Moving On and Settling Down

If you’ve never noticed before, the tagline of my blog is “moving on and settling down…all at once.” However many years it’s been since I came up with that, I still find it appropriate. The “moving on” part is about not getting stuck in a rut, letting go of things that don’t fit my life anymore, and always evolving. The “settling down” part is about putting down roots, building deep relationships, and generally becoming a grownup. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing either of these things, but right now, they are both really difficult.

I still haven’t gone back to work. I thought about it last week, and every time I did, I had a mini-panic attack. We decided that was probably a pretty good indication that I wasn’t ready yet. This week, I decided to dip the tiny tip of my pinky toe in the water and visit my classroom…while it was empty. Some copies I’d requested had arrived, and I thought if I was considering going back to work next week, I should probably pick them up and do some planning. I didn’t want to see anyone, though (red flag), so I chose to swing by after everyone had left for the day. I got my copies and sat in my classroom for a few minutes feeling utterly uncomfortable and out of place. I tried to imagine a group of students sitting in there. Then I tried to envision myself giving a vocabulary lesson, and I just couldn’t do it. It felt so foreign to me. It honestly felt like I wasn’t even the same person as before, like a really intense experience of reverse culture shock – where you go away for a while and when you come back to your home culture, you find that you don’t fit the same way (or at all) anymore.

I keep saying that it would be so much easier if I could just start a brand new job – an office gig where I could just go, do my work, and keep to myself (maybe listen to music and podcasts all day while I do my thing). And while I’m still pretty sure that’s true, I would definitely get bored with that kind of job later on. It’s just that right now, teaching still requires more from me than I have to give socially, and the thought of going back to “normal” makes me very sad.I guess my problem right now is that I don’t know where to move on and where to settle down. I don’t know what to let go of and what to dig into.

“Normal” doesn’t mean the same thing it did a month ago. A month ago, we had just started to wrap our brains around the idea that our lives were changing completely. A month ago, our to-do list included rearranging everything in our condo so we could turn our guest room into a nursery. A month ago, getting fatter was a thing of pride for me, and being out of breath was just how things were. A month ago, I had gotten used to accepting congratulations and answering questions about baby things. A month ago, I had just started to feel little flutters of movement in my belly, and although it was weird, it was expected. It was normal.

Along with all of that, a month ago, going to work every morning and teaching was normal, but now that my whole world has been dumped on its head, I can’t just go back to business as usual. It seems wrong that the world is still turning, that billions of people are carrying on as though nothing terrible has happened. Losing Ella felt like being thrown off of a moving carnival ride, and going back to work feels like trying to jump back on while it’s still in motion, knowing that once I get back on, it won’t be as fun anymore.

I suppose that’s what it’s like when you lose anyone. Even if you can get back on the ride, one of your ride buddies won’t be there. It would be easier to hop on a different ride – one that is just starting up, one where all your memories are yet to be made, one where there are only seats to be filled, not seats left empty by those who are gone too soon.

Moving on seems easier, but I’ve done too much settling down to just leave it all behind. Moving on seems like it would bring the instant relief I want right now from the pain of going back to a past that doesn’t look like my future. But settling down offers the long-term comfort and support of those who’ve loved me all along and will continue to do so.

When it comes to work, I’m tempted to move on, but I think settling down is the better choice. When it comes to my daughter, however, I’m not ready to move on, but I can’t settle down either. Not the way I was planning to anyway. I feel like a shift in perspective would help a lot, like “it’s not that I’m moving on from my daughter, but…” or “I can’t settle down into motherhood, but…”

I just don’t know what that new perspective will be or how to get there. Suggestions welcome.

Survivor’s Guilt

Friend A – we’ll call her Ashley – has had two healthy pregnancies that resulted in healthy babies. She has never had a miscarriage or any difficulty conceiving. She told me that during her first pregnancy, two of her coworkers had miscarriages, and she tried to hide herself from them so that they wouldn’t have to see her and be reminded that she was still fine while they had lost babies.

Friend B – we’ll call her Bonnie – had a miscarriage the week before I did and told me that a pregnant coworker was being really weird and avoiding her, and it hurt her feelings.

Friend C – we’ll call her Candace – has also had two healthy pregnancies and no miscarriages or difficulty conceiving. She emailed me the other day to express her sympathy, but we also had a really good discussion about the guilt she feels about so many things regarding her kids. When so many of her friends have lost babies, she feels guilty for getting pregnant easily and never miscarrying, for having her tubes tied when she and her husband felt that their family was complete, for experiencing joy when so many others are experiencing pain, for feeling frustrated with her kids when she knows how incredibly lucky she is to have them, for posting Facebook statuses about her kids, and for being unable to relate to her friends who have experienced the heartache of miscarriage or infertility.

When Bonnie told me about her miscarriage, I was still pregnant, and I said to Will that I felt a little guilty that we had conceived so easily (without meaning to, really) while she and her husband had been trying for several months, and that things had been going so well for us while they had had a terrible loss. And then the next day, my water broke, we lost our baby, and I felt guilty for that too.

Here’s the thing: You can feel guilty for so many things, whether everything is going well or you wonder if you did something to cause a tragedy, but the truth is that there’s no need for guilt. If you had babies without ever having to deal with miscarriage or infertility, you didn’t do anything wrong by having healthy kids, and you aren’t doing anything wrong if you share your joy with others in person or on social media. I didn’t do anything wrong in my pregnancy, and I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong by sharing my pain. People are meant to live in community and share their lives, both good and bad. My hope in sharing now is not that people would feel guilty for never having gone through a miscarriage, but that people who have suffered in silence would feel less alone and more a part of a community.

