Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Fierce Flourishing

I joined MOPS* back in August and I was kind of stressed about the first meeting. It meant Noah was going to miss a nap. Let's just say that in general, I don't handle change well, and in the throes of postpartum anxiety and new motherhood, I REALLY didn't handle change well. But I went. And I haven't looked back once.

The MOPS theme this year was A Fierce Flourishing, and oh, how I needed to hear that was possible. Even though I'd had my child 15 months prior, I was really only just realizing the depths of my postpartum pain and anxiety. I've spent a lot of time and money since then, trying to make progress in both, and I've seen plenty of ups and downs there. But you know what gave me the most freedom this past year? The most relief? Being in a room full of other moms. Seeing that no two are alike but all of us love our children fiercely. All of us are horribly afraid of 'failing' as a mom, whatever that looks like. All of us have struggles. And never once did I feel judged when I shared heavy thoughts, or cried, or vented about having a strong-willed child.

When the leaders introduced the theme at the first meeting, they read this year's verse to us: "For you shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." Isaiah 55:12

It took all my willpower not to start crying then and there. The relief was palpable. Like a weight had been lifted. These words were like a balm to my heart. When I heard this, I'd been waking up each morning with a feeling of dread. With a heavy heart and the assurance that I couldn't possibly do this day all over again. The racing thoughts, the heart palpitations, the frequent night wake-ups with insomnia in between, the baby nap strikes, and always, always, the pain.

To be reminded that God calls us to JOY, and that he promises PEACE was exactly what I needed to hear. It got me to come home and open up my Bible and look to all the places where God reassures us that his promises are TRUE**. That this word does not go out and come back empty. In fact, that same chapter in Isaiah says that!

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord.
'As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord's renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.'"
Isaiah 55:8-13 (emphasis mine)

I notice the twin threads of peace and joy everywhere now. The words stand out on any page. It's been funny to see how they've played out in the last 9 months. I got pregnant shortly after that first meeting, and when the panic overwhelmed me, I cried out, "how is this joy?!" I had just emerged from the newborn haze with Noah, I had a plan that felt manageable, and I was seemingly on the road to physical and emotional recovery. I was deeply fearful of how a pregnancy would impact that. But several friends were able to whisper, "there is joy here." And when I let go of my fear and my plans (again) and started to get excited about another baby, literally a bundle of joy from a good, good Father, we lost it. Again I cried, "how is this joy?!" And God rushed in with peace beyond understanding.

And now, as MOPS wraps up for the year, that's where I sit. Alternating between peace beyond understanding, and fear that I will do something to somehow ruin this peace. So yeah, I still have a ways to go.

This year, we focused on embracing rest, noticing goodness, and celebrating lavishly. Our devotional for the year notes that, "we become more ourselves when we celebrate, rest, and notice... and that looks a lot like flourishing." I LOVE that I can claim it fiercely. That I can take all my pent up anxiety and direct that energy into flourishing instead of floudering. Into activities that refresh me instead of drain me. And MOPS has absolutely been an activity that refreshed me from the inside out.

I'm so grateful to the MOPS ministry for reminding me of God's sovereign rule even as I adjust to this new role of motherhood. I looked forward to every single meeting, when I knew I would be able to rest in the presence of other adults and feel cared for. It has meant the world to me, and I'm so excited for next year!

*MOPS stands for Mothers of Preschoolers, but is actually available to anyone with children under the age of 5. I wish I'd joined when Noah was a baby!

**See Hebrews 10, 1 Thessalonians 5, Deuteronomy 7, 1 Corinthians 1

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mother's Day

What a funny holiday. I feel like I'm still in the new mom trenches enough to be learning the weight this job carries, and I'm hardly able to vocalize my gratitude to my mom, who did this x 4!

As for my own little family, it's been fun to start new traditions. Ross has been really good about utilizing my favorite love language (words of affirmation) to cheer me on and refuel my mothering tank. I love that. I love learning to accept compliments and grace, even though I have plenty more failures than successes in this parenting gig. I love that it's a new holiday for us, and not fraught with the pitfalls and failures and dashed hopes that have come with past birthdays and anniversaries.

I love the HILARIOUSLY excited face Noah made when he got to help me eat gluten-free donuts in bed this morning. I love the equally excited face he made when I opened the gift he made for me in Parent's Day Out. (And I really love the sweet photo album his teachers put together.)

I will say, though, one emotion caught me by surprise this year: sadness. Our pastor at church prayed for "all the moms who lost babies this year," and I found myself fighting tears for the rest of the day. Everyone's story is deeply personal, but the more time passes, the more comfortable I am sharing mine.

We miscarried a baby in the winter of 2009 and it took me a long time to grieve that loss. I finally started to process it a year before we got pregnant with Noah, and I spent the majority of the first trimester with him so anxious about every little thing going wrong.

Carrying and delivering Noah was a delight, and life with him is a grand adventure, to say the least! We got pregnant again last fall, and experienced a lot of highs and lows in the short 3 weeks between the first positive pregnancy test and the subsequent abrupt loss.

