Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Navigating the Anniversaries

In retrospect, perhaps it wasn't the most emotionally  savvy idea I've ever had, volunteering at a children's clothing consignment sale this weekend. If you've never been to one of these, you should know that it could be otherwise known as a pregnancy festival or a family-with-a-bajillion-kids gathering. Certainly, it's a virtual field of land mines for people with fertility issues or infant loss of any kind, particularly those who had a miscarried child's due date to remember this weekend.

But there is no gentle or loving way to tell the woman who has just given birth 3 weeks before and exclaims "I am SO glad not to be pregnant anymore, I am DONE with having babies!" that you'd give anything to be in her shoes and shouldn't be she be thankful for her children? (Especially when you remember the feeling of being glad your own pregnancy was done so you could sleep again. Or at least think about sleeping again. Ha.) There is no way to quickly answer the question that every volunteer feels compelled to ask- "How many children do you have?" -without being reminded of your baby's loss and the times you've come close to an adoption but seen it fall through. Again. And why, why, does it seem that when you tell people you are adopting, they ALWAYS ask you from which country? And when you respond that you are adopting domestically, they seem disappointed. What is THAT?
Whole outfit = $15. He insisted on wearing it  right away.

So yeah, maybe I shouldn't have volunteered. But my yearning need for a good deal (and the wide chasm of emptiness that comprised my son's winter wardrobe) overrode any emotional good sense I might've developed over the last 4 years. If you volunteer, you get to go to the pre-sale and everybody knows that's where the good stuff is. My kid is now ready for his first ever big snow storm. A few months early, but hey.

Navigating the anniversaries can be really hard. Our little girl might have turned 4 this past weekend. She might be running around the backyard with my son and our neighbors even as I type this. I say "might have" because nothing is guaranteed. If we hadn't lost her during pregnancy, she could have easily passed on in early infancy or through some childhood illness or accident. Nothing at all is ever certain and the thing I'm learning about these anniversaries is that if I let myself fantasize about what she might be doing now, I only make it worse because I create a false reality. I only get sadder, I only imagine I see glimpses of what she might have looked like or which of our traits she might express as she grows and which things she would do that would make us wonder from where in the world she came. Dreaming about those things does me no good and only distracts me from the family and friends I have here with me. In the now. And it doesn't help to actually remember her, because none of my imaginings are actually who she would've been. Don't our kids always surpass our own imaginations?

One thing I can say is that this year there was a change for me. The past three years I knew it was September long before I noticed the calendar. I'd feel on edge, angrier than usual about stories about children being abandoned or killed at birth, frustrated at irresponsible birth fathers, missing the children we still don't have, snapping at people who said the wrong thing. But this year, I had to look at the calendar. I had to purposefully notice that mid-September was approaching. Maybe I'm just busy with all the "new" in our lives or trying to desperately remember how to be a serious student. But it snuck up on me. So, I wore my special necklace, the one that reminds me of Amara, and there was just a sweet remembering this time. The ache is fading a little, it doesn't make me as sad as it used to. I'm not crazy enough to think that next year will be the same or easier.  I am sure I'll be surprised as each one comes around to see what new thing God is doing in my healing. What a gift, though, to feel like I could just be present this year. That my mourning had taken a turn, was mostly just a time of remembering and then being reminded to continue to dream about what may come this coming year.

 No matter what, even the hard anniversaries are good. They remind me of God's presence, of his deep care for me even when I was pretty convinced he was punishing me or abandoning me, of all the amazing people in my life who have loved me well during this crazy process and who are going through challenging and often similiar experiences of their own and of the fact that my story is far from complete.

God gave me the gift of hope this time around and that is no small thing.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Confessions of a Skinny Girl

I am too skinny. I am too skinny in a culture that doesn't even have such a category, other than for those who struggle with eating disorders or serious illnesses. I am too skinny to find dresses that fit correctly or bathing suits that cost less than $100 or jeans that stay up without a belt. I am too skinny to have the kind of family I have dreamed of. I am just too skinny.

Here's the problem, though; ever since getting pregnant the first time around, during which my metabolism went haywire, I have gotten more compliments on my appearance than in the first 28 years of my life. I hear it all the time, "You look great," "What do you do to stay so thin?" and "Man, I wish I could look like that." Usually, I just uncomfortably nod my head and say a quiet "thank you". But inside? Inside, my heart is breaking. Because I don't want that kind of attention. I don't want it to be considered good or healthy or desirable to be my weight. I don't want to do anything that affirms what our culture says about skinny being the only beautiful. I don't want a BMI of 18. I don't want this.

And the reason it has taken me almost four years to write about this? Well, it's not kosher to complain about being too skinny, is it? Even now, some of you are reading this and thinking "Oh, I'm so sorry for you, you poor, sad, skinny girl. Are your diamond shoes too tight, as well?" I have had plenty of friends who have struggled with weight on the other end, who have longed to lose their baby weight, who have worked hard on diets and exercise and weight watchers and have not gotten the results they've wanted. Who have longed to be skinnier. What do I say to them in this struggle? We are just worlds apart.

