Monday, March 24, 2014

To those in the thick of it

I found myself searching my blog for something the other night and couldn't help but skim several old posts. Wow. I came away with one feeling. And it wasn't what you may be thinking, that so many amazing things were on the horizon for me back then. Just hold on! Good things are coming your way!

No, it wasn't that at all. It was something quite different. My thoughts were more along the lines of, Woah, girl. This is some serious stuff you're dealing with. Emotionally, spiritually, physically. My head is spinning just thinking about it. I give you loads of credit. I don't think I have it in me.

Of course, funny thing, it was me. But I can't even imagine being that person now. And it's not because I'm a mom. Heck no. It's because she was strong and driven and motivated and tireless (even though I was tired all the time, at least according to my old posts).

Cuddling with my baby, circa 2009

Now I think I've got it bad if I haven't gotten out of the house in a few days or if I don't get to sit down by lunch time. Those things have got nothing on the feeling of your heart being crushed right inside of you as you mourn the loss of babies who have never existed, all while trying to keep straight your myriad medical problems as you recover from a surgery or two or three.

My mom and I, venturing out for the first time after my third surgery, annoying abdominal-wrap-thing under my dress.
Infertility is some serious business.

I thought it was fresh in my memory. I could have sworn it was never far off, that it was like a muscle memory my body will always know. It's been four years this month since I conceived Luke, so secondary infertility (and now pregnancy loss) has brought up similar, albeit much more muted, emotions.

But I was wrong. Yes, the pain is memorable - that feeling like I couldn't breathe, the jealousy that I could feel eating away at my insides, the despair that I wondered if anyone could ever pull me out of. That, I remember.

It's the day-to-day effort, the sheer strength that was required, that I have forgotten. What went into taking that next breath, driving to doctor appointment after doctor appointment, keeping track of all my medications and levels and what needs to be tested next, charting, temping, researching adoption agencies, avoiding baby showers, attending baby showers, crying in bed, attempting to make sense of it all every second of every day, begging God endlessly to have mercy on me and make my husband a father; that's the stuff that I don't find myself thinking about anymore.

Those parts of infertility are like the labor - painful and necessary to reach the desired end (whether it be children or health, or both) but so overwhelming that my mind neatly tucks it away in its far recesses, like old blog posts that are forgotten until you search for them.

Some much-needed respite from the throes of infertility, with those who understood

And that's why I must say this: Infertility is incredibly hard. To those who are in the thick of it right now, I'm not going to tell you it'll all be okay because you very well know that no one can tell you that. But I can tell you that you are courageous simply because you are hanging on and living and breathing through every single moment, whether it hurts or not. And some of you, unlike myself on most days back then, are even managing to be joyful and hopeful through it all. And living your lives to the fullest. But if you struggle to do that too, don't worry. You are doing the very best you can. You are fighting the good fight for your family, no matter how that family ends up looking. I have to believe you are pleasing God.

Maybe you won't even see this (I know I didn't read blogs filled with smiling toddlers when I was suffering through infertility). And maybe you don't care what this mom-of-three who has "crossed over" has to say about it in the first place. But I know you. I was you. And I know you could probably use a pick-me-up. So please accept this virtual hug and high-five. Keep carrying that cross and inspiring those around you (because you are, even though you probably have no idea). I'm praying for you always.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

You were real

Sometimes I look down at my (relatively flat) stomach and think, it wasn't real.

After five-and-a-half years of failed cycles the first go-around, and two-and-a-half years of no luck during secondary infertility, you start to believe your body is just not capable of making another human being.

And sometimes it's hard to imagine that it's even how any of us are designed. 

It was extremely difficult to wrap my mind around the idea that I was pregnant with Luke. For a long, long time after he was born, I'd just look at him and think, in utter disbelief, how did this happen?

It seemed like a dream.

So if a pregnancy that ended in a living, breathing child felt surreal to this sub-fertile woman, then you can begin to imagine what a miscarriage does to my very confused brain.

It's all so hazy now - the positive test on Thanksgiving morning, telling our families, the first appointment and seeing our doctor again (she was so happy for us). Not eating deli meat or egg yolks, not working out even though I could have. Looking at baby name websites against my better judgment. Falling asleep at night knowing I had two guardian angels with me. 

