told and for the most part he was harmless.

He was annoying as all hell though. Sometimes he would just stop by my house to invite me to the movies or to “visit.” My next door neighbor, let’s call her Jessica, was on the team with me and a good friend of mine. Coach would stop at her place too. If he stopped at my house first, I would have to make up an excuse why I couldn’t go to the movies with him or out to lunch or whatever and then I would dive for the phone before he was even off my porch. There were plenty of teenagers over there so as long as one of them answered the phone, I might be able to get the message to her before Coach got to her door.

“Hello?” Great! It was her older sister!

“Hey! Coach is on the way!! Tell Jess to HIDE!”

“Ew. Fuck.” She groaned but she remembered this shit from when she was on the JV team. “Jess! Coach is coming. I’ll say you’re not here. Hide!!”

“Gotta go. Thanks.”

I hung up the phone grateful that I was able to help and feeling good about myself when my mom came in the room. She had been feeling sick in the bathroom and hadn’t witnessed this episode. “Who was that?”

“Oh just Jessica. I had to talk to her about something.” I pointed to the phone.

“No. Not the phone. The door. Who came to the door?” Oh shit. I did not need this. Mom hated Coach P. stopping by. I mean so did I, but I was willing to put up with it so that I didn’t have any drama in my basketball life. Fuck. I couldn’t think up a lie and she was standing there arms crossed glaring at me.

“It was Coach. He just stopped by to say hi.” I couldn’t lie.

My mom’s face was contorted in anger. “What the FUCK? Ew. That guy gives me the heebie-fucking-jeebies! You tell that mother fucker I don’t want him stopping by our house any fucking more. You are 15 years old. What the fuck is wrong with him? FUCKING PERVERT.”

She didn’t know about his tendency to forget that we used the locker rooms to change our clothes, and I was not going to tell her. She was already making such a big deal about just him stopping by. I also didn’t mention that he invited me to the movies. That would really freak her out. I was mostly on mom’s side with this one. He was a freak. But at the same time, I didn’t want her to embarrass me by making it a big deal.

“And just so YOU know, there is no way in HELL you’re taking that fuckin’ driver’s ed class. No. Fucking. Way.” This is exactly what I was afraid of. Coach was the driver’s ed instructor at our school.

“Moooooom. I have to get my license. Everybody does it. It’s not a big deal. I don’t even want to drive. I just want to have my license.”

“Over my dead body!” Mom forgot about being pissed at Coach P. and turned all of that hostility in my direction. “Little girl, you think you know so much about the world but you don’t know SHIT!”

“Why do you want to ruin my life?” I could match my mom in volume and intensity. In fact, even though I was still terrified of her, it was not enough to keep me from back talking.

“Oh, I’m ruinin’ YOUR life, hunh?” She came at me fast with her hand raised but for the first time in my life, I was ready for it. I did not even consciously decide my next move, it just happened. Instead of throwing my arms over my head to simply block the blows that my mother had in store for me, I reached up and caught her arms by the wrists. Her eyes were burning a hole into my face and she and I went crashing across the room. I never once swung back, but I would not let go of her wrists and let her hit me. She could not get away from me and I could not get away from her without unleashing all of this fury. We were writhing against the wall and she was madder than I had ever seen her.

“Oh, you think yer BIG now huh? Ok. Big shot. Ok. You want to say that I am ruinin’ yer life? I can do that! I can ruin yer life! You want that? You want me to turn yer whole life upside fucking down?” This was not going to get better and now I just needed to escape. I saw my chance when my mom was mid sentence. I knew she would want to get it all out before chasing me so I had about 2 seconds to make a break for it. Remember I had a grip on her, not the other way around so I had the advantage of taking her off guard with the chase. I let go without any warning and bolted for the door. Now if that thing had been hard to open or if I had hesitated in any way, I would probably not be alive to tell this story and my mom would have died in prison. I might be exaggerating but I might not. My mom was PISSED and she was known to chase me around with knives when she was even just half as mad as she was on this day.

I knew that once I got outside, I was free. Mom would not touch me outside. I bee-lined for Carla’s and just acted casual once I got there. “Wanna go for a walk?” I asked. “I’m bored.” She was game so we did our usual lap around town, past the cute boys houses, looking for anyone and anything exciting. We did not find what we were looking for but it did get exciting.

My mom wasn’t one to chase me out in the view of the public, but my Grandma had zero shame. She was from a generation where beating a kid was expected not shameful. I didn’t know what hit me when her old clunker pulled up beside me and Carla. I looked around like a scared rabbit for any kind of place to hide, but Grandma was out of that car and on me fast. She smacked me so hard right across the face. “You get your ass in this car this minute.” I did not want to get in that car but I was humiliated and didn’t want to make even more of a scene. We were practically on main street. Anybody could have seen! I got in the car and just sat there steaming mad but silent as Grandma drove me home. She kept looking in the rear view mirror at me challenging me to say anything in protest. When I didn’t do anything other than cry, she addressed me head on. “Your mom told me that you hit her. I can’t believe you would be that kind of evil. You know your mom is weak. She does everything for you and this is how you repay her. Evil. Just evil.”

Now I was mad. “What?! I didn’t fucking touch her!” I never ever called my mom out for beating on me, but she broke our code first by calling Grandma and accusing me of doing what she was guilty of. “She’s the one hitting on me. I just held her arms so she couldn’t do it. I’m sick of this Grandma.” I was sobbing now. Grandma didn’t say anything to this and her face softened a little. I guess she believed me.

Mom and I didn’t even speak to each other when I got home. I was sick of my mom beating me for the shitty things men did, but at the same time, I kind of understood where she was coming from. I could see it then but now it is even more clear to me. My mama wanted to protect me but she felt powerless. She couldn’t confront the perverted men that I came into contact with so she needed to beat me into understanding. No driver’s license was worth having to let that old man grope me or worse. She needed me to understand that even if she had to beat it into me.

“There can be only one.”

I finally made it home for the first time in 10 years. My partner, our three kids, and I spent a week camping in the hills of my childhood and visiting my enormous extended family. I got to see siblings that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, meet nieces and nephews, and hug and love on some of my favorite humans. It was a gift and I am only beginning to make sense of it as I sink back into myself.

I am sure that I will do a lot of writing to process this trip but for now I have been content to slowly share photos on my social media and let it trickle out of me. Tonight though, I tried to make a post that needed more than just a quick photo and a few words. I need to get some of this out! I have been so filled with gratitude but the truth is that just under that has been this pulsing trauma that of course got jostled a little bit from our trip.

