Reflections

Today I decided to ride home in the train car where the seats face backward. When I stare out the window, all the world zips past me, racing from my peripheral into my primary field of vision. It’s like being sucked backward in time. I imagine that some invisible force has hooked me round the middle with a shepherd’s hook and is drawing me swiftly through time and space to review some moment of my past. Fields of snow race by. Sometimes I lock eyes with a pedestrian, or the driver of a car on the street which runs parallel to the tracks, impatiently stopped at a light. They are not used to making eye contact with train passengers, these drivers. We are supposed to be racing past the world, not reviewing it as it races past us.

It’s no surprise that I should be feeling reflective. Today, had she been born on her due date, my daughter would be three years old. I was thinking earlier today, about how different I am from who I was one year ago, two years ago… three. My mental health is better than it has ever been. Better than from before I became “mentally ill.” Does that mean I’m “recovered”? *shrug* I stopped caring about that label. I stopped caring about a lot of labels. Refusing to file myself away has been instrumental to my ability to thrive. More on that in the future.

I haven’t written much here because I’m writing a book. Not exactly a super exciting bombshell announcement, and yet – there it is. I’m writing a book. I’m not abandoning my blog, but I am being mindful of what I share here, and what I save for the book.

Anyways, back to Clara. It’s no revelation that grief evolves with time, though I would argue that it isn’t the grief that’s doing the evolving. It is us. It is the way we approach and process our grief. It is the way we push it away or welcome it in. It’s in how we honor our feelings and give up resisting because in resistance we only find struggle. It is in the way we allow our loss to define us, and then it’s in the way we stop doing that. This is where the shift happened for me. 2018 was all about dropping the things I clung to because they defined me. Loss, grief, OCD, mental illness, the need to be “recovered”, health I couldn’t control, anxiety, etc. The list goes on.

Let’s play a game. Find a sheet of paper and a pencil. Now, I want you to list out the personality traits or qualities that would describe the Best Version of You. Not a person you idolize. Not a made up person. If you could still be you, but like a totally evolved and ideal version of you – who is that person?

Okay, now look at your paper – is this how you currently identify and describe yourself?

Why not?

It’s you. That’s who you are. There is no this you and that you. They are all you. Drop the labels you’ve been using and pick up the ones you actually want. Pick up the labels that serve you. Not everyone will like this. I clung to my labels like life preservers in open water. Who would I be if I wasn’t a Mom with OCD? Who would I be if I wasn’t Someone With Mental Illness or A Mom Who Has Lost A Baby? Don’t get me wrong, those are still part of my story. I’m still that person. But I realized that those weren’t the stories I wanted to tell myself every day. I was ready for the next god damn chapter! I want to tell myself about a woman who nurtures positive mental health practices, who knits as a creative expression of love, who takes care of her body and then gets to go off adventuring in it. I want to hear about a mom who is present with her family, who feels tuned in to her children, who enjoys a deep and fulfilling connection with her husband, who spends time building friendships that are deep and lasting. I know that we all have shit days, but I want to be the ideal me who sometimes has a shit day and not the shit me who sometimes has an ideal day.

So, in the year that has passed between when Clara would have turned 2 and then 3, I have evolved around my grief. Some things will never change, of course. Today will always be a day that I feel longing for her. Today will always be a day that feels just a little too empty. There will never be a day that doesn’t hurt a little for her absence. But I have let go of the need for my grief. I welcome it when it needs to be seen, but I don’t seek it when I need something to blame.

Most of all, I know that Clara is watching, and I know that she is proud of her Mommy. I know she always saw past the story I told myself about who I was. I just needed to see it for myself.

Happy Day, my darling girl. Mommy loves you to the moon and back, and no matter what chapter I’m on, I will always be grateful for the parts of my story that include you.

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The Gift of Protest

This Saturday, January 21st, I will join hundreds of thousands of women marching all over the country in protest of our soon-to-be president, Donald Trump.

Like everyone else, I have my own reasons for marching.

It is interesting that the march should fall on the date that it does, because January 21st has very special meaning to me. January 21 was Clara’s due date. Of course, babies can be born many days before or after their due date, but since Clara was not born, I have come to think of January 21st as her birthday.