But now that this has come up, I feel like we need to talk about it. Communication between women breaks down completely around the topics of miscarriage and infertility, and I think there are a few things going on:

  1. Women who have had miscarriages or difficulty conceiving feel ashamed or embarrassed, or they simply don’t want to bring everybody down by shedding light on their misfortunes, so they don’t talk about it (like the dozens of women who have told me privately about their miscarriages over the past couple of weeks).
  2. Women who have only had healthy pregnancies are trying to be sensitive toward their friends who have had difficulties (like my friend Ashley and possibly Bonnie’s coworker), and they feel guilty for their good fortune (like Candace).
  3. We stop talking because we don’t know what to say, or we think saying anything at all will cause pain.

So let me just address all of that now. There is nothing for any of us to feel ashamed of or guilty about. Can we please just love and take care of each other instead of worrying about how we’ll be perceived?

Friend, if you’ve lost a baby, I promise you that people who love you are not blaming you for it. People who are idiots will say stupid things because that’s what idiots do (and even good people are idiots sometimes), but people who love you will only want to hug you and be there for you. They may not know what to say, and everyone will feel awkward standing in your living room while you can’t stop crying, but it’s ok. It’s really ok. Your tears are appropriate and good and beautiful. And I know you feel guilty (and ashamed, embarrassed, confused, angry, hopeless, sad, and lost). I know. Feel it, but don’t become it. You are not at fault, you are not less than, and you are not hopeless or lost forever. You just feel that way now. And you are entitled to your feelings.

Friend, if you’ve never lost a baby, I am so happy for you. Seriously. In the midst of all of this horribleness, I am nothing but thankful that you have never had to go through the same horribleness. Seeing babies makes me sad sometimes, but some friends’ babies are so darn cute, they actually cheer me up. I can’t help it. And seeing pregnant friends is hard for me right now, but their friendship is so important to me. It would make things even harder if they avoided me without any explanation. If you are pregnant and have a friend who is dealing with a miscarriage, it’s ok to ask what you should do. And if your friend isn’t up to seeing you just yet, don’t take it personally. Just give her time.

We need to keep talking. A few days after we lost Ella, we had a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor said that no matter what people said to us, it would probably hurt for a while. Even if people said very nice, comforting, loving things, they would sting. He said it’s like an open wound, and no matter what you do to it – even if you’re doing healthy things like cleaning and bandaging it – it just hurts. And he was right, but that doesn’t mean we should stop talking just because it hurts. That’s like saying you shouldn’t touch a wound – even to clean it – because it stings. Yes, it stings, but it’s necessary for healing.

The Honest Guide to Miscarriage

After 16 weeks of pregnancy, I gave birth to a baby girl. Ella Claire McMillian was born at 9:08 p.m. on July 19, 2014. She was about 7 inches long (18 cm) and weighed 5 ounces. I’m honestly not sure if I should be writing about it yet because I don’t have a neat and tidy bow to tie it up with yet, and normally my blog is more upbeat. But if I’m writing an honest guide to anything, it should be honest. So here we are.

If you want to hear the whole story of what happened, I will tell you, but it’s pretty graphic because my pregnancy was much more advanced than most are when miscarriages happen. So for now, I’m just going to stick with the emotional fall-out from it because I think that is not so unique to my situation and perhaps more helpful to you if you’ve had a miscarriage and somehow found my blog looking for help.

If you have had a miscarriage, I’m so sorry. I am so, so sorry. You are not alone. Your grief is valid and completely warranted. Your feelings, whatever they are, are respected here. I’m not going to tell you about statistics because as helpful as they can be, statistics have not been as comforting to me for the past two weeks as simply having permission to feel what I feel. I’ve been very lucky to have friends and family who have given me that permission and freedom, but who have also encouraged me not to beat myself up.

Hormones

In an honest guide to miscarriage, I should start by saying that your hormones are going absolutely insane for the first week or two at least. And this massive hormone shift will make your already-intense feelings just completely out of control. When I am able to remind myself of this fact, it makes things a little more manageable, I guess because I know that eventually my hormone levels will go back to normal, and I’ll be able to feel things normally again.

In the midst of all the hormonal changes, here’s what I’ve been feeling:

Guilt

My husband has had to tell me a LOT not to beat myself up. Two doctors told me there was nothing I could have done or not done to prevent it, and we had just had a prenatal appointment 4 days earlier where everything looked perfect, so intellectually, I know it wasn’t my fault. But there’s just something so frustrating about it not being anybody’s fault, about there not being a reason for it at all. I don’t know how I would feel if I knew for sure that it was my fault. I’m sure it would be worse, and that I would require years of therapy for that, but part of me still thinks answers – even horrifying ones – are better than no answers, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I did wrong.

I’ve gone through the quasi-plausible mistakes – I didn’t exercise enough, I didn’t rest enough, I strained too hard when I pooped, I accidentally rolled onto my stomach in my sleep, I didn’t eat well enough, I didn’t take my vitamins consistently – and the philosophical ones – I complained too much about the discomforts of pregnancy, I didn’t appreciate what I had when I had it. But none of it really adds up. Women who treat their bodies terribly and don’t want the babies growing inside them have been having healthy babies for centuries. There’s just no logic to it.

The thing is I didn’t do anything wrong. The doctors said so. And my counselor friend pointed out that if I didn’t do anything wrong, I must have done everything right. I hate that right now because I still want to know why this happened. I want to know how we can prevent it from happening again. I want to trouble-shoot so that next time, I can do pregnancy perfectly and keep my baby safe. There is a chance that I will get some answers. They’re running some tests on the baby to see if she had some sort of chromosomal abnormality that prevented her from developing, and in a few weeks, I’ll have a follow-up appointment where they’ll start looking to see if there’s anything physically wrong with me that can be fixed. But the truth is that nobody knows why a lot of miscarriages happen.