When I get triggered like this, it looks like an increase in my anxiety which means a decrease in my patience. It means I talk too fast and too much. It means I laugh too loud and cry too quick. I hate it. At 35 years old, I have lived with it long enough to know that I will move through this and get back to my baseline. I know I will be ok eventually, but I need a little calm for my soul right now. Tonight. My family needs it too.

One of the ways that I move through my trauma is to talk it out. Writing is a huge release for me and so tonight I am here on the living room floor in the dark typing on the computer that is dying because I let the 4 year old watch too many Cocomelon videos before bed.

First of all, can I just tell you that I wanted this story to be funny. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to talk about the goddamn sword in the back of my car, but for the life of me, I can no longer remember what the hell was so funny about it. I hope by the end of this piece, I can find the humor again for all of our sakes. Please bear with me.

The sword belonged to my mother. Apparently it cost her $250 and it is an exact replica of the Highlander sword. If you aren’t old enough to remember the tv show, go watch the theme song. I will share a link to the video at the end of this story. I grew up watching it with my mom and step-dad but I had pretty much forgotten about it until my Uncle Buddy handed me the sword and said, “There can be only one.” He had been holding it for me all these years since my mom died. Anyway, now I am old enough and so it has been driving around with me to basketball practice, the grocery store and the playground because I am not ready to bring it into my house. I am not ready to have such a physical reminder of the violent parts of my childhood inside my home with my own children.

This is when it stopped feeling funny I guess. For a week, my partner and children sat with rapt attention to story after story about my mama, my father, and all of my people on both sides. The stories were beautiful but also incredibly violent. Which I know. I still feel that violence take my breath away when I hear a sudden loud sound or anytime I am startled by an unexpected person entering any room. At this point, I can feel it and release it, but it still lingers within me haunting me forever I guess.

On one particular visit, my children sat wide eyed while a relative told a story about my mama (their grandmother who they never met) landing a punch in a glass window because she missed when she swung at her own dad. The stories continued to my mom chasing one of her sisters with a knife and throwing another knife at another sibling but “THANK GOD your mama had such terrible aim! It’s hard sayin’ how many of us wouldn’t be alive to this day if she could aim worth a shit! Oop! hahahahahhahah” My children and partner laughed on cue and I laughed too for a second before realizing this relative thought they were telling me something I didn’t know about my mama.

“You know I lived with that woman for 17 years, right? Trust me I KNOW how bad her aim was. I know how bad her temper was too. You don’t honestly think I lived with her for all those years and didn’t see that side of her did you?”

Here is the thing. I don’t talk about my mama’s violence too much. I love her and I forgive her and I understand that she beat on me because she was beat on so much and I was smaller and that is just how it was. But the truth is my mama made me fear for my life too. It wasn’t just my step-dad chasing me with knives or stabbing holes in beds where bodies just rolled out of reach. Every once in a while, not even once a year, but maybe once every few years, I will have a dream memory where my mama is chasing me through the halls of our old trailer or jumping over the coffee table with a knife pulled up ready to launch it at me. I would fly over the couch, duck and run always aiming for the door, a window or any escape. It wasn’t good enough to just hide. Survival meant getting out of the house. Mama would not chase me out of the house. She was willing to throw lethal weapons at me, but she was not willing to risk Children’s Services getting called. If I got outside, I was safe. That is just the way it was. Thank God, I always did make it outside. She did connect her fists and feet to my flesh but never a blade or a bullet. I know how lucky I am and I am tired of covering all that up. So I told my relative who was laughing about it.

I wasn’t hurt that he was laughing because here is the thing; Sometimes traumatized people just have to laugh. It feels good to laugh. It is also a form of release. I had been laughing all week about the violence too. I had laughed about the time my cousin was over and we made a big mess with the Barbies even though the social worker was on her way over and mama told us to clean up. When she got out of the shower and saw that mess, she threatened to kill us and sure as hell she grabbed a kitchen knife and went after us. My cousin was scared out of her mind and even called her own mama to come to her rescue. I didn’t have anyone to call, but the social worker showed up and we all just sat there and smiled and acted like nothing at all. We laughed about that because my mama is gone. The threat is gone and because we love her still despite it all. We all laughed about it. What else are you going to do?

But now I am here with this sword and I need to get it out of the car, because is it even legal to be driving around with a weapon like that? I can’t just give it away because even though it does not conjure up my favorite memories of her, it is something that she physically touched and now it is back in my hands and that is enough for me to want it more than I do not want it. Plus, my 11 year old son loves it and I basically told him it’s his. Someday. When he is older.

Tonight this all came to a head because I decided it had to be removed from the trunk. The children and I were headed to the public swimming pool and I needed to climb into the back anyway to find my sandals so why not just bite the bullet and get it out of there. So I did. My son immediately started in with, “Can I hold it? Can I take it out of it’s sheath? Whoa! It’s heavy!”

Phew. Breathe. Crystal Fawn. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Keep this light. The children do not need to feel this trauma that is now pouring out of every cell. Let them have this memory of their grandmother liking some ridiculous tv show and owning this silly little memorabilia about it. but WAIT! “STOP! NO! I said, don’t open it!” My impulsive boy can not have this type of thing around. He just can not resist and wanted to feel the blade. He is endlessly curious. It had seemed ok to let him hold the sword with it safely secured inside the red case. He uses tools and weapons that could be dangerous all the time when he goes to archery or fishing. He knows a lot about knife safety because he has a knife for wood carving. but when the sliver of shiny silver started to appear, my stomach bottomed out and I couldn’t deal anymore. I had agreed to take some photos with it and to let them take some too. We were going to keep it in it’s sheath for safety but take a couple of photos posing like the Highlander. But I just couldn’t fake it. I was anxious and grumpy and this wasn’t funny anymore. We took a couple of photos which did look silly because we were all in our swimming suits ready for the pool, but the energy just wasn’t there. When I looked at the photos tonight it is clear that I was in no condition to pose like a badass with a sword or to make jokes. My face is grief in every pose.

I’m not gonna mince words with you tonight. I had a rough day with my kids. I thought I could joke with them about the Highlander and keep it away from feeling personal, but I failed. Trauma sucks. Anxiety sucks. Today, I wasn’t as patient as I usually am. I was overprotective with my teenager and I yelled at my tween. I wasn’t the best version of myself and I hate that. But it’s real. I am not a perfect mother or a perfect person. I hate that my trauma finds its way to my children like this. I hate it. But I forgive myself.

