Friday, December 19, 2014
We have a cute little Charlie Brown Christmas tree this year. It's small, has lots of gaps, and didn't exactly come at a price to match.
But still. It's ours.
And it was fun to put on some hot cocoa and decorate with the kids. (Well, partially decorate. I let them put on the non-breakable ornaments.)
After the kids and my husband went to their respective beds, I put on cheesy Christmas movies to watch as I finished trimming the tree.
For my second movie, I chose an old favorite: The Twelve Dates of Christmas. The main character has to relive Christmas Eve enough times until she does what she's supposed to on her blind date.
Spoiler alert. Her blind date is a widower.
And that is the one part of the show that rubs me the wrong way.
See, it's been almost a year since his wife died in an accident. And the show seems to portray that as forever ago. A year IS a long time right?? It's TIME for him to move on. Time to find a new girl.
So here he is, on Christmas Eve ... The eve of his first Christmas without his wife beside him. And what is he doing? Going on his very first date.
I suppose you could argue that I'm being picky. And maybe I am. But I am so tired of the media portraying grief as this little thing to get over. This wee little bump on the road of life.
And it's not just sappy movies.
Scrolling through my newsfeed this morning, I found this little gem of a read on ABC news. "Robin Williams' Son Zac Opens Up About His Lingering Grief." Check out the first line.
Did you get that?
Zac is STILL grieving the death of his dad. His grief is LINGERING.
After, you know, all of 4 months. (And they are selling this as news?)
Fall has passed since his father took his own life. One measly little season. Zac still has to get through Winter, Spring, Summer, and that ever-difficult first anniversary. But that's just the start. Many people, experts in their own right on the subject, agree that the second year is even harder.
And the news portrays him as "stuck in grief?!?" Because 12 weeks should erase the pain of a loss of 30 years of memories?
I'm calling it.
Why is our understanding of grief so outdated? So wrong?
Our social media these days is chalk-full of campaigns to make the media portray life as it really is.
Passionate individuals write viral blogs about accepting a postpartum belly. Loving a postpartum belly. Suddenly bikini belly is out, and postpartum belly is IN.
Super-sized companies like Dove drive TV and magazine campaigns around accepting a normal size body, and normal looking skin.
Normal is the new beautiful.
Families who are raising a child with autism or Down's Syndrome or another disability share their stories and videos to normalize their experience with the rest of us. Maybe we aren't yet where we should be ... But we're making strides.
I think as a whole, this is all really a good thing.
I love that we are no longer accepting that a waif-looking creature is the body type we should all aspire to.
I love that we are realizing that our bodies are more than things to put on display, but are these amazing instruments we use to serve our families in love.
But why -- please, please tell me why -- we are leaving the totally normal, totally human function of grief back in the dark ages?!
Why do we accept shows that portray a loss as a bump in the road. Why do we read articles that declare people moving through loss as "stuck" or "lingering"? Why do we accept this as news?
Besides love, grief is probably one of the most fundamental emotions a person can go through. And we ALL go through it.
We lose jobs and pets and promotions. We lose parents and grand parents and siblings. We lose a friend. We lose a spouse. We lose adult children and children before they were born.
And if we haven't experienced a grief of our own (yet), we are watching someone else go through it. The mom in the church whose daughter has inoperable cancer. The family whose husband and dad went to sea and never came back.
And with Facebook and Twitter, grief is even more apparent. The 12-year-old shot suddenly. The mom who dumped her kid off a bridge. The beautiful baby whose kidneys aren't working.
And we mourn as a nation. The kindergartners and teachers shot at Newton. The families killed watching Batman in a movie theatre. Little Caylee Anthony, who we all loved and mourned in our own way.
And yet with all this grief, and all this sickness, and all this dying, we STILL accept what media tells us about grief.
That it should not last long. (Give it 5 minutes to 5 days.)
That is is not normal (no one wants to be stuck or lingering.)
That it is something to get over (and if you don't get over it, something is wrong with you.)
That joy over things like Christmas should trump grief, not trigger it.
That it is best dealt with privately or alone. If absolutely necessary, than with a licensed professional. (Why else do we tell moms it's for their benefit not to announce a pregnancy for 12 weeks ... So if they lose the baby no one else has to know they are grieving.)
