Thursday, October 24, 2013

embracing the possibility. {on miscarriage, fear, and faith}

"no more kids during grad school!"

i think i've spoken those words more than a hundred (or a thousand?) times since 2009.  i look back on the year leah was born, and if i could draw a timeline of my life, that space would have tiny grey clouds hovering over it, with intermittent downpours of rain.  emotionally i disappeared.  it was a tough one, and i lost myself, not emerging from the gray-ness of it for quite a while.

"no more kids during grad school!"

was what i used as my platform, until the day when two pink lines surprisingly showed up without my wishing for them.  and i was terrified, but accepted what was and tried to smile.  following those pink lines came the pregnancy with what felt like unending months of nausea and unable-to-keep-my-head-up exhaustion followed by a house whose underbelly possessed mold that made my children and i beg for mercy as they vomited and i coughed up blood.

"no more kids during grad school!"

i continued to say, though the months with newborn june are some of the most precious i have ever encountered thus far.  i consider her my Gift for living through the most physically taxing year and not succumbing to negativity when i could feel it pulling from all sides to take me under.

"no more kids during grad school!"

i say this now still, and with fervor as we know our future for the next year or two is so muddled and unclear.  not only that, but one important thing has been missing:  the desire for another.  but, this is normal for me.

i have been content from the beginning--if we only had caleb, i would be content.  only caleb and leah, i would be content.  and now with the three, i feel the same, completely content if this is our family unit.  my problem is that my lack of desire is not necessarily an indicator as to whether or not having another child is what is best, because i'm certain that my fear (of pregnancy, labor, colic, and lonely days and nights shouldering most of the responsibility on my own, and another little body to tend to, just in general) is partially what brings about my contentedness.

and yet.

months ago, i knew something was off.  i felt strange--more drained than i was used to, more sore.  i didn't take a test because i didn't want to know.  it feels awful to type those words, and i'm worried who might be offended but i want to write honestly.  so, i waited.  two more weeks went by and i still refused to make anything official.

then, during one week that was already overflowing in stress, i felt it.  pain in my abdomen that doubled me over.  sitting, standing, or laying, i could not find relief.  i don't take a lot of medicine normally, but was unable to function or perform just the daily activities, so i took something, but even that didn't provide relief from the pain.  this went on for 2 days, accompanied with other details of miscarriage i will exclude here.  i didn't say much to anyone, because i hadn't said anything to anyone of the possibility of being pregnant.  only ben and a couple of others knew, and i preferred for it to stay that way.  it was still just an assumption of what was going on.

during that week, i wrote this.  like i mentioned, it was a stressful time.

i think what surprised me most was the feeling of relief.  then, the feeling of guilt piled on top of relief, because what type of person feels relieved about this?  i am surrounded by those who have prayed and would do almost anything to have this, but i am relieved?  

i wrestled with the words selfish and ungrateful, pushing them away with my acknowledgement of the blessing and miracle of life, and of the love i have for my children.  i knew if i could, i would bless everyone who had a desire to have a child with one.  i don't understand why those desires are granted for some and not for others, as much as i didn't understand why the desire was lacking inside of me at this time.

i know others who have felt connected from the start, only weeks or mere days of just knowing.  i have heard them mourn the loss of the connection they loved and had felt so sure of.  with each pregnancy, i struggle to feel any sort of connection--even up until my new baby is placed in my arms. it is then the feeling of an undeniable bond of love from God for this new soul overcomes me and i can't imagine being apart, even for a moment.  but when i'm pregnant, it all feels like a surreal dream or figment of my imagination, and i struggle to feel connected.

this was one of my main purposes for staying silent.  i wasn't sure how to talk about it without sounding cold or callous, though i didn't feel either of those.  i can only describe it as calm acceptance of what is, and the knowledge that my fears of "no more kids during grad school!" had been temporarily washed away.

before my pregnancy with june, and since then, we've been doing what we can on our side of things to prevent.  we jokingly said we were going to name june Three Percent, because those were the odds we had been facing when i held the positive pregnancy test in my hand.  it was obvious to me that i was clearly not in control of this situation, as much as i wanted to be.

last week, i found myself in the same boat.  drained and nauseous, sore and hyper-sensitive to smells.  i was on a work trip, and began counting backwards in weeks, my suspicions mounting.  once the idea was there, i just knew.  there was no denying it.

while i was away i was receiving daily updates from ben about his school situation, regarding whether or not he was going to be allowed to apply for next year's internship.  i could hear in his voice he was devastated and frustrated, and hadn't really wanted to tell him over the phone anyway, so i waited to say anything.