Hearing all of those stories of generations of violence on both sides of my family, I am reminded that I broke that cycle. I did that. I work hard to be the best mother I can be. I make mistakes, I apologize and I work hard to do better. I know that my children feel my trauma and anxiety, I see that it has been passed down to them in many ways, but I also see that tonight when they fell asleep, they were safe. They know that they are loved. They will never have to fear that I will beat them or shoot at them or stab them. They know that they are safe here with their dad and I. We get a lot wrong as all parents do, but we do not get this part wrong. and I am proud of that. and grateful. and finally crying. Release.

Tonight the sword is hidden away in a secret location where children can not reach it and I am finally going to sleep.

Okay, here is the trailer to the show. This story wasn’t funny, but this trailer definitely is!


A couple of weeks ago I got an email from the current General Manager of the Blue Hill Food Co-op where I worked 14 years ago. He wanted to inform me that “Co-op John” was fired. Finally.

I wasn’t emotionally ready for that email. For one thing, I posted that story on my blog over a year ago and for another thing, we are 2.5 years into a pandemic and I have a medically fragile child. It’s been a lot. On top of the chronic and pandemic stress, one of my children had a traumatic health emergency a few months ago that we are all still processing and healing from. But as I know well, life does not always let you choose when you have to face your demons.

I know that John being “permanently terminated” from his position is a good thing on some level but the truth is my reaction was ice cold fear. I knew that there was nothing scarier on this earth than male anger before I knew how to say my own name. Even a male stranger on the highway flipping me the bird can send chills down my spine and make my heart race. I hate it. I never experienced Co-op John to be a physically violent man, except for in that it is violence to touch someone’s body without their consent. Still, I instantly started plotting my escape. If he came to my house, what would I do? Do I have a plan in place? Would he be able to find out where I live by my online presence? I was on facebook within minutes of getting that email and checking and double checking my security settings. I even changed my password which doesn’t even make any sense. How would John have my password?

My partner, Jamie was home when I got the email. Thank goodness, because I needed to process. For me that involves lots of talking with tears and uncontrollable shaking. Jamie was patient and supportive through this phase but when he sensed that I was ready to move on, he let me see his own reaction. “It’s about damn time.” He was pissed, which was helpful, because under my fear was my own anger. John sexually harassed countless women. Some were teenagers when it was happening. Some were grandmothers. I had a few reach out to me directly after I wrote my post and a few more confide in close friends of mine who then connected us. I forget how many women came forward, but it was enough to forget the number. John was doing this for a long time. More than 2 decades. It ties my stomach in knots.

The fear and anger are quickly met with guilt. I should have done more to stop him. I shouldn’t have just hung my head in shame all those years ago when I first reported it. I had known even then that it wasn’t just me. I had known he was doing the same things to some of my co-workers. Still, I gave up. It had taken all of my courage to report him and when my boss refused to do anything to protect us, I just gave up. It took me a whole 13 years to write that blog post and even then, I was careful to not give the real name of the co-op. Why? To protect him? To protect myself? What about the current women dealing with his abuse? Honestly, it makes my stomach hurt to think about.

And here’s the other thing. I am a believer in restorative justice. I didn’t actually want an old man to get fired from working a job he’s held for two decades. I wanted there to be another way. I want to live in a world where we acknowledge that rape culture is all around us. It’s not just John. I want us to create a world where we don’t tolerate the sexual micro-aggressions women have to deal with on a daily basis. I want us to make this type of behavior unacceptable. I want men like John, not to be punished, but to be helped and changed. and I don’t know how that happens.

Still, I am glad that he is no longer in that position. He was far too comfortable abusing women in that role at that job for far too long. Even after I reported him. Even after I wrote that blog post. He just kept doing it because no one had ever made him stop. So, he needed to be removed from that position. I know that is a good thing.

The current general manager told me that it was only after a current employee and a long time customer reported the same forms of sexual harassment that I wrote about in my blog that an internal investigation was deemed necessary. I am left feeling grateful but with a bad aftertaste. My abuse wasn’t enough to spark a review. My co-workers enduring abuse wasn’t enough. I get that this is a new manager, but still, reading my post should have been enough to initiate some attempt to check on and protect current employees. Instead at least 2 other women had to be violated and come forward before anything could be done. I might sound bitter, but seriously. This is the same dynamic that happened when I reported my college professor for sexual harassment. I was told that they would write down the complaint so that if more women came forward, they would have it on file. Again. One woman being violated wasn’t enough to warrant action. How many women need to experience abuse before it is too much?

In the face of the current political situation in the US regarding women’s (and anyone who can get pregnant!) rights, I am compelled to share this win. Because it is a win. One man was finally held accountable for harming women. It took too long and he hurt too many of us, but still this matters. One by one until we have enough momentum to shift our whole culture.

I promise to take all of this pain, and fear and guilt and use it to continue to speak the truth and to constantly push myself and those around me to be better.

A picture of just me because even just me is worth protecting.


I was scared of my father’s side for most of my childhood. Ever since the gun incident. Even though he wasn’t alive anymore, I still avoided anything and everything to do with my dad. Like when my older brother got a summer job as a “Carnie,” I didn’t ride the ferris wheel, even though it was my favorite because it was too close to the ride he was working. Or if I spotted one of my sisters in the Rite-Aid, I would put down whatever I had intended to buy and duck into whatever aisle was closest until I could sneak out. One time the store manager confused me for a greeting card thief when I was in stealth mode and banned me from the store for a year. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it wasn’t one of 2 stores in the whole town. Anyway, at least my sisters didn’t see me.

I hadn’t spoken to my siblings since I stopped going to our dad’s, but I knew they would still recognize me. Everywhere I went, people would take one look at my matching dark hair and eyes and say, “You must be a Gamet! I bet I know who your daddy is!” The truth is, and I never confessed this before, I was equal parts ashamed and comforted when people said this. It is true that I was terrified of being associated with my father’s side, but it is also true that I still loved him, and them.

I wasn’t just scared about the gun either. It was also about AIDS. I was still trying to keep my mom’s status a secret and that was much harder to do if people knew my dad. It was still a secret that he died from AIDS, because his wife was still living here in this small town with her own HIV status and of course there was still the matter of all of us kids. None of us were positive, but the town didn’t know that, and they would punish us the same as they would punish our parents if they knew. Still, there are always whispers in a small town and I knew that at least some people knew how my 36 year old father died.

My father’s people had been living in this region for many generations. In fact, some of our ancestors are Indigenous so yeah, some of our people lived here forever. You couldn’t take two steps in any direction without running into one of my relatives. I had to do a lot of fancy footwork to stay under everyone’s radar. It helped that all of my siblings were so much older than me. There was one relative though that always surprised me. I couldn’t dodge him no matter how hard I tried and eventually I quit trying. My brothers and sisters, who grew up with him in a way that I did not, call him “Uncle-Dad.” I call him this in my heart but I have never said it out loud.

