Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grief, Sapphires and Shooting Up

Last week I found myself sneaking up the stairs to the second floor bathroom of the building in which our large group meeting with InterVarsity takes place each week. In my hand I held a small, zippered pouched filled with, I am not kidding, drugs and needles. Worried that an overzealous student or security guard might decide to answer the call of nature while I was in the middle of administering said drugs, I figured the second floor was safer than the first. The last thing I need is to be written up in the paper the next day by a media that dearly loves catching us religious folks in all kinds of tom-foolery. "Campus Minister Discovered With Needle and Drugs: Investigation into Campus Activities to Follow, Dean Says."

But there I was, belly bared, alcohol swab at-the-ready and needle glistening in the likely unhygienic glare of the flourescent lightbulbs. And I laughed.  I couldn't help myself. And I thought to myself, "Now, how did I ever get to this point in life? What the heck? I'm hiding out in a dirty bathroom, injecting myself with drugs and in near hysterical laughter over the whole thing." No doubt I was very lucky that no one did walk in.

So, how did I get here, actually? Well, I chalk it all up to the process of grief. A few months ago I got fed up with my sadness. Fed up with feeling like I wasn't over my miscarriage, that I hadn't moved on. After all, it was over a year and a half ago. I should be healed, I should be well, I shouldn't think about it all the time. Last fall, my sabbatical director had suggested I think about some counseling to help. I had shrugged it off. While I was more than happy to tell other people I thought counseling was great, the thought of getting some myself was just terrifying. However, after many more months of frustratio and sadness and after getting a little flyer in the mail in June that offered free counseling at our church, I signed up. Couldn't hurt, right?

So, here I am about 6 weeks after it started. The first thing I learned is that I'm not "over it" because I never actually grieved. Turns out it's not a passive process. You'd think I know this- I've said it enough times to others. I've told people to take their time, to grieve well, to let themselves feel something and talk about it. And after being asked how I felt about the whole thing multiple times, I've come away with the very strong realization  that I don't know how to express my feelings about any of it (Enter two helpful handouts with words like sad, frustrated and numb to help me choose). Seriously, I have had to look at a piece of paper to figure out how to express an actual emotion.

Now I'm showing up every week and trying to use feeling words and not thinking words, which is no small feat for me. I'm trying to talk to people outside of that time who can walk with me through it. I'm trying not to feel annoyed at myself that I'm not over it, to give myself the room to grieve that I never gave myself two winters ago.  And you know what? It's not as terrifying as I thought. I'm not dissolving into uncontrollable sobs that prevent me from functioning as a human for the rest of the day. The risks I've taken in sharing have turned out well. And my newest risk, buying a (very tiny!) sapphire necklace to commemorate the baby I'll never meet, who would've been born in September '09? Well, I find myself reaching for it a few times a day and rather than it reminding me of my sadness, I have been infused with comfort and hope, that it's okay to move on, that it's okay to hope for a new baby not to heal myself and replace that other child, but just for the sake of getting to know that new little person for who he or she will be.

In the midst of all this, my doctor suggested going on a drug regimen for my infertility that included multiple days of injections that had to take place between 6 and 8 pm. Hence, the lugging of earlier stated materials to campus.  At first, I panicked. I thought, "this costs money, there's nothing wrong with me, we'll just keep waiting." And as I began to think through all the reasons why I haven't grieved well, not the least of which is that I hate getting help from anyone, I realized here was yet another opportunity to move forward. To admit that for some reason my body won't do this on its own right now and that it's alright to get a little help from the medical profession. That it's perfectly acceptable and, indeed, beneficial to need other people. 

Well, friends, it looks like I'm on my grief journey. Finally. Not that the last 20 months haven't been part of it. In fact, I think God was doing a lot in my heart through those months of denial to prepare me for this point. I needed to come to a place where it was a good thing to ask for help and where asking for help is leading to hope.

So, I'm taking each day one step at a time, letting myself talk about the grief with actual people, occasionally reaching up to touch my unborn child's birthstone and hoping against hope that I don't get caught shooting up on campus. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Navigating Mom World (and why sometimes I'd rather do it sans other moms)

A friend of mine recently posted an innocent status to her facebook profile asking people who knew her to pray that her newborn son would eat and sleep a little better.  By the time I even read the status, there were so many replies it took me 10 minutes just to read them. All but one of them included unsolicited advice about breastfeeding. Join a La Leche league group, call a lactation consultant and, of course, that oh-so-Churchillian adage to "nevah, nevah, nevah give up."  As someone who thought that nursing was just about the most difficult thing I've ever done and whose child wanted nothing to do with it, I myself received a lot of unsolicited and, frankly, demoralizing advice. The last thing you want, when you already feel like a failure, is for about a hundred people to help you understand even more deeply how much of a failure you actually are.

Why do women do this to each other? Why do we, upon reading a simple status, a simple plea to listen and hear, immediately unload our entire experience and opinion on the unsuspecting shoulders of a sister? Why is it so hard to just listen, to just pray in response, to just love people without feeling the need to hear our own selves talk, to contribute our own personal feelings on any and all subjects?  I know I have this tendency myself and am praying hard that God would keep my mouth closed, unless I'm specifically asked to weigh in.

I've been a mom for almost four years now. Some of those days, in fact many of those days, have been among the most delightful of my life. There were some, though, that have been among the most challenging. Kids don't come with instruction books. Parenting takes a lot of trust, involves a lot of mistakes and, mostly, calls for a lot of hope that God is doing more work in my child than I could ever do and that love will cover over a multitude of my own parenting sins.  When I've kept my eyes on Him, I've experienced more peace in parenting than I could ever hope for, even when I'm still not sure about the answer to a specific problem.

A lot of my own glitches with parenting self-confidence, however, have mostly arisen after conversations with other moms. What could be a helpful community of people messily trying to raise their kids and love each other well in the midst of it often turns into insipid competition and overly-opinionated advice giving. "My three year old is reading, isn't yours?" "I think it should be a law for all women to have to breast-feed for the first six months, don't you?" "My 2 year old is 4 feet tall, isn't yours a little shrimpy?"   Ok, ok, I've never heard that last one, but I wouldn't be surprised if I did.  I wonder what parenting would be like without the internet, without pediatric percentiles to make us virulently aware of every little pound and 1/2 inch on our childs bodies and without so much of our need to play the comparison game.

I for one am hoping that the Lord will continually make me a better listener, both to Him and to the women and men around me who are just trying to love their kids well and trust God in the process.  Maybe one result will be that I myself won't fall into that comparison game- both for myself as a parent and for my child's sake! What freedom that would be.