Tuesday, December 16, 2014

a little update


I am a terrible record keeper. When I see those calendars where you fill in a square for every day of your child's first year I feel a lot of shame, because I don't keep track of anything. I write a lot down here, but I definitely recorded more of Bennett's life than Ainsleigh's. (When she confronts me with that particular truth I'm going to tell her I was far too busy keeping her safe/putting her hearing aid back in to do much else.)

I'm going to start posting regular kid and life updates here so I have a bit more of a record of how the kids are doing/what is going on in their lives. I am still planning on creating baby books, so I need to write down what I can remember from their babyhoods NOW (since it's so fresh and all - *sarcasm*)

****************

This afternoon my physical therapist said, "you're well on your way to being one of those hunched over old ladies, but this exercise will help prevent that. And it will ensure you don't get a double chin."

Well that's one way to make sure I do my exercises at home.

Healing is slow. Progress is back and forth and frustrating. But at this very moment I am not in pain and that is a vast improvement.

I was in fantastic shape before I had Ainsleigh. How can one little pregnancy set me back so far?!

Speaking of Ainsleigh, she learned how to growl this week. It's the cutest thing, but it's also a little scary. She's completely enamored with the new sounds she can make, so we get to hear them all the time. Ainsleigh has this deep growl that absolutely cracks me up. If you con her into putting her hands up (where's your head? usually does the trick) while she is growling you can tickle her underarms and make her go from a low down growl to a high pitched shriek. It's pretty entertaining.

The Bennett battles are fairly epic right now - I need a lot of time outs - but he's much more than a boundary pushing bundle of attitude. He's clever, and funny, and everything is AWESOME right now.

He sat really still for a haircut today, which I thought was really impressive.

The Polar Express scared him, "a little bit." Kiddo jumped in the air and threw his popped sorghum grains (corn allergy) everywhere and then he had the shakes until we turned the movie off, but he still insists "it only scared me a little bit."

Bennett's favorite Christmas movie of the ones we've watched so far: Charlie Brown. I haven't watched it in years, but I related to Charlie Brown and his feelings of depression; that's basically Christmas for me - "I should be happy!"

We don't pray before every meal. Dinner is constant. Lunch is hit and miss. Breakfast never happens. Bennett is the reason we sometimes pray at lunch, and he always prays over our evening meal. Here's an example of one of his prayers:

"Thank you for our love. And our food. And tacos. And cheese. And tortillas."

He often starts with thank you for our love, or Jesus, followed by naming every item on the table. After he prays he sometimes asks, "Was that a long one?"

Bennett and Ainsleigh are now old enough to go off and play semi-nicely with each other for a while. They like to climb on Bennett's bed, or into the play kitchen, or chase each other around the house. There is some pushing and shoving, but most of the time if they're off by themselves while I'm cooking or cleaning I let them be. They're developing a relationship and it's the sweetest thing to watch. My heart just about explodes when Bennett says, "Hi girly!" with a laugh when he sees Ainsleigh after she naps.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

on yoga and deseeding pomegranates


Going to physical therapy twice a week makes me want to get back in shape. I've lost the baby weight - YEAH! - but now I need to get in fighting shape. In Hawaii I hiked a mountain with B on my back in the Ergo and I didn't feel a thing but lightness (and a fair amount of sweat). My goal is to get back to feeling that strong and able.

All the chiropractors and physical therapists I see say the following, or a version of it: you're so tight, so tense, you carry so much in your shoulders, can you drop your shoulders, can you breathe a little more, can you feel how stiff you are?

It's like grief moved into my bones, great wisps of it like fog settling over a valley and wending its way into every hidden crevice. My tendons and bones are all knotted up from years of tense living, of failing to have faith, of believing that all the good is just temporary and there's another shoe hovering just off the page where I can't quite see it and at any moment it will drop so I hold myself tightly day and night in worried anticipation.

It's no way to live, folks, but it's the way I've been living because all the bright, sparkly words - faith, hope, believing - didn't come around for a good long while. And they're still new enough that I don't quite trust them, so I step tentatively out, one toe tapping the idea of living with the bravery that can only come from Jesus, but I'm not quite ready for all in yet; there's still too much tension in my spine.

After Charlotte died I ventured into the exclusive world of aqua fitness for a while. It was really healing, surprisingly so, and no one seemed to mind that my friends and I were years younger than everyone else in the class. I think it would be nice to do that again, but I can't figure out the kids, the time, the logistics, the swim suit ...