once i was home and he and i were alone to talk, we both tried to wrap our minds around what this meant for our family.  we fell asleep holding hands, a reminder we were in this journey together.

on saturday afternoon, the pain hit, one i had felt once before.  it increased as the sun went down and i lay in bed trying to find a comfortable position.  i told ben about it and saw the worry on his face.  in the middle of the night, i was woken from the pain, and more.  i knew then it was official and lay back down.  the next 24 hours were miserable, and i stayed in bed as much as possible.

after the worst was over, i rose again, ready to face the emotions i expected were awaiting me. but like before, i only felt calm.  ben admitted to me he was sad, that the idea of another sweet little baby turning into a most-likely outspoken toddler turning into an excitable child was something he was looking forward to, though he also knew how difficult it would be.  i agreed with him, the idea of it all sounded wonderful.  it was the getting there that held my heart in the place of fear.

then, i was silently reminded of my theme for 2013, eradicating fear in my life.  if fear is what is holding me back from this opportunity, is it enough of a reason anymore?  this wasn't a new job or a big move, or making myself sing a solo in front of a crowd.  could i really take a leap of faith this big?

i do not know the answers, yet.  i do know i needed to write about these experiences, if only to hold myself accountable--the words a tangible reminder of a promise i made to myself. maybe the beginning of this year was only preparation for getting me to the place at the end of it where i could let down my wall of "no more kids during grad school!"

and instead, embrace the idea of giving up control ruled by fear, leaving me open to beautiful possibilities.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

blooming and fighting.

But I'll still believe though there's cracks you'll see,
When I'm on my knees I'll still believe,
And when I've hit the ground, neither lost nor found,
If you'll believe in me I'll still believe

--Mumford & Sons, "Holland Road"

whew, it's been a while, hasn't it?

life has been a roller coaster the past month, in pretty much every way possible, and i'm not sure where to start--so i guess i just will.

ben's dissertation has (again) taken its sweet time in becoming anything except the back-and-forth of one approval after another, leading to his school giving him a deadline to be officially approved by the court he's working with in texas for his project by this thursday--yes, in two days--or else he will have to wait another year before he can apply for residency.  we have both been so frustrated with this situation that sometimes i feel we might explode with it.  it is so much out of our control and it's difficult to leave our fate in the hands of another.  so, all signs are pointing to another year on hold in arizona, with ben now job-less by the end of november.  we will be floating, waiting.

however, we were talking last night about this and have observed that:

it could be worse.

we're both grateful we moved to the bigger home that provides the ability to stretch out, and have guests while not killing our nearly-empty pocket books.  we are happy and comfortable here, in this home and neighborhood, and feel for the first time we have roots.  neighbors, friends, and schools we know and love.  as much as we want to move forward with school, and finish it for crying out loud, it would be hard on all of us to leave. this has been the longest place we have lived in 11 years.

i just wish so fervently the torture for ben would be over.  because honestly, that is what school has become for him--and consequently, me--and the longer it continues, the further i feel away from that finish line, and i know he feels the same.  i trust it will happen though.  i hope.

we have talked about other options, as far as him going to another school, or just accepting a master's degree and working within it. both of us feel unsettled about those ideas; whether it's because we have come so close that change now would feel like giving up, i'm not sure.  i'm guessing that is part of it, but not all.  there is something bigger in this for us, i feel it in my deep-down squiggly parts that are my compass to tell me what is Truth.  there are things at work here and in this arduous process i do not understand yet, but can sense them.

and so, we have concluded that:

we will continue to bloom where we are planted.  and be happy.

surrendering control is easier here for me than it is for ben.  accepting another year of his idea of a hellish state means battling his demons that whisper "you're just not good enough, and you never will be" which have been his constant companion since 2008.  can you imagine hanging on for that long?  i guess we all do, in some form.  but he is choosing this battle, instead of running from it, like i believe the majority of us would.  he squares his shoulders and walks through those doors every time with decades of memories of being called stupid and lazy that flash before him and nauseate him and attempt to stop him in fear.  somehow he has twisted this to say he is a glutton for punishment--because who in their right mind would choose this?  what dyslexic, attention-deficit, high school drop out would actually attempt a doctoral program?  yet he does, and calls himself insane for it.

but i call him the opposite; the very essence of the word courageous.