Anger

There just are no answers, and there might never be, which really pisses me off. What has medical science been doing for all these years that there are still no answers in one of the most devastating situations ever that SO many women go through? I’m also mad at my body for not doing its job. I’m mad at Facebook for showing me all of my pregnant friends’ happy pregnancy posts. I’m mad at the rest of the world for continuing to spin and function as usual when my world has completely crashed down around me. I’m mad at myself for getting so wrapped up in pregnancy that it became my whole world. I’m mad at the fact that women who don’t take care of themselves or their unborn babies have completely healthy pregnancies, that women who don’t want or love their babies still carry them to term, that we were supposed to be in the clear, having made it squarely into the 2nd trimester, and that we’d gotten so excited and told everybody the news just to have it completely shattered.

Depression

I’m angry and sad about the same things, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two emotions. I think the only way to tell (for me) is that when I’m angry, I want to destroy something, but when I’m really depressed, I want to destroy everything. I’m not saying I’m suicidal. I would never, could never do that to the people I love. But when the sadness becomes overwhelming, you just want it to stop, and you care very little about how that is accomplished. And in the midst of all those hormones, sadness can turn into intense depression very easily. These are just the facts. I think I’m out of the woods on this one, thankfully. After a lot of crying, a lot of talking with my husband, a lot of board games and Parks and Recreation on Netflix, a lot of praying, “Help,” over and over and over, a lot of friends and family bringing food and babysitting me, and a little bit of time to adjust, I have more hope. And hope goes a long way. Here’s what I have told myself often over the past two weeks:

Where there is love, there is life, and where there is life, there is hope.

Will and I love each other like crazy. Our friends and family have shown us so much love. We believe that God loves us completely. And even though it hurts, we loved and still love our baby. The joy we feel loving each other and the pain we feel loving Ella both remind me that we are experiencing life. And where there is life, there is hope.

Fear

Hope and fear play a terrible tug-of-war in my mind and my heart. As soon as I think, “We can try again,” I am immediately afraid that this will happen again, and I don’t know if I can do this again. When you have a miscarriage, everyone wants to tell you success stories about people who had a miscarriage, but who now have healthy kids. It’s helpful in a way, but it doesn’t stop you from being terrified of trying again and going through this pain again.

Hope

Right now, we’re in a never-ending fear-hope-sadness cycle. I start to feel ok, but then I do a load of laundry, and there are still maternity clothes in there. I start to feel ok, but then I eat something I craved when I was pregnant, and it reminds me. I get sad, and then I think we’ll try again, and then I’m scared. It just doesn’t stop. I’m told that that’s normal, and that it will probably continue, especially if I get pregnant again. I’d like to see longer stretches of hope and shorter stretches of fear in the cycle, but I suppose I need time for that to develop. For now, I’m eating chocolate cake for breakfast and looking forward to a weekend away with my husband because when the past is painful and the future is terrifying, all you can do is focus on what you have going for you right now.

If you knew how many life lessons I’ve learned from the Broadway show Rent, you’d either feel like you don’t understand me at all but you love me anyway, or like we are absolute soul mates, depending upon the depth of your love for musical theater. Different ones hit me at different times in life. Right now, it’s this:

Forget regret,
Or life is yours to miss.

And this:

Give in to love,
Or live in fear.

The rest of the song is sort of hit or miss, but I really love those lines about giving in to love and not missing out on life. It isn’t fun at all right now. It hurts, and it’s scary, and I wish I could fast-forward through this part of life or just cut it out entirely, but I’m starting to think it’s possible that I might make it through to a place of joy again at some point in the future.

A good friend who had a miscarriage a couple of years ago sent me a message that I’ve kept in mind a lot these past two weeks. She said that you never really “get over” it, but that it’s like a drop of ink in water, and over time, it goes from being a drop of ink in a shot glass to being a drop of ink in a bathtub. I hope (and feel like) there is truth in that. And I think that every kindness, every loving thought, word, and deed, every bit of grace and truth, every casserole and chocolate cake delivered, every card, email, text, call, and Facebook message, every prayer, every hug, every moment that folks sit with me and just let me cry, every heart that is broken with mine, every moment of snuggling with my husband, every funny/cute animal picture, every episode of Parks and Recreation, every board game, every warm shower, every breath of fresh air is a drop of water in my glass. It’s still pretty dark, and I think it will be for a while, but it’s diluting slowly.

The Honest Guide to Pregnancy – First Trimester

In case you haven’t heard, I’m pregnant! I know, I know. It’s weird for me too, and most of the time, it still doesn’t seem real. I don’t have that great a bump going on yet, and I can’t feel the baby or anything, so it’s kind of just like I’m bloated all the time and can’t get enough pickles…which, now that I think of it, might have something to do with the bloating.

Aaaaanyhoe…some of the early signs of pregnancy are well-known – morning sickness, food cravings, tiredness. If you had asked me 4 months ago what pregnant women experience in the first trimester, I might have given you those three. Maybe. But I am here today to tell you what it’s really like, or at least what it has been like for me with this baby. I know from being on an expecting moms message board that no two pregnancy experiences are alike, so I won’t presume to say that my experience is universal. But here is what I have learned about pregnancy so far.

Morning Sickness Is a Lie

If by “morning sickness,” you mean nausea throughout the entire morning with possible vomiting between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., then a more sinister nausea with almost inevitable vomiting between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m., and a slight queasiness anytime it’s been more than an hour since your last snack, then yes, that is accurate. But the term “morning sickness” implies that this is an early-in-the-day phenomena that will pass after a certain hour in the day. Lies. So many lies.

The worst part about morning sickness (once you get over the deception of its name) is that it’s every freaking day for WEEKS. Nausea is the worst. Throwing up feels terrible. But usually when you have a stomach bug or food poisoning or something, it’s awful, but it only lasts for a few days. When you feel terrible every day for a month or more, it really wears you down, and you feel like you’re never going to feel good again. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Even though you can’t imagine ever reconciling your relationship with your stomach, there is hope. The vomiting incidents start happening less frequently, and one day, you walk out the door to go to work and realize that you aren’t worried about puking in the bushes on your way to the car. It’s a good feeling.

