Capture Your Grief, Day 20 – Forgiveness + Humanity

What a perfect prompt for the day that registration opens for the 2016 Climb Out Of The Darkness!  Today’s prompt is all about forgiving and finding the best in humanity. I can think of no better way to honor it than this:

Forgiveness

Dear Kelly,

I forgive you.

I forgive you for all the nights spent pacing the living room in tears for no reason other than that you were terrified for, well… no reason.

I forgive you for the times that you resented that sweet baby boy because he was hungry, and you were tired. SO TIRED.

I forgive you for being afraid of walking over concrete surfaces. I’m so sorry that you had to live with the tiny horror movies that played in your mind which caused that fear in the first place. It sucks, but I’m sure glad we can go on sidewalks again.

I forgive you for hiding the fear. I understand that it was a scary thing to experience and an even harder thing to own up to. I know why you hid it for so long. It’s okay.

I forgive you for letting the anxiety build to a point where you were impossible to be around. The tension that seemed to emanate from you was probably the vibe equivalent of smelly lines on a drawing of feet. People weren’t very keen on being around that, and I forgive you for it.

I forgive you for having trouble imagining the future. Anxiety is a thieving scumbag and the first thing it steals from you is hope. We’re going to get there, but it’s okay if the future is kind of scary right now.

I forgive you for sometimes being overprotective with the kids. You have an anxiety disorder, girl, it’s understandable. You usually find a pretty good balance and they are certainly living full and awesome lives. You don’t stifle them, so what if you’re not the parent who can handle them doing physically risky things. Let’s just hope they don’t grow up to be stuntmen.

I forgive you for the OCD ticks you developed. I know it’s embarrassing, but it’s not altogether surprising. Plus, I’m super proud that you didn’t hide that stuff when it started cropping up. The second you realized what was happening, you brought it up in therapy. That took guts, girl. Good for you.

I forgive you for the times you have anxiety about taking anxiety medication. It’s kind of funny if you think about it… but usually only after you’ve taken your medication.

While we’re on that topic, I forgive you for having anxiety about having anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but you are putting in the work and I know you can get through this. Hell, you are going way beyond putting in the work, you are straight up noisy about this stuff, and I’m proud of you for it!

I forgive you, for all of it.

Keep climbing.

Kelly

Humanity

To all you Mamas out there who have or have been through a postpartum mood disorder, I’m talking to you.

I see you, and it’s okay.

But don’t take my word for it, take a moment to forgive yourself today. See what comes out.

Once you’ve done that, head on over to Postpartum Progress’ Climb Out of the Darkness page and find a climb near you. On June 18, the longest day of 2016, we will join together to shine light on maternal mental illness. Come out and meet other moms who have walked in your shoes. Let’s continue to drive momentum towards better, more accessible mental health screening and mental healthcare for mothers everywhere. Let’s Climb Out of the Darkness.

If you are in the Chicago area, I will be at my local climb with my family, and I would love to meet you!  I’ll be wearing a Motherhood Misfit t-shirt and would be delighted if you stopped me to say hello!! If you can’t join a hike, but still want to donate to the cause, please use this link to make a donation.

Here’s to you, Mama!  Here’s to Us!

Print

Drumroll Please…

Introducing…

Motherhood Misfit!

That’s right!  As you may have noticed, we’re undergoing a bit of a makeover here at the space formerly known as Grief to Growth. A total makeover, as a matter of fact!  The entirety of this makeover isn’t complete yet (I have some more fun stuff in the works), but the name change is officially in effect!

So, why the change? Well, in keeping up with the momentum that has been happening here on the blog, I thought it was time to purchase a proper domain and tweak the identity to better match what is actually happening in this space. While this blog was born out of my grief, the content is not limited to that topic. In fact, all kinds of things come up on this blog- Whether you are a mom with a postpartum mood disorder, navigating grief, parenting after bereavement, or you’re just plain marching to the beat of a different drummer, we’re all misfits around here!