Maybe it's just me ... But I am so over it.
What society tells us about grief .... What the movies say ... What reporters report ... It's all BS.
The truth is you don't get over it. It changes the fiber of who you are. It becomes a part of you. Sonetimes, a big part, sometimes a small part. But true grief changes you forever.
It stays with you longer than you could ever predict. It pops up unannounced, even when you think you have come to terms with your loss.
You can do all the "right" things: journal privately, see a counselor, and maybe let one or two people support you. But you will not speed up grief. It refuses to be rushed through, to be checked off as a to-do list.
Grief operates outside of the confines of time.
80 years may pass, and a certain smell will trigger tears of loss. A child never known outside the womb may have only been around for weeks ... And yet the loss and knowledge of that little life sticks around for a lifetime.
Grief only magnifies itself when it is coerced into a dark corner, away from the light, away from support, away from others.
Isolate grief -- and you have a monster. Share grief -- and you have a friend.
It is Christmas. A time for joy. But for oh-so many, a time of grieving. And the many subtle and not-so-subtle messages we've received about grief can make us feel so alone.
"If everyone else is over it, why aren't I?"
"If this season is about hope and happiness, why am I crying at every ornament I place in my tree?"
"If I were stronger or a better person, it wouldn't hurt this much."
To you who are grieving, may I please speak to you from my heart.
The media? They know nothing. The person next to you grieving? Their grief will look different than yours. Chances are their grief even looks different than what they are letting you see. Everyone else? Put their expectations, their hopes and their losses aside.
Only you can grieve your grief that way you need to. The way that is true to you. And you know what? It's going to take as long as it will take. No more, no less.
You, dear hurting soul, are doing well with your grief. I know you are lonely, but if you can, let those of us around you show support. Let us grieve with you.
No timeline. No expectations. No silly stages for you to walk through.
Just us ... here with you. Feeling your love. Feeling your loss.
And right here ... Mourning with you.
No matter if you are 5 minutes or 50 years into your grief, may you know this Christmas, you are not alone.
P.S. One more little lie I'd like to clear up. You know all those grieving people in the movies? How they look so broken and weak? That is a lie. The strongest people in my world are the ones walking through grief.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Do you know that when I go throughout my day, my thoughts often turn toward "dear friends" ... And then the rest of a blog post follows.
The truth is, I think of you all as friends. Some of you I know, some I don't. Some I have written your stories, and others I have read your stories, cried for you, and still need to edit them and post them ...almost a year after you sent them to me. Some of you have blogs, and I don't know about them. Some if you comment and so I know your name. Others of you are silent. And that's OK by me, too.
Tomorrow, I need a friend's help. Tomorrow at 9:30 am my time, I'll be interviewed for a 1 hour radio broadcast. The subject ... My story.
I have spent all day trying NOT to think of it for nerve's sake.
The truth of the matter is that I am much more eloquent in writing than in speaking. I have a habit to talking like a auctioneer that doesn't actually want anyone to hear them. The drama note I always got was "s l o w d o w n." And "SPEAK UP."
I also have a habit of forgetting what I was going to say. So I fill with lots of "ums."
But that isn't my biggest fear.
My fear is regret. That I will somehow miss something important, something someone needed to hear. Fear that I will listen to the broadcast and think, "man! I should have said so and so!"
So please pray. That I will speak clearly. That my brain would not be all in a fuzz. That God accomplishes whatever his purpose is in having me on.
Thanks you all,
Monday, December 15, 2014
Dear Doctor S_____,
I imagine it is probably not every day that you receive a letter of this kind from one of your patients. I know that your time is precious, and that you have too little of it to accomplish all that is demanded day in and day out. And so for taking the time to read this letter ... I want to thank you.
The other day, when I came in with hip pain, you mentioned bursitis. When I asked what you thought caused the inflammation, and you said it could be anything ... Even carrying the baby on that side... Apparently I looked disappointed.
May I take a moment to explain in writing what I couldn't in person that day?
It was not your diagnosis that I was disappointed in. I don't think it's bone cancer or arthritis or any number of more serious complications.
But what you see as a diagnosis, I see as a symptom. Unexplained inflammation in my body points to me to something that is wrong.
If it were just the inflammation, I could let it go.
But a feeling that something else bigger is going on in my body started back when I had my first daughter.