i do know that if he gives in, this process of school has the potential to be the undoing of him.  i don't know how he's holding on right now, but he is.  we are.  and somewhere along the past couple of months, our love and bond has become even stronger.  i look at him with so much admiration in my eyes and pray to God there will come a day when that admiration will not just sit on the surface of him, while he sets it aside with the "of course she has to feel that way about me, she's my wife" nonsense.  some day it will pierce through his skin to help him feel what i do--that this world is chock-full of men who are giving into those demons, letting themselves be swallowed whole in shame and self-hatred, or lust or whatever it is that haunts them.  these soul-wrenching decisions that can break apart a family with one moment of letting their guard down.  but he carries on, with weary shoulders and his eyebrows furrowing.  with the tiny, daily choices he makes, he stays on the winning end of the fight.

i'm so proud of him, i get tears in my eyes just typing about it and full-on weep when i let myself really process it.

he (we) will get there.  even if we have to wait another year.  i can feel it.

there is more to write about--from surgeries to miscarriages, to work trips and relationships...but this will have to do for now.

Friday, October 4, 2013

searching for silver, part 2.

{around the campfire, with no idea what was ahead for us}

after stopping for dinner and multiple potty breaks, getting lost, then being pulled over for speeding just outside of city limits (our first-ever warning ticket only! we couldn't believe our luck.)  we pulled into the campsite after dark.  the kids were bursting with excitement, and i found myself joining in as we bundled up in jackets, unpacked the car, and began to set up the tent.

a short while later, we gathered around a big campfire with the other ward members, chatting and roasting marshmallows.  caleb showed up at my side with a cup of hot chocolate in his hands.

"are you doing okay, bud?"  i asked, remembering the last time he drank hot chocolate while he was on the fathers & sons campout with ben just a couple of months ago.  in the middle of the night, he randomly threw up an enormous amount of liquid, covering his entire sleeping bag with a puddle of regurgitated hot chocolate and marshmallows.  it only happened once, so we figured his upset stomach was due to an overdose of sugar.  (throwing up is a common occurrence when caleb has too much many sweets)

"don't worry mom, it's only half a cup," caleb replied confidently.  we talk a lot at home about listening to our bodies and taking care of them and i let go of most of the control so he can feel confident in his decisions--and learn from his own mistakes.

for a couple of hours, things went great. the girls told us they were ready for bed around 9:00, so we set up our sleeping bags and planned on getting the kids to sleep and then joining some of our friends outside of our tents for games.  leah and caleb snuggled into their sleeping bags, laughing and talking for a few minutes before quieting down.  june however, had other plans.  she hadn't had much of a nap that day, and was overly tired and really grouchy.  after an hour she finally lay down beside me on the air mattress.  (yes, i said air mattress.  this is still considered "real camping" in my book.)

the temperature had dropped so much i could see my breath in the air and i put a third pair of flannel pants and another pair of socks on.  i looked across the row of children to find ben already asleep, huddled so far into his sleeping bag all i could see was the top of his forehead.

i settled down and just as i was drifting off to sleep, i heard caleb's voice--in a much higher pitch than normal.

"mom, my stomach hurts.  i think i'm going to throw up!"  his tone was panicky.

i jumped out of my blankets as quickly as i could without disturbing june, and frantically grabbed for the backpack i had stuck several unused garbage bags in its front pocket.  i'm no fool--we've been down this road many times before, and i came prepared.  as one hand was retrieving the garbage bags, the other was smacking ben's sleeping bag by his feet.  he sat up, his eyes squinty and confused.

i loudly whispered, "caleb's gonna barf, get up!" and ben sprang into action.  he helped caleb up while i unzipped the tent for the two of them to walk outside.  i heard caleb begin to retch and knew then, we were in for a long night.  after he had finished, we tried to give him some medicine and only a minute later, he threw that up as well.  even though he had made it in the garbage bags, there was some residual on his shirt and he needed to be changed.  his entire body was trembling from the cold as ben and i worked to quickly switch his clothing.  to warm him up, ben sat down with him in his lap and wrapped a blanket around the both of them.

