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

Capture Your Grief, Days 10 & 11 – Words & A Glow In The Woods

Hey everyone!  Sorry for my absence yesterday, except not really, because the truth is that I needed to take care of me yesterday, and well, today too. So today’s post is not only going to be a combo, but a shortish one. I love you guys, and I love talking with you, but I have needed some self-care from places other than my laptop for these last couple days, and so I’m just popping by to share a little, and then retreating back to my blanket fort.

I’m going to use my words (see what I did there? meh. yeah, it’s a writing prompt cop out) to explain what’s been going on, and then tell you about what helps me to heal.

So, what’s been going on is that my anxiety has been in full force for about 5 days now. It has been exhausting. There have been tears. There have been near panic attacks, brought down only with the aid of Xanax. It hasn’t been pretty. My therapist and I did some work trying to figure out what set all this off, and I think we uncovered some helpful info, which is actually contributing to a blog post that I’m working on, to be posted on a later date. However, this has largely just been a setback, plain and simple. It has been frustrating, because I was feeling as though I was making progress in therapy, so to slide back so drastically has been very discouraging, but I am trying to keep my head held high.

The “Glow in the Woods” prompt is actually a reference to a grief resource that Carly Marie (the creator of these prompts), found helpful. Glow in the Woods is a website for bereaved parents. Truthfully, I haven’t visited the site. Since I am battling anxiety as well as processing my grief, I’m nervous to go read anything that deals with the loss of children. I believe it will likely be triggering for me, and so I am staying away. My therapist is nodding her head in approval right now.

However, I do want to share with you some things that have helped me, both in processing my grief AND in managing my anxiety. I will list them, in no particular order below:

  • Xanax. Okay, this one is in a particular order. Honestly, it’s probably helped me the most in keeping anxiety from ruling my life these last few months. I promise the rest of this list is in random order, though.
  • ASMR– Okay, so, a bunch of you are probably about to think that I am crazy, but some of you will either already know what this is, or thank me for the rest of your lives for introducing you to it. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and rather than go into long detail explaining it, I am going to link you to some helpful information and share my favorite ASMR artist with you (p.s. – the sound in that video is binaural, so I recommend using headphones). If it does nothing for you, your brain may just not be susceptible to ASMR, and that’s cool. If it relaxes you or mesmerizes you like woahyou’re welcome.
  • This blog. This space has been an amazing source of healing for my grief. Sharing my experience with others is a balm for pain like no other.
  • My therapist(s). I started with one therapist, who originally diagnosed my PPA. She helped me dig my way out of the trenches the first time I battled this monster, and it is because of her that I know there is an end in sight. However, I am now seeing her colleague, because my new, current therapist is trained in EMDR, which is a trauma recovery therapy technique that we have not yet attempted, but have been laying the groundwork for. We haven’t really had a chance to give it a shot, because I’ve been on and off in crisis mode. Eventually though, we’re gonna give it a go! Even without beginning EMDR, my new therapist is just as great a fit for me as her colleague was. With a mixture of compassion, humor and Real Talk, she is able to say exactly what I need to hear, when I need to hear it. My ah-ha moments have been 100% based on things that she has said, my decision to take the medication which is currently making my life functional was bolstered by her encouragement, and my grief, which I tend to keep locked in a box inside a cellar which is also locked, bricked over and has a lovely garden planted on top, is now slowly beginning to come out, be observed and is beginning to heal, all because of her gentle pushing and well-leveled patience. Not trying to kiss any butts here, but my therapist is awesome and if you are currently battling PPA, PPD or any other mood disorder or unhappiness, I highly recommend you locate a therapist, post haste.
  • Self-Care. Obviously, this includes my meds. It took me a while to realize that was obvious, but it is. Meds. In addition to that, sleep. Also, seems like it should be obvious… but it’s not always. As for the rest, do what makes you feel restored. It can change, day to day, but take a moment and ask yourself “What do I need?”. This is an amazing, and huge article on self care. Peruse it, bookmark it, keep coming back to it. I’ll be honest, I suck at self-care. I am so busy “doing” that I often forget to stop and check in with myself. Today though, I rocked the self care. Just during nap time today I, gave myself a manicure, drank a cup of tea while reading my book in the library and ate a bowl of honey nut cheerios for a snack. See?  A+ self-care today. This was especially made possible by my excellent husband who cleaned most of the house yesterday, paving the way for me to have a day where I didn’t feel like self-care meant slacking on house-care. Speaking of that wonderful man…
  • My husband. He cleans, he cooks (well, sometimes), he holds me when I have panic attacks and reminds me to take my medicine. I married the best one, sorry ladies. Whether you have an amazing partner, an amazing best friend, or an amazing parent, I think it’s important to have someone who you can confide in. Someone who can be available when things are not so great, and who can celebrate with you when things are excellent. If you’re feeling isolated, a great place to start can be a support group. I’ve linked to PPD support groups, but there are support groups for just about anything and lots of info about where to find them online. If you don’t need a support group per say, Meetup.com can be another great place to meet like-minded individuals and make new friends. Hopefully this goes without saying, but if you’re meeting internet people, please make sure you use good judgement and meet only in public places. There are great people on the internet, and I’ve made a lot of real-life friends that way, but there are not so great people, too. Be smart and safe.