I keep talking about doing yoga because I loved the few yoga stretches that we did at the end of the aqua fitness class, but every time I look up classes online I just feel intimidated and like I might be too Baptist to participate. I also think I might benefit from a little yoga because I have so much anger and could really use some calm down breathing time a couple times a week.

This afternoon I was deseeding a pomegrante, which can either be a meditative experience, or a futile, frustrating endeavor. I was strictly in the meditative mindset at first. I was feeling very calm and working through all sorts of things while I immersed the deep red pomegranate sections in cold, biting water and pulled the seeds out.

After finishing half the pomegranate I rinsed the seeds in a colander then reached to put them on the stove while talking to B. I dropped it, all of it, all over, and all my meditative goodness went wooosh and I lost my ever loving mind. And then B said, "Mama, it was just an accident. It's okay." And I sat on the kitchen floor a moment and held him on my lap and thanked the Lord for his sweet self.

Then I pulled the rest of the seeds out with bitter, angry hands while a just woken up Ainsleigh pulled at my leg and begged for seeds with a newly discovered, "mmmmm" that means "feed me, feed me now or I'll scream." I really wanted to throw the entire mess out. I swept up the ones that fell on the floor (beyond rescue, my floors a mess, the seeds covered in kitchen detritus and dog hair) and was so tempted to throw everything away, but there were edible seeds and the kids love them so I continued on.

And this is progress for me because I tend to be one who gives up. I tend to be someone who doesn't like to do the hard work, who would rather buy just the seeds next time I go to the store even though I told J it's ridiculous to pay so much money for seeds when one can buy a whole pomegranate for much less and do the work oneself, I mean, really, it's not that hard!

So that was humbling, and somewhere in there, I'm sure, is a lesson about Jesus and how He doesn't throw us out even when we're a broken mess and can't figure out how to be brave enough to try a yoga class.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

advent with a three and one year old


This is our first year trying Advent with the kids. I'm so up and down this year, every time I feel happy I see Christmas lights and feel like crying. This year Charlotte would have been really into all things Christmas so there is another layer of grief to contend with that feels overwhelming and significant.

I've always felt like I don't do holidays, or seasons, well. Like I'm not very good at decorating and merry making. It's just not my skill set. But then I was scrolling through Instagram and someone I was following had this reminder: Jesus is the prize.

Yes. That's right. That's what Christmas is all about. Jesus. His birth. Because He was born I am saved. Wow, that's amazing!

As I decorated a bit this week and thought about it some more I realized what I remember from my childhood Christmases is not decorations, but traditions. We had about a thousand of them, and I remember every single one, whereas all I remember about the decorations is that we always had stockings and a tree. There might have been other decorations, but I can't recall them now.

So I put a few things up - and I made the Advent area nice with a few scripture prints from She Reads Truth - and then I let it go. It's a little messy, but hey, that's life with littles, right?



I found a great set of Advent readings for young ones online. I printed it out and put a reading in each box along with a little dairy free chocolate. On some days I added an activity, or "task for the week." I wanted to keep it really simple. I wanted to have a couple gifts for the kids to open. And I wanted the main focus to be on Jesus, not getting or achieving something.

I'm trying really hard not to get controlling about it. I'm trying to breathe when Bennett doesn't sit completely still while we read from the Bible and Advent reading. I give him the Little People Nativity set or something else to do with his hands while he listens because I know he is only three and it's hard to sit still.

Last night I was getting a little frustrated with him when we transitioned from the Bible to the Advent reading. Then I asked a question from our daily reading:

"Do you remember what Advent means?"

"No," B replied.

"We talked about it on the first day, B ..."

He interrupted, "coming! It means coming!"

"That's right!!" J and I said as we smiled at each other. "We celebrate Advent because it means coming and Christmas is all about Jesus coming into this world to save us."

Yay!!! I thought. He is learning!!

As for the activities and tasks we're keeping them simple. We're making cards for grandparents, and donating gifts for kids in need in memory of big sister Charlotte, and making treats for the neighbors and coloring nativity scenes and working on being kind and loving and focusing on caring for others during this season.

Our Advent is simple and basic, but oh so vital, and even if all B gets this year is that Christmas is about anticipation of the birth of a King that is enough for a three year old to think about.