Among all my worries about having two kids under two, postpartum depression, pelvic pain... the one that didn't really cross my mind was fear of losing this baby. I was bigger and sicker than I ever was with Noah, and I guess I took his eventual full-term pregnancy for granted because I was genuinely shocked when I woke up one morning in October to signs of a miscarriage.

But even there, I found love. I was surprised and humbled by the support and care I received for a life that was so short. It meant the world to me. I grieved a lot of the milestones that come with the first 20 weeks. Since this baby's due date was so close to Noah's, I would be caught unaware with memories of announcing our pregnancy at Thanksgiving, feeling him kick for the first time on Christmas, and finding out we were having a boy during Restaurant Week and celebrating with a steak dinner.

But as the holidays ebbed away, so too, it seemed, did my grief. I noticed a quiet stillness in my heart. Welcome after months of panic attacks and sleepless nights and prolonged postpartum pain.

As spring comes, again catching me unaware is the memories of the burgeoning belly, the baby showers, the anticipation, the Braxton-Hicks. And I find myself mourning the loss of the baby even as I see God's lovingkindness woven throughout this baby's whole story. In wisdom and hindsight and what can only be Divine Intervention, I'm often filled with gratitude for a good, good Father.  Most days I'm well aware that God is a better parent than I will ever be, and that two of our babies are living in the presence of Goodness and Light and that's okay. I'm even happy about that, actually! But as we approach this little one's due date, the sorrow is creeping back in. Noah has legit baby FEVER and points them out everywhere. He asks for his friends all day long and I know he would love the company of an impending arrival.

But even here, on the days I'm frankly quite overwhelmed with Noah's sheer TODDLER-ness, I find comfort in knowing that maybe God knew I wasn't ready for two just yet. And yeah, there's a lot of guilt that comes with that comfort. It's not that I'm glad we miscarried. Not at all. But I'm glad God cares for me and knows what I need.

And I'm so very grateful that he made me a mother.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

When Acute Becomes Chronic

I've been thinking a lot lately about self. As in, two years later and I'm still not myself. In a grand sense, I'm so very grateful. To remain unchanged after becoming a mother is unfathomable. I don't necessarily miss the self who was a little more "put together" with plucked eyebrows and painted toenails and daily quiet time (okay, I miss the daily quiet time). But let's be honest, I've always been pretty low-maintenance when it comes to exterior perks and that's okay.

I haven't been the same since I had my son. I love him infinitely. He makes me smile like nobody's business-- far more than anything else makes me smile these days. But it's not fair or possible to draw my light from him all day every day. I cry to the Lord, and He hears me-- He's molding my heart to be more like His-- but He's not healing me the way I want. Physically, emotionally, mentally, I'm not myself anymore. It doesn't feel fair to my son, to my husband, to my family and friends, to me... for me to be... not me.

Even my future self, the one I see at the other end of this chain of lights, the one I draw toward me one or two bulbs at a time, on a good day, remains ever far away.

I miss the part of me that had inner vibrance. Some spontaneous, uninitiated joie de vivre, at least sometimes. I get glimpses of her, when I'm clear-minded enough to hold a thoughtful conversation. When I'm spilling over with words that need to find a page. When I have energy to move my body.

I wouldn't say I'm depressed. My counselor concurs, as does my paradoxical response to numerous anti-depressants and anti-anxiolytics. Dare I say? I'm sick. I don't look nearly as sick as I did a year ago, and my level of pain is decreased by at least 80% on a good day compared to this time last year. Once or twice a month, I can muster up a "real" workout and enjoy the adrenaline rush immensely, even though I pay for it for the next 5-7 days. I can have a good "normal" weekend from time to time, but it's always followed by a truly horrible week.

I can't help but feel like I've fallen into the doughnut hole. Of course, there's the political one, where health insurance (which I'm so very grateful to have) only skims the surface when the doctors who are willing to step out on a limb charge by the hour, and don't file with insurance. (Because when you're sick and overwhelmed, it's no big deal to collect paperwork and navigate insurance bureaucracy, right?!)

But this is the doughnut hole where I fear acute becomes chronic. The one where you sense very few people still take you seriously. The one where you doubt yourself, even as your gut tells you, there's more out there! This cannot and will not be how you feel forever!

How long do you have to be a shell of yourself to call it chronic fatigue? I know it has to be long enough and low enough to bring you to a point where you're willing to admit this is a real thing, even though it terrifies you to your Just Do It core.

As a healthcare provider, do I respect my clients enough when they bare their "please tell me I'm not crazy" secrets? As a patient, is it worth staying up late to write a narrative of the last two years for a doctor who may or may not want to read it?

At what point is it optimism to get my hopes up that maybe this next doctor knows that how I feel is real, and at what point is it foolishness?

At what point is is helpful to cut out this food or add that supplement, and at what point does the trying and failing do more harm than good? The kind of harm that makes you feel like this is all your fault even though surely you just drew the short straw. (And how long does it take these dang expensive vitamins to work, anyway?!)

At what point, I wonder. At what point does acute become chronic?

See also: these fascinating essays on women and pain.

See also: the genius spoon theory.