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
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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

on privacy, boundaries, and my kids

This evening I received a private message on the facebook page for this blog: Hey, there is a scam facebook page about child abuse in New Zealand and they're using a picture of your kid.


I opened the computer, went to the page, and stared at a picture of B after a fall with the words "NOT OK!" written across them.

After breathing deeply a few times I began searching how to remove the picture. I did a whole lot of things - including asking friends to report the page - and then I deleted the blog post itself from this site so that it would disappear from Google images.

Then the picture disappeared. I hope it's still gone. I've been blocked from the page. Maybe because I kept reporting it.

I've felt a little sick to my stomach all evening. I've thought a lot about my kids, social media, how strange our society is now, and how you can live your whole life in front of the world without anyone really knowing who you are.

I hope there aren't other pictures out there of my kids, but I'm sure there are. I hope no one steals our pictures, or pretends to be me, but there is always that risk. Even though I am careful with my privacy settings there is always risk. And my Instagram feed is open to anyone, although I changed that this evening after receiving that message.

We are the first generation who really has to figure this out. It's confusing. It's hard. I think I may have messed up, but the kids are young and there is time to change how I manage their lives online.

I probably should have been more judicious with Charlotte's pictures. The fact that thinking about putting her name in a Google image search makes me cringe is problematic. I just wanted her to be known. I wanted to have something to share with people because I went through the entire pregnancy and birth process and to have nothing afterwards left me with a sour, empty feeling. So I shared our lives. I offered words because that's all I had. I shared her pictures. I let people get to me through her. I let myself be affected by people who know nothing about us or our story beyond cherry picked facts based off memory; and memory, as we all know, is fickle, shaky, and unreliable.

Then I had two more kids. I shared their pictures and stories because I wanted people to know us. I wanted people to see the whole picture: from pregnancy to loss to grief to pregnancy to birth to parenting a living child to parenting two living children. And in all that want I shared photographs about our lives which may not have been the wisest decision.

And there was some selfish want too. At one point I really thought this blog could be something, but it's never gone that way. It's never grown enough despite the many avenues I've tried, and I'm finally to a point where I don't care. So much in my life has changed. I've reached a place where Jesus knows and loves me and that is enough. And he knows Charlotte - I believe she is with Him at this very moment - and it is enough that she is known by Him.

But four and a half years ago I wanted people to recognize Charlotte as a person. I wanted my grief to be seen, and I wanted to be seen as a mother because there wasn't a baby in my arms to show the world. I was lost, confused, and broken and I found this to be a place where I could fully exist and be acknowledged. 

In everything I just wanted people to know that I'm here, that I have kids, that I like to write, that I love Jesus, that I'm always growing and changing. I've met a lot of people. I've learned a lot. I've become someone so different from the person who published the first post here.

I don't know if this is the end. I need to write. I know that. The words are still within me. In fact, I have three blog posts in my head that I need to find time to sit down and write. I wonder if this is my sign; a notification that it's time to change things around a little.


That's probably not true, but I am going to have to make some changes. I want people who need the grief information, who need the book I wrote, who need a little honesty about grief to find it. Maybe I'll leave all of those things up and delete everything else and start a second blog about our lives now. And maybe I'll make that one private. And maybe I'll stop sharing pictures in this format. But it's hard to imagine separating the two because what happens to me now is infused with the emotions of the last four years.

Sometimes I think I've been too honest here. That this blog might have served its purpose. That if there was anyone it was going to carry through the dark it's happened. They're through. They've found a resting place within their grief. When I think about deleting the whole thing and starting over I feel a tiny bit of relief. I think I need to pay attention to that feeling.

One thing that has changed for me is my ability to set things down and walk away. I'm not carrying this around with me tonight. I'm not going to let it stop me from sleeping. I'm going to hand it over to the Lord and ask Him to help me make a decision about where to go from here because I don't know what to do.

I am in His hands. My kids are in His hands. I am so grateful for that.

Psalm 91:4 - He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

one!! // a first birthday bash

This is going to be a picture heavy post, but first I want to say this: I prayed (and I was prayed for) and this birthday was easier than any other. I felt so much peace. I didn't yell at my family for three days prior to the party. I didn't cry the night before the party. I didn't stress about getting things done, or cleaning every inch of the house. I felt grateful for every decoration, and all the small moments of prep, and for J who took a day off to make a wonderful cake. And, most of all, I felt thankful for Ainsleigh's life and fierce spirit. Sometimes we don't get what we want, and sometimes the force of the one who is missing knocks us sideways, but there are rare moments when everything feels okay even though the picture we imagined isn't the one we hold before us.

Ainsleigh received a lot of presents, but she was enamored with the baby doll.

J made the dairy free, gluten free, vegan cake with a macadamia nut frosting. He made the colors with carrot, blueberry, and raspberry juice. Yes, he is amazing.

Sharing with brother

My sister took a candid shot of me reacting to Ainsleigh opening her first baby doll. Sometimes a picture captures emotions perfectly. Happy birthday, baby girl.


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