In other - completely unrelated - news, Ainsleigh said "hot" very clearly last night along with a gesture and I am so proud of her I don't know what to do with myself. She signed 'up' this morning and signs 'more' and 'all done' consistently during meal and play time now. She is communicating, and doing so well, and with every word and sound the worry I feel about how she will fare eases a bit.

Last night J and I were talking about Ainsleigh's language development and hearing loss. He said, "I'm not worried." to which I said, "Why, why aren't you worried? I worry all the time!"

"Because you're her mom," he replied.

Very sweet, and very lovely, and he also said he would buy me something with his Christmas bonus because I deserve a bonus as well. So he's just racking up the points right now, and we're all doing quite well all things considered.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

I turn to you again and again, but you're never where I expect you to be


The grief, the grief. It's different now, but I can feel it pressing in at the base of my neck, trying to find a way to my spine where it will wind itself tightly so I can't stand, so that it literally reduces me.

It's all too much right now. Everything makes me sad.

The thoughtless words at Thanksgiving.

The place setting I didn't get to make. The name I didn't get to type.

Realizing that a baby dies three pages into the book I just picked up. Really? Must babies die in books? Isn't it enough that they die in real life?

Preparing our first Advent.

Writing, "pick a gift for a toy drive in memory of Charlotte" as an Advent activity.

Placing two tiny dairy free chocolates in every little box, tucked inside the daily verse.

During this time of year I turn to her again and again, but she's never where I expect her to be.

There is space next to the tree, there is space at the table, there is space in every Christmas card, and I waste so much time wondering why I feel so bereft, like I am missing a vital part of me when the answer is obvious: yes, yes, that's right, it's her. She is always missing.

I am so excited for Christmas this year. I'm excited about Advent. I'm excited about presents. I'm excited about B singing in front of the church for the first time (though at this very moment he is absolutely refusing to do anything but stand in stunned silence every time he is pulled from Sunday School to practice).

But just when I feel overwhelmed with excitement the grief swoops in to remind me that life is complicated. Or maybe it's that grief complicates things. The bitter tang of missing forever taints the sweet moments.

I'm writing this from the couch. Empty mug on the couch cushion to my right, Charlotte's spot - empty for the first time since she died - to my left. I moved her things for Ainsleigh's birthday. Don't ask me to examine how that felt; I don't think I can. Her things are on the bookcase now, which is fine. I think. Still in the living room, just not in the center of things. I'm going to put Christmas things in her spot, but right now it's empty, which is strange and foreign. I've looked to that spot to see her face for five years. Her never changing newborn face. 

It all seems impossible. This will be our fifth Christmas without her. I can't believe my heart is still beating. Do you ever wake in the middle of the night and have to remind yourself that this - outliving your child - really happened to you? Do you ever pull the covers up to your chin and repeat over and over, I had a baby that died. I had a baby that died. I had a baby that died ... because it reminds you and reconnects you to what happened?

So often I say that Charlotte died, or that she waits for us in heaven, that it is routine somehow, easy to say, but the truth of it can get lost in the easiness, in the misleading lightness of words, so in the middle of the night I stretch my feet until I can feel the burning cold of the untouched sheets at the end of the bed and I whisper into the dark, I had a baby that died. I had a baby that died. I had a baby that died ...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

five months medication free!


I've been off all thyroid medication for five months! 

No supplements.

No tinctures.

No traditional medication.

My hormones and I battled it out and I won!

For now.

Last night J asked me, "Do you think diet plays into your ability to be off medication?"

Um .... YES. Definitely.

Our diets have changed a lot since we were college students, which is when I was first diagnosed. Some of that is thanks to Bennett, but some of it is choices we've made about where our food comes from and what we eat.

Here's a short list of what (I think) worked for me:

- Grass fed beef / butter / milk (we don't really drink milk from cows anymore, but for a while after Ainsleigh was born I did and we made sure it was from grass fed cows). There is a lot of toxicity in meat that has been exposed to chemicals and antibiotics. When we were young, poor, and lacking knowledge we ate cheap meat. Now we buy organic, grass fed, and - if possible - local meat.

- More vegetables: we eat way more vegetables than we used to. Are we still below where we should be? Absolutely. Do my picky eating habits make this difficult? Absolutely. (I learned this little bit of vegetable advice from my midwives during my first pregnancy and I use it often when buying our food: fresh is best, frozen next, canned is last).

