Thursday, June 25, 2015

Surrendering to the Free Fall of Change

drawing by me, 2015 sketchbook project
There's always these moments in time when everything changes.  It's terrifying, exciting, overwhelming, exhilarating... and almost always painful.  Sometimes it seems that every possible change that could possibly happen waits until the same exact moment to reach it's precipice... and instead of just stepping onto a new path, you feel like you've just jumped off of a cliff in a free fall, not knowing if or where you'll land, feeling your stomach rise to your heart and your heart rise to your throat... but then... just when you think the fear might kill you, something lifts... you relax a little and realize the feeling of falling isn't so bad.  You embrace the rush of the unknown racing towards you and you just let go of whatever false control you were holding on to.  Instead of falling, you're floating.  Instead of focusing on the possibly catastrophic ending to your fall, you change your perception.  In that exact moment, you connect to the idea that you are completely un-tethered. Instead of seeing that your disconnect from stability will eventually end in a sudden and abrupt meeting with a solid force, you look at that one second... and in that one second, you are simply unattached.  You are free.

But, you have to surrender.

That's where I am now.  Things happen.  I can, perhaps, influence these situations slightly, but not much.  So, I'm doing my part, and otherwise, just enjoying the ride.

This beautiful life we've been given to live, love and experience... it needs a deliberate person to really, fully, venerate it.  No more apathetic living.  No more squandering my moments on thinking "what if" or regretting.

I will be mindful and present... open to pain and joy alike... vulnerable and strong... free, but always moving with a purpose... balanced.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Rotten Apples

I know it's been almost a month since my last post.  I've written several since then, but just didn't feel they were to be shared. 

The past few weeks have been difficult.  Writing here has reopened so many wounds that for so long I pretended had healed.  I'm so very talented at feigning contentment.

In the midst of processing my grief, I've unearthed substantial resentment that has been festering inside me for so long.  Of course, I thought if I ignored it and stopped allowing myself to feel it that it would just vanish.  Unfortunately, that's not how it works. 

You can't just bury a rotten apple in your produce drawer, pretend it isn't there, and not expect it to infect everything else around it. 

And sometimes, by the time you realize the damage that has been done and what needed to be done to prevent it, it's too late.  It can't be undone. 

All of this has led to the most intense spiritual crisis I've ever had in my life (and believe me, I've had a few). 

I know the stipulations of being an acceptable Christian.  And in my opinion, the fact that I allowed this rotten apple to putrefy everything around it means I am not, in fact, a good Christian.

So where does that leave me? 

Are we, as Christians, permitted to be hurt, to feel hurt by others and have difficulty conceding to it and moving on? 

What exactly does forgiveness entail?  In order to forgive, do we have to deliberately subject ourselves to the same detriments over and over again because it is considered selfish to want the hurting to end by turning our backs to it?  Or is forgiveness defined by not resenting anymore, ending the hurting inside you, and moving on in the direction that will prevent it from happening again?

And now, through all of this, will God be by my side even if I, in an effort to do what's right, may not go the direction He actually wants for me?  Will I forever be lost to the favor of God?  Or will He bless me regardless because my intentions are pure?  Will He lift his hand from me as punishment for holding onto the hurt?

I know what the scriptures say.  It is just so hard to believe His mercy is THAT abounding.  And even more so... that I am deserving of it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Until We Can Hold You In Heaven...

I had written yesterday that I wanted to start a tradition of writing to our baby every year on October 15th. 

Unbeknown to me, Tom had already done so.  He gave this to me last night when I got home from work.  Framed.  I read it and cried.  It took me a while to read it because I couldn't see through the flood of tears welling up in my eyes.  All I could say was, "thank you", and bury my face in his shoulder. 

Finally, after almost 6 years, we're beginning to grieve together, differently, but together.  I am so incredibly grateful.  This will be hanging on the wall next to my vanity in our bedroom.  I'll see it every morning as I begin my days and every evening as I prepare for sleep.

Thank you, honey, for such a beautiful gift.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

National Pregnancy & Infant Loss Rembrance Day

I'm sure that most of you do not know that today is National Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day.  In 1988, President Ronald Reagan named October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month saying, "When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan.  When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower.  When parents lose their child, there is no word to describe them." It seems insignificant to people that have never experienced it.  I don't expect anyone to drop what they're doing to recognize this.