Well, as usual, I am long winded and my “short” post is anything but. Oh well. Hopefully you find something helpful here and I’ll try to be back tomorrow with another Capture Your Grief post, but if I’m not, you’ll understand, and I’ll appreciate you for it!

Lots of love to you.

Capture Your Grief, Day 9 – Family

We are very fortunate, in that my husband and I have remarkable families. Even better, all of our immediate family lives in the same state as us, with many of them just down the street. What this means is that, when things happen, we have a support network to fall into, and with the events of last year, we indeed fell.

When we received our diagnosis and made the decision to end our pregnancy, our family rallied. Trips were cancelled, days off were scheduled, meals were cooked, shoulders were available for crying, phone lines were tied up and everyone made themselves available for either comfort or counsel, often both. We do not take this blessing lightly. My husband and I are both very aware of our good fortune in the relationships we enjoy with our parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. We both know, through loss or estrangement, what it feels like to be without family, and it makes us all the more grateful for these beautiful people who jumped in to catch us when we fell. We would not have made it through our loss without them.

Whoever your family, whether they be by blood or by choice, take a moment today to thank them for being in your life. We all need people to catch us when we fall.

 

Capture Your Grief, Day 8 – Wish List

Today’s post is going to be brief, because bloggy things are afoot. In the spirit of Wish List, I’ll be pretty transparent about what I’m up to and why I’m doing it.

I created this blog because I wanted to use my pain and experience to help other women heal. I wanted to help other parents, mothers especially, know that whether they are battling Postpartum Anxiety or Depression or navigating grief after a devastating loss, they are not alone.

I wanted to create a sanctuary for these women, and add my voice to the community of amazing people who are already hard at work bringing visibility to and removing stigma from postpartum mood disorders and parental grief.

So, as this blog, and its readership, has grown, I have been asking myself what I can do, to continue this forward momentum. I have been thinking of ways that I can broaden our reach, and spread our message, experience and love further, and further.

The most obvious answer has been that it is time to upgrade this blog. It is time for a tune up!  So, I have been hard at work, learning some techie things that I need to learn and making some moves in the background, in an effort to get this space ready for the future.

I’m not ready to unveil it yet, but it is in the works, and you’ll know when it’s ready!

Sending you love and peace, my friends.

 

Capture Your Grief, Day 7 – Memory

I almost opened this post by saying something about not really knowing Clara, since we had to say goodbye to her before she was born, until I realized that this isn’t true at all. I knew her well, as I believe most pregnant women know their unborn children. This sensation, this powerful, primal connection before birth, is difficult to articulate. The best I can do is to describe it as both instinctual and spiritual. We shared a body, she and I. My womb served as her sanctuary in life, and in death. Oh yes, I knew her.

It is strange then, to think that this little person, who has impacted my life so profoundly, occupies very few actual memories in my mind. There is one, though, that stands out.

It was the day that we found out that her ventricles were enlarged. The day we were alerted that there may be a problem, but before we had our actual diagnosis. Before we knew how bad it all was. I had spent the entire day navigating the red tape labyrinth of our health insurance, and was emotionally and physically exhausted. Unfortunately, when parents are distraught we are rarely afforded the luxury of appearing so. Not wanting to scare my children, I came home from work that day and promptly asked my husband if he would hold down the fort so I could take a bath. He, of course, agreed and so I quickly kissed heads and removed myself to the bathroom.

I went to the bathroom to cry. I went to the bathroom because I needed to turn on the vent and run the tub as loudly as possible, so I could cry unreservedly. I disrobed and eased myself into the warm tub, releasing my muscles and with them, a shuddering sob. I held my swollen belly and cried to her. I told her that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but that I loved her. I sang Bob Marley to her, and in the process, tried to make myself believe that every little thing would be alright. I, though not a religious person at all, begged God to make it all okay. If there is anyone up there, pulling the strings, I begged them. I begged them until my throat was sore.

Eventually, spent of my pleading and reassurances to Clara, I sat naked, hunch-backed and bent over my belly, in the now cold and near-to-overflowing tub, pulled the stopper and sobbed, “My baby. My baby. My baby.” until I was shivering and both I and the tub were drained.

Heart wrenching as this memory may be, it also holds some peace for me. In this moment, I was Her Mother. I was not a woman with a devastating diagnosis. I was not a writer with a tough story and a penchant for sharing it.

In that moment, I was Clara’s Mother.

Capture Your Grief, Day 6 – Books

The room that was to be Clara’s nursery, a small little bedroom, right at the end of the hallway in our house, was transformed in to a home library after we lost her. Pretty quickly after we lost her, in fact. Her empty room, situated as it was, made walking down the hallway a somber affair. Barren and grey, it just loomed, if a room can do such a thing.