Sometimes the memories are so far away that I question if they ever really happened.

But then there are the reminders I see every day.

There are the ones I keep around on purpose, like the St. Catherine website that I keep open on my phone's browser, which I referred to for prayers during my pregnancy and now can't bring myself to close. Or the date on our bulletin board we use for school, which still reads December 11, the day before my first OB appointment.

There are the reminders I see when I'm not trying to remember, like the bright white hand towels used on the day of my miscarriage. Or catching a glimpse of the tag that reads "maternity" on my pajama pants that are too comfy to give up.

And there is the reminder I can go to when I'm in the mood, or when I worry none of it actually happened. It's a little white box that lives under my bed, filled with everything we have that has anything to do with the pregnancy and loss. Sympathy cards, letters, the program from the memorial service and a little stuffed green frog they gave out to all the grieving mothers that day. And a tiny blanket, knitted by my mother, which uses yarn from each of the three blankets she made for Clara, Luke and Esther.

There's the positive test - one piece of indisputable evidence that it was all very real. One of only two pregnancy tests of mine that have ever been positive.

And there's the other indisputable proof - the photographs. They stay on our fridge, sometimes hidden, sometimes not. They are prized possessions.

Of course, I'd rather be reminded tonight by little kicks. And a five-month-pregnant belly. And an updated photo on our fridge of a cute little profile, or one with an arrow announcing the gender surprise.

But that is not our story. Not this time. So I have my box, and my treasures, and my memories. And for all of that, I am thankful.

God has provided for us abundantly. And while the memories are painful at times, I rejoice in the little soul who is forever part of our family. Who waits for us in Heaven.

It may seen hazy, it may seem surreal, it may seem all like a dream. But you were real. And we love you.

"I believe though I do not comprehend, and I hold by faith what I cannot grasp with the mind." - St. Bernard

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Birth-year buddies, I'm looking at you

Sometimes I think there must have been a drop in births the year I was born.

Kids were on leashes way back in 1977. For reals.

When you don't get married young (at least by Catholic/Christian standards, i.e. in, or just out of, college), and then it takes you five-and-a-half years to become a mother, you find that everyone around you is younger than you. 

Like, way younger.

People are usually shocked when they discover how old I am. Which, on one hand, is a good thing, I guess. At least I don't look over the hill. But it's also clear from their reaction (jaws dropping to the floor) that they think I am really, really old.

I'm so old my parents had to take a picture of the TV when I was on (middle, front)

And the weirdest part - no one is EVER the same age.

My theory is this: My peers are, generally, moms to much older children. If they do have young ones like me, they also have a few older kids too, which means they're too seasoned, or too busy with the older kids, to do all those newer mom things that newer moms do. So they run in different circles. Don't attend Moms Group anymore. Are busy picking their kids up from school. Hang with the parents of kids their kids' ages. 

But that's just my theory. It could be that no one was actually born the same year as me.

The dress. The hair. The eyebrows. Someone out there must remember the 90's.

When I need a reminder that there are, in fact, people born in 1977, I look at this list and revel in all the beautiful, youthful stars who aren't 24, 29 or 32, like everyone else I know. They're 37 like me! They do exist! (Okay, I don't really look at that list, but Ryan and I are always playing the age game with whomever we're watching on TV and we're obnoxiously happy when someone is our age or older).

One year later, out with the puffy sleeves and in with the hooker dress. The '90's were funny like that.

I'm not complaining. Really, I'm not. Everyone you know being younger than you is a small price to pay for finally becoming a mother after all those years wondering if it would ever happen. It's just that they're all so fertile. And pregnant. And yes, I may be keeping up with my three kids. But their three kids is just the beginning, because they have so many, many, many, many years of fertileness left. 

I, on the other hand, am nearing the close of my fertile window. A window that only cracked open twice in my whole life. A window that, just as I was starting to get accustomed to breathing in the fresh air, is about to be closed forever. I could go on with this analogy all night, but I'll spare you.

Seriously, though. I am not just of advanced maternal age, but have been for a couple years now. Menopause is on the horizon. 

