As anyone whose ever gone to grade school knows, there are a lot of times in our lives that we are expected to do stupid things that someone else thinks will be good for us.
When I was younger, I was always right. The stupid thing was exactly as stupid as I thought it would be and it never did me any good.
What can I say, I was born knowing everything.
Until I was approximately 17 at which point I distinctly remember the first ever stupid thing that was actually good for me.
My first ever therapist made me do lots of stupid things. I was on the struggle bus and I just really didn’t understand how doing coloring pages in her office and making collages of magazine pictures in my dorm room was going to do anything to help with the fact that I was sad, down, miserable ALL. OF. THE. TIME.
But I (my parents, and their insurance) was paying for this lady, so I jumped through her hoops. I did her stupid things.
Every so often, I’d sit in what’s-her-name’s office with a coloring page and a big box of colored pencils, I’d scritch and scratch on the paper and answer her questions. Talk about my stuffs. Without fear… very open… about things I vowed not to talk about…
Damnit — the coloring! She tricked me into spilling my guts!
And her mind tricks only got more tricksy with the collage business. We talked about a little photo of a martini glass filled with milk for such a ridiculously long time. Why did it attract me? Was it the juxtaposition that I related to? And so on. It had seemed so silly until she really made me think about it. Not to mention the sort of mindful mindlessness of clipping the pictures on the floor of my room night after night.
Art projects, journaling, nerdy ice breakers, flipping through pictures, doing yoga, forced show and tell, filling my body up with sunshine, repeating tiny positive phrases…
Over the years, the stupid things have actually been so effective, that I have even stopped thinking of them as stupid. Actively pursuing things I once-upon-a-time would have immediately, and vehemently, poo-pooed.
And that’s the me of today. I like to try things — stupid things. Weird things. Out of the box things. Recently, through some of the hardest struggles and biggest hurts, I’ve found various artistic endeavors to be particularly helpful, healing, grounding, calming, enjoyable. I’ve pressed flowers and experimented with water colors. Hosted a painting party and DIY decorated my home.
This past weekend, I tried something new yet again. My friend Marie (my spiritual guuuu-ru) hosted a retreat at St. Anthony Spirituality Center in Marathon, about an hour north of me, focused on the use of beads in prayer — Pray One, Bead Two. Sounded neat… and the weekend did not disappoint.
Marie taught us the millennia-long history of the use of beads in various spiritual practices across geography and time. She told us stories about her innate attraction to the repetitive, tactile nature of the use of beads in her own life and the way that translated into a robust spiritual practice in her life today. Marie shared her stories, her knowledge, and her beads with us — oodles of beads — and we built things that meant something to us from the things that she shared.
I made a mental health focused prayer bracelet – a soft, sea green, with beads in sets of three, and a St. Dymphna medal; the patron saint of mental illness.
I made an earth amulet – one big clay circle representing God, the Earth, the universe, the totality, and a single wooden bead above it, representing myself and my place in the whole.
I made a beaded prayer shawl focused on healing – a heavy, long string of lovely beads with colors representing the bodily chakras from head-to-toe, toe-to-head, and back again.
And finally — the story beads.
The second Marie mentioned story beads, the idea of creating a story or party of a story from your life in a strand of beads, I was enamored with the idea. It was the last thing we did, but the first place my mind went as I started sifting through the different colors, shapes, and sizes of beads. As I made every other piece, I set aside the beads I knew I’d use to represent different pieces of the story I wanted to tell. And in the end, putting together my journey through expectation, infertility, miscarriage, depression, and to the place I am now was incredibly cathartic.
Want to see?
It started when we got married. We’d been together FOR-EV-ER. We were both crazy cute kids. We knew we wanted to make some more. We wished for a family all our own.
A year went by. It can take time. We knew that. We saw the doctor, did the tests – probes in unpleasant places, awkward samples in tiny containers. Nothing was wrong. So we stepped it up a touch, another 6+ months of clomid. So hopeful still, it was just a matter of time. It was going to happen. The wish was unchanged. It still had not been granted.
So we went to a fertility clinic in Madison. If anyone could make us pregnant, grant us our wish, it was Generations. Still so hopeful. We started with intrauterine insemination (IUI). Three crystal beads for those three whole-hearted attempts. We had a 30% chance of success each time… if it was going to work. It didn’t work. So we stepped up our game, we went with in vitro fetilization (IVF). Three more crystal beads for our three fertilized eggs — my little maybe babies. Hundreds of pills, injections, patches, swabs, ultrasounds, trips represented by six shiny beads. All the hope in the world in that tiny little section.
