A Grief Continued - Back to Back Miscarriages and Taking Space

Friday, September 27, 2019




It happened again. For the third time we have lost another pregnancy.

This makes two just this summer.

When I had our first miscarriage in between our second and third born children, I believed the whole song and dance of how this is common but it probably won't happen again. I am very good at winning all the wrong lotteries, so leave it to me to beat the odds here.

Grief is a long process, but it is nearly impossible to heal when the traumas keep coming. Factors are different with these two losses that pose their own challenges for healing. A key difference between our first loss and these last two is we are now part of an extremely fertile parish. It's babies and pregnant women everywhere and all the time - including many who share(d) my due window.

When we had our house fire in the early Spring, no one would have put me in a position of having to talk about fires and house renovations at every gathering. Certainly no one would have decided other fire victims would be best to facilitate our healing. Because that's tacky, insensitive, and, to a great extent, illogical.
But that's what we do around pregnancy loss.

When you are living a nightmare, it's extremely hard to relate.
Right now, I don't want to hear your complaints about your perfectly healthy pregnancy when my babies are dead.
I'm not ready to push through my grief for the sake of your joy.
I don't want to see the growing bellies of all the women who would have been pregnant with me. There are zero ways for that to not make me flashback to the losses.

If this is sounding like trauma and raw wounds - it's because it is. This entire summer I have been a living breathing war zone and burial ground.
I wish wearing morning dress was still a thing. At least then I would have a way to externally signal to the world that I'm not ok, handle with care. Instead I look like a mom with three young kids who can totally handle one more thing.

To a great extent, I am bearing it well. I'm getting up every morning. I show up when scheduled. I smile. I joke. I talk about other things. I teach my kids. I handle new projects. I go where I am needed.
But I'm not ok.

"Just because you carry it all so well, doesn't mean it's not heavy."

This is heavy. This has been going on since June 1st, y'all. Yet I, and many of the other people around you silently suffering losses, feel intense pressure to be fine. To be normal. To be recovered.

I don't know about everyone, but I don't recover well without space. Space is something I haven't had much of over the past four months.

This past week, my husband and I took a couples getaway to the North Shore on Lake Superior. This trip had been planned since July, when it became apparent that we needed something to look forward to in this summer of grief. I had no idea it would end up being the week after yet another loss.

It was three days of extremely limited internet and phone access. Spending nearly all day outside. Having time and space with just our marriage.

I came home feeling much more connected with my husband, but so much more averse to pretending with everyone else. Instead of feeling like I could take on reconnecting to the level I was pre-back to back losses, I feel the need to reclaim space.
Grief makes you feel small and insignificant. It makes you recoil and shy away from being "too" anything. It leads you to act like your person is less than everyone else. Not in a virtuous humble way, in a way that doesn't acknowledge your own dignity.

So for at least the next 4 months, the rough amount of time I have spent miscarrying just this year, I am going to reclaim my space. It's time to acknowledge that while my pregnant friends do not mean to make things hard for me, it is hard to be around right now. They didn't ask for that anymore than I asked to be a multiple loss mom, but here we are regardless. I have come to realize it's more spiritually expensive to pretend fine and let resentment build up. Sometimes taking a pause is the option of minimal harm.

Here are the 7 things I wish people knew in this time of prolonged loss and grief.

1. Communication is key. It's a lot of mental and emotional bandwidth to do all the communication from my end. It's incredibly helpful when people reach out and check in, or check their perceptions, without me having to initiate everything myself.

2. Silence isn't a rebuff, it might be a pause. I'm still homeschooling and juggling all kinds of things on my end. I often don't get the time or energy to respond to communications until a break in the day or the week. Be patient with me.

3. See the whole person. I love going to young adult events right now. Not just because they tend to be attended by people unlikely to spring a surprise pregnancy announcement. With young adults, I get asked about myself as a person. Not solely as a mom. It's a blessed break to talk about history, current events, hobbies, or all the many things that are a part of me.