To me, he was “Uncle Don” and he was my father’s best friend and brother. My dad had a lot of brothers, but I never took much notice of the other ones and they never seemed to notice me either. But Uncle Don kept tabs on all of “his kids.” He took in all of the stray kids in our family who had lost our parents to drugs, to incarceration, to AIDS and to death. Most of us were biologically related to him at least, but I know he watched out for kids who weren’t even blood.

The people that I respected most in my life were women. They were the ones who were doing all of the loving and hard work of caring in my community. I saw men as a source of violence and pain. But, my Uncle Don was this amazing exception. Now, I know he is a real person and not some fictional character. I know he has flaws like the rest of us, but at that time in my life, I thought he was a superhero. After my step-dad died, mom and I didn’t have a man to fix the little things that would break. I know that’s unnecessarily gendered and mom and I could have rolled up our sleeves and learned how to figure things out like broken heaters and mice in the walls, but we didn’t and we didn’t even know we could. We would just sit in the freezing cold waiting for the landlord who would never fix anything until my Uncle Don would suddenly appear and just like that we would be warm again and the mice would be gone.

I remember one time, this time of year actually, that’s probably why it popped into my mind. It was snowing just a few days before Christmas. Mom and I were feeling low. We didn’t have any presents and we didn’t have any food and we were flip flopping back and forth between grief and rage about that. All directed at each other. We had been fighting all morning and the snow just kept coming and coming. neither of us cared because we had nowhere to go anyway. Our car was already buried under a foot of snow and there seemed to be no end in sight. We would eventually have gone out and brushed the snow off with our arms and took a broom handle to the top. But the sidewalk would have stayed impassable for the whole winter. I don’t think we even owned a shovel.

That’s where Hero Uncle-Dad Donnie comes into the picture. Mom and I pushed the curtain aside to find him digging us out. I hardly knew this man, and yet he loved me enough to show up in a snow storm and make sure that my mom and I could get out safely if we needed to. He would never come in to say hi or look for acknowledgment. Most of the time, he would sneak off without us even knowing he had come, but when we stumbled on his small acts of kindness, we always knew it was from him. There was no one else as generous and thoughtful.

Even though I didn’t have the same anxiety around him that I had for the rest of my dad’s side, I still was a little shy around him. I would mumble a thank you if we found ourselves face to face and try to take in as much of him as I could without looking directly at his face. He is a bald man with honey colored skin. Other than those two features, I look exactly like him.

I went home for my 26th birthday, and was able to spend some time with Uncle Don and Aunt Luann at their restaurant “Don and Lu’s.”

Uncle Don was perceptive enough to understand what I needed without me ever having to ask. He would remind me every time I saw him no matter the setting or the circumstances. “Your dad loved you so much. He loved your mama too. That was his only crime. Loving too much. He was a good man who just happened to be in love with two different women.” I couldn’t agree completely with that sentiment. Loving wasn’t the only bad thing my father ever did, but I still loved to hear him say it. I only ever heard terrible things about my father and hearing good things, especially from such a good man, really made me feel hope that my father was a good man even in part. Maybe there was more to my father and to me than I knew. Once Uncle Don planted and watered that seed in my heart, he would always leave me with this. “Your Uncle Donnie is always here for you. And your mom. You hear me?” Then he would lift my chin so that I had to make eye contact. Looking into his eyes would always make a whole lump of tears form in my throat and I would just nod while he spoke the same words he said every time. “You guys were my brother’s responsibility, so now you’re mine. We’re family and no matter what, that doesn’t change.”

I never gave my Uncle Don any indication that I was hearing him or that this meant the world to me. In fact, I never said much beyond the mandatory polite phrases in response. So, I am writing this now to tell him and to tell the whole world. Thank you to my Uncle-Dad, Uncle Donnie, for showing me the kind of person that I wanted to be in the world and for still being an inspiration for me. I haven’t seen him now in almost a decade, but here he is meeting my oldest two children the last time I made it home. I am so glad that I have these pictures so that I can give my children a face to go with my stories. I want them to know that they come from more than trauma. They come from kind and good people who despite immense pain, continue to love and give generously.

I hope to see my Uncle Don and my Aunt Luann someday soon so that they can meet my youngest and we can update these photos. ❤ ❤ ❤


There was the moment right before we knew what was going on. I remember the backs of the kids walking into the classroom ahead of me. They already knew. I could feel it. Everyone could feel it. the air was charged. People were crying and the room was silent except for the tv and the crying.

I was in 8th grade and I sat down in my plastic chair. I put my backpack down in front of me and stared straight ahead at the screen. I thought we were watching a scary movie at first but that made no sense. The teacher still said nothing. She just stood there glued to the screen like the rest of us without giving us any guidance or information. I am sure she did not know what to say. Some kids had their faces down on the cold metal desks. I saw them turn away from the people jumping out of the buildings on the screen. I could not look away. I could not make sense of this. I felt numb. I could not hear the words that the news reporter was saying. Maybe the teacher muted it because it was too much or maybe my brain muted it for the same reason.

We walked from one classroom to the next that day but did not make any attempts at algebra or biology. We watched the tv in every class. My school did not have enough tv’s for every classroom so our teachers quickly identified who had one and we all crowded into that room. We sat there criss-cross apple sauce on the floor and waited for the adults to come to their senses and comfort us. But the adults did not know how to comfort themselves and they were not ready to comfort us.

Weeks passed and my mom was worried about me. The silence and the numbness continued for me which terrified my mom because I am by nature neither of those things. Big feelings and lots of words are kind of my go-to personality traits. “I ran into V’s mom at the grocery store the other day….I told her that you have been really scared and sad about all of…this…stuff going on….and…and she said that you can come over to her house for dinner.”

I did not know how going to V’s house for dinner was going to make any of this make sense or bring me back down into my body. V was a year older than me and I had never even hung out with her outside of school and sports let alone go to her house. I liked her, I guess, but she wasn’t exactly a friend. I tried to talk my mom out of it, but she had decided I was going and I didn’t have the heart to fight about it.

I had never sat down for a middle class family meal. Dad. Mom. Older Brother. V. The family Dog. A big wooden table with matching chairs. This was not the best stage to get me to open up. I felt like a fish out of water here. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair and looked down at the plate. I had always wanted to have family meals like they do in the movies. I had always been so jealous of the big families like the Winslows, The Tanners, you know all those tv families of the 90’s. Mom and I barely had dinner and even when we ate food together it was just in the living room. I can’t remember sitting down with my mom for a meal even one time without it being a holiday or something.