"i'm so sorry you're sick, buddy," i said softly as i wiped his mouth and nose.  "and i know you're old enough to make your own choices, but i'm just going to go ahead and take the lead with this decision:  you're off of hot chocolate for the next couple of years, okay?"

he nodded with a little smile on his face.

for the next few hours, this is how they sat as caleb continued to vomit.

i was awake the whole time, but laying down across the tent next to june, who continued to stir.  i could tell she was cold, and kept trying to put more layers on her but she would irrationally thrash around and scream when i would try to help her.  the only thing she would let me do was stand and hold her wrapped in a blanket, but would wake back up again if i tried to lay her down her own.  i finally rocked her to sleep, and carefully inched my way to lay back down while still holding her.  i was hoping my body warmth would be enough to keep her comfortable, though by this time i was also trembling.  the blankets on top of us were stiff with cold, and anytime i moved, a breeze of freezing air would chill me to the bone.

i remembered i had brought essential oils, so i motioned to ben where they were and he put them on caleb, speaking calmly and encouragingly to him as he held the garbage bag near his mouth.  a few minutes later, caleb fell into a deep sleep.  ben continued to hold him and hummed songs softly as he waited to make sure caleb was okay.  once he was sure, he slowly laid him down, and climbed back into his sleeping bag.

i hugged myself around the stomach to try to find warmth and closed my eyes to go to sleep, when june woke up again, crying loudly and waking up leah.  she said she was scared, so i told her to climb up on the air mattress, on the other side of me.  she did, bringing all of her belongings with her, and i realized there was not enough room for the three of us and our piles of blankets.  june settled back down, and i tried to find a way to get comfortable, but ended up waking her up again.  this time, she was ticked.  she screamed and yelled something i couldn't understand but was positive it sounded like cursing in toddler language.  she climbed down and tried to walk, immediately falling and becoming even more enraged.  this woke up leah again, who whined loudly, saying she didn't want to sleep by me anymore.

and this was when i had had it.  vomiting children is hard enough on its own.  freezing, and having freezing children is hard enough on its own.  camping with kids is hard enough on its own.  serious sleep deprivation is hard enough on its own.  but combine all of them??  it felt like too much.

delirious with exhaustion, uncontrollably shivering from cold, and extremely frustrated with the situation, at the sound of leah's whines and june's cries (again), i said under my breath, "oh my hellllllllllllllllll,"  and it was from the heart.  then i realized we were surrounded by families from our church who could have heard me, and was embarrassed, but only for a second.  :)

i looked at the clock on my phone.  3:48 am.  i helped leah back to her original sleeping place, while ben picked up june.  i was feeling so done with this night.

then i heard it, ben's soft humming again.  i looked up to see june wrapped in his blanket, as he stood in the tent in only his thermal shirt, pajama pants and socks.  he rocked her patiently, humming several songs.  she quieted down, and he kept rocking.  i looked at my clock once more, 4:13 am.  though i was still shivering, i somehow found a way to finally drift off to sleep....

the morning sun was shining through the red fabric of the tent as i was woken to caleb's frantic pleas.  "mom, i think i'm going to throw up again!"  ben sat up at the same time as i reached for the last garbage bag we had, and held it next to caleb's mouth.  when he was finished, i wiped his face and looked at the time.  6:09 am.

ben scooted closely to me, and looking directly into both of my eyes, said with a serious tone,  "that's IT.  we're outta here."

"oh, THANK YOU!" i replied.  ben turned on the car with the heat blasting, we helped caleb in with the garbage bag, then picked up each of the girls and strapped them into their carseats.  ben told me to stay in the car to help entertain the girls and assist caleb if he needed to be while he began taking down the tent and throwing our belongings into the back of the van with a determination i hadn't seen in a long time.

within 20 minutes, we were ready to go.

we told our friends good-bye, to enjoy the warm breakfast we could smell cooking, and began our 2 1/2 hour drive back home.  within 10 minutes of leaving the campsite, leah announced she needed to go to the bathroom (yet somehow didn't when i had asked her before we left?  anyway.) so we pulled over, took out her travel potty seat and ben helped her.  while of course i took a picture.

i wanted to be in a bad mood--i really did.  it was a long, extremely arduous night.  our optimistic attitudes had definitely been deflated.

instead i forced myself to start searching for the silver lining, because i believe there always is one, in every situation no matter the difficulty.  as i thought through the details of the night, i started forming a mental list:  the vomit was contained--that was a blessing, no one else vomited, we had a car with a working heater to turn on in the morning, there were flushing toilets at the campsite, soon we would be in the comforts of our own home/shower/bed..... but through all of the positive things i could list, one stuck out more significantly to me:

"i want you to know, as awful as that experience was, my love and appreciation for you grew even deeper over the past 24 hours,"  i said aloud to ben.

"oh, really?"  he said with surprise.  "how so?"