4. I'm still postpartum. There is, rightfully, a huge amount of grace extended to women in the months after giving birth. My body has gone through massive hormonal shifts, surgery, stress, and a whole pile of struggles just like any other postpartum mom. But because I don't have a cute baby to show for it, it is very easy to forget I'm still a person going through a postpartum recovery.

5. Having first trimester losses carries it's own kind of trauma. I have no grave to visit. There are no sonogram pictures of my living babies. The lack of closure there is something that doesn't go away.

6. Grief and loss impacts every part of my life right now. I don't have the reserves to deal with people reacting badly. I have barely written because I can't deal with the trolls and people just having a bad day at me.

7. This isn't forever, but it is my now. I couldn't tell you when it won't physically hurt to be around pregnant women. I wish I knew too.

_________________________

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7QT.  

That Time I Really Looked into Catholic Unschooling - Homeschool Plan 2019-2020

Thursday, August 22, 2019



This summer was hard on our family. Between the longest miscarriage ever, surprise ovarian surgery, solo parenting stints, and recovering from the house fire last spring - it felt like life just kept coming back for more blood. Getting ready to start our school year, and the first homeschooling year with two kids in for-realsies grades, I felt overwhelmed, burned out, and done. And I hadn't even started yet.

It was clear that something needed to change. I responded to that need in proper nerd fashion: looking into all the options - be they weird, fringe, or otherwise out of my norm. Catholic unschooling came across my rader, and for the first time I actually considered it's merits.

To be clear, we are not actually going all in on unschooling. We are still using the structure and curriculum choices through Mother of Divine Grace. However, it made since to re-assess how we went about implementing MODG using some of the things that can be learned from unschooling families.

Some ideas I came across I was not ok with accepting, but there were others that resonated with me.

Skill subjects vs. content subjects

While I knew the distinction of skill subjects and content subjects from my own experience as a homeschooled kid, I realized I wasn't acting the distinction that well in my practice of homeschooling my own children.

Some subjects work well most of the time with consistent daily practice that follows a logical sequence - these are the skill subjects. Math is an obvious one, but others like grammar, spelling, music theory, art, languages have at least parts of their study that are skill based.

Other subjects are about acquiring content knowledge. At least the early grades of science, history, some literature, art, geography are all content subjects. These are subjects that are perhaps best done with what I call guided exploration. Our studies for science, history, some geography, and lots of arts and literature, are being approached with less structured school time. Instead we grow and explore together a wide variety of topics in those subjects based one what the kids, or I, are interested in learning. That means lots of documentaries, field trips, experiments, library trips, and learning alongside my children.

When We School

In order to implement that unschooling exploratory style, an essential ingredient is needed - time. There has to be time for ideas to grow and percolate. Time for field trips. Time for talking and being with each other so that I, as their teacher and parent, can understand where their interest might be leading and how I can best facilitate their growth.

Which means we have shifted almost all of our book time to be after lunch, leaving the mornings open. This is the most likely time we have for getting out of the house, and finding the energy that exploratory learning involves. Since my oldest is just 2nd grade, this isn't too terribly difficult to do. Even when you consider additional reading practice, his work Monday through Thursday takes about two hours, max.

Shifting to afternoon lessons is important for another aspect of family functioning:

What to do with the active toddler

When we schooled mostly in the morning, the toddler was her worst self. She wasn't getting to play with her siblings as much, she was only happy drawing or doing other activities for about 20 minutes, and school was taking longer for the big kids due to the incessant interruptions.

So now we are mostly doing book work during her nap time.
The mornings with exploratory learning are much easier to include her in our learning. She gets lots of active time and loving on by everyone. That time of learning alongside each other, and investment into our family culture first, makes a huge different in everyone's attitude.

Book work goes much faster when I'm not cajoling anyone to "just get it done". Everyone from the quality time loving kids to my very touchy kids have had their love tanks filled.

But what about the book list?