They were talking all around me and I could tell it was meant for me even before they directed it at me. It was like watching a performance of a family conversation vs. an actual meal conversation. Everyone would talk to each other, but then look at me.

“We are going to get THEM!”

“Yea, they don’t even know what’s comin’! America is coming now. They are about to get blown to pieces by AMERICA!”

I tried to force a few small bites of food past my swollen throat. I could not choke anything down but I did not want to be rude. I tried to smile but it felt unnatural.

Finally the mom spoke directly to me. “your mom says that you are really feeling scared? Well, honey, I just wanted to have you over here to show you that this country is full of STRONG men, I know you don’t have any men at home, and we are not going to let anyone hurt you or any other Americans!” She looked approvingly at her teenage son and husband. This started them in again.

“That’s right. We got the strongest military in the world! We’re gonna kill so many terrorists!”

Masculine strength is a beautiful thing that I do love to witness but I would not say that it comforts me. I am actually terrified of male violence so any kind of aggression or even this kind of talk makes me go into fight or flight mode instantly. My tolerance for it is so low that even just a man flipping me the bird on the interstate can send my heart racing. I just don’t like it at all.

They went on like this all night until it was just awkward to still be sitting there. I shoveled the last few bites into my mouth and thanked them for dinner. I knew I was supposed to say something in response to this performance but I truly had no idea what words to use in this setting.

The mom put her hand on my shoulder. “Well dear, I hope you are feeling better knowing that you are not in this alone. All of America is in this together and we are going to win! We always win!”

I declined a ride home preferring to walk alone in the dark with my thoughts. Again, not at all like me. I almost never prefer to be alone.

My mom was on the phone when I walked in. “Oh! I gotta go, Crystal Fawn just got in. Love you. Mmhmm. Yeah. I know. I know. Mh hmm. Ok. Love you. Gotta go!” She hung up the phone and smiled at me expectantly. “Well, how was it? You feeling better?”

Why my mom thought that strangers would be able to soothe my fears with their talk of violence and war and winning will always remain a mystery to me. But I appreciated the effort and it was clear that for whatever reason that was what she had to give me. Maybe she just didn’t know that much about it herself and did not know how to answer my questions. I needed someone to talk to. To just hear myself say outloud the terrible things that we watched on those tv’s at school and to ask someone what it all meant, but instead I just said, “Yea, ma. Thanks. Love you.” and sat down beside her on the couch. I picked up the afghan she was crocheting and crawled under it’s weight. “Who is this one for, mom?”

“Oh, your cousin saw me making one for the girl at church and she got jealous so I’m making her one now!”

Mom focused on working the hook through the yarn in her hands and I curled up next to her. We had no television or computer to fill the room with the news so we sat there in silence. Just the swish swish swish of the needle. I closed my eyes and listened to that repetitive sound. I felt my mom’s arm move up and over like a machine in the same motion in rhythm with the sound. The cheap yarn of the afghan was scratchy on my bare legs. I was so close to my mom that I could smell the Poligrip in her dentures. I did not think of the towers or the airplanes or the people falling. I did not think about the big men who were going to kill terrorists for America. I just sat there, like I had a million times before, next to my mom. I did not feel safe exactly, but I felt the comfort of having a mom.

An unthinkable Request-when abortions don’t exist as an option

I could not sleep. My stomach was squeezing and my mind was racing. If I had a computer back then, I would have been up all night googling teen pregnancy statistics and suicide prevention tips. Instead I was forced to sit there with my own teenage brain as my only resource.

What were the chances that my friend would get pregnant accidentally? Mrs. B said at school that condoms were like 90 something % effective…right? and how many times of sneaking out and finding some place to have sex x that 90something % would = pregnancy?

I tried to imagine doing what my friend asked me to do. I did not know if the right thing to do was to honor my friend’s request or to go against her wishes and save her life. I knew the weight of secrets and shame and that muddled my moral compass. I just could not figure out what the right thing to do was.

I did not lay in bed that night thinking about abortions or wondering if they were ethical and if I should offer that idea up as an alternative to suicide to my teenage friend. No. I did not even know abortions were a “thing.” They were just not on my radar as an actual possible alternative to unwanted pregnancy. I had never known anyone who had one. I had never heard anyone talk about them except for in the political way and even then it was so far outside of it’s context that it didn’t occur to me in this situation. I just thought it was a grown-up politics thing not an actual medical procedure.

I was a smart kid, but I did not know more than my rural community had taught me to know.

I wrestled with this for hours, replaying the conversation that I had with my friend over and over and over and over again in my mind.

“If I ever come to your house with a box of stuff from my closet and tell you to destroy it for me, just do it. Promise.”

“O..K…What are you talking about?”

“I am serious. If I ever get pregnant, I want you to destroy this box for me so that my parents don’t ever see it. There are some things that they should just never know, ok?”

“……..” I don’t know how serious she was or if she thought I was just going to go along with this, but my mom had attempted suicide a couple of times when I was younger and I had seen it. I had sat glued to the banister on the staircase in my next door neighbors apartment (back when we lived in public housing) and watched the ambulance crew save my mom’s life. This conversation with my friend was scaring me and triggering me and I did not know what to do or what to say to save my friend’s life.

“What do you mean?” I finally asked. “What do you mean…destroy a box? If you are pregnant? …Are you pregnant?!”

“No! God, No. I am just saying IF I ever get pregnant. I’d rather die than be a teenage mom. I’d just throw myself off the Brooklynside Bridge. No fucking way would I let this town know I was pregnant. No fucking way.”

I wanted to feel relief that we were talking about some hypothetical situation where my friend wasn’t now going to kill herself but would only do it if she accidentally got pregnant. Phew. but no. I could not shake the panic rising in my chest. My friend was safe tonight but what about next month? When she came running to me, would I take the box and then hug her and let her go? Or would I go against my promise and hold her against her will so that should could not carry out her plans? But what else could I do? I would never tell on her! Oh my God. OhmygodohmygodOHMYGOD It was the middle of the night. My sheets were soaked in my sweat and it felt like there was 1000 pounds sitting on my chest. I could barely breath when I finally crawled out of bed.

My mom did not sleep in a bed in a room with a closed door like other mothers. She slept on the couch. Every single night. the living room was right on the other side of my bedroom door.

“Mama…?” I whispered but too quietly. I could not force any more words through my clenched throat. The tears started pouring out until my body had released enough to make space for words to squeeze out.. “Mama!”