You Don’t Know What Boobs Are Until You’ve Had Pregnancy Boobs

**TMI Alert**

I don’t think I’ve worn anything smaller than a C-cup since I was about 13, and honestly, I have no idea what size I am now. I found these amazingly comfortable bras a few years ago that just come in sizes small-extra large, and I’ve been wearing them ever since, but when you get pregnant, your boobs decide to get really ambitious. It starts out as a horrible sort of discomfort – we’ll call it “pain” – that makes sleeping on your stomach impossible. Also jumping, running, descending stairs quickly, not wearing a bra, and anything other than very gentle bathing are out. Then you notice that each boob weighs about a pound more than it did last week. When we went to our 2nd doctor’s appointment and I hadn’t gained any weight from the first one, we were surprised because we thought surely my boobs would have tipped the scale, but I guess all the vomiting evened things out.

Why the boobs need to get bigger now, I do not know. It would make sense around month 8, when the baby will be coming soon, and the milk is preparing to come in. But at week 8? I’m at a loss. On the bright side, my husband has no complaints.

Tiredness Is Nothing

Tiredness is what you feel after a day at the state fair, after a long day’s work at the office, after staying up too late and getting up too early. Everybody experiences tiredness at some point. Exhaustion is what you feel when your body is making another human being. I imagine people who work outdoor heavy construction jobs for 10 hours a day in NC in August feel the same thing. For the first couple of months of pregnancy, I slept for 11-13 hours a day, and I have never been more thankful for my part-time job. After sleeping for 9-10 hours at night, it was still all I could do to get through a 4-hour class and eat lunch before napping for another 2-3 hours. I don’t know how women with full-time and/or physically demanding jobs do it. Or moms with other young kids at home. They must have some kind of super power.

I Pee 500,000 Times a Day

I knew that pregnant women peed a lot, but I always thought it was only toward the end of the pregnancy when the baby is huge and stepping on your bladder. Nope. It starts immediately and with enthusiasm (if urine can be enthusiastic). First it has something to do with the fact that your body is making extra fluid in general. By week 6 or something crazy early, you have like 50% more blood in your body. I figured out how much that would weigh and factored it into my first trimester weight gain, but since I didn’t gain any weight, I guess we’re back to the “morning” sickness offsetting things.

I Can Smell Everything x 10

This, they really should warn you about, so I’m here to do it now. I had to switch to an unscented body wash because my regular one made me gag. My sweet husband couldn’t put his face too close to my face because despite his excellent oral hygiene, I couldn’t stand his breath. He could have just brushed his teeth and used Listerine, but my super-sniffer would only detect the half-digested food coming directly up through his stomach and esophagus from his intestines. Speaking of food, the smells of most of them made me sick, so we have gone through cereal at an alarming rate over the past few months. I don’t know how I made it through the worst of it without having to change deodorants, but maybe my brain instinctively knew that my own natural odor would have made me sicker than my fruity Dove deodorant. Thanks, brain, for sparing me from the torture of my own B.O.

Oh! And I smell a phantom smell that follows me sometimes. Mostly, I smell it at home, but I have on occasion smelled it in the car and at work. It’s a terrible, sour milk smell that Will can’t smell at all ever. Fun times.

Food Cravings/Aversions Are Serious

It’s not that you just really want Bojangle’s fries with honey mustard dipping sauce from Chick-Fil-A and a Wendy’s Frosty. It’s that that is the only thing you can even conceive of eating without hurling. And it’s not that the smell of chicken-flavored ramen makes you a little queasy. It’s that should your husband have cooked it in the last 24 hours, you have to open all the doors, turn on the fans, and leave the house for two hours so that you don’t hurl. He has been amazingly supportive and refrained from cooking things we’ve discovered cause a vomiting incident, bless his precious heart.

You Have Pain in Body Parts You Didn’t Know Existed

Ladies, did you know you have something called the round ligament of the uterus? I did not, but I am well acquainted with it now. As your uterus grows, the ligament stretches, and you feel it. Hoooboy do you feel it. You feel it when you’re walking, when you’re sitting, when you roll over in bed (that’s the worst), and when you sit up or stand up. And when you first start to feel it, it freaks you out because any pain in the pelvic region is cause for great alarm, but I’m told it’s quite normal, so whenever I feel something new, I always check first to see if what I’m feeling is connected to the round ligament. It very often is, and the other times, it’s usually gas.

Not Telling People Is HARD

We found out I was pregnant on a Saturday. That night, we went out to dinner and a movie with some friends. The next day, we went to church and lunch with Will’s mom and sister. The next day, I went to work. We told his mom and sister because we HAD to tell somebody, but when I wasn’t telling people, I had one thought running through my head just behind every other thought and conversation: “I’m pregnant. Holy crap, I’m pregnant. There is the tiniest of tiny human beings growing inside my body. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh I’m totally pregnant.” We told family pretty quickly, and close friends followed, but we didn’t tell everyone or make a Facebook announcement right away, and I’m glad. I feel like the news has spread at a pace I’m comfortable with even though not telling people was really, really hard.

Perhaps harder than not telling people is figuring out how to tell them. We just blurted it out for most people. Maybe we should have planned something more elaborate, but did I mention the exhaustion? If I had been awake for more than 4 hours when I told you, blurting it out was probably all I could muster. Whitney got the best announcement we did. She sang us the most amazing toast at our wedding – yes, sang…live – so we thought she deserved something similar. Will had given me a ukulele for Mother’s Day, and I learned how to play Jim Croce’s “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song,” and I changed the lyrics to give her the news. Maybe not my best performance, but it was received very well.