This year, on January 21st, my daughter would be one year old.

My daughter who died.

My wonderful daughter who died because she was diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly.

My loved and wanted daughter who died because her diagnosis gave us only two options:

Birth her and watch her die

-or-

Undergo a medical procedure known as abortion in order to end the pregnancy (and pain).

We chose the medical procedure.

Trump’s campaign, administration and mere presence in the public spotlight is a threat to women.

Just the other day a man who holds political office, claimed he was “inspired by Trump” and sexually assaulted a woman, grabbing her by the vagina and telling her no one would believe her. Fortunately for the victim, the assault was caught on surveillance video.

Trump, and everything he stands for, is a threat to the rights and well-being of women.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

Trump, and everything he stands for, is a threat to many more than just women. He and his cronies are a threat to people of color, to immigrants, to the LGBTQ community, to our economy, our national security, our healthcare, our rights… you get the idea.

I’m marching on Saturday because Donald Trump is

NOT

MY

PRESIDENT

I do not acknowledge him. I do not hold an ounce of respect for the office while he is in it.

I will resist.

I march because if Donald Trump and his cronies had their way, I would have been forced into a healthcare situation that not only held dangers for me, but which could easily be classified as cruel and unusual punishment.

I march because I will not go quietly back to “when America was great”.

I march because I, the daughter of lesbians, will fight for the right to love.

I march because I have educated myself on our country’s history, I am listening to people of color and I will resist, with my dying breath, the politics and employment of white supremacy that continues to degrade, defile and dispatch the lives of black people.

I march for her.

For Clara.

Happy Day, my darling girl.

Mommy loves you so, so much.

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What We Keep In The Corners

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Tonight my oldest son and my husband went to the Bull’s game, so I did what any person with an ill-formed sense of judgment would do, and took my four-year-old to Chuck E Cheese’s.

In all seriousness, we had a lovely time. I watched Silas kick a much older child’s ass at a snowmobile racing game. The older boy spent the first half of the race taunting my sweet-hearted 4-year-old… and the second half of the game chewing through his bottom lip as my angel formed the older child’s taunts into a laser beam of drive and ambition with which he would calmly destroy all that the older child had ever held dear.

When he emerged, victorious, he simply looked at his nemesis the older child, pure innocence beaming from his little aura, and said “Fanks! That was fun!

Oh yes, he is my child. *evil grin*

ANYWAYS. Before we went to Chuck E Cheese, I took my little date out for dinner to Noodles and Company (his fave). Over pasta, we discussed the various ways that apples can be sliced and the way we like them best (thin slices, but not too thin). We discussed the many merits of Chapstick. We talked about Super Why and Eye of the Tiger. It was during a short discourse on Survivor that he, rather loudly and distinctly, interrupted me by saying, “Mom, it’s sad that my baby sister died.”

You could have heard a noodle drop.

I recovered myself from the land of montage music and replied that yes, it was sad and that it’s okay to feel sad about it. I wasn’t sure what else to say. It isn’t the first time that he has randomly brought up Clara, and it’s evident to me that he’s still working it all out. What struck me, though, was his okayness with the topic. Of course, he is simply too young to know that it is taboo. Too young to consider that talking about it might upset me, but I don’t see this as problematic. Instead, I am in awe of the way he lives his life completely out in the open. There are no dark corners where he hides things deemed too painful to discuss.

I love this about him. I am certainly not known for my lack of candor, but even I have a tendency to hold things close when I think they’re too messy for the world to see. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this and people should never disclose more than makes them comfortable, but I’ve always found comfort in communicating pretty much all. Once you learn to live with the vulnerability which is inevitable with this way of being, it’s pretty damn freeing.

What’s more, I’m proud AF of the fact that we have handled Clara’s loss in a way that Silas feels comfortable bringing it up over buttered noodles in a very public forum. That tells me that despite our unimaginable grief, we have kept our experience with losing Clara from being pushed into the corners. It is not a taboo subject in our home. This not only feels like the healthiest way to handle it with our children, but it feels like the best way to honor her.