I'll tell you what it means to me, though.

It means I'm not alone.  It means I'm not the only person that feels this pain and has a hard time getting past it.  It means I'm not weird or abnormal.  It means that what I'm feeling is okay, it's allowed.  Also, it means today I'm allowed to be sad and I don't have to hide it. This really should be the case every day, but I'm letting myself be free today and feel these things openly. 

I know that the pain of a lost pregnancy isn't as well understood by people who have not endured it.  It isn't tangible.  We never held our baby, never saw it's face, never touched them, but the grieving is just as real.  The reality is that we have lost a child, too.  Nothing changes that.

I think that now, since I'm beginning this grieving process after so long, it's time to start a tradition for every year on October 15th.  I'm not sure what Tom and I will do, but here are some ideas I've seen and come up with myself.
  • Buy something special in memory of our baby
    • Charm Bracelet - add a new charm each year
  • Write a letter or poem for our baby
  • Create a piece of art each year - pouring all of the emotions of the loss into it
  • Dinner out, taking time to talk about how the feelings have changed over the past year
If you've lost an infant, child or pregnancy, I encourage you to start a tradition, too.  These precious little lives should be honored, however short they were. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Self-Deprecation & Finding My Worth

I've spent the better part of the last 6 years vacillating between considering trying for a baby again and not trying again.  There is so much fear.  Fear of losing another baby.  Fear that it might break me completely if we lose it again.  Fear that I will die. 

The fear, though, seems secondary to everything else I've been thinking and feeling.
  • What if I can't conceive because God knows I would be a bad mother?
  • What if I can't conceive because I did something wrong and God is punishing me?
  • What if I take fertility drugs and it ends up killing me like it almost did last time?
  • Maybe I'm just not meant to be a mother.
  • Maybe I'm not good enough.
  • I don't want to do this if it means forcing the hand of God and taking matters into my own hands. (in vitro, fertility drugs, surrogacy, adoption)
  • What if my hormonal/emotional issues will stop me from being a good parent?
  • What if my husband really doesn't want more children and ends up resenting me if we do have one?

I've tied my inability to conceive to who I believe I am as a person. 

I have become the master of self-deprecation.

There are so many days when my mind is overwhelmed with the thought "I am nothing."  It consumes me.  A lot of people say "there's a voice that tells me I'm not worth anything."  For me, it's not some disconnected voice, I know it's me saying it.  The past 6 years have molded this image of worthlessness inside of me.  I never recognized it, though, until my therapist read my blog biography for Eat.Sleep.Make. 

My first assignment was to rewrite it.  I couldn't do it.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't write something that didn't humiliate me in some way.  It was absolutely impossible for me to be proud of myself for any aspect of my life.  As far as I was (and mostly still am) concerned, I had(have) nothing to contribute to the world.  (Even now it's still hard for me to believe that people actually voluntarily read these blog posts.)

It's a terrible thing... living each day in such a haze of deception and depression.  I know what the Bible says.  I know I am intelligent.  I know I am talented.  I know I am beautiful.

But, I don't know that any of that is worth anything if I'm not a mother.  The things I do, the things I know, the things I create will leave no lasting impression on this planet when I am gone.  These things will have no affect on my life after death.  The only thing I can find that kind of meaning in is raising children to be world changers, too.  I'm not destined for greatness as far as business or being an evangelist is concerned.  Being a mother was the greatness I wanted. 

I observe my brothers and their wives with their children.  My nieces and nephews running to their parents when something happens... they're hurt, they're hungry, they're tired, they're scared. They find everything they need in their parents... love, affection, protection, guidance... It is such an amazing and beautiful thing.  To see how all the effort they've planted and fostered has begun growing into tiny adults who can make their own choices and so eagerly learn new things... it's an absolute miracle.  To know that your body contributed to the creation of this amazing being who never ceases to astonish you, it must be incredible.  God chose you for a miracle.

For some reason, though, I have not been chosen for such.

To be honest with you, it's a lot of the reason why I started writing this blog.  If I can't make an impact on this world by raising a child, then I will make an impact by sharing about it.  Exposing the pain, the depression, the surrender, the hope, the battle...

I am aware that right now a lot of these posts are dark and sad, but the only way of expelling the darkness is to expose it.  I have to share this all before moving forward.  I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.  I know I will not be stuck in this rut forever.  I know my God has not forsaken me. 