"i watched you and was amazed, yet again, at your unending patience--sitting there with caleb and taking care of him while being so close to his vomit, talking to him kindly and keeping him warm.   then with june, doing the same thing when you were so tired, standing and rocking her while she was insane.  your patience never wore out....well, maybe this morning it did.  but in the middle of it all, you were so great at handling it.  i definitely wasn't so fabulous at this, and it made me realize how grateful i am for you.  i have several friends who married men who are not helpful with these things--saying ridiculously that it's the 'woman's job' and checking out.  thank you for not being that kind of a man, or husband, or father."

"well, you're welcome!"  he said with a small laugh.  "sooooooo....does this mean you'll go camping as a family again?"

"are you seriously asking me this right now?  seriously.  so you're delusional then.  NO.  i'm not even entertaining the idea for at least 5-7 years.  i love you, but even love has its limitations,"  i said, and we both laughed.

we happily drove the rest of the way home in the morning sunlight, talking, eating snacks, and realizing that if you search for it, you can always find the silver lining---even after a horrendous overnight camping experience.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

searching for silver, part 1.

{the beginning of the end}

it's no secret that i'm not a fan of camping.

when ben and i were dating seriously, we discussed the fact that i'm a self-proclaimed 'indoor-girl', and i asked if this was something that could potentially damage our bright and shiny possible future.

{side note:  my definition of 'indoor girl' is this:

  • an absolute lover of the outdoors and nature, until it requires me to:
  1. sleep on anything aside from a mattress and box springs.
  2. sleep/eat/live inside four walls made of material that cannot provide protection from inclement weather, dangerous 4-legged predators, or shriek-inducing creepy crawly things (when the enter/exit door is left unzipped, of course)
  3. dig a hole in the wilderness, or hover over a non-flushing, fly-covered latrine, or even worse.... (cue the dry heave) asking me to "pack it out."  for any of you reading who knows what that statement means, i am so sorry.
  4. sleep while sharing the same 100 ft space with my three children (whom i love and adore) because of their severe inability to sleep anywhere unless they're tucked in their own beds.  (and even then, their sleeping habits are extremely questionable)
other than those requirements?  nature and i get along quite well.  there's no place i feel closer to God than when i'm surrounded by the beauty He has created.  i just don't like to sleep, or use the bathroom there.  end of side note.}

ben thought long and hard about my question.  he was not only a self-proclaimed 'outdoor guy,' but he had actually communed with other nomads/hippies/earthlovers by joining in the "rainbow gathering" and accepting this way of life as his own, for a time.  this was who we were when we met in high school... my curly hair, overly-mascaraed eyelashes and show choir uniform vs. his poofy white-boy fro, Grateful Dead tie-dyed t-shirt, frayed jeans and ever-present hacky sack.

i told him i wouldn't stifle his love of sleeping under the stars with dirt in his teeth and the next morning's trail mix near his pillow--he was welcome to go on trips and expeditions when he pleased.  i asked the same of him, to marry me without the thought of changing me, knowing i would prefer always to sleep in a hotel, with flushing toilets and my tube of mascara waiting by the bathroom mirror.

we agreed that our love for each other and immense compatibility in other areas far out-shined this measly indoor girl vs. outdoor guy conundrum.  for the past almost 11 years, this has worked for us.  ben has found male friends and family to go on weekend explorations through slot canyons and steep mountains, while i've found girls who appreciate a night away tucked into egyptian cotton sheets and showering with small tubes of complimentary shampoo.

but then our children grew up, becoming old enough to love the idea of sleeping in a tent and eating fire-roasted marshmallows until their bellies distended with sugary goodness.  

i wrote about the last time we went camping as a family; the sleepless night and flustered morning when i handed 5 month old leah over to a stranger while i made a mad dash for the outhouse before my bladder exploded.  i still remember that moment of panic.

we hadn't been "real" camping as a family since that time, until the ward campout was announced a month ago in church, and immediately the kids begged us to go.  my instincts told me to pretend i didn't hear them, but i looked into their adorable, pleading eyes, then into the chocolate-y brown eyes of their father, and i found myself saying yes.  i knew it would be a sleepless night, but my sense of optimism took over.  i pictured dirty faces, hiking among trees together, sitting around the fire playing games...and convinced myself i could just take a nap the next day.  i wanted to be a good sport, to try again.

in the back of my mind, i knew i didn't want to be someone who always says "no" to things just because i don't love it and know it's going to be a lot of work.  how could i teach my kids to try again and do hard things, if i wasn't willing to?

knowing it was going to be cold, we packed multiple layers for each family member, and left mid-afternoon, ready for our adventure....