She woke up to me sitting soaked on the floor beside her on the couch. I had never done this before. For all the trauma and violence and fear of my youth, I had never woken my mom up in the night because I was scared. Well not since I was little.

I poured it all out to her and remarkably I remember nothing after this. Did my mom talk to her mom? Did my mom reach out to my friend directly? Did she give me advice that I took and moved forward with? I do not know. Because telling my mom was the right thing to do and it brought relief. My friend survived. Our friendship survived. My mom took me soon after that to get me on birth control pills and she did not connect it to this night, but as I write this out, I can draw the line from one point to the next.

I was 15 and not asking for the pill, but mom brought it up one day. “Crystal Fawn, I made you an appointment after school tomorrow. you have to see the Women’s Doctor now because you’re just at that age.” I was shocked because my mom was kind of a prude. I mean she had me out of wedlock with a married man when she was young, but as a grown up mother, she was very conservative about sex. Usually she preached, “wait until you are married!” (Sorry mom, I never did get married!) or even worse, “sex is dangerous! sex gives you AIDS!” which was one of the only times that she talked directly about AIDS. Then she would get really quiet and there was no room for discussion. She had said what needed to be said about the topic. but here she was saying this now, “…and um…they will check you out in your hoo-haw and it’s not a big deal. Everybody does it and then they can give you a prescription for some birth control pills…” She stopped talking to let me catch up. She looked at me right in the eye for about one second and then quickly looked away and rattled on, “I mean it’s not just for having sex. It can be for health reasons, like to make your periods less painful and less heavy and stuff.”

I had never had heavy or painful periods. Oh my God. My mom was telling me to get on birth control pills! I did not take it for granted then but I even more so do not now. This was probably one of the miracles that saved my life. I stayed on those pills until I was out of high school and had my first baby within a year of stopping them. I am forever grateful for that gift from my mom. She gave me time to mess up and make mistakes and not become a mom before I was ready. not that I planned to have my first baby at 21, but I was ready to be a mom then. I could handle it then and I knew what I was getting into then. I knew there were options and I chose to become a mother.

This story has always haunted me. I remember the first time that abortions became real for me. In my first year outside of my hometown when girls confided to me over cigarettes outside of our dorm rooms or whispered to me when girl’s snuck into my room for advice. I became the sex therapist for my dorm floor after every one else claimed to be a virgin (It was a Catholic school) and I was honest and not Catholic. Anyway, as these girls would come to me and sit on my floor and tell me their stories in secret, I began to realize that abortion was not just a real thing, but kind of a common thing.

When a friend asked me to support them through their abortion, I sat there holding their hand and rubbing their back feeling so grateful. I would rather hold my friend through an abortion than sit with the request my friend laid on me when we were teens.

I don’t know if teenagers in my hometown have more access to abortions now than they did when I was a kid. The internet has carried information and resources that were unimaginable to me back then but without a local clinic or public transportation, I am not sure that information is enough. I looked up the statistic and found that 25% of births in my hometown are to teen mothers.
I looked this up and as I expected the closest abortion provider is 50 miles away and in another state. How is a poor, rural teenager going to get there?

An afterthought: I know I do this too much, but I almost always have more to say! Just couldn’t end this without SHOUTING that teen moms are MOMS and I love and respect a lot of badass teen moms.

Medical (Mis)trust

My mother turned 22 on August 2, 1986 and exactly one month later, she gave birth to me. Fast forward to 2 months after my 22nd birthday on September 2, 2008 and I gave birth to my firstborn daughter. I did not plan this to happen this way, but life sometimes has a funny way of repeating itself. It was a welcome deja vu. I always knew I wanted to be a mother.

Born at home (in an apartment in a high school dormitory because my partner and I were live-in dorm parents!) she was a wonder. We had not opted for any of the prenatal testing and even chose to forgo routine testing such as ultrasound. We knew we would keep this child no matter what ultrasound showed and we were concerned about unnecessary exposure to radiation. It almost seems ridiculous now because she has ultrasounds and x-rays constantly to monitor her health of her kidney transplant. I went into labor on Halloween night and continued to labor until her birth in the afternoon on November 2. Her birth is one of my favorite stories to tell, but it is not the one pressing me out of my bed in the middle of the night.

We almost went to the hospital in those first moments. She was having a hard time breathing and required oxygen and suctioning from our skilled and competent midwives. Ultimately, a trip to the steamy shower with her dad and some back-rubs got out all of the extra birth gunk in her lungs and she was breathing beautifully. The midwives said it was a close call though. They almost sent us. As previously arranged with the pediatrician, we phoned to let them know that she had been born and scheduled her first appointment for 24 hours after her birth. The midwives spent a lot of time measuring her, weighing her, and completing the newborn check-up.

We wrapped her up in a swaddle and walked her to the pediatric appointment just a few blocks away from our apartment. Our walk across the high school campus was more eventful than the appointment itself with word spreading quickly and teenagers rushing out to be the first to see our new resident. The pediatrician seemed like she was trying too hard to make us feel like she was cool and hip with our homebirth. She did not feel like she was paying attention to our baby or our questions and rather spent much of the time lecturing us on maintaining romance in our relationship now that we had a child. She told us of her own divorce and warned us of a similar fate if we did not care for each other through this new transition. All of that advice felt weird and out of place and frankly not what we were there for.

We left the appointment feeling reassured that our baby was healthy and safe and walked home discussing what seemed to be the most important thing at the time. What were we going to name her? We still had a long list and no clear favorites. Jamie did not have to return to work outside of caring for the teenagers in our dorm for another week so that was our goal. To pick out a name before he went to work. On the night before he was set to leave us for the first time, I asked him, “What is your favorite if you had to choose right now. Just tell me.”

“Corah Brigit.”

I was shocked because that first name came from my side and I loved it. I had no idea he was even really considering that one. My heart felt so full in that moment and my eyes were brimming. “That is my favorite too.” Corah Brigit. Corah Brigit. Corah Brigit. Our child had a name.

With Jamie returning back to work, I had a lot of time to sit and stare at my new soulmate. She was almost constantly attached to my breast. She loved to nurse and took to it immediately. She wanted to be no where else. We co-slept and so even in the night she had on demand access to my breast and my body. As I wanted it to be and as she wanted it to be.

The midwives had been back a couple of times over that first week to check in and do weights. She lost her initial weight that is normal after birth but for some reason she was struggling to start to gain. They were concerned but not overly so at this point. At their recommendation, we made another appointment at the pediatrician’s office. This time she seemed annoyed with us. She already told us our baby was perfect and we were supposed to be these chill homebirth parents so why were we acting so anxious about our baby? Why weren’t we just trusting the process? She told us that Corah was slow to gain but she was fine! “Look at your baby! She is not a failure to thrive baby.” She squeezed Corah’s fat little roly poly legs. I smiled, “ok.” That is what we wanted to hear so we heard it and went home to call the midwives to update them on Corah’s appointment. They were no longer her caregivers at this point but they were emotionally invested in the outcome.

