Tuesday, December 31, 2013

resolutions


I don't like to make too many resolutions. It's hard for me stick to them and then I feel guilty. But this year I have a few things I really want to accomplish.  

1. Finish my book - I'm ready to finish it and see if I can find a market. I've had the name of a literary agent and a list of submission guidelines on my desk for over a year. My initial goal was to have it done and submitted before Ainsleigh was born, but I was too busy falling apart to complete it. I don't have a lot of time during the day to write, but the evenings are wide open. To finish I need to read through my blog. I am really dreading that task, but I am tired of looking at the stack of half-finished pages on the edge of my desk. I feel like I might have something worthwhile if I can just focus and make it coherent. 

2. Be more frugal - This is a tandem resolution. I really want to move out of this house. I love our neighborhood, but I want a bigger kitchen, a second bathroom and room for the kids to run. An acre, or two, or four has always been a dream. A whole lot has to happen before we can even consider buying a new house, but saving a little more each month might help us accomplish that goal someday. No more Target runs where $60.00 just happens to fall out of the bank account. No more toys for the kids. No more clothes for the kids, unless they need something. No more late night online buying sessions. Even if H&M is having a huge sale on skirts. We have not always been wise with our money and this year I want us to follow a better (and more Biblical) spending model.

Speaking of skirts on sale, look what came in the mail today ...

     
3. Find healthy ways to handle stress and worry - In other words, put down the cookies. This is the first time I've really struggled with my weight after a pregnancy. I'm gaining weight right now, which is not the way to go.

Me just before my third pregnancy. I think I can get there again.


4. Be kinder - to myself, to my family, to people I don't know, to friends. I can have a sharp tongue and terrible attitude. I'd really like to rein it in this year and focus on being nicer.

What are your resolutions? 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

less stuff, more love {giveaway}


I have a hard time letting go of things. I hoard - mildly - and stuff things in closets because I may need it / want it / use it ... someday. I have a really hard time letting go of books. Even if I didn't like it, even if I'm never going to read it again I hold onto it. Books on a shelf make me so happy. I couldn't live in a home without books everywhere.

Last night I was organizing and rearranging things and I began a pile of books. Then I added a pile of clothes. This morning I began selling furniture we've been meaning to get rid of for a while. Our upstairs looks like a used furniture shop. It's time for a lot of it to go. I've spent the day organizing, rearranging, giving away, selling and tossing things. It feels so good. I was halfway joking this morning when I said, "I want to start the year with less stuff, more love," but it is really nice to watch stuff leave the house. 

While cleaning I found a journal/workbook to help one work through grief after the loss of a baby. My midwife gave it to me a year or so after Charlotte died, but I never used it. It has healing exercises, poems, artwork, places for you to write your story, and much more.


I think someone would really benefit from it so I'm giving it away. If you are in the first year after the death of your baby this is a great resource, but I think it is perfect for anyone who has lost a baby. You can read about it HERE.

This Christmas was a rough one. I've been silent here because all of my energy has been focused on getting through the holidays. It feels good to clean the house and prepare to enter the new year with an attitude of love.

Leave a comment if you would like to be entered to win the journal.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

the next step


I've been in a fog these last few days. I'm somewhere between 'this may be the thing that breaks me' and 'God will use this in our lives and everything will be okay.' I find myself leaning toward the second option more than the first, which makes me feel better about my mental health.

I keep coming back to the idea that Ainsleigh's diagnosis is a small blot on the landscape of crisis we have traversed as a family, but then the thought of it consumes me over and over like a constantly cresting wave and I lose that idea of smallness. I think I just have to accept that I need to drown in the hugeness of it for a while. Once again I find myself rearranging images in my mind because the sweet little life I imagined for my child can't be everything I hoped it would be. And I know good can spill forth from loss and unexpectedness because I have lived and walked that road, but right now I can't see the good; I'm still lost in the forest of what ifs and whys.