If you’ve been here from the start, thanks for sticking around!  You won’t notice anything different in content. It’s still the same old me, writing about the same old stuff!  If you type in the old address, it will automatically redirect you here. You will notice some visual and aesthetic improvements happening here and there, and some other fun things will be rolled out in the near future, but the heart of the blog is still the same.

One final note – some people may associate the term “misfit” with a negative connotation, but that is definitely not how I see it. My “misfit” qualities and interests are what have allowed me to meet and connect with the most important and impactful people in my life. When misfits get together, it’s a powerful thing.

Sending all you misfits some serious love. Thanks for being along for this crazy ride!

P.S. – I hope you all don’t mind, but I skipped today’s Capture Your Grief prompt, in order to be able to roll out the name change today.

 

 

Capture Your Grief, Day 18 – Seasons + Symbols

Little Moon

Once, I held the moon inside me
In my womb, it grew
Not twinkling stars, nor blazing sun
It was the moon, I knew

A little lunar lovely
To call our very own
But bad news came a-knocking
Into chaos, lives were thrown

I held my moon, my baby
In the quiet of my womb
My arms never knew her
But, in my heart, she has a room

These things, they do happen
And no one can say why
I know one thing for certain, though
The Moon can never die

She was just too big for life on Earth,
As any moon might be
So back into the sky she flew
To shine over you and me

I love you, Little Moon.

 

Capture Your Grief, Day 17 – Secondary Losses

In the United States, Spina Bifida affects approximately 1 in 1000 pregnancies. This incidence doesn’t sound as rare as one might think, but it is important to note that in many of these cases, the baby will have Spina Bifida Occulta, which is the least severe form of Spina Bifida, and generally causes no complications or symptoms. So, of that number, incidence of Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele, which is the most severe form of Spina Bifida and the one that Clara was diagnosed with, rates are lower. Furthermore, many cases of Spina Bifida are related to larger genetic disorders, such as Trisomy 18 (Edwards Syndrome). In our case, blood work showed no such genetic disorders, meaning that our specific case of Spina Bifida was likely just a simple physical mutation. A fluke.

You might say we were just unlucky.

To that, I would reply “No shit.”

What this unluckiness means, however, is that something terrible, rather unlikely and somewhat rare happened to one of my children. This sentence is important because it is comprised of all of my worst, most anxious nightmares.

Before we lost Clara, my anxiety disorder was under control. After going undiagnosed for 2.5 years, I had finally gotten myself to a great therapist and had been working hard, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to get back to living my life without the shadow of paralyzing fear.

Losing Clara, and the reality of it being to a generally unlikely cause, was like rolling out a red carpet for my anxiety to return. Most of the work that I had been doing in therapy was reinforcing the improbability of my fears. I was convincing myself of the irrationality of it all. The problem is that when you conquer anxiety by convincing yourself that your fears are unlikely, and are then confronted by an unlikely nightmare coming true, well, it’s easy to see how I very quickly lost control of my mood disorder.

The way that my anxiety works, is that I am, and have been since the day he was born, absolutely terrified of losing my youngest son. Every cough, every fever, every bumped head is enough to set me into a tail spin of fear about what might be happening that I cannot see, and cannot control. I am terrified of lurking, undiagnosed illness. I am paralyzed by thoughts of the unknown future. In fact, I have a very difficult time dreaming of my son’s future, because I have trouble trusting that it will be full of wonderful things and not certain doom. I know. It’s awful. One of the techniques I am using to combat this fear of the unknown future, was given to me by my mother, who had the exact same problem when I was a child.

SCIENCE BREAKMood disorders such as Anxiety and Depression are generally thought to have a hereditary link, and people with parents or siblings who suffer from them have a much higher likelihood of experiencing Anxiety and Depression themselves. What’s more, researchers at Johns Hopkins conducted a small study a few years ago which uncovered that when specific alterations are present during pregnancy within two particular genes, they were able to reliably predict that a woman would develop postpartum depression. We still have a lot to learn, but one thing that this does tell us is that if your mother experienced a postpartum mood disorder, such as PPD or PPA, you are more likely to develop one yourself. This isn’t a doom and gloom message, though, because what this knowledge does is empower you and your doctors to be on the lookout for symptoms of postpartum mood disorders. When you are aware of a possible genetic pre-disposition, you can catch the signs faster and begin treatment sooner! Knowledge is power!