However, I am human.  I am not completely immune to the things that happen as a result of being part of this world.  So, I'm working through it.  I'm just choosing to do it in front of all of you. 

I know this is helping others because some have reached out to me already, but it is also helping me.  SO MUCH.  It's helping me to be honest with myself.  It's helping to hold me accountable to this healing process I've committed myself to.  It's helping bridge the gap between me and my family because they know what I'm going through now.  Most of all, it's giving me hope because now I see so many others that have been where I am and have come through it successfully and joyfully. 

I know I'll find my worth again.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Brutal Side Effects of Smothered Grief

This is especially difficult for me to post.  Almost all of these feelings, thoughts, insecurities, I never shared with anyone.  That would have negated the fa├žade of the strong, untainted woman I was pretending to be.  I never even let Tom see these parts of me.  However, now that I'm moving forward in my healing process, allowing myself to grieve and hurt, being vulnerable is essential.  I'm slowly peeling back the layers of shame I've acquired over the years that created this emotional exoskeleton. 

My road through grief has been horrendous. 

I didn't grieve.  Not for years. (I am only now, after 5 1/2 years, beginning the process.) I felt abandoned by my family, friends, everyone I loved.  My husband seemed to have moved on, carefree, downright relieved and jubilant, while I drowned silently in my suffering, slowly losing everything I ever dreamed of becoming. Family and friends said, "It's okay, you can just try again."  If you've experienced this kind of loss, that sort of optimism is the absolute worst thing someone could say to you.  It made me angry.  It made me feel ashamed for pouring so much sorrow into something everyone else perceived as inconsequential.

Every life around me carried on while I stood completely still, my feet cemented in my loss.  I never even attempted to break free of it.  I resigned myself to where I was, fixed in place in sorrow.  Alone.

I didn't even trust that my husband could empathize.  After all, he had 2 children already, so if this didn't work out, he wouldn't have the giant gaping hole in his soul like I did.  He was already fulfilled. 

I watched longingly as the people surrounding me were given what was taken from me.

My sister-in-law conceived.  I was thrilled for her.  I felt pity for me.  I had so desperately wanted to give my parents their first grandchild.  I failed.

My husband's ex-wife conceived.  I was overcome with jealousy.  Then more pity. 

My other sister in-law conceived.  Again, thrilled.  Again, pity.

My best friend conceived.  Again, jealousy.  Again, pity.

That's when I started asking, "why?"  Why was everyone else having babies, but I wasn't?  Which consequently turned into, not a list of answers to the question why, but a list of reasons I believed I should not be allowed to have children.

These are the answers that manifested in the fog of depression and suffering I had inhabited:
  • I wasn't strong enough to be a mother.
  • I wasn't stable enough to be a mother.
  • I had done something to remove God's favor from my life.
  • Being a mother was the highest calling of which I am obviously not good enough.
  • I'm the family failure. The black sheep. Always the one making mistakes and causing humiliation.
  • God knew the baby would be better off with Him.
  • I'm too selfish.
  • My husband loved his 2 children and didn't want anymore.
  • My husband believed only his first wife should be the mother of his children and I wasn't worthy.
I know these are fictitious.  However, the head does funny things when it's judgment is clouded by depression.  I believed (and still struggle with) these things for years.  Undoing so much ingrained deception takes time, and effort, and most likely professional help.  Which, I am getting and it's working, slowly and painfully, but working nonetheless.

Ultimately, all of these boil down to one simple thing:  In the loss of my baby, I lost my worth.

I always assumed I'd be a mother.  A mother that conceived and birthed her own children.  I have always believed motherhood to be a divine calling, the greatest entrusted charge by God.

I wasn't and am not enough to be tasked with this vocation.  I say "am" because this is something I battle daily.  Over the past six years I have tried to find my worth in school, being top of my class, graduating with honors and a degree in Architectural Drafting.  I tried to find my worth by starting Eat.Sleep.Make. with Jen and even after rocket success, I am still unfulfilled.  I throw myself into my job, decorating my house, developing new skills and talents... but absolutely nothing fills the void, that black hole that losing my baby created in my soul. 