The Internet Is Very Helpful…Sometimes

I’ve read what the whole internet has to say on every tiny little thing I’ve experienced so far, and it can be very helpful, but it can also be completely terrifying. Say you Google “first trimester bleeding.” You’re going to get a bunch of people who say it’s completely normal, and unless you’re also having terrible cramps, you’re probably fine. Then you’re going to get a bunch of people correcting those people, and saying that it’s not normal, but it is quite common, and while you’re probably fine, you should talk to your doctor anyway. Those people are my favorites. But then you’re going to get a bunch of horror stories about miscarriages, at which point you have to just stop with the internet because the more you read, the more stressed out you’re going to get, and that’s not good for anybody.

My Husband Is Amazing

As I mentioned before, I’m on an expecting moms message board, and bless their hearts, some of these women have terrible husbands/boyfriends/fiances. Just terrible. One woman said that the smell of beer makes her sick, but her husband still brings a beer to bed with him and then wants to kiss her with his beer breath. Other women say their husbands won’t help them around the house, but actually complain that the wives aren’t keeping things as tidy as they should. And in one unbelievably sad story, a woman told us that her husband had punched her in the stomach. I mean…really, really terrible.

When I read stories like these from other women, I can’t help but be extra thankful for my husband, who has been a complete champ so far. He does the dishes because the food on them makes me sick. He brings me a bowl of cereal in bed because it helps my stomach if I can eat before I have to get up. He goes to the grocery store because I don’t have the energy to walk that much. He doesn’t cook foods that make me queasy. He doesn’t get upset when I can’t talk to him face-to-face because of his breath. He doesn’t get scared when I start crying for no reason whatsoever. He doesn’t complain that there are three times as many pillows in the bed as humans. He tells me every day that I’m beautiful, and that he loves me like crazy. He doesn’t mind that I went two whole months without folding any laundry. He rolls with the food cravings. If I couldn’t get enough Life cereal last week, but this week it must be Cinnamon Toast Crunch or nothing, that’s ok. And he doesn’t judge me if I eat 10 pickle slices in one afternoon (purely hypothetical situation, of course).

So if I’ve made pregnancy sound terrible so far, then I’ve done a pretty accurate job describing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. I’ve also gotten to see just how lucky I am to have a husband who is so incredibly perfect for me and who loves me so much, to have a body that is capable of supporting the growth and development of a whole other body inside it, and to have friends and family who have bent over backwards to love and support us. Seriously, it’s been wonderful.

And now that I’m in the 2nd trimester, I’m getting over the exhaustion and the morning sickness, so I’m able to enjoy it all the more!

Rest

I don’t get sick often. Not really. I get a cold once or twice a year, but that’s about it. Nothing to even keep me from going to work. The thing is I am very good at knowing when I need to take a break and rest, and I’m very good at saying so and getting the rest I need. But the pace and rigor of this semester have been such that all the rest I get on the weekends simply isn’t enough. And it’s honestly easier to go to work than to get a sub and make lesson plans for them. That is, it’s easier when I’m well. But this week, I’ve been forced to slow down, and I’m very grateful for it.

Last Wednesday, I felt tired. But whatever, I feel tired on Wednesdays. Don’t we all? But I also felt a sort of pain in my ears, like someone was pushing a Q-Tip out from the inside. It passed, and I didn’t think about it again. Thursday, I felt way off. I texted Will in the morning and said I just didn’t feel right, and that I needed to go to bed early that night. By the time I got home Thursday evening, I was really starting to feel bad. I felt feverish and weak, and my throat felt disgusting. I thought it was post-nasal drip, so I took some cold medicine and went to bed.

I stayed in bed until 12:30 Friday afternoon. I tried to get up a few times. I considered it every time I got up to go to the bathroom. But I just couldn’t do it. When Will left for work that morning, we thought I had the flu. But as the day wore on and I didn’t have a runny nose or anything, I started to suspect strep throat.

We went to Urgent Care on Saturday morning, and he confirmed the strep and told me I was not to go to work at least until Wednesday. He also wanted to take some blood to test for mono and said I should stay quarantined until that test came back. So after a quick trip to Target for some penicillin, I’ve been at home since then.

All of that was fine. It was miserable, but it was fine because I wasn’t scheduled to work at all on Friday or Saturday. I was to be a woman of leisure regardless of my health. But then Monday came, and with it, the guilt. I knew I couldn’t go to work, and I had made arrangements and lesson plans for subs, but I felt like I should have been doing something with my WHOLE DAY OFF. Right? Shouldn’t I have been planning lessons or making up tests or doing something productive that I could do from the comfort and rest of my sofa? My husband said no. He said my only job was to get better, and that I shouldn’t do any school work at all. He told me to read, to sleep, to start and finish an entire TV series on Netflix. And for the first time in my life, rest was really, really hard for me.

I realize now that my life had worked up to such a frenzy that coming down so suddenly felt like jumping off the Scrambler while the ride was still in motion. It was scary and not at all safe. But you can’t live your life on the Scrambler even if you do occasionally close your eyes and breathe deeply. So I took the leap.

This week, I have watched all available-on-Netflix episodes of Call the Midwife. I’ve also watched several episodes of New Girl and Doctor Who and no less than four movies. And sure, I did some laundry and some dishes, and I made the necessary arrangements and plans for substitutes for extra days, but I didn’t do any of the work that could wait. I’ll get back to that next week.

One of the hardest parts about being a grown up is finding the right balance between work, play, and rest. It’s hard because it’s different for everyone, so you can’t use others’ lives and needs to prescribe your own. It will only make you feel guilty or crazy or weak. I have coworkers who teach insane hours while also taking care of kids and chronic health problems and who knows what else. They do it, and they’re fine. But their bodies are different from mine, their support systems are different from mine, and their passions are different from mine. Their struggles are also different from mine, and I don’t know what their struggles are, but I know they exist. Nobody has it all together. So all I can do is listen to my own body and give it what it needs. This week, rest has been very, very good.