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post…

Anyways, my mother told me that she used to practice a specific meditation when I was young, which helped her to cope with the fear of losing me. She simply imagined me as an old woman. She would close her eyes and imagine what I might look like as a grandmother. She imagined what I might sound like, and what things I might like to do. It sounds simple, but it’s not!  So far, I have only been able to imagine my youngest son as a middle aged man. I have been slowly aging him in my mind, however, and eventually I am sure that I will be able to picture every wrinkle on his face. For the time being, I imagine him as a 30 something, with 2 kids and a loving partner. My son is obsessed with baseball and does seem to have a bit of natural talent, so I like to imagine him as a professional baseball player. A pitcher, specifically. Sometimes, I close my eyes and imagine that my husband and I are at one of his games, sitting down the 3rd base line, with both of his children, our grandchildren, in tow. His children have white-blonde hair, just like my son, and in my mind we are joined by his wife (though I’d be delighted with a Son-in-Law, too and don’t mean to assign a sexual orientation to him, I just keep seeing a female partner), whom I love and get along with grandly. Sitting just above the dugout, we are, the five of us, cheering him on as he approaches the mound, fit and strong and gorgeous as the day he was born.

I can picture this so easily, and the more I practice, the closer I get at being able to imagine him as an old man. This technique helps more than simply working to convince myself that my fears are unlikely. That argument has rather lost its potency after our experience with Spina Bifida. Instead, I am teaching myself to trust that the future holds wonderful things for this child, my beautiful youngest son.

So, while I may have lost control of my anxiety after losing Clara to Spina Bifida, I am working hard to regain the upper hand.

Play ball!

Capture Your Grief, Day 16 – Creative Grief

I don’t usually draft what I am going to write before I write it. Maybe that’s a bad thing. I do edit, a little, but my work here in this space is largely unpolished. Again, maybe that’s a bad thing. However, one thing that does happen, when you write like this, is vulnerability. My writing is not perfectly structured. It’s not professionally edited. I write the way I think, and the way I talk, so what we end up with is a conversation, and I quite like that. You’re getting me, just as I am. You’re getting unfiltered thoughts and emotions, a soul and heart laid bare.

This is a two way street, though, because while you get a peek inside, I get to let some things out. Since I don’t usually outline in advance what I’m going to write, I don’t know what’s going to come out until my fingers hit the keyboard. In this way, writing becomes a form of processing for me, and I didn’t realize how much I needed to process creatively, until I started doing it again.

For a short while, I was doing some freelance writing on the side. I took small writing jobs and spent my evenings and weekends working on blog content for travel websites and small businesses, some copy for a clothing catalog, that kind of thing. For a wordsmith, it was an easy way to earn some extra bucks. I did it for a few months, made a decent chunk of change and then abruptly stopped after having a job where I was asked to write a persuasive post, in favor of hair implant surgery. Yep. Hair implant surgery.

Now, I am all about people doing whatever makes their skirt fly up, so long as it doesn’t harm you, or anyone else, but I have a hard time encouraging people towards any kind of cosmetic surgery because, well, I believe that you’re fabulous darling, just how you are! That said, if you think you need hair implants to be your best self, then like, go for it dude, but I’m not going to be the one who tells you that you need them. Needless to say, I had a hard time writing the post. I did it, but I do recall inserting a line which encouraged the reader to not succumb to societal pressure or antiquated beauty ideals… they probably didn’t end up using my work. Heh.

By taking this freelance writing work, I thought that I was scratching a creative itch. It wasn’t until the hair implant piece that I realized I wasn’t scratching anything. Instead, I was wasting my time (and my talent, maybe?) writing about stuff that I didn’t care about. I was making pretty sentences for someone else, when what I really needed was to make pretty sentences for me.