The time of year makes everything a little more difficult. This season of joy and a weary world rejoicing is a cornerstone of my faith, but I haven't been able to find peace or rest within its borders since Charlotte died. I put my head down, place one foot in front of the other, and wait for the easing that comes with January and the new year. But that has landmines of its own as it marks the beginning of another year without Charlotte.

Last night I told J I'm at capacity. I simply cannot take anything else. The smallest things make me burst into tears. What do you do when you reach that point? I think it would be nice to go to Hawaii like we did last January, but that trip netted me Ainsleigh and I'm not willing to go through that process again .... Also: we can't afford it. Maybe I'll make us a little Hawaii in our house. Fill the bathtub with water, turn up the heat, let Bennett pour sand all over the floors. I think it would end up more toddler heaven, less imaginary Hawaii, but that might be fun for a minute or two.

I'm not sure I should share this post because I have this thought in the back of my mind that I'm handling this all wrong. Like I should be able to pull myself together, Like every other parent going through something similar waltzes gracefully with the notion of a changed life while I wrestle the beast of change and try to throw it out of our lives.

I've spent a large portion of my life feeling like everyone else has life and self sorted while I stumble around in the dark and fall to pieces. I've been trying to let go of that notion the past few years, because I know it's not true, we all fall apart for varying reasons, but when things like this come up the doubts creep in. I know how to mother a dead baby, I know how to mother Bennett, but this, this is different and three days in I'm already worried I'm doing it all wrong. There was a time in my life when I had self-confidence, but when Charlotte died a great wind rushed through me and when it finally left - though there are still traces left - a lot went with it.

I know this post has traces of my last one, but I'm processing via obsession and I have to leave some of it here so I don't drive J up the wall. He is able to focus on the now and be quite calm about things while I worry endlessly and try to think up every possible scenario that might come up as a result of this diagnosis. I will feel a lot better when we have a few appointments behind us and the beginnings of a plan in place. I always do better with a plan.

Christmas is three days away. I was going to put together a cute video of the kids and post it here, but I might not get to it. I thought it would be sweet for you all to see Ainsleigh in her Christmas dress, but the stupid thing has not arrived, and might not arrive, and right now I just don't have the energy for something like that. I may pull it off tomorrow or the next day, but if I don't Merry Christmas from our family to yours.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

big (somewhat scary) news


Ainsleigh's follow up to the follow up hearing screen was this morning. Ainsleigh can hear well in her right ear, but she is severely to profoundly deaf in her left ear.  When we were in the hospital and she failed to pass her hearing screen I said to J, "Hearing loss? We can do that. She's alive." And yes, we can handle this, just like we handle B's allergies, but there is a lot of information coming at us right now and I'm very overwhelmed.


I knew something was wrong. I had the same feeling as when Charlotte died. I went into the appointment expecting bad news, but when two audiologists came in and quietly leaned forward to deliver the diagnosis it still hit me hard. One of the audiologists reached forward to touch my knee and I thought, Oh no, not the gentle pat! I've been on the receiving end of the gentle pat/arm squeeze far too often. 

Then it was a whole lot of words and phrases: There is a 30% chance she will lose hearing in her other ear, we have to be careful with ear infections, she needs early intervention so she doesn't struggle later on, she won't be able to hear well from a distance, it is recommended that you schedule appointments with an ear, nose, throat doctor, a geneticist and an eye doctor ... 

And there I was rocking Ainsleigh in my arms in the small, dim room saying, "After what happened to our first we can do this. We can do this. I know we can do this." That right there is the sign of someone who is doing really well emotionally ...

Now I'm trying to regroup a little and process what we've been told. I'm sitting in a pile of phrases and concerns, thinking about the next step and how exactly we are going to handle this thing I'm so certain we can handle.

I put the news up on facebook - as you do- and all of these wonderful messages of support came flooding in. And while I appreciated every single kind note part of me wanted to say, it's okay! no sympathy or empathy or kindness needed! Ainsleigh is alive, I'm not complaining, I'm happy, all is well!! But living like that is exhausting. I want the support, but I don't feel like I have a right to it. So there is all this lovely support out there and I can't claim it because she's alive (I know that's irrational).  