Sharon’s Truth

Sharon and I have known each other for several years. We met at church and sort of lived on the outskirts of each other’s lives until she joined the mentoring group last year. I love, love, love that she volunteered to write a guest post for me because we are so vastly different. That means that she brings a voice, a life, an experience, and a wisdom to Onward Hoe! that it would never have otherwise. Here she is to tell us her truth.

I have a kinship with the quotation “Keep it copacetic”.  I understand the concept of coloring within the lines and I thrive where there is order.  I can even enjoy chaos provided there is some semblance of order to it.  Organized chaos is my specialty, but only on a limited basis.  And therein lies the rub.

Copacetic is defined as something existing within a perfect order.  Keeping it copacetic is my attempt to control the how and why of things to create and maintain a perfect order.  As a kid I was the fun-loving only child who liked the organized chaos of coercing my friends to push me around on a riding lawnmower because I simply loved to go and needed a way to do so without starting the motor since it was forbidden.  I spent afternoons with friends riding our Big Wheels in our basement within the chalked lanes, stop signs, and turn lanes that I created.  There was creativity, but existing alongside that was organization and a general framework.

In general this served me well throughout my school years and college.  I was an introvert who honed my extrovert tendencies and exercised my leadership to create a narrative for that position and organization.  There were few leadership opportunities that I did not seek to tame.  I thrived in college because there was a space and time for me to ask questions but operate within a framework that was familiar and over which I had some control.  Eventually I graduated with a degree in political science, pre-law concentration and began my work as a paralegal.  In all my years of working within the legal field, I have continued to thrive in that ability to operate within a space of systems and structures that can change but don’t do so suddenly and without some warning and some influence or coercion.

Within my personal life, my relationships thrived when I felt safe to be crazy.  This likely explains my eventual marriage to a man who is jokingly referred to by many in our social circle as “chaotic evil”.  He is the yin to my yang yet we overlap in ways I would not have imagined.  There is safety, once again, within that field of operation of allowing free reign within an established set of parameters.  I was blissful in entering our relationship and marriage, happy to have the freedom to be less inhibited.  So, when I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me without warning, I began to chastise myself for letting down my guard and allowing a less-than copacetic system within my life.

September 8, 2008 marked the date that my world paused unexpectedly while inertia hurtled me forward and somewhere I heard that clichéd record-scratching sound in my head.  My husband of eleven months called me at work that morning to say that we’d gotten the results of his recent medical tests and it wasn’t good.  Leukemia became the cause of whiplash and an adrenaline surge that propelled me to somehow drive home from work, call family and friends with the most ominous news I’d ever given in my life, and get over to a major medical center to check my husband in that afternoon.  There was no passing go and most certainly no collecting $200.00.

Our friends and family surrounded us and it was most certainly a God-send.  We met with doctors and nurses, confirmed that it was a type of leukemia that had a specific plan for treatment that would include about two and a half years of various stages of chemo, and discussed our family planning methods more times than I’d like to count since there was no predictor for whether radiation would be a rest stop along the way and how that could affect our future family creation.

One of the main doctors on my husband’s treatment team is nationally known for his development of a specific treatment regime to deal with the type of leukemia that infiltrated.  We were encouraged by him to keep our one-year anniversary plans on the calendar so that we’d have a goal in mind.  I am ever grateful to that man for giving me that shred of hope three days after my world spun out of control.  Whether he knew it or not, he gave my copacetic-adoring heart the jump-start to continue.  After a three and a half weeklong intensive treatment regime in the hospital, my husband came home for a few days before we left to celebrate our one year anniversary.

Those three and a half weeks and the months and years that followed spoke to my copacetic-loving heart because I found peace in the fact that there was absolutely nothing that I could do.  In this instance, this was a God-thing to heal and to use the doctors and nurses along the way.  I could not cushion the blow of a dwindling immune system, but I knew it was to rebuild a healthy one.  I could not prevent the chemo medicine from wreaking havoc on his stomach lining, but we knew the outcome would be infinitely better.  There was chaos operating within order and there was simply nothing I could do and no responsibility that I had to perform, other than to be there in that experience with my husband and the two of us together seeking to keep our humor and wits about us through it all.

I’m happy to report that we have recently celebrated five years of remission in the only way that is fit:  our annual Survivor Party where we invite lots of people, grill lots of food, and have lots of laughs.  It symbolizes an annual marker to the survival that my husband celebrates and it reminds me that there was a time in my life that I stared down one of the most dreaded things and still felt peace and eventually deliverance to a celebration along the path.

I wish I could bring that same peace into my churning world now.  There are moments when I have ALL THE QUESTIONS and none of the answers.  My heart pounds and my temples throb because I simply cannot process all the change, all the frustration, all the unknowns.  I desperately hang in the balance of understanding how to have faith and hope and still process the realistic frustrations and disappointments of life.

But then there are moments where I look at the things that celebrate from whence we came and I remember that I am stronger than I thought and my copacetic-seeking heart has found kinship and peace before.  There is nothing to prevent that from happening again.

And that’s my truth.

Who’s in Charge Here?

I have a friend who is a model. Literally. I don’t mean that in the same way that people say, “She’s a rock star,” to mean that she is just an awesome person. I mean literally, people pay money to take her picture, and then they use it in advertisements and stuff. Also, she’s done some runway work, so you know it’s not just that she’s pretty easily Photoshoppable. She looks good no matter what she’s wearing, what face she’s making, how she’s standing, or what her hair is doing. She really is just that gorgeous and perfectly proportioned.