This blog is the result of that realization. After we lost Clara, I realized that I had a lot of emotion just under the surface. Feelings and thoughts seemed to slip in and out of my consciousness, but I just couldn’t grab ahold of them. Navigating my days was like climbing across a water bed, I just couldn’t seem to steady myself. I turned to writing at the suggestion of one of my therapists, who already knew that it was a favored creative outlet of mine. I started by writing a few tepid lines of, I don’t know, poetry? I scribbled them in an old and dusty moleskin journal that had been sitting, unused, in my craft room. Immediately, I felt relief. The next day, I sat in the library, with the window open, and wrote some more. Again, relief.

About a week later, having spent some time thinking about the best way that I could tap writing as a method of healing, I opened my laptop, created this blog, and wrote Clara’s Story. It was a game changer. Putting our story down allowed me to process the trauma and pain in a way that I had been unable to before. In addition to that, it rocketed me into all these new communities of people; bereaved mothers, women who have had terminated pregnancy for medical reasons, postpartum anxiety survivors, mommy bloggers, and so much more. With one post, I pretty much obliterated the isolation I had been drowning in. And that was before I even had any readers!

Since that time, this blog has been slowly transforming into an incredible, and incredibly diverse, community of people joining together to read and share. We find solace in our commonalities, we find comfort in not being alone in our pain and struggle. We find inspiration in the encouragement and kindness of each other, and we take one day at a time, but we take them together.

Thank you for allowing me this space to creatively process. Thank you for your comments and your kindness. Thank you, thank you, for helping me to do away with that pesky, damn water bed.

Sending you love, and hard, steady surfaces.

Capture Your Grief, Day 15- Wave of Light/Perserverance/MEH

How’s that for a blog post title? Here’s the thing, I have to be honest, I haven’t been feeling these writing prompts. Have you been able to tell? I hope not, but probably you have. The fault does not lie with the person who created them. I think the problem is that I have a really hard time with grief. I have felt really connected and inspired a couple of times over the last 15 days, but that’s it. For the most part, I feel like I have been phoning these posts in. I’m sorry about that.

On top of it all, my youngest son has been sick for nearly 2 weeks (strep and scarlet fever, and then a virus caught on top of that). He is on the mend, but it’s been distracting and upsetting. Illness and injury, particularly when they affect my youngest son, are my biggest anxiety triggers. I have been tense. I have not been sleeping well. I have been trying to self-care… and failing at it.

These prompts are important though, because I am bad at grief. They give me the space to feel my feelings, if only I will take it. I haven’t been taking it very much. I just haven’t been able to.

A few weeks ago, a dear friend sent me a gift of these affirmation cards. I love them and have pulled one every day since we received them, even taking them all the way to California with me when we went on a short vacation in January. Tonight, as I was dawdling, knowing I needed to sit down and work on today’s post, but not really wanting to, I pulled the card pictured above.

Touché, Universe, touché.

So, I am going to take a hint and stick with these prompts, even though some may fall flat. There is something valuable in exploring my grief, and I don’t want to miss out on that.

Love to you all.

.

Capture Your Grief, Day 14 – Express Your Heart

I have an interesting confession for you. I never really thought about having children when I was younger. I was not one of those girls who always knew or hoped she would have children. I did not babysit. I did not take Home Economics in school. I was an only child, and nearly the youngest of all of my cousins (which are not many to begin with). I never disliked children, I just never gave the idea of having children a particularly great quantity of thought.

How funny then, that Mother would be one of the words which I hold on to most dearly, when examining my own identity. My own journey in first becoming a step-mother, having a child of my own and then losing my unborn daughter have been defining moments of my life. Where once I was a girl who never thought about becoming a mother, I am now a Step-Mother, Biological Mother and Bereaved Mother. I am a mother, thrice over. I am a woman who writes about being a mother. I am a woman who gets on stages and speaks about being a mother. I am a woman who uses my own experiences to advocate for other mothers.

Mothers are my people.

It is rather cliché to say, but you just never know where life will take you. Something never considered, could one day become defining.

Here’s to staying open to whatever may come, friends.