I think I want someone to tell me it's okay to struggle with this. That it IS hard and it's okay if I fall apart a little bit. That it's not over dramatic or over wrought or over anything. I know hearing loss in one ear is not a big deal when you have a dead baby in your parenting history, but it is BIG. It is a huge issue to work with. It will affect her whole life. And there's a part of me, way deep inside, yelling, WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY BABIES?!

When I got in the car after the three and a half hour appointment this song was on the radio:



It was a good reminder. It helped me to turn away from the "why us" question and lean into my faith. We are not alone. We have a great big God who has sustained and carried us through good and bad, and we have a community of support and love that lifts us up. Twice this week I rushed out of my house to appointments, leaving B in very capable hands, and both times I returned home to dishes washed, laundry folded, and a happy toddler.

There will be more appointments. We don't know why Ainsleigh's hearing loss occurred, or how to proceed, but those appointments won't happen until the new year; hopefully we will gain insight and learn how to help Ainsleigh. We're going to need some help. I'm probably going to fall apart a little bit.

When we were trying to ascertain what was going on with Bennett it took time to figure things out. I felt lost, angry and confused, but now I've adjusted. Watching what he eats and making most of his food from scratch is part of the routine. I just need to adjust. Get used to adding this information in, learn this particular language.

All of my ideas about being a mother and the way parenthood was going to be for me went out the window when Charlotte died. I can adjust a little more. I can get used to the idea that I mother a dead baby, a child with allergies/intolerances and a baby who has unilateral hearing loss. I'm stress eating like it's my job as I adjust, but I have healthy coping mechanisms too. Like this space. When I got home I put a show on for Bennett then sat down and paid attention to the clattering voice in my head that demanded I sit and write a while.

And it worked. I feel a little better already. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I don't care


That is exactly it.

I don't care.

I feel blank. Just ... blank.

Wrapping presents.

Finishing up the Christmas shopping.

Thinking about prepping for holiday meals.

Don't care, don't care, don't care.

I should be grateful - period - to have Ainsleigh here this Christmas, but there are things that did not come up when B was born that are coming up now and I am smack in the middle of it and it sucks.


This does not feel like postpartum depression. After B was born I felt CA-RAY-ZEEEEEE. In January after he was born I finally began counseling because I wasn't functioning. This doesn't feel like that. I'm functioning, but I feel really disconnected.

We were out to dinner tonight and a woman walking through the restaurant caught my eye. It took me a moment to realize she was looking at me because I had been staring at her. I wasn't seeing her though. I was staring off into space, eyes glazed over, mind empty, doing nothing other than breathing; putting forth minimum effort to survive. And when I forced myself to be present I remembered: that's how it was immediately after Charlotte died. That other worldly sensation of being alive, but so far removed from everyone else it's like your body is walking around but your soul is taking a break until the pain eases up a little and you don't have to work so hard just to be.

I'm afraid if you are reading this you may worry about the state of my mental health, but I really think this is just seasonal. Every moment isn't bad. I can still laugh and enjoy life. I just put all of the sadness here in an attempt to shake it loose. As B would say, "get it out!!" 

Maybe if I get it out, it will stay out. Maybe I can switch from I don't care to life is beautiful and sweet.





Saturday, December 14, 2013

my ocean


There are not enough hours in the day. By the time B is in bed Ainsleigh is having her colicky time, or she is eating every hour, or I want to sit down and watch television with J, or read a book, or take a shower so I push my writing to the side. And as a result I feel like I've lost an anchor I desperately need.

Which is why this morning when Ainsleigh woke up at 5:30 I didn't sit up in bed with her in my arms and hope she would fall asleep again. I got up, went downstairs, turned on the lights on the enormous tree and wrote a little bit. This is the time of year when I turn back to the book I've been working on for years. 2014 is the year; I'm going to finish the stupid thing because I can't have it sitting in the back of my mind anymore.

Yesterday I drove to the bookstore where I used to work. Every year I do a huge chunk of my Christmas shopping there because I like the store and want it to stay in business. And when I worked there people were kind enough to buy local and keep my pay check coming so the least I can do is return the kindness.