She’s also pretty outspoken against Photoshopping models, models being required or pressured to be unhealthy-skinny, and body shaming in general. I appreciate that about her a lot. I think it’s VERY important for the people who are being hired to advertise clothes to be real people with real bodies and not some unattainable, computer-manufactured shape and size. I think it is crucial to the future of our society (not just girls and women) that we get a more realistic idea of what is normal and healthy and beautiful. And anyone or anything that promotes a healthy body image and encourages girls/women to love their bodies is fine by me.

However, I wonder how effective the message is when it comes from girls who already have what most people would consider an ideal body type. Earlier today, my model friend posted on Facebook about the recent Target Photoshop faux pas, saying that it’s not ok to do that to a girl’s body, especially when you’re selling bikinis to impressionable, self-conscious, teenaged girls. 100% agreed. Later, she posted this handy chart of bikini bodies, which I think is great. But part of me responded to the latter with, “Easy for you to say. Your body really does belong in a bikini.”

Here’s the thing. It’s nice and warmfuzzy and girl-powery and all to say that any body with a bikini on it is a bikini body, but what would we really think if we saw a 350-pound woman with lower back hair and stretch marks jiggling her way around the pool? Really, if we’re honest, what would you think? What would I think? Would people say, “You go girl,” or would they take a picture of her as inconspicuously as possible and tweet it with a mean caption about a beached whale? Would people walk up to the deck chair next to her and ask if the seat is taken, or would they keep their distance and be uncomfortable that she’s there at all?

Y’all, we live in a culture where public breastfeeding makes people antsy, offended, and downright nasty, and where pregnant women are considered unfit to wear bikinis. It is ridiculous.

I honestly don’t know how to fix this problem because if a thin, busty, hairless girl says all body types are beautiful, the girls whose bodies are less than ideal (societally speaking) will say, “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to deal with this.” But if a fat, lumpy, stretch-marked and/or hairy girl says that all body types are beautiful, then a lot of people will say, “Yeah… Yeah, whatever you have to tell yourself. Now please cover up/bleach your mustache/pluck your chin hairs/wax your happy trail.”

I am absolutely in no way saying that there is anything wrong with skinny girls, busty girls, fat girls, hairy girls, models or the Loch Ness Monster. What I’m asking is –

Who can fix this?

Who is currently deciding which women are beautiful, which women deserve to be seen by the masses? Who is currently telling us that we must have a gap between our thighs? Who decides how much of a woman’s body to slice off with Photoshop? Who is telling our 11-year-old girls what they’re supposed to look like in five years, how they’re supposed to control the shape of their bodies at a time when their bodies are completely unpredictable and out of control? Whoever is in charge needs to take responsibility for what they’re doing to us, how they’re making us believe outright lies about ourselves and others, how they are shaming us, and how they are causing immense amounts of pain.

How can we get to these people and convince them that all body shapes and sizes really are beautiful? Or to speak their language, how can we convince them that they’d probably sell more clothes if people could see how the styles will really look on their body type? How can we get our society to believe that all women are beautiful and valuable, that there is no wrong kind of body, and that we’re all ok, even if our thighs do rub together?

Annual Birthday Recap: 33

Man, this time last year, Will, Whitney and I were in Charleston so that Will could ask my dad if he could marry me, and Whitney could eat some she-crab soup. Both missions were successful.

Thirty-three was a pretty wild ride. Here’s a recap for you since I didn’t blog a lot:

Proposal

Will and I got engaged on March 27, so it was the first significant thing that happened to me at 33. You can read the story here if you want.

Engagement Photos

The timing on this was tricky because we had to do it before it got too hot and sticky in NC, and we had to do it at a time when Amaris was available, and we had to find a time when I wasn’t teaching, and we had to do it before I had my face cut all up. And although it was tricky, and it was starting to get hot and sticky, I think we got some really good shots. Here’s one of our favorites.

Photo by Amaris Fotographic
Photo by Amaris Fotographic – http://www.amarisfotographic.com/

Surgery on My Face

I had a little basal cell carcinoma on my forehead that was removed about 14 hours after our engagement photo session ended, so basically it was a good thing those pictures came out so good because for the next couple of weeks, I had a giant bandage on my forehead that looked sort of like a Pringle. We called me Pringle-face. It was not so pleasant, but it did provide me with one of my favorite student interactions of the year. The first day I walked into class without the Pringle bandage, one of my students said, with pleased surprise, “Hey teacher! You regrow your face!”

Moving

Dear God the moving. Always the moving. If we don’t have to move this year, that will be wonderful. If we do, we’re hiring people. We are too old to be doing it ourselves, and our friends are too old to be paid in pizza. And we live in a third-floor walk-up that actually requires you to go DOWN two floors before you go up three. I cringe just thinking about how many trips we took up and down those freaking stairs moving my stuff in over the course of about two weeks. And then I unpacked over the course of about three months. A little advice, friends. Hire movers. Then spend your energy on unpacking so that it all gets done in a shorter amount of time. I hate living so unsettled like that.

The Very Unfortunate Destruction of My Toe

The day after I moved, we helped some friends move, and in the course of that, I stubbed my toe worse than you can ever imagine stubbing a toe. When you stub your toe on the bed in the middle of the night, that is NOTHING. I won’t give you any details about it because I am a little queasy just thinking about it, but suffice it to say that I couldn’t wear anything but flip-flops for several weeks, and I couldn’t sleep with that foot under the covers for at least a month. Awesome.

Bridal Pictures

After my face had healed enough, I had another photo session. The timing of this one was also tricky. Amaris was getting ready to go to Italy, so we had to do it before that. But we had to wait for my face to mostly heal so I didn’t look like the bride of Frankenstein. Also, it was still really hot and sticky. And on the day of the photo shoot, it rained before we could get the outdoors portion of our plan done. We ended up going back to Amaris’s house, where we got one of my favorite shots of the whole day.