This unschooling/homeschooling mashup is doable right now in large part because we were starting from a curriculum that emphasizes the parent/child connection and flexibility between kids. When you are starting from a place of guiding the child through the good, true, and beautiful, it is simple to take advantage of the multiple roads available for that journey.

We still use the reading list as our starting point, but end up reading far beyond it.
I still find the choices for math curriculum, handwriting, and other skill subjects to work for us.
But I needed to break up my mental idea that I was married to those choices.

So far I have had kids that have widely different places of struggle and ease when it comes to their learning. Embracing that sometimes what you need is fine tuning, instead of a wholesale do over, has been very freeing this year.

Are you changing things up this year? What have you done to make your days better when circumstances change?

So Why Don't You Have a Library Card?

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


I have been shocked to learn how many adults in my community don't have a library card. There is this odd assumption that libraries are great when you're a kid, but there's not much to offer to the busy adult.

Besides the fact that I think reading is an absolutely necessary part of exercising our gift of mind, libraries have grown well beyond the place that holds some books.

Here is just a sampling of the unconventional ways my own library system benefits adults.

1 Databases galore

JSTOR is back in my life, y'all! Many libraries subscribe to databases and online resources that are a hidden gold mine. Our library system includes databases of professional dance performances, the National Geographic library back to 1888, and Theater in Video.

2 Museum and performance passes

Free or heavily discounted passes to museums and performances are becoming a more common library offering. We've been to the California Academy of Sciences, Lawrence Hall of Science, and Oakland Museum of California for free when we lived in the Bay Area. Our library in Minnesota includes passes to local theaters, symphony, nature sites, and museums. These are often for 2 people so you can bring a friend!

3 Scripts and scores

Sorting for Printed Music gives me over 50,000 music scores in my immediate county library system alone. They're not just musicals and classical pieces - Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Mumford & Sons, and Fleetwood Mac are in there too. Practicing your instrument (or learning one) just got a lot more appealing.
Scripts are a common find too. They include play scripts, screen plays, and radio plays. No need to wait for your local theaters to finally put on a play you've been wanting to see! Yes, it's not the same as a staged version, but reading plays is another wonderful way to tap into the legacy of storytelling.

4 Craft classes

I can learn a lot from YouTube, but Youtube can't look at my work, troubleshoot it, and give me the materials - all for free. In the past year I've learned needle felting and crochet via free library craft classes. Jewelry making, ribbon embroidery, and weaving in the round are other classes I've seen.
Many libraries offer knitting clubs, crafternoon (yes that's a real thing), and other gatherings where you can work and learn from others.

5 Audio books

When I'm in heavy audition seasons and driving alllll the time, free audio books from the library are my jam. My library uses the Libby app. From there I can browse, check out, and return all from my phone. If I happen to hate the voice of the reader, or am just not into the book, I don't feel bad for returning it early. It was free!

6 Historic Documents and records

History resources at the library are not just for genealogists anymore (though there are still a lot of offerings for family history research.) I was able to download a high resolution map showing my house from 1874 directly from the library website. Historic photography collections are available there. Many local historic societies are digitizing their collections, and making them available to the library.
My favorite odd history find is the collection of historic menus. Hundreds of menus from local restaurants dating from 1880s to the 1970s. In theory I could re-create the Christmas menu of the Curtis Hotel from 1933. Knowledge is power.

7 Book club kits

Maybe you want to try out a book club, but don't know what to pick, write questions, or commit to everyone buying a book. The library has your back! Many offer book club kits. These are a set of 8-10 copies of a single title that check out for 6 weeks. Most come with questions and other resources for your group. Having a neighborhood book club has never been easier.


Resources that I have seen in other libraries include: puzzle exchange, author talks, and 3D printer access. Libraries have grown well beyond book browsing and toddler storytime.

What's something cool that your library offers? Do you have a library card yet? Why or why not?

**************
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Missing Out?

Tuesday, July 23, 2019




It's summer, for now.