Don't get me wrong, I have a ton in common with all those younger girls. My closest friends are younger girls. And, truly, age is just a number once you're an adult. But I still would like to bump into someone born the same year as I was.

So where my 1977 peeps at? 

(Yes, I really just said "peeps." Remember, my teenage years were spent in the '90s). 

I'll take 76'ers too. I live with one, and would have been one myself if not for two days. So hit me up.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Without infertility

You know how sometimes people who have been divorced will say they wish they'd never met their ex, except then they wouldn't have their children so... well, they can't really regret it ever happening?

I have decided that's how I feel about infertility.

I really hate infertility. Despise it. I didn't like a second of it while it was happening, and I don't like looking back on it now. It makes me angry when I find out other women I know are going through it and my heart breaks for those who know the pain of it firsthand.

But, for me, without it - without that annoying, manipulating, demoralizing, cruel, soul-crushing monster (did I go too far?) - I wouldn't have my babies.

So I can't really wish it never happened.

In fact, I have to embrace it with open arms and even thank God for it.

I'd love to say we would have adopted even if I hadn't been infertile. But I'm going to be honest. I just don't see us conceiving every couple of years, working to feed all those mouths, trying (and probably failing) to save a buck or two for college, a bigger home, savings...and then, on top of it all, saying, "Hey, I know a great use for those tens of thousands of dollars we don't have - let's adopt!"

I know us, and I know we would have thought we couldn't afford it. We wouldn't have had a reason to take a risk and trust that God would provide.

And even if we had adopted, who knows if we would have done it at exactly the time necessary to adopt Clara and Esther?

I can't even think about that for too long.

And, if I had been fertile, who knows if everything would have led up to me conceiving Luke exactly when I did? That timeline probably would have been thrown way off by other pregnancies.

So I thank God (and infertility) that it worked out just so, leading us to know these precious souls, who were always coming into the world right when they did. And that we were there, ready and willing, to catch them upon entry.

Infertility also brought me closer to God, strengthened my marriage and toughened me up. And I know I was supposed to find joy in suffering, but I don't know if I ever got quite that far.

Joy aside, it did teach me more than I ever hoped to know about suffering. And crying. And jealousy. And confession. And redemption. And grace. And miracles. And God's ability - and desire - to make all things new.

All of our stories lead us to today. And, in our case, it's a sad chapter that is forever a part of us, that made us who we are, that allowed God to fashion our family just so.

We wouldn't be here without infertility. Not here, at least. Not with these three kids who we adore beyond all imagination asleep in their rooms, with a baby gate shutting off the kitchen, number flashcards hanging from our mantel.

So, like that divorcee, I can't wish a second of it away.

Darn you, infertility. I really wanted to wish we'd never met.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The dirt about anger

I've been struggling with something ever since my miscarriage. I've hesitated talking about it, and I'm not sure why. I've come clean about all the details, so what's so different about this?

For starters, there's a lot of shame in it for me. And guilt. Immediate guilt. There's also sadness for my babies. And embarrassment, that I'm not the mom I want to be, or should be.

The deal is that hormones, or grief, or who knows what, is causing me to have a very short temper. Which means I am angry a lot. You know how there's usually a build-up to that boiling point where you explode? Mine is bubbling below the surface all the time. It just takes one thing - a small thing - to set me off. And even though I know I have a problem and desperately want to deal with it, it's hard. Really hard.

Two days ago it was particularly bad. I yelled at Clara and Luke all day. And I cried all night. How could I do this to them?

I vowed to get better. I would stop myself before I yelled. I would resist the urge, walk away. That was my plan.

And then, the next day, this happened.

Funny, God. Really funny.

You have to understand, the things that were setting me off in the weeks and days prior were things like Luke not looking at me when I spoke to him. Or Clara not picking up toys fast enough. I battled with Luke for 12 hours one day about taking a single bite of macaroni and cheese. We're not talking big things here.

So both of my kids, covered in mud, methodically plastering it on our swing set, was more than enough reason for me to yell.

And, I hate dirt.