That drive is like a punch in the chest. Not the stomach, the chest. I feel like my heart is being ripped out when I drive the winding country roads between where we live currently and where we used to live. I drive past the turn off to the birth center, the hospital where Charlotte died, and the funeral home where she was cremated. A parade of sorrow and bad memories flashes by.

The kids were quiet as I drove. We were listening to music and everyone was in their own space. As I crested one particular hill I remembered how I used to think about driving off the road at that very spot. After Charlotte died I worked at the bookstore a little bit doing mindless tasks, trying to maintain my sanity, and when I managed to go in I would hit that curve and think, what if?

I think it's natural to go to that dark place after tragedy. I think. I hope so. If not I may be worse off than I realized. What separates me from those who have gone off the road - so to speak - is choice. Every time the thought entered my head I ignored it. I kept driving. I accelerated through the curve and made myself continue on. I believed life was going to get better because I couldn't imagine how it could get worse. I should mention that I don't think there is anything wrong with those who do go over the edge. It's not a question of strength, or spirit, or hope, or determination. For some it does get worse, and for those who are able to stand - or at least kneel - after life has knocked you over countless times I admire and commend you.

We had a great day. B was helpful, Ainsleigh was a little fussy, but manageable. We finished out our Christmas shopping then went to this great bakery that serves pizza and baked goods B can eat. When we finished our meal I told B he could pick a mini cupcake. He jumped off his chair and ran to the cases of baked goods. "Cupcake!" he yelled. Then a moment later, "Cupcake with face!" as he pointed to the gingerbread man cupcake he wanted.

I sent B to the play area while I paid for the cupcakes, Ainsleigh in my arms. As I looked up from signing the receipt I saw him in the corner playing, happy, content. I thought, this is my life. Somehow this is my fourth Christmas without Charlotte and this is where I am. It's good, it's wonderful, it's joyful, but I'm still so sad. And I hate that sad part of myself. I really, truly hate it. I wish I could cut it out. I don't want to cut Charlotte out, but I want to cut the longing and wishing out.

Thursday night at the end of my support group I said to a friend, why can't I be happy? Why can't I get it together? I'm so mad at myself because I want to be happy this Christmas and I'm not. I'm still sad. This is still the second hardest season. I just can't get it together. Why am I so stuck? and from behind me someone said, because you love her. A simple answer, but one I really needed to hear.

It's okay to want Charlotte here. Christmas is about family and mine is incomplete. There isn't a timeline to grief. I've had to tell myself this over and over and over and here is another opportunity to do so. There is nothing wrong with being just as much of a mess on the fourth Christmas without her as I was on the first. The difference between this year and that year is that I'm not a mess all of the time. That first year was 365 days of deep, desperate grief. This year is a hard day, or week, here and there.

As I drove home I saw a helicopter in the cloudy skies. There are a few things that instantly trip the trauma switch. Helicopters are one of them. Medical helicopters especially. I didn't even see the helicopter Charlotte was transported on, but the sight of one in the sky still takes my breath away. And the ones with crosses on the bottom bring me to my knees, the air knocked from my lungs.

I'll never know why the effort expended on Charlotte's behalf wasn't enough. Most of the time I can accept the lack of answers, but in the seasons of deep grief - May, December - I lose my confidence and footing. I revisit old wounds and tear them open to ensure they'll never fully heal. I let the grief win. I let the sadness in. I admit to depression. I acknowledge that being seven weeks postpartum makes it worse. I understand that having Ainsleigh here is triggering a different kind - a whole new world even - of grief.

I know I won't feel this way forever. In the great expanse that is the ocean of my grief I've been back and forth between the surface and the inky black depths enough times to know this difficult season will come to an end. And each time I go to the depths it's not as bad as the time before. I know the journey, I know I can get through it. I understand what is happening and why. And while understanding the process doesn't make it easier at least it makes me feel less crazy.