I haven't always had this problem. For most of my life, I was at a normal, healthy weight. I could gain it if I ate too much ice cream and am well acquainted with the famous "freshman 15." After all, what do you expect when you combine a sweet tooth and stress with an unlimited dessert bar at college? I could lose weight if I wanted to and went through my share of phases where I wanted my body to look slimmer. I remember what it was like to long for that "hollywood" body, to buy into the idea that the slimmer I was, the more beautiful I would be. And now I hate the fact that I have what I thought I wanted.

Most days. 

Here's the rub. Some days, in my darkest of hearts, I feel really good. Really proud. I like the way I look. I feel proud of the skinny. I fear the day when we will solve whatever is causing this uncontrolled weight loss and I will gain back the weight. Deep down I wonder if I really DO want to gain the weight and be healthy again. Will the compliments stop? Will I miss the skinny? Will I be satisfied with the new look which, after all, is really the way I looked most of my life?

On the other days, most days really, I count calories. Not in the way most people do. I have to make sure I've eaten more than enough. I have to make high-fat, low-sugar, gluten-free, protein-packed smoothies just to make sure I don't lose more weight. I have to get on the scale, always with a feeling of apprehension, and check to be sure that I'm at least maintaining where I currently am, staring at the screen and hoping an acceptable number pops up. And hesitantly sharing with my husband when I've accidentally lost again, like there's some kind of shame in it or that I am somehow to blame.

And friends, this is exhausting. It's much like counting every calorie on the other end in the hopes of losing weight. Except that when the people around me joke about "not taking that second piece of cake" or something going "straight to their hips", I have to keep silent. I can't interject with "Yeah, I wish I had that problem!" People look at you like you have two heads if you complain about this. And I get it. Who else struggles with this? Well, honestly, probably a bunch of people like me who keep it to themselves because there's not a whole lot of compassion floating around out there in cyberspace for us, just videos and posts by well-intentioned people either condemning skinny people for having the wrong priorities or being sick or, on the other side, people praising us for (allegedly) working our booties off to look this way.

So every time I receive a compliment, every time I have to go buy some new clothes because my old ones no longer fit, my heart cries out "no"! Every time someone sends me an article on why sugar or gluten or sun-exposure or just, frankly, breathing may be causing my infertility and weight problems, I want to run the other way. I wonder when I refuse that cupcake at the kindergarten party if the other parents are thinking "Oh, THAT'S why she looks like that. She doesn't eat what she wants," when deep inside I would love to devour that cupcake, have a second one and wash it all down with a gallon of sweet tea. But I can't. I'll actually lose more weight and get a migraine on top of it. And if there is anything worse than a disgruntled unintentionally skinny girl, it's one with a migraine.

If I believe the compliments, I look better than I did when I was 10 pounds heavier. And I doubt anyone, when I finally, hopefully, gain the weight back will say "Wow, have you put on weight? You look amazing!" But maybe they should. Maybe I should post on facebook when I put on a pound, when I finally reach a BMI of 19 or 20, when I'm back to my pre-baby weight from 7 1/2 years ago and don't need to even worry about looking at a scale anymore. Back to being healthy.

In the meantime, I have to fight that daily battle wherein I confess that at the same time that I hate this, I sometimes also love it. That while I don't want to think of this as beautiful, I often do believe it is. And that even while I struggle with not wanting this and trying to fix it, I need to still believe that I am beautiful even if it's not the weight issue that is the focus of the beauty. That it is worth the hassle to continue to try to figure out what's causing this and fix it, and maybe get to experience the joys of eating good bread and pasta again. Because seriously, gluten. I miss you. If we have said goodbye forever, I shall fondly and longingly remember your contributions to my happiness.

And the bottom line here? My doctor has been convinced from the start that this is linked to our infertility. That my inability to maintain a healthy weight prevents this biggest of dreams that we have from coming true. That if I could just go ahead and gain 10 or 15 pounds already (easy, right?), all these "why" questions would be answered and we would have the baby we've been waiting on for four years. Which means there is yet another element of having no control in this whole crazy infertility journey because I can't do a simple thing like gain weight.

So, I will continue to drink my 600 calorie smoothies and use whole milk in my cereal. I will continue to exercise and run around with my kid because it's just plain fun and I can't be bothered about worrying if my caloric output is too high on top of everything else. I'm an active person and I like that. I will continue to ask God to help me figure out what's causing all this and for, again, patience in the meantime. I will try to be gracious to people who comment on my weight and gently explain why I wish I weighed more and why I wish our culture didn't praise the skinny. I will continue to be a skinny girl until I am not.

But dang it, when I finally break the weight threshold I haven't been able to hit, I'm gonna rejoice. With more than a smoothie.