As you may remember, I developed preeclampsia. While that is fairly common, I also developed HELLP syndrome ... A more serious complication. My body's development of HELLP was much like an autoimmune response ... My body attacked itself because of the pregnancy.
When my body effectively attempted to kill both me and my daughter in child birth ... I learned to distrust my body.
When I experienced what I believed to be an early, undocumented miscarriage a year later ... I learned to distrust my body.
When my reproductive organs somehow failed (for who knows what reason) and the next baby implanted in my tubes instead of my uterus... And when that tube chose to rupture causing potentially life-threatening internal bleeding ... I learned to distrust my body.
When I attempted to conceive month after month, charting and checking my temperature, and paying very close attention to every sign of fertility, and yet struggled to conceive ... I learned to distrust my body.
When my body did conceive, 3 more times in fact, and failed to produce even a sac ... Even when the pregnancy lasted up to 8 weeks ... I learned to distrust my body.
When I have to flush all the clots down the toilet as I miscarry ... Wondering where my baby was on all of that ... I learned to distrust my body.
When others around me could accomplish so easily what I have yet to accomplish -- a pregnancy that does not attempt to kill my body or my baby's... I learned to distrust my body.
When the Preeclampsia Foundation sends me newsletters saying that my preeclampsia and HELLP put me at a higher risk of heart disease ... And then my heart has tons of palpitations ... I learn to distrust my body.
Maybe through this time so even learned to hate it a little bit.
You know I am a high-maintenance patient. I hate that I am, but I am. But maybe you might like to know why.
When I go to the doctor's as a kid for bowel issues, and undergo painful, embarrassing test after test ... But receive no diagnosis ... I learned to distrust doctors. (In fact, I still deal with the same issues every day and anticipate that I will for the rest of my life. For me, it is just "one of those things with my body" learn to live with. Like the chest pains. And the heart palpitations. And until just recently, the shaky hand.)
When I go in very sick and the doctor tells me, "Your throat isn't that bad at all. I'm not sure what you are complaining about. I'll give you a shot in the butt if you want, but it won't do anything." And later find out I had mono ... Then I learned to distrust doctors.
When I go to L&D in the worst pain of my life. Throwing up every few minutes, complaining of stomach pain so intense that I want to die just to be rid of the pain ... And never once see the doctor. When the nurse insists I am only dehydrated (who isn't at 6 am when you've been asleep all night?!), gives me an IV, then sends me home. When my doula dismisses my pain (assuming of course that it is normal contractions I'm complaining of), and tells me that "this is nothing ... Just wait until real labor starts!" .... Then I learned to distrust medical professionals.
And then when my blood tests positive for rheumatoid arthritis, and I'm referred out to a rheumatologist, I have high hopes for some sort of answer. Why did I miscarry last? Why did I get HELLP? What does a positive RA test mean? When he barely spends 10 minutes (if that) in the room with me. When he constantly glances at his watch. When he is unfamiliar with HELLP, and informs me that my ectopic was a fluke (true), and that the following miscarriage doesn't indicate a problem. When he tells me I'm barely positive for RA, and just looks at me like "Why are you even here?" And practically runs from the room ... Then I learned to distrust doctors.
Add to all my distrust a history of anxiety ... And well, there's a high-maintenance patient for you.
As I mentioned, I absolutely hate going to the doctors. I always screen everything by my dad first, since he is a safe person who knows me, knows my history, and is a practicing PA. I only ever go to the doctor after I've been dealing with stuff for weeks. And both my parents insist I go.
So know you know why when I complain of my hands and feet tingling and going numb, there is some anxiety around that. (By the way, that has gotten so much better!)
Now you know why when I complain of heart palpitations, I expected my history of pre-e and HELLP to be factored into the equation. And that there was some anxiety around that for me.
Now you know why I fear that you won't take my symptoms seriously. I fear that I don't have a voice when it comes to my medical care. You know now why I always want to know why ... Why the inflammation? Why the vitamin deficiency? Why the palpitations? Are they linked? Are they simply symptoms of a bigger issue ( maybe autoimmune?)
It is simply that I am looking for a partner in the medical field ... Someone so very much smarter than me who is willing to try to figure out why all the issues.
There is so much filling all the spaces in my heart right now.