 

Capture Your Grief, Day 13 – Regrets + Triggers

I have spoken before about triggers on this blog, and about how I believe that, ultimately, my triggers are my responsibility. A goal that I have for myself is to reach a point in my grief, and especially in the management of my anxiety, where being exposed to one of my triggers does not cause a week-long downward spiral and recovery backslide. I do not want to live in a world where conversations are policed by trigger warnings, and people walk on eggshells during conversations with me. I want to be equipped with the kind of coping mechanisms that allow me to face my triggers and forge ahead. This is especially important considering that one of my biggest anxiety triggers is my youngest son being sick or injured. Clearly, I cannot navigate life as the Mother of this beautiful, rambunctious human without being faced with him catching the odd cold or without the occasional bump or scrape. Even as I write this, right now, I can feel my heart rate beginning to pick up pace. I detect a slight tremor in my hands on the keyboard. My intellectual mind is working hard to push away thoughts like:

“You are talking about him and illness. Now he is going to become terminally ill.”
“Just the very mention of him and illness virtually guarantees that he will become ill.”
“You know he will. You know it”

You guys, seriously. My brain is an asshole sometimes. The truth is that my youngest son is going to get sick from time to time. He is, at this very moment, battling strep throat (and on antibiotics) and a cold or virus of some sort (which we are heading back to the doctor in the morning for). I have to be able to function when things like this happen. I have to be able to take a deep breath and Mom. So, yes, I have triggers. I have anxiety triggers, I have grief triggers and they are often very different. My therapist and I have spent some time addressing some of the ones which I am aware of, in an effort to inform my intellectual brain, so that it has ammo when anxiety comes-a-knockin’. As new ones crop up, as I am sure they will, we will continue this process of recognizing, examining, understanding and undermining.

As for regrets, while I am certainly not perfect at living a life free of regret, my honest opinion is that they serve little purpose in your life and so I will let Edith Piaf answer that one for me.

Peace and love to you, friends.

Capture Your Grief, Day 12 – Normalizing Grief

There is nothing like experiencing loss to get you really thinking about death. I have shared before, on this blog, something that I do when I am afraid of dying, but in the spirit of today’s CYG prompt, I want to tell you another little thing I have up my sleeve, which sometimes helps me to cope with the grief that I feel for Clara, as well as my own fears and hang ups about dying. It’s rather simple, but I find it to be very effective.

I simply think about all the people who have died already. Not just like, anybody, but People. Poets, artists, thinkers, writers, doctors, inventors. I think about Jane Austen, she’s dead. I think about Albert Einstein, he’s dead. I think about Socrates, dead. I think about Joan of Arc, she’s dead. I think about Nikola Tesla, he’s dead, too. It helps to think of people whom I admire, or who have contributed to humanity in some way. The reason that part is important is because there is something comforting about knowing that all of these great and talented people succumbed to the same fate in the end… they all died. Death is the great equalizer.

Now, my religious beliefs are aligned somewhere akin to a shoulder shrug, so I may struggle with the fear of my own death more so than someone who has beliefs about what will happen to them when they pass on. I think whatever religion you subscribe to is 100% wonderful, so long as it doesn’t harm you or anyone else in any way. So, by all means, if your religious or spiritual belief system comes with some information about what happens when we die, lean on that! However, my spiritual beliefs are rather lacking in that arena. I’d not describe myself as an atheist, but probably as an agnostic. That term is widely overused, but it really is the closest way I know how to describe my very non-concrete spiritual beliefs. That said, since I don’t have a pre-set definition of what is going to happen to me when I die, I find a lot of comfort in thinking about these other people who have passed. It is almost, I don’t know, fun? That’s the wrong word, but there is something diverting in exploring the idea of meeting Clara in the after life. Or of seeing my Mamaw again. Grief and death are tough, but they are two things, on a very short list, which connect us all as humans. They level the playing field.

So, I don’t know what is going to happen when I die, but whatever it is, Jane Austen is going to be there, and I am pretty sure we’re gonna be besties.

“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience; or give it a more fascinating name:  call it hope.” – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park