- Taking advantage of the seasons: This idea ties in with the previous one. The last couple years we've planted a garden, and when things like asparagus (SO good for you) are available at the farmer's market I serve it often. (It's better to eat local in season foods because they aren't being treated so they can travel long distances.)

- Few processed foods: We make a lot of our food from scratch out of necessity.  There aren't many store bought things B can eat, and I am not making two meals every time we eat.

I need to work on reducing my grains even more. We're completely off wheat pasta, but we do like our brown rice pasta. And I eat sprouted wheat/wheat bread every morning for breakfast because I can't have eggs (hopefully B grows out of that allergy). I also need to work on sugar reduction (I LOVE sugar!).

I am far, far, far from perfect, and our diet still needs a lot of help - I am a slow reformer, just ask J - but the little changes seem to be adding up. (Sometimes healthy people annoy me because I have very little self control, so I try not to be a really annoying healthy person. I went to Mockingjay last night and I had popcorn and a soda - at 8 pm. See? Far from perfect.)

There are three other things that make a HUGE difference for me:

1. Keeping the womb unoccupied. Pregnancy hormones exacerbate the thyroid situation.

2. Stress reduction. I'm terrible at this, but my anxiety is better now than it was two years ago! Prayer, family, friends, books, chocolate, exercise, and Jesus help! 

3. Finding the right doctor. I was so certain finding a naturopath would lead me to being medication free. I was with one for a long time after Charlotte died, but I eventually had to admit that we weren't working well together, and my health was being managed poorly. 

When I was pregnant with Ainsleigh I decided to see a traditional endocrinologist throughout the pregnancy, but I wanted to switch once she was born because I didn't think I would get along with a traditional doctor.

Much to my surprise I love my endocrinologist. One of the first things he said to me was, "Let's wean you off medication after the pregnancy and see how it goes." Also, he prays with me at the end of every appointment.

I've battled with thyroid problems since my freshman year of college, but I am finally medication free and symptom free. Praise the Lord! 

Ainsleigh is sleeping on me as I type. Literally on me. As soon as I climb in next to her she sits up and then flops over on me.


She turned one and moved in with us at night. Pretty soon here big brother will crawl in too. I complain about it, but I love having them snuggled in with me. That might be the best therapy for me: two rainbow babies cuddled next to me who don't mind when I put myself to sleep at night by resting my hand on their chests and thanking God for every breath they take.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

ministry work and house problems


Life has been busy, busy, busy lately. We've had some house complications, Thanksgiving is coming up and there's a lot of planning involved in that, and the first Empty Arms Connections meeting took place last night.

First, the house complications. If you live in Salem, have a drain problem, and need a plumber call me. I can tell you who to go to, and who to avoid, so that you don't receive - and nearly accept - a crazy high bid. Plumber the first told us they couldn't clear out our pipe and we would need to pay thousands of dollars to put in a new one. Plumber the second cleared out the pipe. We had a good time hyperventilating over the cost for twenty-four hours. I tried to be cheerful and optimistic because I just started the She Reads Truth thanksgiving study and was all full of give thanks in all circumstances verses and truth, but I quickly reverted back to, "we'll never move now! I know we have the money in savings, but it's still a lot! Wah, wah, wah."

Second, the first connections meeting. You guys, people came!! Not a lot of people, but we had six (ministry team included - so four really)! That feels like a good start. It was hard to get the conversation up and running, but there was discussion and tears and some laughter and I think people felt a little lifted and encouraged at the end. There was a moment in the beginning when I was like, hey wait, I asked a question, no one is answering, what do I do now? I'm an introvert, I'm awkward, this is awkward, am I really in charge of this, was this my idea?? but I said a quick prayer for confidence, and remembered that God doesn't call us to do hard things on our own.

Last night we read a devotion from the One Year Book of Hope and then talked a bit about how much God cares for us as we mourn. The conversation wandered all over the place, but that was the starting point.

For a long time I went to a support group that meets every month, but I haven't gone for a while now. It just wasn't a good fit for me anymore. I felt really guilty about that for a long time, and there's a lot of people from the support group I miss, but last night after the Empty Arms meeting I felt uplifted instead of broken and angry, which is how the other meetings left me feeling.