The pediatrician had scheduled us for another weight check at one week past the last weight. Looking back I get sick to think of this. A lot can happen in a week. A baby that is not proving to be able to gain weight after birth should never ever go that long without a weight check. Once we admitted her in the hospital weights became an on the hour routine. and the pediatrician wanted us to come back in a week! In this time, I started getting more and more anxious. Everytime she would spit up, I would feel the panic rise in me. I would cling to her and search her face for reassurance that she could not give. She was not overly irritable and she was going through wet diapers constantly so everyone was reassured. Except for me. I could not shake this sinking feeling that she was in trouble. I did not know exactly what was wrong, but I could sense that my baby was struggling.

I could not wait the week out as directed by the doctor. Everyone was getting worried about me. “Crystal….you might be having symptoms of postpartum depression…the doctor said, she’s fine. You need to calm down and just enjoy her!” and “You need to take a break and relax. Let someone else take care of her and take care of yourself.” All of this advice and feedback made me feel wild and crazy. At this point, I knew something was wrong and I knew it wasn’t in my head. I knew postpartum depression was real, but I also knew that it wasn’t the reason that I was so worried about my baby.

I called my midwives again for guidance. They told me to just go in and get another weight even though it wasn’t time for her appointment yet. Corah was almost 3 weeks at this point. I walked down to the Hospital and asked them to weigh her. It is a simple and quick nurse visit. No doctor necessary, I just needed to see the number and get some reassurance. They put her on the scale which sent her into a screaming fit. She hated that cold hard scale and she still does. My heart fell through my body and onto the floor. The room got blurry. I could see people moving around me but nothing was clear. I scooped her up and steadied my voice. This was no time to panic. My child was in danger and now I could not be swayed from the truth that she needed help and fast. “Oh my god!” oops my voice was rising, but I did not care. I needed my baby to be safe. “Her weight is down again! Oh my god, what do we do?” I begged the nurse for answers but she was already pushing us to the door. Jamie was at work and I was a young mother who was overreacting and didn’t know anything about anything.

“Your baby is fine. The doctor will see you again tomorrow. This is a normal weight for a 2.5 week old baby.”

“But she was 9 lbs at birth! So this is NOT a normal weight for HER! She should be gaining, NOT losing!” She was down to 7.5 lbs. I was getting no where with this nurse and everyone else was ignoring me.

I wrapped Corah’s tiny body up to go back into the now chilly late fall air and ran out of there without even seeing where I was walking. I could not breathe. I knew we were in for it and I was realizing quickly that no one else knew that yet. I called Jamie first. He was concerned about the weight but also reassured that the medical advice was to wait for our appointment tomorrow to talk it over with the pediatrician. I could not wait that long. I called my very close friend who is a medical provider with a background as a nurse midwife. I knew that she would be able to hold all of the truths… Postpartum Depression… Newborn Weight loss… Advice from the Pediatrician…and give me advice that considered it all. Plus, I trust her. “Beth,” now I was crying. “What should I do?”

She did not give me the answer that I still was hoping for. She did not tell me that everything was ok. Our conversation was short and grim. She was worried and she needed to make some calls and would call me back. Within an hour, my cell phone was ringing. I was sitting on my couch and doing all that I could to hold it together. Corah was nursing and dozing on my lap with her fingers on one hand wrapped around my pinky and her fingers on the other hand tickling my belly. I tried to stay in the moment and just focus on her and love her, but the phone call made that all crash down around me. Beth had secured us an appointment for the same day to meet with a different pediatrician at another small town hospital near us. I called Jamie and he left work to take us.

The first pediatrician came in and checked Corah out from head to toe. No bloodwork. No thermometer even. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “I see what is going on here. She is having a hard time nursing because of her chin. Do you see how it is kind of set back a little too much?” I looked down at my child’s face and felt the heat flood mine.

“Excuse me? What are you saying?”

The doctor continued. “Let’s schedule her for some physical therapy for that chin and get her nursing better. When babies aren’t able to nurse well, they can not stimulate enough production so that might be an issue here too.” My baby was a power nurser. I was producing a ton of milk as evidenced by my massive rock hard painful breasts that had seemed to grow three sizes overnight. (That part did not last!) I had to change my shirt every hour and didn’t even bother wearing one in the house at all because it wasn’t even worth it. Nursing was not the problem. My milk was not the problem.

I wanted to scream at this man. “LOOK AT MY SHIRT SOAKED IN MILK!” but instead I said, “No. Please, listen to me. She is a great nurser. She breastfeeds all the time. I have had the midwives watch her nurse and she latched immediately like a pro. I have enough milk. She is peeing constantly. We use cloth diapers and we have to change them every hour! She pees all the time. Please. Please.”

He stood up to leave the room. “I have set an appointment with the physical therapist. You can go see them and then we can go from there.”

This marks the first appearance of what my family has now dubbed “Mama Bear.”

I stood up to meet him. Jamie had Corah in his arms. “No. We will not leave here until somebody figures out what is going on with our baby. We need another doctor’s opinion. Please.”

So they sent in another doctor. And another. And another. Each one did what doctors working in the same practice could be expected to do. they re-affirmed the initial diagnosis and prescription for chin therapy and told us to let it go.

At this point, Jamie was trying to reason with me. I looked completely out of my mind. How many doctors had told me our baby was fine? Why was I not able to accept that? but I knew that it wasn’t healthy for a baby to go from 9 lbs at birth to 7.5 lbs three weeks later. I was a young new mom BUT I had studied to be a midwife and doula. I had watched clients bring in their chubby new babies time after time at my apprenticeship at the hospital. I knew there was a wide range of normal for weights but growing was key. She was not even slow to grow. She was shrinking.

The hospital to their credit did not boot us. Finally we got the top doc. The almost retired pediatrician who had been doctoring longer than either Jamie or I had been alive. He took one look at her and ordered some bloodwork. “What is her temperature?”

