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    • I was almost 35 years old before I got my first tattoo. I was never really opposed to them. I think that I, like many others, have gone through life without really being sure what I would want to commit to being identified with for the rest of my life. Finally going through the process of essentially commissioning an art piece and sitting through a collective 7.5 hours of chair time has made me think a lot about why we put ourselves through the pain.

      At the heart of it all, I think it all comes down to stories. Whether it's having something happen to you that you want to commemorate or bookmark, or a wild night and a spontaneous decision to get something on your body you'll have forever, it's a story we want to share with others or recall quietly to ourselves whenever we catch a glimpse.

      I've always been fascinated by these stories and the incredible beauty of the artwork itself. I'd love it if you would share images of your pieces and the stories behind them. I'll post a followup reply with my own.


    • Piece: Partially burned out tree with heart in trunk and nebula foliage

      Artist: Tivon H. Creager, Matchless Tattoo in Sebastopol, CA


      The last year and change of my life has been a living hell. In August 2017 I was 5 months pregnant and found out my baby had a severe heart defect and would require a lifetime of open heart surgeries. Then in October we became victims of the Tubbs fire in Northern California. We lost our home and everything we owned. The fires have been a part of our lives every day since.

      In December my son was born, and he had his first surgery at 10 days old. He had a complication and needed an emergency abdominal surgery which resulted in him having an ileostomy which required us to change an external bag attached to his stomach that he would poop into. We had to do this multiple times a day. I had to essentially stop working, sacrificing my business and professional identity. Since then he's had two more major surgeries, and almost died from catching a cold. We've spent 4 out of the last 10 months in the hospital.

      It's been trauma after trauma. I've been living every day of my life in a constant state of waiting for the other shoe to drop. PTSD is a real thing and it has effected every aspect of my life.

      We're finally in a place where we have started being able to have a "normal" life again, and dare I say even begin to plan for the future and feel hope that things will get better.

      So this piece is a celebration of all of that. It is a bookmark of the fire and how it scarred me but did not take me down. It is a reminder to be a tree - strong and resilient, that can handle anything life tries to throw at me. The heart runs through the core of the trunk, because my son's condition will always be what almost took me down but also made me stronger. The tree blossoms into a nebula because that's where new stars are born. It's a promise of the life to come, and the possibilities of the future.

      I just wrapped up the second session yesterday, a few touch-ups to go to add more contrast, but it's nearly complete. Sorry for the low quality selfie ;-)

    • Wow, Melissa, thanks so much for sharing that. I've watched your story unfold and I'm in awe over your emotional strength.

      I went to the SF Body Art Expo earlier this year and have to agree that for most people they tell a story that's very important to them with their tattoos. For each person I photographed, I asked about the story of their tattoos and usually got an unforgettable response. Twice I cried.

    • Hello, I have a question.

      You learned about your unborn baby's heart defect after 5 months of pregnancy. That's early enough to have an abortion if I'm not mistaken. It sounds like your life has been living hell since the baby's birth (although perhaps it's better by now, hope it is!) and I can't imagine someone who has to have open heart surgeries pretty often and forever having a great life overall. It sound more like torture to be alive like that and torture for the family as well. So my question is, how come you did not have an abortion when you learned about the heart defect? Would that not save you all a lot of pain? Did you consider it and decide against it? What where the reasons?

      I'm asking this out of pure curiosity and so I understand if you'd prefer not to discuss it with a stranger on the internet.


    • Wow what a tough question. We had four children and never had to face this question but we had friends who did. The two who did had their babies and they love them but what lives they lead with severely disabled children.

      Sometime in the last few years I read this story and it will never leave me:

    • Thank you for your question, Anna. It's one that is really different to think about before you go through it and after, so I'll do my best to explain what my thinking was at the time and contrast it with how I feel now.

      When we found out about the heart defect, I was 20 weeks pregnant, but when medical news is dispersed to you, it doesn't come in all at once. We were told by a doctor initially that "there is a problem with your baby's heart." And that's all they could tell us initially. They said we were still in the time frame of when we could still have an abortion, and told us that based on what we know now he could have a very simple repair, or basically be a vegetable his entire life.

      Talk about a wide range of outcomes. We needed more information. We were scared, but still wanted the baby. We decided to gamble.

      Shortly after that we were given the news that he had a chromosomal microdeletion, and that is likely what caused the heart to malform. This meant that it was genetic, and there was a 50/50 chance that any future children we would have together would have it.

      We decided to stay the course, and do it together. Then over the next several weeks we learned more about the EXACT issues he had. I'll never forget how it felt to sit down with the doctor and them point at a diagram and tell us "this is exactly what's wrong". Seeing it in a picture somehow makes it more manageable. You know it's something they've seen before, and you know there's a way to fix it. A plan. Plans are good. Having specific information to research is good.

      No one could have foreseen the complications he'd have from surgery, or how long his hospital stay would be. That was just bad luck.

      But I can tell you now, since Apollo is a healthy and thriving 15 month old, that I have no regrets. Being on the other side of the repeated trauma, I am stronger for it. My husband and I are stronger as a couple. I'm a better writer. My son inspires me and challenges me in more ways than I ever expected, but oh my God is he smart. And hilarious. He has a wicked sense of humor and dance moves. He's just a happy kid. And seeing him happy every day makes it all worth it. I swear, it sounds cliche, but just look at this face.

    • Hi Melissa, thanks for your reply. I know I'm a bit inconsiderate at times, so I hope my comment was not upsetting.

      Glad to hear it worked out after all, your son does indeed look healthy and happy!

      It was though, as you said, a gamble. Luckily everything turned out fine so no regrets. But I can't help but wonder, what if it hadn't? That's what puzzles me.

      You don't have to answer that; I mean there's no point wondering what if anyway, but it just seems like the stakes in such cases are way too high to gamble..