I feel disappointment in myself.  I wonder constantly how I could have been a better person so God would trust me to birth and raise one of His children.  I question my purpose in life... if not to be a mother... what is the point?  What am I supposed to do?  What is the point of being a woman, enduring so much pain every month, if I can't have children?  The suffering of cramps and cysts bursting every month could be tolerable if I knew it would lead to the miracle of conception.  But, it doesn't.  In fact, it seems every cycle I go through gets me further and further away from making the dream a reality.

I compare myself to those closest to me that have been granted the miracle of childbirth and wonder what they have, what they are that I am not.  I hold them so high above myself that sometimes the weight of it crushes every grain of joy from me.  I resent myself for the failure to conceive, nurture and deliver a child. 

I feel out of place at family functions.  My nieces and nephews are my parents' pride and joy, and obviously, I assume that means my brothers are the favored of the family.  I'm the failure.  I have one failed marriage and a dead baby.  I adore my nieces and nephews more than life itself, but even that can't push out the feelings of inadequacy I have when I'm with my family. I feel useless.

I feel cursed.

Honestly, as I'm sitting here writing this I'm asking myself if I should really post this.  Those last few paragraphs are so intimate, things I haven't shared with anyone but my husband and my therapist.  Like I said, though, the transparency and the vulnerability are necessary for me to heal. So I'm posting it.  There's no use in holding it all in anymore.

The Tie That Binds - Sandra McCracken

The sorrow of a friend
From a long way we stand
Grief is second hand
But I'll send my tears in a locket

Amelia smiles under lights & wires
Thorns for every flower
We number every hour
And live the days we are given

Oh, the pain
It makes you feel alive
Oh, the broken heart is the tie that binds
And I pray to God, these things will be made right

When the morning shines
On tear stained eyes
Oh we shall overcome
The Father gave the Son
To break the curse we are under

Oh the pain that no man can escape
Oh the sting of death, the empty grave,
And I pray to God where comfort has no place

When our tired eyes look through the veil
The colors are so pale but we raise high the sail
And call the winds to carry us home
Call the winds to carry us home.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Days That Followed & The Wall I Built

I love poetry.  I read it every day and I find it mesmerizing
and beautiful.  This is by Erin Hanson.
The days that followed the loss of my child are dull, covered in a haze of depression.  All I remember is laying on the couch.  I don't think I bathed that often.  It seemed trivial.  Tom went to work.  I stayed home, I had to. I was losing tremendous amounts of blood, waiting for my body to dispel my baby... or "cancer" as the doctors had so gently put it. 

Every trip to the bathroom, I'd examine what resulted, searching for something... a blood clot, perhaps, that might have had arms and legs.  It was gruesome and morbid.  However, the thought of flushing my child down the toilet and sending it to decay inside the septic tank under the backyard was too much for me to bare.  Of course, I never found anything.  Only more signs that life was leaving my body.

The following week I returned to work.  I had been candid with my coworkers about what had happened and expected to be welcomed back with arms full of compassion and encouragement.  Much to my dismay, my experience was quite contrary.

A few acknowledged the loss.  I was grateful.  All others acted as if nothing had happened.  In fact, my boss (who I did not have a very good relationship with) had told everyone I had a cold.  I am still unsure as to his intentions, but what it produced was a lot of pain and awkward situations for me.  I was unaware that he had told people this.  I thought everyone knew the truth.  So when I started hearing, "Hey, glad you're feeling better! I can't believe you were out for that long!" or "everybody around here is dealing with that, too.  'So and so' only missed one day, you missed 5"... I thought I was surrounded by a bunch of self-centered, heartless jerks.  I was only partially wrong.

I had only been in the office a few hours.  My mood was understandably somber.  I did my job, though.  Right before lunch my boss asked me to join him in a conference room.  I had no idea what he was going to say, but what he did say, I certainly never would have expected.

"Shannon, I know you're going through something difficult, but we all have personal issues to deal with.  You need to leave it at home and not let it affect you here.  Nobody needs to see you moping around."

I felt sick.  I felt foolish.  I felt angry... full of rage... and then I felt shame. 

I felt as if my desperate need for support was uncalled for and selfish.  I felt embarrassed by everyone seeing my despair so openly, seeing me vulnerable.  I felt foolish for thinking my sadness was justified.

That was the day I turned everything off.  I built a wall of silence.  I reinforced it with bitterness and resentment and promised myself that no one would ever have the opportunity to find the "chink in my armor" ever again.  I'd be air tight. Protected. Safe.... Alone. Scared.