B is awake. It's time to set this aside and put on my mom face. We are going to make Christmas cookies today if I can make the dough cooperate. We're going to love one another, enjoy our time together, and I'm going to use every bit of laughter that falls from our souls as light to locate the surface.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

one month


Ainsleigh is almost six weeks! I want to do monthly pictures like I did for Bennett so I quickly snapped a couple today even though it's a little late.



Ainsleigh is doing really well. Days can be hard because she is awake a lot and wants to be held (plus she seems to have a touch of colic in the evenings) but she dos so well at night I can handle the hard days.

Bennett and I are doing much better. The adjustment period was rough, but we have a good routine now. I'm getting better at taking him on outings, which he really needs. Although this insane weather we are having is making it very difficult to leave the house.

In some ways having two is not as hard as I thought it would be, but in other ways it is MUCH harder than I imagined.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

unaplogetic


Last night I posted the following on the facebook page I maintain for this blog:

We went to J's holiday party for his work this evening. When asked how many children I have I said three without hesitation. And when we were talking about babies I included Charlotte. I talked about my births and trauma during labor and delivery. I was honest about my experience. In the middle of the conversation I wondered if I was saying too much, but most of his co-workers know our story. I want to make space in these conversations for all my children. So I do. I'm open about what we lost. I'm honest and unapologetic when I talk about her. And I think that's okay. This is who I am. If you ask me about my children I will tell you about all of them. And I will show you a picture on my phone that includes all three of my children because it's important to me to include her. I refuse to pretend Charlotte didn't exist because the fact of her death is uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable to talk around and over the subject of her. I refuse to ignore what happened, and the more resolute I become the less the world expects me to. I hope my determination gives others the freedom to speak. It's okay to talk about our children and how much we miss them.

I wanted to share it here as well because I can't stop thinking about grief, the holidays, and how hard this time of year is. Earlier this week I wrote about how to cope with the holidays and grief for the 12 Days of Christmas series on the blog All That Love Can Do. There's some great remembrance ideas and giveaways going on over there, go check it out!

You might not be able to, or you might not want to, share your grief at a holiday party, but I want you to know I'm willing to listen. This space is always available if you want to share your story.

In fact, I would like you to share your story. When we go around the circle at the in person support group I attend the impact of hearing everyone's stories one after the other is huge. The strength and tears in our voices shakes the room and reminds me I am not alone.

Every baby matters. I want to hear about yours.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

oh bennett



We do this game at story time called "Elevator." You put your kiddo in your lap, pretend to press a button -"ding!" then lift them up in the air before setting them gently on the floor - first floor, second floor, third floor, fourth floor, down!" I don't know if that little explanation makes sense, but I hope you get the general idea. 

The other day Bennett was really struggling so I sat him down on the couch and said, "What is going on? Why are you pushing Mama's buttons? What do you need from me?"

Bennett looked at me with confusion, then understanding dawned on his face. He reached his hand forward, pushed an imaginary button and said, "Ding!"

**********

J took B to the store a few days ago. When he came home he asked me if Bennett pointed to items and yelled, "get it out!" while we were shopping. I said, "no, maybe it's a new thing." Yesterday at Costco when Bennett asked for a snack I pulled a granola bar from the bag. He rarely gets granola bars. They are really expensive (because we have to buy them at the health food store) and the only reason we have a box at home right now is because he had allergy testing and we wanted to give him a treat afterwards.

As soon as he saw the granola bar Bennett yelled as loud as he could, "TREAT! GET IT OUT! GET IT OUT!"   

**********

This morning I told Bennett we had to dress in layers. "We're going to the library for a concert and we'll probably have to wait outside," I explained as I was dressing him.

A few minutes later I was taking care of Ainsleigh when I realized Bennett had disappeared. I found him standing by the back door. When I asked him what he was doing he said, "wait outside concert."

"No, no, no!" I said, "Oh, honey, we have to go to the library and wait!"

**********

And here is one of my better moments, brought to you by sleep deprivation and the general stupidity that comes with children:

"Angela, I'm going to the store after dinner. Do you need anything?"

"You're just going to the health food store?"

"Yes."