First, there is joy. This will be Z's first Christmas, and we get to be the ones to share it with him. We're taking a mini staycation with Ryan's family soon, and it will hopefully be a nice time of getting away. My business is going great, and I'm so excited for both the upcoming cruise and the team building that's going on.
There is gratitude. I don't have a due date lingering over me. It's coming close to a full year without a loss. I am thankful for the abundance of food we have, the warmth in our home, the kids that sleep/eat/fight/cry/play/laugh/dance/sing here. I am looking forward to giving each of them their gifts, small though they may be. I'm thankful for the opportunity to mother them and know them.
There is expectation. As I finish out this year, I start a new one renewed in my writing, in my purpose, and in my message. I'm excited (albeit nervous) to be a doing a radio interview this week. I'm looking forward to the strides I will make in my business. I'm looking forward to growth in Ryan's job.
And there is also more.
There is shame. I'm not always a great mom. Ok, no one parent ever is perfect, but I must admit there are times that I struggle. And this is one of them. Mostly with Leyla. Sweet, spunky Leyla and I are at odds most of the day. She doesn't nothing half-hearted, and usually that means her fits (which occur often) are all out. There is only so much screaming I feel I can handle. Add to that Maddy and Lelya bickering, or Leyla trying to feed the baby food, or smother him, or carry him, and I just feel worn out. Before the day has hardly begun. For as much work and effort as it has taken for Leyla to be ours -- for as much as I view her as a gift -- I'm feeling so ashamed at how I resent her at times for being, well . . . being Leyla.
There is distraction. The older I get, the more responsibilities I juggle, the harder I find it to tune in to the "reason for the season." The easier I find it to look forward to the gifts, and tree, and family time, and vacations instead of focusing in on Jesus Christ, my Savior, who came as a baby to die for me. Without him, what is the point? And yet the eyes of my heart keep darting away to the shining lights, and Christmas carols, and traditions, and yes, even shopping. I desperately need to tune my heart into Christ.
There is grief. Time, they say, heals all wounds. Or maybe, time just complicates it. Christmas in 2011 was about missing the baby that had died just a few days before in my tube. Christmas was complicated. And I simply wasn't in the mood.
Christmas 2012 brought with it memories of the loss of Olivia, then Caleb, then my Grandma. And finally, the foster baby we were ready to take in, but "lost" to a different family. The grief remained fresh.
Christmas 2013 brought memories of Olivia, Caleb, Grandma, foster baby we hoped for, Elliott (whose due date would have been just after Christmas.) But then we had Leyla. It was our first Christmas together. And in that way, it was also beautiful.
Christmas 2014 brings memories of Olivia, Caleb, Grandma, Foster baby, Elliott, and Sophie. This is the first Christmas without Grandpa Fred. This is the first Christmas with Leyla as officially a Lewis. It brings with it the fact that I am trying to move on from loss and trying to conceive. As I wrestle with the desire to have a womb that works . . . the desire to keep a baby . . . but learning all the same to let that go. To try my best to say, OK. That's not in the cards for me. And then move on.
This year also brings Baby Z. And with him, some healing. And yet, not a day goes by that I don't think at some point of the time in the future that we will have to say goodbye. When I won't have him to wake up to at night, or cuddle with, or tickle, or sing to. Perhaps this is our only Christmas with him. And that makes me oh-so-sad.
And then, there is fatigue. The one thing I'm learning about adding a 3rd child to our home is that I need help. I have spent much of the last 3 years ignoring mommy things. Ignoring play groups or MOPS or mommy blogs or mommy/baby anything. And yet. I can't escape the fact that I am a mom. And while I do have fertility issues, and I do have babies in heaven, that isn't all my mothering journey is wrapped up in. And I can't isolate myself anymore the way I did before. I'm making strides to reach out, to connect, to allow myself to read blogs about mothering without somehow judging myself for it (ie, "How could I possibly feel so awful about blank-blank-blank, when I have just finished adopting. I should just be so thankful and happy!")
I'm trying to build a community, and not just one that is completely around loss. I'm opening myself up to moms who are quite fertile, and friends who have never had a loss, and people that I have to relate to OUTSIDE of grief. It's stretching me in a way. I'm growing. I'm learning to move forward. But in some sense, even as I'm so focused on new relationships -- I still feel so lonely inside. Is it just me, or do you feel lonely too?