I've been conflicted about all of this for a long time: support groups and ministries, and where I fit, and where I want to fit, and worry about making people angry. I don't want to be a Christian who sections herself off with people who think and act like her, but in this particular time in my life I really need to be in my grief with people who believe in the hope of heaven and our great Comforter. I can't go into the grief for extended periods of time without that component in place. (I still really like that support group and highly recommend it, it's just not a good fit for me right now)

That doesn't mean if you don't believe you can't come to an Empty Arms meeting. And that doesn't mean we can't be friends if you don't believe in God. It simply means that I am giving myself permission to grieve in the way I need to without feeling guilty. I'm a people pleaser - to my very core - but in this instance I have to take care of myself and my heart.

It's been such a process to start the Empty Arms Ministry. I hope we continue to grow. I hope if people need us they ask for help. I know there isn't a cure for grief, or an end goal, or a way to be over the loss, but there is hope. I believe in Jesus and His promise that this is not our forever home. I need that truth to make it through life without Charlotte. And I want others to know that hope, and to know that God is not callous, that He cares about our broken hearts.


Psalm 34:18: The Lord is near to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit.


Psalm 56:8: You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

Isaiah 65: 17-20:

Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his
years;
he who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

how to save a life


I've spent the last few days asking J, "what do I do?" I've asked his opinion, I've asked what he would do, and I've asked him if I am putting our children at risk by blogging about our lives.

He said, "I think the benefits outweigh the risks."

He said, "You're pretty careful."

He said, "It's up to you."

Before switching back to a public blog setting I knew I had to do at least one thing: delete Charlotte's pictures. Every time I thought about what to do and how to proceed one concern kept rising to the top of the pile: what if someone takes Charlotte's image - or identity - and uses it to promote their agenda, or suggest she is their child?

This evening I combed through four years of blog posts and I deleted nearly every picture of Charlotte.

I still don't feel completely comfortable with how many pictures of my kids are on here, and therefore in the Google Image search database, but I'm not ready to delete every single picture here. I'll probably post fewer pictures, and I made my Instagram private (accepting requests, but I need to know who you are / why you want to follow), and I'm going to have to figure some things out as they come up.

I was going to delete this blog, but J gave me a few solid reasons not to, and as I scrolled through four plus years of our lives I realized that I couldn't delete this record of us. Of my journey to become a mother to living children. It's hard for me to read the early posts, because they are so raw and broken, but to transition from those posts to the ones where I hold my living children with joy radiating from eyes that have cried a thousand tears I see a story - my story - and I just can't erase it.

(Yes, I can have it made into a book, and I will probably do that, but I received a few messages and e-mails that made me realize it's important for others to have access to the story as well.)

When Charlotte died I was left with a desperate need to record every second of my life. I wanted to make sense out of the senseless. I thought I could write my way to clarity. And then when Bennett was born I wanted to capture every moment of his life just in case he left me too, but now that desperate need to record every second of our lives has eased.

The number of posts I write has dramatically decreased now that we have two kids because life is busy. And I don't feel as much of a need to have tangible proof that Ainsleigh is here and growing because her brother is alive. I don't have to obsessively record every moment because I know there will be more. I understand now that most children don't just up and die on you without warning. I get that what happened to Charlotte was an anomaly.

As I glanced at blog posts and scrolled through pictures this evening I realized that whole swathes of mundane days that I don't even remember are written down. I saw how all of my kids look like each other. (I can see them within each other now, in the planes of each other's faces, and it takes my breath away.) I saw that if I delete what we were I risk forgetting how far we've come. I want my kids to know that I struggled before I knew them. I want them to know that while Jesus rescued me they healed my broken mama heart.

Ainsleigh and Bennett will always have each other, but I want them to have Charlotte too. This is the only way I can give her to them. My words, our memories, a few photographs, are the only flimsy items we have to shape their idea of a third, older sibling. I can't give them Charlotte, so I will give them this record of the crooked path we took to become a family.

And now that I've wandered through years of writing I see that I can't give up because I am a writer. From zero readers, to five hundred, to three, to two hundred. From zero comments, to fifty comments, to five, to zero. From happiness to sadness to joy. From mothering to grieving to parenting to marriage to renewed faith to friendship to life - it's all here. And I've kept writing through more difficult times than this. It's the love of words, and the love of memory, that keeps me coming back.

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