Over the course of a few days we transformed it, and the effect was immediate. A doorway which previously haunted me, became one of my favorite vignettes in our home. Beyond being pleasing to the eye, it offered a practical storage solution for the piles of books that were slowly taking over at our house. This is about to be the hipsteriest thing I have ever said, but I had actual vintage suitcases full of books in my craft room. I know. Despite the way it sounds, this was not some kind of quaint decorating statement, but rather a practical and strategic use of what once served as decoration at mine and my husband’s wedding, well actually vow renewal, but that is a story for another day. Anyways, we used the vintage suitcases as a card box. Thanks Pinterest, and yes, that is an actual photo from our day. The point is, I am not a charming decorating maven so much as I am just someone who sees vessels and fills them with books.

Anyways, I was able to unpack all my “charming” vintage suitcases,  unpile my teetering towers of tales (sorry, got a little swept up in the alliteration, there), and give all of our books proper homes among the shelves in the new library. We even brought in the kids’ books (to be honest, their collections rival my own when one considers the age:quantity of books ratio), so everyone’s books are all in one place. The room makes me so happy. As icing on the cake, we decided to put my husband’s various guitars in the library, as well (we plan to use wall mount hardware to hang them as functional art), making it, truly, a place for every single one of us.

Now, when I walk down the hallway, it no longer looms. It is no longer barren. Its somber tune has played out. Where once sat, framed, my sorrow and grief, I now see a picture of warmth.

Capture Your Grief, Day 5 – Empathy

Today’s prompt suggested that I write about what not to say to a bereaved parent, but I just can’t bring myself to.  Of course, people have said some pretty ridiculous (and sometimes hurtful) things since we lost Clara, but I have mostly been able to give them the benefit of the doubt. I know that they mean well, most of them at least. So, instead of talking about the empathy we expect from other people, I want to talk about the empathy we can provide to them.

I know this sounds crazy. I mean, I am saying that, as part of your grief process, you should show empathy to others rather than expect them to show it to you. But, hear me out!

People don’t know what to say when you are grieving. One of my co-workers recently lost his father and, on his first day back in the office, I said “Hi! How are you?” Moments later, I was horrified at my own insensitivity and beating myself up for such a ridiculous question. Particularly since I have been traveling my own grief journey since last Fall!  How could I ask him that?! The next time I saw him, I apologized for asking such a stupid question by saying “I am sorry. Earlier today I asked you a very stupid question. I would like to retract my original question and instead say ‘Hi. I am so glad to see you. I hope you are doing okay and finding peace.” Being the good-natured (and forgiving) guy that he is, he graciously accepted my apology and brushed off my embarrassment. It was humbling, however, to realize that, given all my recent experience, I could still be so insensitive to another’s grief.

He had the good grace to show me empathy, even after my woefully thoughtless display. I feel like I had already been doing a pretty good job at doing the same for others, when someone said something stupid in regards to our loss, but being on the other side really highlighted the importance of giving others grace.

I think the large majority of my readers are people who have experienced loss, or are currently suffering from a mood disorder or mental illness, rather than folks who would be talking to people like us. So, instead of trying to tell them what not to say, I’m going to tell you that they will say it. They will say all the stupid things. They will be flippant. They will be discombobulated. They will say “Hi! How are you?” Most of them mean well. They really do. They just don’t know the right thing to say. And really, is there a “right” thing to say, anyways?

So, give them grace. I promise that doing so will always feel better than giving them anger or hurt. You won’t get it right every time, but do try. Try to give them grace.

Peace and love to you, friends.

Capture Your Grief, Day 4 – Dark + Light

I am lucky, in that this experience has been my first with grief. In my adult life, I have been fortunate enough to not have lost anyone close to me. What this has meant, however, is that I am inexperienced in dealing with the many faces of grief, and I am often surprised by the way it impacts me.

Dark: One of the most frustrating things that grief has done to me, is that it has robbed me of my ability to do. I have always been a multi-tasker, an accomplisher of things. Since losing Clara, I struggle every single day to get things done. Grief has simply robbed me of my focus.

Light: That said, never in my life have I been more grateful. There is nothing like grief to make you wildly thankful for what you have.

Dark: Grief has been like laying out a welcome mat for my anxiety to return. After we lost Clara, I braced myself. I knew that I was experiencing something that was likely to incite my anxiety, and so I was not surprised when it came thundering back into my life.

Light: Grief has created an opportunity for me to help others. By owning and sharing my story in this space, I hope to help other parents who are in a similar situation. Whether they have lost a pregnancy or child, battle a postpartum mood disorder, or just need a reminder that sometimes life is messy, and that’s okay.

It is easy to recognize the dark sides of grief, but being able to see the light in grief is a fairly recent discovery for me. It has been refreshing to realize its existence, and I look forward to finding more of the light.