And so that is me, on this cold December Monday. Tomorrow, no doubt, my heart will spend some time remembering the day we "miscarried" Olivia. The day my grief started. Tomorrow, we'll also decorate the tree with my kids and husband while singing and laughing and having a gay old time.
Tomorrow there will be both joy and sorrow and laughing and sadness and hope and guilt and shame and pride and love -- lots of love -- all vying for space in my heart.
Just like there was today.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
I am not my mom.
This of course is a very obvious sentiment and not one that should catch me by surprise.
And yet it does. Often.
It is a sentiment that would, perhaps, make me feel great if my mom were less than stellar. Except she's not. (And for the record.... I am thankful that is not the case.)
The truth is my mom is amazing.
I remember being in Jr. High. My face was often broken out (Arbonne -- where were you when I needed you??) and I constantly felt self-conscious whenever I was in public. We were a pretty normal, middle-class family ... never one to be crazy in style (but then again, in-style really wasn't a THING to be in Cheyenne, Wyoming.) Our house may have had dated furniture ... But it was perfectly clean, orderly and full of amazing food.
It was my haven.
And to a girl who often felt self-conscious, socially awkward, and never felt "enough" amongst her peers at school ... A haven was exactly what I needed.
A place where I could just be me ... Zits and all ... And feel loved and secure.
I remember a particularly cold and blustery day. And by blustery, I mean the wind could almost knock me over...
When I arrived on the steps of my mid-west style home, I felt battered -- inside and out.
I remember sealing out the cold, hard world as I closed the front door behind me. Taking a deep breath as the aroma of fresh baked bread wafted from the kitchen. The warmth of the home enveloped me.
I was HOME.
My mom was home too. Always ready to talk. (Or listen, as was often the case). Always ready with some sort of yummy snack for after school. Just always ready and prepared for anything really.
And then, there's now.
There's me, all grown up with a home of my own and little kids and a husband. People to whom I long to give warmth, and loving, and security. People I hope to give a haven.
My current home with my little family has a lot in common with my house growing up. (And by that, of course, I mean a lot of dated furniture).
The rest, sadly, is far cry from what I grew up in.
Between 3 kids, running a business, writing a blog, going to women's groups, play groups, the kid's appointnents, my medical appointments, I struggle to juggle it all.
I don't remember seeing my mom struggle, except for once when she went back to work full-time. She never eased up on herself, and everything was the same as it was... House always clean, meals always home-cooked. Except I remember seeing my mom cry more during that time.
As a wife and mom myself, you can always see the fallout of my busy schedule on my home. Dishes pile more quickly than I can load them. Laundry overtakes my living room for days (maybe occasionally a week) at a time. Laundry baskets full of clean clothes that never once see the inside of the closet or dressers pile around my room.
There are two bathrooms in my home that I forget need to be cleaned because I never use them. (Please don't ever use them when you come over.)
And then there's cooking.
My mom never made us fend for ourselves for dinner. I mean, sure, we had to make our own lunches for school. We had plenty of nights that were leftover nights. But never can I remember my mom saying, "I have no idea what's for dinner. Either we do peanut butter and jelly, or we order pizza."
(This, by the way, has been said in my home far too many times.)
Or, "Hey, Ryan, I'm leaving!"
"Ok," he says. "What should I feed the kids?"
"Oh, I don't know," I apologetically reply. "I'm sure you can figure something out."
Never would these words leave my mom's mouth.
And so .. I am not the mom my mom is.
It has taken me a long time to take the judgment out of this comparison. To realize that my own gifts as a mom differ than my mom's gifts. Our shortcomings are equally different.
I have the gift of writing and speaking emotions ... My mom has the gift of listening to them.
I have the gift of hugging, kissing, holding hands, and snuggling till we at fast asleep curled up under the covers of my little one's bed. My mom has the gift of covering us with prayer.
I have the gift of doing fun, spontaneous, and often impractical things with my kids. Like late-night pajama dates to Barmes & Noble. My mom has the gift of steady, consistent, practical routines.
I have the gift of silliness. Of wrestling on floors, of playing baby octopus, of singing songs in the car and in the grocery store.