But the thing is, I wasn't even that mad. I clearly thought it was funny enough to run and grab my camera, and climb the playground equipment to take all sorts of shots (it's "shooting from above" week in my photography group, in case you're wondering why every shot looks like I'm oddly hovering over top of them. And, yes, I am dumping them all here because a post about anger needs some levity).

But did that stop me from yelling? Of course not. They dirtied their clothes, they wiped mud all over their toys, they made SUCH A MESS FOR ME TO CLEAN UP. And I made sure they knew it.

And you know what I yelled most about? That they wouldn't look at my darn camera.

As it was happening, I even saw myself from the outside looking in. Or, rather, heard myself. I sounded like a crazy woman. Or, at least a very mean woman. I looked around at the neighboring yards, afraid someone might be witnessing this.

I did not want to be this person. She was ugly and out of control.

The guilt hit me like the mud that Clara had flung at me (accidentally?) a few minutes before. I knew I was wrong. I needed to reign it in. I had promised myself I'd work on it, fight whatever hormones were making me mad, not let the way I was reacting to grief negatively affect my children. And yet here I was, yelling once again. This was my chance to change things.

I went inside, put Essie down for a nap, and took a deep breath. They are kids. I technically never told them not to make mud and play in it. They weren't fighting. They were actually having the time of their lives.

In fact, it could even count as the day's homeschooling. They were out in nature, they created mud from water and dirt...that's science! And they were working together, and it was so cute. And they were playing, doing what kids do best and should be doing the most.

They were creating life-long memories.

There was no need for me to yell. I decided to not even calmly discipline them. And I apologized for losing my temper. I've been doing that a lot lately, apologizing. And losing my temper.

And the clean up? Ridiculously easy. I might even let them do it again.

I'm hoping things will get better. My hcg hadn't yet hit zero when I last had it checked two weeks ago (but it was really close), so that may be affecting things.

And grief. I've heard a lot lately about how grief can lead to anger. But it's not like I'm angry at God, or angry that I'm no longer pregnant, or angry that my baby died. I am just angry. And, I've started to notice, it seems to pop up a few hours after I happen upon reminders of what I lost, like pregnancy announcements from women due around the same time as I was. But instead of getting angry right then, it's like a little sneak attack, hitting me later and about seemingly nothing at all. It's just woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. I'm just mean.

But that's what gets me - I'm not mean. I'm not perfect, but I usually require the normal amount of provocation to lose it. And I can't help but think about the future, and how I don't want to look back and regret wasting a second of my kids' childhood. It really is an amazing time and I'm so, so incredibly happy...which makes me feel all the worse about my temper.

And I know that, in the grand scheme of things, this likely won't be that big of a deal. I'll reflect on it as an understandable - even normal - reaction to a traumatic event, a reaction that hopefully lasted only a month or two. But I still well up with tears when I think about my babies and how my anger outbursts are affecting them, no matter how short-lived it may be.

The other night, after that long day of battling over a bite of food, Luke looked up at me from his sippy cup and asked if I still loved him. Wow. Really? Safe to say my heart broke right in two.

He's just an innocent little boy. Who doesn't always want to eat his dinner. And who likes to play in the dirt.

So I'm working on this anger thing. I know I can't walk around whispering like Michelle Duggar all day, but I also can't do nothing. I need to be myself, do my best every day, and use my children as inspiration - remembering how much I love these three babies and how they need a mommy who is calm, gentle and loving.

They don't deserve this, and if it means that I have to work twice as hard to overcome whatever it is that's causing me to behave this way, I'll do it. 

So there it is. I think you know everything now. And please, feel free to shower me with all your tips for dealing with grief, anger, and remaining calm with little ones. And I can share advice on cleaning up kids caked in mud, because I'm an expert now.

Friday, February 14, 2014

What they're really thinking

I have a confession to make.

You know all those photos I post of happy, smiling kids? Well, in reality, they're often not all that happy. At least in that moment. 

Often, they're downright annoyed with me bringing out my camera yet again. I know I am relentless. I know I ask a lot. I know they don't always see my vision. And sometimes those sweet little faces just can't hide it anymore.

This can't be happening. She can't seriously want me to act natural while I pretend to make hearts out of yarn. What does that even MEAN?

Sometimes they're confused. I mean, they really want to get this whole photo shoot the heck over with. Yet, they also want to make Mommy nuts.