We will talk about her. She is part of our family. And, just like I told Silas tonight, it’s totally normal to feel sad about her not being here.

I feel sad about it every day.

But, I also feel happy every single day about having him, and Daddy, and Caiden in my life.

Life is dark and light. It is gains and losses, gratitude and regret.

And while tact and timing are social lessons that he will need to learn, I hope that he can continue to live a life with no dark and dusty corners.

…I also hope he continues to sweetly destroy anyone who tries to knock him down.

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The New Family – When Your Mom Comes Out

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I had the GREAT pleasure to spend some time chatting with Brandie Weikle over at The New Family, and my episode went live today! Have a listen on your commute home tonight and remember

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Listen to the podcast directly on the site, or find them on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and various other platforms!

The Anniversary, An Unexpected Adventure

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Dear Clara,

One year ago today, you were taken from my body.

One year ago today, I said the first of many goodbyes to you. I just can’t seem to stop saying goodbye to you, so often are you on my mind.

The last two weeks have been really hard. Like, trudging through quicksand, next level hard. And it’s no wonder. After all, last Labor Day weekend, we found out that you were a girl. Our first daughter, our sweet Clara. Three days later, we got the call that something appeared to be amiss. One week after that, we found ourselves in the office of a specialist, listening to a diagnosis that felt like it must surely be meant for someone else.

Five days later, you were gone.

It all happened so fast.

A fellow Warrior Mom has been reading a book called The Body Keeps the Score, by Dr.Bessel van der Kolk, which discusses the way that traumatic experiences literally reshape our brain, creating a physical record and replay function of the trauma, over which we have little control. It’s a book I intend to read very soon, but even without having read it, I am able to see just why the last couple of weeks have been so hard.

My body remembers.

My body remembers so well, that I spent the last two weeks fretting myself right into a case of bronchitis which landed me in the ER receiving a breathing treatment and a bag of fluids.

I made it to this day, though, and out of respect for the pain and my own grieving process, I decided to take today off of work. I’d be alone, well except for Milo Dog, and would be able to feel my feelings and let my heart guide me towards what activities would serve me best. Perhaps I would knit and send up a heartbeat for you with every turn of the needles. Perhaps I would take a walk in the woods and listen for you in the leaves, rustling crisply as they give over their supple green to the slowly encroaching Autumn hues and textures. Perhaps I would work on clearing the garden for Fall, pushing my hands into the earth and reminding myself of the oneness of it all, you included.

Parenthood had other ideas.

Silas was up half the night complaining of an earache and a headache. Milo needed to have a behavioral evaluation at a local boarder, so that we can board him for a wedding this weekend, and so my “Self-care Day” slowly turned into something else entirely.

First, I took Silas to the doctor this morning. Thankfully the ear ache is not an infection. Just fluid, likely caused by allergies. So we’re going to stick to the Children’s Claritin and try to make it through the rest of ragweed season without anything turning infected.

Milo’s behavioral visit was fine. We’re going to set him up to spend a full day there sometime this week, just so he can really get acquainted with the place before we leave him for an overnight.

By the time Silas and I left the dog boarder, it was lunch time. Since we had Milo with us, I decided to drive over to St. Charles (a little town on the Fox River that Daddy and I both love) and grab some lunch on a dog-friendly patio.

I ordered a beer. +5 self care points?

While we were waiting for our food, Silas informed me that he needed to pee. Just to recap, Silas is 4, cannot take himself to the bathroom, and we were on a patio with a 70lb velcro dog who does not enjoy being left alone.

I told Silas he needed to hold it. He said he could not.

I texted Daddy to see if he had any ideas. He did not.

Then Silas asked me, in the sweetest voice possible, if he could just pee in his pants.

I picked my heart back up off the pavement, slammed it back into my chest and mustered up the courage to ask our waitress if she would mind sitting with our dog for a few minutes while I took Silas to the bathroom. She very sweetly agreed, so I gave her a handful of treats for him and raced off to the bathroom, grateful for her kindness.