It's marching on to back to school time.

It feels a little like the world is sailing by, and maybe, just maybe, you feel like you missed out.

This feeling probably comes up a lot. Sometimes in little ways - sneaking in via your friend's vacation photos or sitting silently in a discussion of the latest TV show/movie/book you haven't seen or read.
Sometimes it's in big ways. The pregnancy announcements that pop up after yet another negative test. The supportive/non-destructive in-laws your friends have that just aren't in the cards for you.

Well meaning friends and family try to tell you that "your time will come" or "it will happen for you."
Let's be honest here, it might not.

That life ideal that you are hoping and dreaming and working toward? It might not happen. At least not in the way you initially pictured.

It's a fine line between accepting the reality that your dream might not happen and wallowing in it. It's so easy to think "why bother?" if your goal might be unattainable.

I'm completely guilty of this too. Back in May I was thinking I would be wrapping up my show toward the end of June. Then it would be an open summer of family fun, weekend adventures, and time to catch up with all the friends I haven't seen over the past many months of theater work. I would be showing more in my pregnancy by then, so theater auditions for the late summer and fall were off the table.

Then I started bleeding on June 1st. Suddenly all those plans I made around the assumption there would be prenatal appointments, a 20 week scan, and a kicking baby, died.

Then six weeks later it still wasn't over. Last week I had to have a D&C anyway (which makes my miscarriage longer than the time I was pregnant by more than two weeks, y'all.)
They found a badly behaved ovarian cystic tumor too. Thankfully benign.
But that surgery means I will have officially been miscarrying and recovering the entire summer. I'm not allowed to go in lakes or pools. I can't train at the level I need to in order to get back out on the audition circuit.

It is so stinking easy to wallow. To hate what my life is this summer. To be frustrated with God. To desire desperately to know why.
But none of that will change my fantastically unlucky roll of the biological dice.

So instead I'm trying to do what I can.
I can't train my body, but I can train my mind. The library is my favorite online shopping.
I can't swim or do any summer water sports, but I can visit the lake and enjoy it anyway.
I'm not traveling anywhere, but I can make myself a fun new cocktail and have a little porch vacation after kids are in bed.

I don't have much agency over my body right now, but I can do many other things. There are still things to learn, people to meet, dreams to have, and hopes to nurture.

Find what you can do out of where you are right now. Your friends aren't having a great summer at you, but they might not know how to be with you. Grow your base of interests and reach out from there.
Don't hate unfollow because the comparison struggle runs deep. See if there is a gem of an idea you can use from that person.
Live your life on the margins of what you think is possible. No one gets stronger from playing it safe and familiar.

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How to Self-Help Without the Self-Loathing

Monday, June 24, 2019




We've all heard it. The how-I-became-a-better-person story in every self-help genre book. It normally starts with a tale of woe about how awful they were, how not enough, how behind, and how horrible the world was for them.
Maybe it's true, maybe some people have to hit their own rock bottom before making a change. But every time I read these stories I wonder how much more encouraging they would be if the self-loathing wasn't such an integral starting point?

Like what would happen if women (because let's be real, that's the typical target audience of these stories) could hear story after story of people making a change in their life out of a place of acceptance?
What if instead of fad dieting, in its many forms, we ate food for nourishment and in connection with other people?
Couldn't there be balance in our activities?
Making a change out of a desire to grow, instead of a desire to run away from our now-selves?

I think what's missing from most of the writing of self-help authors is a knowledge of the goodness and inherent dignity of each person. They're missing God.
Which isn't to say they don't respect the people they are writing for - clearly they think we are capable of becoming more than what we are. They just miss the point where without an understanding of the humanity end game, it's very hard to travel to that destination.

Most self help books fail to answer why we should want become what the author is proposing. Yes, sometimes it's wrapped up in studies showing why we should make this change, but those are often less convincing when investigated. Too often the author is arguing we should remake ourselves in their own image.