My mom has the gift of readiness. If you need a meal, she'll have 3 prepared in the freezer for a rainy day. If you need a band-aid, or a Tylenol, of a flashlight... She will have everything you need, perfectly organized in her compact little purse.
(Please don't ask me what is in my purse, or how it is organized. I really don't think you want to know.)
I have an active social life. All of my days look different. I work alongside being a mom. I foster a baby. I have dreams of writing and speaking and changing the world. I hope to challenge my own children to change the world too.
My mom, on the other hand, prefers a quiet and peaceful night at home. Her days flex as needed, but she doesn't find the same old the same old. She found so much fulfillment in lovingly taking care of not only her husband and children ... But also every one of our friends who came to our house. She had dreams of nurturing kids that would follow God's footsteps and be faithful. Just as she has been.
There are so many ways that I AM like my mom. We have the same frame, same skin, same hair texture, same ability to get hurt on practically nothing, and same sensitive spirit. We pretty much share a birthday.
But my style of mothering is not at all the same. And I hope (and at times desperately pray) that God has given both her and me each the gifts (and weaknesses) we need to be a mom for our own kids.
Looking back, I can see how my little anxiety-prone, OCD-driven personality needed the clean, clutter-free home that was consistent and reliable. It got me through the many cross-country moves I endured as a military child.
And I think and hope and pray that my emotional, fanciful, affectionate and silly self now helps create a haven my own beautiful children need.
Sure, they may have to step over some laundry to get there.
But this mama is here, arms open, ready to embrace my kids (and maybe smother them with kisses), and let them know that I cherish them, I believe in them, and they are worth it.
I may not be the mom my mom is.
But I am the mom God thought my kids needed.
And that is all I really need to be.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
When you let things build up, it is harder to get started.
It is true of dirty kitchens.
It is true of blogs.
(Photo courtesy of Leyla hijacking my phone. If you ever want to know how your house REALLY looks to the undiscerning eye -- let your toddler run rampant with your iPhone camera unleashed.)
I have 5 drafts that I recently started but haven't pushed "publish" on. (yet.) some of them are stream of conscious that quickly turned stream of practically unconscious. As brilliant as they seemed the night before, in the morning I awake to garbled thoughts and half-finished sentences.
Some are more of the same you are used to. Loss anniversaries, and looking back at how year #3 differs from year #2 and year #1. And yet I have held back. There seems to be a sense of "moving on" that I am demanding of myself.
In some ways, I want to keep writing about how I feel. So those of you who are fresh in your loss can maybe get a glimpse of what it's like years down the road. (Well, what it's like for me anyway. You all might feel completely different at this stage.)
And yet insecurity pipes up in her obnoxiously sly voice .. .
"Do you think people still want to hear about that?"
And insecurity, uninvited and unannounced, pronounces that my story, my child, and my journey through grief are in some way not enough to matter or to tell.
In short... That I have nothing of value to offer you, the reader.
Some are only drafts in my brain. I want to talk about my innate distrust of my body. My anxiety whenever it acts up (and act up it does). And my fear of bringing anything to the doctor because I don't want them to think I'm a hypochondriac. (Does worrying that you might have hypochondria automatically make you a hypochondriac? Hmmm. I should look that up at WebMD.)
There is the part I long to write about learning to be a different mom than your mother. And being ok with that.
There is the part about perspective... Of finding the good when you you seem surrounded by bad.
And yet, tonight, I feel the most important thing to say is actually quite simple.
I want to say Thanks.
Thank you for reading my story. Thanks for caring for all of my babies. Thank you for praying for me. Thanks for sharing the posts that speak to you. Thank you for entrusting me with your own stories.
Thanks for making this space what it is.
Love to you all,
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Unfortunately, so many of the things people say are meant with the best of heart, and come out all wrong.
So I wanted to make a quick and easy rule for you.
If you wouldn't say it to a pregnant woman,
don't say it to a bereaved one.
Because the value of a live baby is just the same as the value of a dead baby.
Because the experience of a miscarriage is just as valid as the experience of a continuing pregnancy.
Because a mom's love and devotion for her kid doesn't go away when the baby dies.
So let's play my little rule out.
So what happens when you respond to a pregnancy announcement at 6 weeks in the same way you would to a miscarriage announcement at 6 weeks?
Not terribly supportive. Let's try this again . . .
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