We returned to the table and as we waited for our order, I reflected on the way my day was turning out. Not bad, of course. It hasn’t been a bad day by any means. It’s just been so opposite the somber, introspective, grief stricken day that I had imagined it would be. By contrast, it’s been a day filled with so much life. From lingering bronchitis, to thankfully uneventful pediatrician visits, to dog boarders.  From inconvenient potty requests, to kind strangers, to a craft beer enjoyed under the shade of a towering oak tree, a dog snoozing at my feet and Silas zooming cars around the table top. It has been a wonderful, lively day.

There is, of course, a part of me who hurts immeasurably because you aren’t here to enjoy these days. However, as I sat on that patio, watching the dappled sunlight dance through the oak tree and smelling the first hint of dried leaves on the breeze, it felt as though you were telling me something about what today was really for.

Today wasn’t a day for grief. Today was a day for life. Crazy, messy, silly, happy, LIFE.

I left the waitress a hefty tip, along with a note, explaining how her small kindness had meant the world to a random Mom on a sad day. I then threw nap time windows to the wind, and we decided to visit Daddy at work, since it was just down the street. Why the heck not. Silas is napping now (late, and probably not for very long), and I’m sitting in the library, the room that was to be yours. Really, it is yours, I think it might always be. I’m overcome with the kind of peace and relaxation that only seems to find me in this room, and I’m finally doing something I had planned to do today. I’m writing. The words are just very different than what I expected them to be.

On a day which I expected to think only of death, you filled my heart and mind with appreciation for life, be it mundane or exemplary, or some spectacular mix of both.

Thank you for still teaching me, my Little Moon. I hope you always will.

We are all thinking of you, today and every day, and Mommy loves you, my darling girl.

I love you so very, very much.

Mommy

April Love, Day 6 – Books

This April, I am participating in Susannah Conway’s April Love, a month of love letters. Using her predetermined prompts, I’ll be writing a love letter to an aspect of my life every day (well, maybe) in the month of April. Thanks for tagging along!

Dear Books,

GAH. I love you. You have made possible the exploration of time and the redefinition of reality. You make me smarter. You make me wiser. You entertain. On top of it all, you very often provide a metaphorical refuge, a safe place, when things in life are hard. You let my mind escape the every day.

You provided a literal safe place, after we lost Clara. In those long and empty days, after we said goodbye, my heart broke every single time I passed the room that was to be hers. One day, however, things changed. One day, I looked into that room and didn’t see an unfinished nursery. I looked into that room and I didn’t see my own empty womb. Instead, I saw a library, waiting to be filled. I noticed the perfect way that the morning sun came in through the window, and I thought how sweet a little chair would look tucked into that corner, a place to sit and feel the breeze. My eyes wandered over the wooden floors and trim, across to the solid wooden door and realized that bookshelves, wrapping around the room in a similar tone of wood, would be absolutely intoxicating to my eyes, which so prefer natural, untouched finishes. I imagined filling the room with stories, true and untrue; with history, remembered and revered. I imagined all of my favorite characters coming together in one space, wizards and ladies in waiting, Queens and adventurers. I imagined all of the life that could be poured into that sad little room, by simply filling it with books.

It did not take long before we did just that. A lifelong hoarder of books, I filled the shelves easily after the furniture was purchased. However, the library is not just for me, and so we all brought in our books. Residents of the library are not just the likes of Elizabeth Bennett, Aragorn and Harry Potter, but the Cat in the Hat and Greg Heffley. We’ve got construction truck counting primers, hungry caterpillars and anthropomorphic warrior cats. We have comic books and compendiums, covering everything from The Beatles to Batman.

It is a lively room, indeed.

So, thank you, books. Thank you for being my teacher. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for giving my mind a place to go, while challenging it to be more, do more, see more, and say more. Thank you for bringing life back into a room where I once only saw death.

I will be forever grateful,

Kelly

Capture Your Grief, Day 30 – Reflection

You might have noticed that I’ve been skipping CYG here and there.  I’d apologize, but I’m not really sorry.  My youngest son has been sick on and off for the last 3 weeks and, in addition to  being busy taking care of him, my anxiety has been nearly unbearable. I’ve been taking it one day at a time, and haven’t had a lot of space in my heart for the vulnerability that comes with writing. It’s temporary, though, as you can see. After all, here I am.