I have a favorite quote from St. Anthony of Padua on the subject - yes the guy you pray to to help you find lost stuff.  Many don't know that St. Anthony was a prolific writer, and we still have many of his homilies and talks. He has a beautiful perspective on how to approach becoming our best selves:

"Do you want to have God always in your mind? Be just as he made you to be. Do not go seeking another ‘you’. Do not make yourself otherwise than he made you. Then you will always have God in mind."

Oh how wonderfully freeing! 

What St. Anthony gets, and most self-help books don't, is in order to become our truest selves we must have a complete understanding of reality. An understanding of truth that leads us to see ourselves completely and fully as who we are. We have to seek ourselves to seek God, and seek God as we seek ourselves.

That means we can't buy someone else's prepackaged wellness religion. We can't shut off whole parts of ourselves. It often means leading a very different life from our friends and loved ones.

But we get something so much better.

We get to love others without the comparison, envy, and eventually hatred that comes from loathing ourselves. 
We get to take perfection out of its oppressive, perverted, usage and reclaim it for it's truth - that seeking perfection is seeking God who is perfect. 
We can take all of the anxiety and worry and pressures we have heaped on our shoulders, and notice that it's never been our burden. That was never meant to be there.
We are meant for love, we are meant for God, and we are meant to be who were created to be.

Thankfully, God is patient. He lets it be a process. I have all the leeway in the world to get frustrated, angry, and just done with trying. He lets me be sorry. He lets me stand up and try again. He's infinitely patient, infinitely good.

Seeking his path and truth is the image I want to discover in myself. It does take work. It does take effort. It sometimes looks like getting my butt to the gym and eating well. It does mean making time to read and continuing to nurture my mind. But that only stays helpful if I am seeking the me God sees. Because I am already who he loves - this isn't about making myself good enough for God. It's about learning to see myself in God's truth.

That's real self-help.

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

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How I Do Grief + Blogging Thoughts

Friday, June 14, 2019



1

I have a particular need to do something meaningful, or tackle a project that has been forgotten, when I'm grieving a loss. Really any loss, but especially a death.
It's why my house looks oddly clean for someone morning her child.
And why you are likely to find the entire contents of a closet or drawer on the kitchen table while I re-organize spaces that have bugged me for months.

When things are happening that are not in my control, it helps to make my surroundings just a little better.

2

If not apparent from the above, I'm awful at resting.
I'm a slow physical healer and I know the need to rest is a thing for promoting better healing. But I hate it. I hate feeling like my body can't let me live my life.
So I bribe myself....

3
With books!
But not fiction. For some reason I have a decided distaste for most fiction, and it gets bad in grief times. When there is so much to process, and so many things I can never know or understand, I love me some thick history books. 
History is knowable, verifiable, and enlightening for the present. Understanding a little more about something beyond my own grief is what lets me be ok laying in bed when I'm supposed to do so.

4

Tea is amazing.
I still love my coffee, but for some reason Earl Grey tea has been my jam during this time. Hot drinks, even in summer, remains an important tool for reminding myself to pause.

5

Then there's writing.
I do keep a bullet journal and do some writing processing that way, but this time around I haven't been as inclined to write about it on the blog. I know the words might come eventually, but I'm deciding it's also ok to not share everything with the internet (as lovely as y'all are.)

6

Speaking of the blog, Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum wrote about blogging as a side hustle vs. leisure as her 7 Quick Takes today. If you can't tell by the fact that I'm still a proud blogspot.com URL user in 2019, this is not a side hustle blog. 
Growing the blog was never about getting well known, getting my writing out there, making money, or launching a career (which is good because I'd say most of that has not happened.) I've always written this blog hoping to reach just one person who needed to hear it. Just to let one person know they were not the only person on this Earth who shares their struggle, concern, or perspective. Just let one person not feel so alone.
"Grow enough to reach the one" is basically what I do around here.