And one of those little embryos, the one that survived to implantation, she took root. My body knew her early. My heart fell in love immediately. It felt so uncertain at first. I was nervous and wary. And then one morning, I was in the garage, getting into my car to go to work and had to run quickly back inside to throw up and… it was so real. Who’d have thought vomit could be represented by a big pink bead covered in butterflies? But there it is.
I didn’t know it was a girl, but I felt so certain. I dreamt of of her future, of the uber feminist mom I was going to be. She was going to always feel beautiful and brilliant and bright. Worthy of all the love in the world, all good things, always. I was in love with her. The dream was real for a minute. So real.
Until it was, just like that, over. A picture perfect baby on the screen, but no blip of life. And all of it was over. Forever an angel baby.
We tried three more times. That’s these three beads. One round of IVF with my own eggs and two with donor eggs. But it was harder — harder on my mind, my heart, and my body. And we experienced unexpected and inexplicable failures. Things that weren’t supposed to happen, things that never happen, happened. We got discounts to “make up for it,” but I didn’t want a discount… I wanted a baby. Our baby. The baby we lost. The baby we’d tried so hard to have.
We had to give up. We had to stop. And things were black. My world was sodark for solong. And I still struggle with the darkness. It makes up a really big part of this story, of my story — it’s easy to see, easy to feel, hard to ignore.
But with letting go also comes some sort of acceptance. And we did some big things for ourselves to facilitate a reset — a shift in mindset, expectations. This bit represents the amazing trip we took, across the ocean and back again, the incredible treat we gave ourselves. The incredible joy I felt watching dolphins play in the water far below us. The profound groundedness and acceptance I felt spending those amazing 12 days with my husband and our two best friends in this world.
The two of us came home fresh and refreshed. Ready to do life together. Knowing that our family is just as real as any other family, regardless of whether we end up with human children someday or not. We’re so lucky to have each other.
And so we come to the last segment on the string. This one is me — big and imperfect. I’ve been through a lot, but now that’s behind me. It’s just my story, the tale of how I came to be this big, imperfect rock. And in front of me — 11 beads. 11 for a new beginning. 10, a number of completion, plus 1 to keep going. (Except you know I love Joe Dirt, so I’m going to say it… plus 1 to keep on keepin’ on!)
Finally, the one big special bead that I made myself, molded out of clay. It’s a heart. My heart. With a tiny heart missing — the piece of my heart my girl took with her when she left us. But she also left something behind, an imprint that won’t ever go away. My heart is changed.
It’s been 18 months since we saw our little baby on the screen… only to learn that her heart no longer beat. 18 months since the D&C, the blackest of black, and I’m still grieving. But over the course of those 18 months, I’ve moved from the constant brink of tears to a place where talking about it — walking through the story, remembering what could have been — is something I actually want to do. When someone (anyone) asks about whether/how many kids we have, I don’t want to just say “no” or “none,” I want to say, “Unfortunately, no. We do not have children. We tried for a long time, did everything we could, and even lost one baby, but we don’t have any kids. And we might not ever. It’s been hard, but we have each other and our sweet pup and that’s ok.”
That’s my story. The story the beads tell. And the story I get to share.
Approximately 18 weeks and 500 or so miles ago, I lost my shit.
I was at an all time low. Drowning in grief and self-pity, slipping further and further away from my family, my friends, my self and into a deep dark place that I didn’t honestly want to leave. Not really. It was easier to cry myself to sleep and keep my eyes closed. To sleepwalk when I had to and disengage at every possible opportunity.
It’s better to lose your shit, though. Better than depression. Because losing it means action… and even crazy action is better than complete apathy.
The crazy thing I did? I signed up for a marathon. Not a half-marathon. The whole shebang — 26.2 miles. In Washington, DC. On March 12th. I didn’t even pay the couple extra bucks to make it refundable. I was all in.
I ran 5 times a week for 18 weeks. Mostly outside. Mostly in Wisconsin. Almost entirely in the winter. There were some amazing days and some awful days. Some big blisters and some seriously raw patches of skin. I listened to many books on tape and consumed an inordinate number of Gu gels. I cried, I felt my lips turn blue and then watched them become pink again, I learned that cotton can be both lovely and the fabric of Satan.