This is what you wanted - my fingers stuck up my nostrils, right, Mommy? This won't delay things at all. Just take this picture.

They're also really good at playing to the camera, and really letting me see that sparkle in their eyes.

She said she wanted me to stare blankly so that my eyes look completely and utterly empty, right? Good. I've got this DOWN. I mean, seriously, is there an Olympic sport in this? Cause I'd get gold. 

And then there's Essie. She's at that age where she just wants to run out of every shot.

Hey, Mommy! Is this good? Get me running! And reeeeaaaally blurry!

That's where treats come into play. Aaaannnd sometimes they fall out of mouths.

What, Mommy? You didn't give me this treat so you could see me chewing it in the picture? Oops! There it goes! Did you get that??

They're always adorable, I don't have to worry about that. But sometimes that adorableness hits a whole new level...called HOT MESS.

I'm ready! And I ran my buttery hands through my hair just for you, Mommy.

Shots with all three are always loads of fun. Sometimes we have boycotts.

This is working. This is working. She's soooo mad right now. 

And other times they try to stare daggers right through me.

You are going to suffer for making me do this, lady. And Luke may still be smiling like a baby who's having gas, but you better believe when stuff goes down, he's with me. 

But at least it encourages sibling bonding.

Luke: Why, oh why is she humiliating us like this? Clara: I promise we'll get through this, Luke. Together.

They are seriously little troopers though. I can really get in their way. Always stopping them from something fun, just to get a shot.

Luke: Tell me again, why exactly does she want us to HUG in the snow? What does snow have to do with HUGS? Clara: Don't ask questions. Just smile. 

But they'll have their childhood documented, right? They'll be SET when it comes to Throw Back Thursdays in 2034. 

"Hanging with the Moms back in 2014! #tbt"

And sometimes, Mommy gets pictures of her babies that make her really happy. And maybe cry a little.

Because I still can't believe I have these three little subjects to bribe into posing. And I just want to capture every single moment with them. Okay, every moment might be too extreme. I promise I'm working on it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Telling our kids

I've been asked a lot about how my kids are doing with everything going on with the miscarriage. Do they know? What did we tell them? How are they handling it?

Yes, they know. I had wanted to tell them I was pregnant immediately. I mean, could you imagine spending every day, all day, with three people with whom you can't discuss your pregnancy? And it was ALL I wanted to talk about. And it's not exactly like they are co-workers or acquaintances. They are my kids. They are closer to me than my right arm.

Ryan wanted to wait. I got it. But I couldn't resist. So I would talk around it with them. Kids, would you want Mommy to have a baby in her belly? What would you want to name it? So, would you rather it be a brother or a sister??? All purely hypothetical questions, of course.

On the day of our first ultrasound, we left the girls with a friend and brought Luke (I didn't want to burden her with all three of my crazies). Clearly not as clueless as we might have pegged him to be, he listened intently and soon realized we were looking at a baby in Mommy's tummy on the black and white screen.

And then we got bad news. He saw me cry in the dimly-lit room. He, and his sisters, saw me cry once back at home. I looked at Ryan as I laid on the couch and said I wanted to tell them. He didn't stop me.

So we told them there was a baby in Mommy's tummy and that we all needed to pray that the baby grows. That was pounded into their heads so much over the next few weeks that, post-miscarriage, Clara was still hung up on it. "But the baby's going to grow, Mommy," she'd assured me. "We need to pray."

In the weeks that followed that ultrasound, I sucked up any sadness I had and tried to maintain some normalcy. We rejoiced in Baby #4's life. We all prayed for our newest family member before meals (so much so that it was hard to get out of the habit later). We talked about babies and they kissed my belly.

And then they were by my side, quite literally, when I first realized I was most likely miscarrying. It was just me and the three kids home that night, with Ryan away for work. Clara was sitting in the same chair as me when I first noticed the blood. (On a side note, I keep trying to remember what I did when I got up. Did I toss her aside? Did she fall out of the chair? Did she just sit there, stunned? It's really the only thing I can't remember from the whole ordeal.)

They heard me call my mom. They heard me yell, "this is it....this is it" into the phone. I vaguely remember them standing at the bathroom door.