7

I did have a goal to participate in community better, perhaps via the blog, back when this all started in 2015. Sometimes I forget how successful the internet has been in that regard.
Going through another miscarriage has brought that reminder.
Far away internet friends have sent cards and restaurant gift cards. I've relied on books written by fellow bloggers to help me through this. Priest friends read the update and offered prayers and liturgies for our baby.

Over the years there have been conference meet ups, skill shares, Facebook groups, and messaging friends I only know from the internet when I happen to be traveling through their town to ask them to get coffee. It can sometimes be weird to be so invested in people I've never met in person, but thank you to all the people who have said yes to hanging out with me. 
Thanks to the mighty few who have been readers since the beginning. 
The ones who keep coming back even when I float away from speaking to your specific season of life. Thanks for riding on this journey with me.

**********

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The Power of the True Story

Tuesday, June 11, 2019



Have you ever considered how many stories were instrumental in shaping your family, neighborhood, environment, and your personal experience? How many of those stories left their mark but were not told to you?

The families that have lived in your home before you.
The parishioners who built your church.
The long gone loved ones who changed the people who raised you.

In the true story, the lived story, there are true surprises. Little details can really surprise the main characters.
I'm an awful theater person when watching a play or movie. I'm always on the look out for the whys. In a scene that has been edited, work shopped, rehearsed, and choreographed - nothing happens without a reason. It's nearly always possible for me to get a scene or two ahead in the story just by paying attention to the little details.

But in real life those little details have unforeseeable and lasting consequences. They can't always be anticipated even by the most observant person.

Those little, personal, details manage to speak to seemingly unrelated stories. The story of the mom going through chemotherapy while homeschooling her kids can speak deeply to the story of the mom experiencing Hyperemesis Gravidarum with young children at home. Yes, their experiences are not identical, but both are going through a time of intense life change that is largely outside of their ability to control. There are multiple subjects within their stories that ARE shared: coping strategies, emotional and physical care coordination, keeping kids busy when you have intense needs.

The true story remains true, even when the specifics diverge. That means the story of a person who looks radically different from me can still speak to my life and struggles.

How cool is that?!

Once you start to gain an appreciation for the true story, it becomes a lot harder to shut people out. Because all of those people can now potentially speak to your story, despite what appears to be polar opposite situations. No longer can you compare the checklist of external identifiers to determine if this person has anything to share that will speak to your life. It makes telling these true stories, discovering the personal side of history and society, an extremely powerful tool for building empathy and entering into communion with each other.

Telling a story is not just about the subject of the story - it also tells a lot about the storyteller. I am not going to tell a story in exactly the same way as you might. Different aspects will speak strongly to me that might not have even been noticeable to you. The aspects of a story that I choose to highlight say a lot about what I see as important and how I view the subject of the story. When I write about a priest who was murdered by the KKK or a woman who became a modern day anchoress, I'm not trying to write the most accurate story possible (even though everything is accurate to the best of my knowledge), I am writing to convey something I find important within this person's life story.

The historical is personal, for history is made up of the story of persons. It lets us practice seeing the trials and surprises of life in a bigger context. In the context of the human story.

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

Some updates.

I have LOVED writing the Cool Historic Catholics of America series. But I don't know if y'all have noticed, but it's going to take a looooooong time to release all 51 stories via blog posts. Even with doing 3-4 at a time. Like over a year long.
Before starting to write this series, I did identify someone for each of the 50 states plus Washington DC. If your state hasn't come up yet, I DO have someone for you.
I want to finish telling you some of the stories of Catholics and the Catholic story in the US, but I am going to pause and rethink how best to do that. Stay tuned!

***

If you follow me on Facebook or especially Instagram you have probably heard that we recently lost our baby (and that pregnancy announcement was the last thing I published on this blog). Recovery is very long and slow, and it's going to be a little touch and go for a bit here. I am still active and writing when I am up to it. If you're interested in updates, most of those will probably be on Instagram and sometimes Facebook.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out, prayed, showed up. Just all of it. Thank you.
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