We are finishing up the Capture Your Grief writing prompts. Tomorrow’s will be the last one. I’d like to say that I’ve enjoyed them, but the truth is that I sort of, well… didn’t. However, I do think that this series has been important for me. I’m terrible at feeling my feelings, and grief is an especially icky thing to force oneself to examine, but it is for this reason especially, that I have grown from doing this work. I haven’t had any huge breakthroughs, but these prompts have provided a platform for some small, but important revelations, and it is one of those revelations that I want to talk about today.

Last week, or maybe it was the week before… Hell, it could have been yesterday. When your child is sick, all the days just sort of run together. Anyways, at some point in the recent past, I was reflecting on the Capture Your Grief prompts, and how I spent a lot of them actually writing about anxiety. I felt a little like I messed them up, in that respect. I spent too much time thinking about anxiety, and not enough time thinking about grief. Then, it hit me -my anxiety and my grief are so tightly bound that it would be impossible to explore one, without exploring the other.

For example, I’ve recently been telling my therapist how I have had a hard time planning my youngest son’s 4th birthday party and the two reasons that I can come up with are, in a nutshell, Anxiety and Grief.

The first reason, is that both the intrusive and magical thinking which I experience as symptoms of my anxiety are trying to scare me into thinking that we aren’t going to make it to 4. For those of you who do not have anxiety, I just want you to think about that last sentence for a moment, because for a lot of mothers with PPA, this is a common issue/fear. My (perfectly healthy and strong) son’s 4th birthday is not just a given. I have trouble keeping faith that we will make it. In the words I used with my therapist, it feels cocky to believe that we will make it there. It feels arrogant and naive to believe that my son will do what humans do – that he will grow up. This is not me being “grateful for every day”, or “not taking life for granted”. No, no. Those things are great. This is not great. I am full-on paranoid about planning a party, or buying a larger bed, or buying 1 size up in clothing, because I am terrified that it won’t happen, or that it won’t be necessary. As I understand it, this is a pretty textbook example of intrusive thinking and magical thinking combined. Both are classic anxiety symptoms. Either way, it is every bit as awful as it sounds.

The second reason is related to the first, but has a deeper connection to grief. To put it simply, I am afraid to get my hopes up, because I don’t want to be disappointed. My therapist is the one who connected this to grief, and it was not until she discovered this link that I began to see just how intrinsically connected my anxiety and grief are.

You see, when we got pregnant with Clara, I was recovered from my first bout of PPA. I knew that having another baby meant risking another battle with anxiety, but I felt well supported and prepared. Getting pregnant took a lot of courage, and it also meant that I believed it was safe. I believed that it was safe to have another baby. I believed, truly believed, that things would be fine. I had learned to ignore the anxious voice in my brain until it was no more than a breath of a whisper. Being brave in the face of PPA and pregnant again was like hoisting a trophy over my head. I was radiant with victory.

And then we lost her.

It felt like the Universe was putting me back in my place. The disappointment was all-consuming. I felt ashamed for having hoped. I didn’t know it then, but I had begun to associate hope and planning for the future, with loss and disappointment. I had inadvertently connected hope with pain.

So, thanks to my brilliant goddess of a therapist, when I think about planning my son’s birthday party and feel that deep and guttural fear, I understand why. It hasn’t made the fear stop, but understanding why it is happening is the first step in the process of unraveling that connection. This is a perfect example of why I am such a huge proponent of therapy. I don’t think I ever would have made that connection on my own, but when she pointed it out, I felt a shift happen inside of me. I knew that she was uncovering something important. It wasn’t quite an ah-ha moment, but it was something, for sure.

If you are currently suffering from what you suspect might be anxiety or depression, please, please, see my Resources page (you can navigate to it from the teal colored menu, right under the header), and get started on finding a therapist in your area. Therapy saved me from Postpartum Anxiety once before, and it is, one day at a time, giving me my life back.

I’m looking forward to being able to plan for the future again. I know someday I will not be afraid to hope, and I can’t wait for that day to come.

Peace and love to you, friends.