I interrupted before the nurse could even answer, “They never even took it!!” I knew that he was here to save her. I could feel Jamie’s energy beside me shift too. We looked at each other while the nurse stuck a thermometer in Corah’s armpit. and that is when the panic in me, burst into the room and everyone and everything sped up. Everyone was taking this seriously now. She was hypothermic. Her little body did not even have the strength to mount a fever and her temperature was plummeting. The instructions from hero Doc. (He deserves a name! Dr. Beekman! Dr. Beekman! Thank you forever!) came quick and direct. “She needs to be in an incubator. We need to get her temperature up fast.” He was already moving. We were already moving. To another part of the hospital. We needed to be in the PICU. “Her bloodwork came back and she is in end stage renal failure. Her creatinine and her white count are through the roof. She has a raging infection. She is acidotic.” He rattled off a list of numbers that made no sense to us then. Now I wait for the labs to come back on a weekly/monthly basis and know what those dips and spikes mean without a doctor to decode.

I had found it painful to have Corah out of my arms for any length of time as a newborn. Maybe because I Was a new mom, maybe because I was a young orphan, or maybe because I already knew she was sick. I hated giving her up for family to hold and could only physically tolerate it for an hour here or there and I had to be close. I found it physically painful for her to be out of contact with me. She had been in my body for 9 months and this shock of our disconnect was a lot.

Now she was in a hard plastic box with tubes and wires coming out from every direction. I could only reach my hands in and feel her. Dr. Beekman was not a warm and fuzzy doctor but in that moment, that is what we needed. We needed the truth. We needed answers. “I have to tell you the position we are in is serious. She needs to be life-flighted to Portland where they are more equipped to deal with her needs. Right now, she is too sick. We need to stabilize her before we can transport. There is a chance she will not survive the night. It could go either way.”

I can still see that room almost 13 years later. It was all brown and beige. I was used to hospitals being white but this room was tan. Or maybe just her incubator was that khaki color and that was the only room that mattered so that is all that I saw. Jamie and I both spent the night holding vigil, neither of us slept even though there was a cot in the room for us to try. We just stood by her side looking in and saying all of the prayers that we knew how to pray. When the Dr. agreed to let me hold her to nurse, I soaked in every second of having her in my arms again.

Jamie stepped into the hall to make a phone call. Even in this moment of trauma, the American Healthcare System demanded that he make phone calls and sit on hold rather than spend those intimate moments with our child. I am so grateful for this labor from him. He has repeated it often over these years. Corah was so new in the world that she had not officially been signed up to our MaineCare yet! So while I enjoyed skin-to-skin time with Corah, Jamie made those critical phone calls to get her enrolled. If you have never had to call to sign-up for Medi-Care just imagine the most excrutiating wait time you’ve ever had on the phone and then triple it. Follow that up with an intensely frustrating conversation where you have to beg for your child’s right to life saving healthcare.

Corah made it through the night. It was one of the worst nights of either of our lives, but she made it through. The next morning, Corah was strong enough for the transport to Portland’s Children’s Hospital, but there was a big storm and we were unable to board the helicopter. Jamie’s parent’s came all the way from Boston and his dad drove with him behind the ambulance. I had to sit in the front seat away from the incubator and my baby in the back, but at least they let me ride in the ambulance. At one point I had to call Jamie and tell him we were pulling over because the Incubator wasn’t working properly. There we were on the side of the highway, waiting for another ambulance to deliver a new incubator to switch out. Still we weren’t allowed to see her. Jamie and his dad had to stay in their vehicle and I had to sit with the driver and make small talk. I remember that driver vividly too. She was friendly and kind and I liked her energy a lot. I do not remember her name, but I will always remember her face.

A team of PICU nurses and Pediatric Specialty doctors met us at the entrance to the hospital. They were there when Corah was being wheeled in on her incubator stretcher. The first face to come into focus was a pretty young female doctor. She identified herself as a pediatric Nephrologist or for those who don’t know, a “kidney doctor.” “We will need to start logging her INS and OUTS. You will need to stop nursing her and feed her bottles. We need to keep track of exactly how much fluid goes in and how much comes out.” We learned that babies in end stage renal failure, do not stop peeing, they pee too much. Part of what had made it tricky to get a diagnosis earlier on from the other doctors.

“Wait. There has to be a way to measure INS and OUTS even if I am breastfeeding her. I AM NOT going to stop breastfeeding her.” Mama Bear again. I am MUCH BETTER now at knowing when to let her out and when to find a different way to get what I want from the medical world but back then I was quick to morph.

There was some back and forth and I was mad. I did not like this doctor at all. (Now she is one of my favorites even though she has moved into a new chapter in her career and is no longer our doc. I love her dearly and we always stop and catch up when our paths cross.) She finally agreed that I could nurse under one condition. We needed to weigh Corah before and after every single time she nursed. Even in the middle of the night. We had to weigh every single diaper too. Sometimes in the middle of the night so as not to wake her up, I would weigh myself with her in my arms, then lay her down in the hospital bed and then weigh myself again to subtract her weights. The nurses brought in an adult scale for this purpose.

Here we are in that first hospitalization. Corah looking as gorgeous as always despite being very ill and me looking as exhausted and yet madly in love as I had ever been.

This story continues. On and on years of advocacy with Jamie and I constantly up to bat to make sure that our child get’s what she needs. We often go against medical advice as we did many times in this story. We expect our child’s doctors to see us as members of the decision making process and we remind them of this when they come to us with decisions and plans looking for consent without having involved us in the process of how they got there. This just happened this summer in a major way that led to Jamie having to lay it out all over again with our new Nephrologists. They have many patients but we only have one. We also know her whole self in a way that they can not and so we need to be part of the plan.

Happy and Home together. Corah spent much of her early years in the hospital, so we made sure to never take a moment of being home for granted. Here she is with Jamie.

The reason this story pulled me from my bed to write on this night is that someone told me today that I am just “one of those people following the herd.” They said that I am a sheep blindly following the medical establishment and the media. They said that to me because I have been advocating for people to get vaccinated and wear masks. I advocate for those things because I know that informed consent is critical. I know that we should not follow doctor’s advice without robust conversation and debate about it. I believe in science. I believe in medicine. It has saved my child countless times. It has also failed us many times. In the end, I am overflowing with gratitude. Medicine is not a perfect science. It is always changing and medical professionals are humans who make mistakes. I want people to get informed. I want people to know that the people who are the most vulnerable are asking for vaccines and wearing masks. Not because we are sheep, we understand intimately the systemic flaws of medicine, but because we also know that it saves lives. It saves our lives and the lives of those we love.

We just sent Corah into 7th grade after a long 18 months at home. She is fully vaxxed and in a district with a strong mask policy. She remains vulnerable as an immunocompromised person as well as her siblings who are too young to be vaccinated. I am grateful to those who get their vaccine and wear their masks to protect others and make our community safer. I do not feel angry at the people who do not make this choice. I feel grief and fear.