Later when I gathered them together and told them that a friend would be coming over to put them to bed, I also told them that the baby might not be okay. How could I not? Once again it was just me and them. They saw my tears, they were probably afraid. I had to say something. Luke's response: "Mommy, did you see red coming from your crotch?" Oh my gosh. He heard me frantically telling that to two people on the phone over the course of the chaotic night, and apparently I had used the word "crotch". At least hearing my son say that word over and over brought a little comic relief to a terrible moment. And reminded me to watch what I said around them, as much as I could.

The next day, after the ultrasound that confirmed things, I told the older two that the baby had gone to be with Jesus. Luke immediately started crying. Touched, and concerned, I asked him what was wrong, thinking my deep little boy really got it. Turns out he was scared that my newly unoccupied womb meant he would "get small and go back in my tummy." Ya, that's about right for a three-year-old.

They quickly embraced the went-to-be-with-Jesus concept, and talked about it a lot. But, as kids will, they sometimes forgot. And Clara's (very understandable) confusion quickly came to light. She still talked about the baby in the same way she had before, she just tacked on " Heaven with Jesus" to the end of whatever statement she made.  An example:

Clara: I'm going to save some fishies for Catherine.
Me: Honey, Catherine is in Heaven with Jesus.
Clara: But she might want some fishies.
Me: That's very nice of you, but she's in Heaven with Jesus.
Clara: Well she might want some Heaven with Jesus.

Then there was the time I returned home from Essie's 12-month check-up. Luke asked what the doctor said, and I told him, "Great! She's healthy!" To which he replied, "so the baby's coming back?" With all of my doctor's appointments lately, he misunderstood who this one was for.  Broke my heart right there.

Before the burial, Clara drew a picture to include in the baby's tiny casket. As she drew, she whispered to herself, saying, "Her heart wasn't beating. It froze. And her eyes didn't open because they were filled with gunk." I can't explain the "gunk" part, but I'm thinking she got the frozen heart stuff from the movie Frozen, which she had seen three times at that point.

The poor things saw a lot. I was in no state to entirely hide my emotions, and they listened closely to anything said within ear-shot. So confusion was setting in. And it's not like I had a chance to research what to do and say. That's not really my style even under the best circumstances; I tend to shoot from the hip. And this was definitely not the best of circumstances.

So I bought them a children's book about Heaven. It's about a little boy who visits Heaven with his guardian angel. He sees how amazing it is and flies around to see all that is there (except God), including many things that appeal to children, like ferris wheels and dinosaurs. They loved it. And then a couple days later Luke tells me, out of the blue, that he didn't want to leave me and go to see the dinosaurs. Oh, boy.

The good news (or bad news, depending on how you look at it) is I mentioned his comments to our pediatrician at an appointment a couple days later and she said that type of thinking doesn't usually start until around age seven, so he's advanced. Advanced in anxiety? Yup, he got my genes.

One of my favorite parts of the entire experience (yes, I have favorite parts of a miscarriage) was Luke going through a very big Crucifixion obsession at the same time. It was perfect for me, and no doubt God's hand. Over and over, he asked me to read to him from his children's Bible book, the scourging through Jesus' death. He was focused on the mocking, on the soldiers, on Mary's sadness, and on Jesus on the cross. Every time I got to it, he would fill in the line, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It was balm to my grieving soul to read those sorrowful mysteries, written for a child, to a child, time and time again. And the reminder that Mary watched her Son die was just what I needed as I grieved my own loss of a child. God knew it was a time when His message needed to be very obvious and very direct.

As things have settled back down, they don't mention Catherine or Heaven really at all anymore. They're kids. They deal in the moment. They move on. But I'm not so naive as to think this may not stay with them for a long time. They're both very sensitive, with great memories. But I think they needed to experience this very real part of life, even at their ages. I just hope I handled it appropriately, in a way that won't cause them any harm. Molding and shaping kids is hard.

And I do hug them all a little tighter lately. And if they want to cuddle when I'm busy, I try to stop and savor the moment. I do it for them, to be present for them after being distracted last month. And I do it for their sibling, who I won't get those same chances to snuggle.