"No thanks then. I want chocolate, but all they will have there is an $8.00 free range chocolate bar."

"Free range chocolate bar! What's that?"

"Not free range! Fair trade! I meant fair trade!"

"Nope, I like free range. This grass fed chocolate bar ..."

Monday, December 2, 2013

on toddlers and boundaries

I bought a time out rug today. And then I spent the afternoon marching B over to the rug and explaining the concept. We were using the crib for a long time, but he thought time out was bounce time so I had to come up with something else.

This is one if those dangerous posts because a) the discipline topic is a minefield and b) the parent to a dead baby must be grateful concept is a constant struggle for me, BUT I'm just going to say it: toddlers are infuriating.

They're cute and entertaining, but they are also tiny humans who have to learn how to become adult people, and a huge component of that process is learning what a boundary is and why they exist. And they have to relearn the concept every minute of every day. Unfortunately I can't just say, "adults don't throw fits when they don't get their way. You will be an adult someday, please stop." Because a toddler could care less about reason and logic. And because a lot of adults - myself included - throw fits sometimes.

B and I often clash because I'm a control freak. I want things a certain way, or expect things to be a certain way, and it frustrates me to pieces when B goes all toddler on my plans.

For example: we received a chair for Ainsleigh as a gift. It vibrates, has little animals on it, including a turtle that plays a song. I spent a day or so telling B to get out of the chair and then J asked why I was so adamant about it.
"He's not over the weight limit."
"But he'll play that turtle song all day and drive me crazy."
"Why can't we tell him he can use the chair, but if he plays the song without a parent asking him to he can't sit in it the rest of the day?"

Because I hadn't thought of that. Because that solution would not have crossed my mind. This is why it's good to be married; I need a logical person in my life who is capable of thinking outside the box. I take the locked into one solution (mine naturally) being the only solution personality trait to the extreme.

We do a lot of actions = consequences around here. The problem with that is I often suffer as well. A lot of late afternoons I think about using the ultimate consequence - no Thomas tomorrow! - but that can be more of a punishment for me.

This afternoon B was switching the Christmas lights on and off. He had been in a mood for close to an hour and I was getting really frustrated so I said, "If you flick the switch one more time there will be a consequence." I didn't have one in mind so I hoped he would leave it alone. He waited until I was feeding Ainsleigh then went over to the switch, pretended to push it, and said "consequence!" So he's getting it. I guess. But then he actually did it so maybe he's not getting it ...

I don't like spending my day telling B no. I try to focus on positive behavior and really praise it, but there's still a lot of, "You need to listen, this is your chance to make a good choice, mama said no!" etc. Maybe this is just what it's like to parent a toddler. I don't know. I've never done it before.

Yesterday was so bad (J had a 10 hour shift at the hospital) I think I aged 10 years. When I described the day as being a free radical stress ricochet J had no idea what I was talking about. It goes something like this: I start emanating stress, B picks up on it and acts out even more, then it bounces over to Ainsleigh and she starts screaming, then it comes back to me and we start all over again. Don't get me started on the dog and what she adds to the mix.

How do you keep a lid on the stress when you're ten thousand kinds of hormonal and sleep deprived? I do a lot of praying and deep breathing, but there's still some yelling.

There are moments that help. When I was at the absolute end of my rope today B snuggled in next to me on the couch and said, "squeeze da mama" and then hugged me over and over again, a game I've played with him since he was bitsy.

And then there's the other thing, the dead baby thing. When I'm intensely whispering, "Do not put the blanket over Ainsleigh's face, she can't breathe!! in the middle of the grocery store for the twelfth time in five minutes I call up the darkness. I remember the blank hum of a life without chaos, of days silently lived in a house thick with grief. Some days (most days even) I feel like I'm not a good mom, like I'm failing these little people as I try to shape them, but when I think of the alternative I thank the Lord for a screaming newborn and the toddler running down the hall shrieking "NO!!"

All that gratitude doesn't wipe out the stress and frustrations of parenting a toddler, but it does make those sanity saving "squeeze da mama" moments much, much sweeter.

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