Photo by Amaris Fotographic
Photo by Amaris Fotographic – http://www.amarisfotographic.com/

Wedding Planning

We still wonder if it would have better just to elope. I enjoyed seeing everyone at the wedding, which I guess is why you have a wedding, but the whole thing exhausted and stressed me out more than I ever want to be exhausted or stressed out again. Maybe I shouldn’t have kids? I know there are people out there who really like that kind of stuff, but it was not my cup of tea at all. Never again.

WEDDING DAY!!!

That’s just nuts. We still can’t believe it’s real. We still feel very much like we felt at this moment:

Photo by Amaris Fotographic
Photo by Amaris Fotographic – http://www.amarisfotographic.com/

Honeymoon!

We spent our honeymoon in Gatlinburg and Asheville, and it was GLORIOUS! We read books, we slept a LOT (mostly because we both got sick, bless our hearts), we did the cheesiest tourist things you can imagine, including Ripley’s Believe It Or Not “Odditorium,” a sky lift, airbrushed t-shirt, and a caricature. The caricature is framed and hanging on our wall of random stuff, and I plan to make a throw pillow out of the t-shirt, maybe this summer when I have the time.

The Holidays

They happened. We spent our first married Thanksgiving here with Will’s family and our first married Christmas in Charleston with mine, and both were great. By that time, we had started to recover a little bit from the wedding, and we were able to enjoy just being off work and hanging out with family and friends.

This Semester

Y’all, this semester is beating me up every day like a mean, horrible bully. I have stress dreams about my students. I feel like I’m working all the time. I’m counting down to the day when these classes will end, and I’ll get to breathe again (52 days). Incidentally, I will also get to blog more when this semester ends, so we can look forward to that. Well, at least I can look forward to that. I won’t speak for you.

But no matter how hard it is, I get to come home every night to this sweet man, who cooks dinner for me, then snuggles with me while I fall into a coma for eight hours, then wakes me up in the morning, encourages me to get out of bed, and lovingly pours me a bowl of cereal when I’m running late from staying in the bed for too long.

Photo by Amaris Fotographic
Photo by Amaris Fotographic – http://www.amarisfotographic.com/

It’s been a tough, stressful, wonderful, exciting, amazing, sweet, crazy, incredible, exhausting, unbelievable year. I can’t wait to see what 34 brings!

That’s My Truth

A few weeks ago, I was texting with my buddy Dallas, and I forget the exact content of the conversation, but she started out a text with, “Here’s what’s true…” And I loved that she said that and not, “Here’s what I think,” because we need to hear truth. We need something solid to stand on. We need friends who will break the banter of a conversation to tell you that something necessary is coming at you, and you should be prepared. Dallas is great for that sort of thing, which I hope you’ll get to see for yourselves, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here’s my truth: We are all in a life-long process of learning, and we all understand and explain things to ourselves differently. Some lessons, I pick right up, some lessons take me FOREVER to learn, and some I feel like I’ve had to learn fifty-eleventy-million times. Sometimes it helps me to retreat and process on my own, and sometimes I need to hear somebody say, “Look BP, here’s what’s true.” I love hearing other people’s lessons and stories because truth is truth, and we all need to hear it. I want more of it in my life, and in the process, I’d like to share it with y’all.

So what’s happening is Onward Hoe! is inviting guest bloggers to share their truth. I have no idea what they will say, but I’m excited to find out.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the title came from, there’s a scene in the movie Waitress (that I wish I could find a video clip of, but I can’t) where the main character, Jenna, asks her boss, Cal, if he’s a happy man. And his reply is:

“Well if you’re asking me a serious question, I’ll tell you: I’m happy enough. I don’t expect much, I don’t give much, I don’t get much. I generally enjoy whatever comes up. That’s my truth, summed up for your feminine judgment. I’m happy enough.”

What’s your truth? What are you figuring out about life these days? What do you know that you know that you know for 100% sure? What matters? Feel free to sum up for my feminine judgment.

Marriage Advice

One of my most favorite pictures from our wedding day came from the photo booth at the reception. I love it for its quirkiness, its uniqueness, and its complete and utter awkwardness.

Photo by Amaris Photography - http://www.amarisphoto.com/
Photo by Amaris Photography – http://www.amarisphoto.com/

When we saw this picture, we were so confused. “Are they saying that this is what marriage looks like? A beer in your pocket, a husband on your shoulder, looking stoically off into space? Or from the husband’s point of view, grasping the beer in your wife’s pocket, looking over her shoulder longingly at said beer?”

I’m still not sure I understand, but I LOVE this picture because it reminds me that everyone’s marriage is different. People relate to each other differently because they are different, and that is a good thing. There is no one-size-fits-all way to do marriage, but we did get a lot of good advice from the cards on the tables at our reception.

Each table had a box of cards with questions on them for folks to fill out during cocktail hour/dinner. One of them said, “What’s the best marriage advice you’ve ever received?” Here are some of my favorite answers – different answers from different people in different marriages, but all good advice:

  • Always tell the truth with a warm heart.
  • Always listen with your heart.
  • Honor the relationship’s rough places as well as the smooth.
  • A Christian marriage isn’t about whether you’re in love. Christian marriage is about giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love.
  • Listen. Speak softly. Act with love. Give grace.
  • Love is patient. So so patient. Try to be patient.
  • Love – laughter – sex – laughter. All created by God, all good. Yep.
  • Communicate…communicate…communicate.
  • Hear what your spouse is actually saying, not what you think he/she is saying.
  • Have physical contact every day! Even if just to show you care.
  • Don’t try to change the other person; just accept and love him/her as he/she is.
  • Do the marital dance often! Cha cha cha!
  • Pants off! Dance off!
  • Never go to bed mad at each other, and have a lot of sex! (Both of these were very popular bits of advice.)
  • Be good to her, or I will break your knees. (Surprisingly not from my dad.)
  • Right and wrong doesn’t matter. (I think this one was from my dad.)
  • And of course, this…

marriage advice

What advice should I add to my list?