Running became my sole focus. The marathon was what I lived for. And in doing so, I looked forward. I moved forward, physically. And because of that, I couldn’t stay stuck in that hole, in that dark place. It became impossible.
I don’t even know where to begin talking about the actual marathon. I had five and a half hours to think real hard about it and I’m pretty sure that during that time I had about five and a half million blog-worthy thoughts… but they must have been expelled with all the vomiting or something (it was intense) and now I’m left with all the feelings and none of the words.
The running was of course a huge and important part of it — I trained for the marathon and I finished it — but it was, for me, about a lot more than just the miles and the motion. My heart was in that race and along the course. My heart was almost literally on my sleeve, perhaps rather on my arm. And it was my heart that got me through it. It was what happened to my heart that made it all worth it.
I wrote the names of friends and family, people who inspire me and fill my heart to bursting with love, all down my arm. A dedication for every mile. But not really a dedication, exactly. I didn’t run for those people… rather, I ran with those people. For a mile at a time, my thoughts were completely focused. Completely positive.
And then, over and over and over again, I’d see a bright blue shirt, a blonde buzz cut, and I’d suddenly know it was my husband on the course. And my dear friend Jess. And I couldn’t help but beam.
Then a blur of green on two wheels, a crazy beard, and my friend Rob was there on his bike — sherpa-ing, willing me on, mile after mile. (And oh my goodness, he saved me in those last 5 or so miles.)
And then at the end. I’m starting to cry now even thinking about it. I heard my name, I saw the smiles, the cheers. My friends, my beautiful, beautiful friends were there waiting for me, five and a half hours after the start — Seth and Jess and Ellen and Rob and Erika and Stephen. Bright pink shirts that screamed that I rock… And I smiled and smiled and smiled. Have I ever in my life felt that loved? That supported? I’m honestly not sure that I have.
Not because I haven’t been that loved and supported in my life. I know that I have. I come from loving stock, there’s no denying that. But I think maybe it took a marathon to really believe it. To believe that I could be worth it, to recognize that all those names scrawled down my arm (and so many others) had always been there for me in exactly this way, on other courses, at other times, through other struggles and to celebrate different victories.
Why did it take a marathon? Why wasn’t the miscarriage enough? Grad school? Depression? Anything else? I’ve been supported in a way that no one could possibly deserve through all of that. So why not that?
I don’t know. But it was the marathon that did it.
Conveniently, I had a therapy appointment the Thursday after I returned from DC. In the hall, before we even got to his office, Dr. C’s first question was: soooo… how was the marathon?
I sat down and told him that it was the most amazing experience. That I’d never in my life felt so loved and supported.
He told me that was a totally weird answer and asked about my legs.
I guess it never really was about my legs.
It was definitely physical in that it was about proving to myself that with respect to my body, despite infertility and miscarriage and faulty brain chemistry, I can still be in control. But more than that… It was about finding my lost shit. About letting my heart feel something really effing amazing. For that, I get a medal.
And to everybody else, my eternal gratitude, appreciation, love, respect, and adoration. I hope you get a chance to feel what I felt, smile like I smiled — marathon or otherwise. Let me know how I can help!
For my upcoming birthday, I’m building myself a library. A special little space full of coziness and books. (And when I’m in it, a big old nerd!) A space to read, think, relax, unwind or wind up, depending on the book, maybe even write a little. And I’m pretty dang excited about it. All I need is the chair — and that’s going to be my birthday present from Seth. Something big enough so that should Curly choose to join me, there will plenty of space for the both of us.
Maybe a little side table for the lamp and cup of tea I envision at my side. My set up will face the fireplace, of course, for night time reading, and soak up the sun from the big window when it’s shining. But most importantly: the books. And I’m definitely an avid collector in that respect. Physically and mentally. I just soak them up, always have, always will. 2015 has been no exception in that respect, although it has been exceptional in a million other ways and because of that — books have been even more important than usual. They have consoled me and distracted me in a way nothing else possibly could and I am so grateful that comfort like that is always, always, always available. Words are so powerful. And well-timed words are probably the most powerful thing of all. I read some spectacular ones this year.
As I moved my most special books from their stacks, shelves, and cupboards into my new little library, I thought back to the Lincoln Later El library (I think it’s maybe called Brick now?) — where I spent all my lunchtimes many years ago. Sixth grade was probably my peak of loser-dom and recess was kind of a nightmare. So to avoid it, I reshelved books in the library. It was glorious to spend my lunch that way every day — handling the books, seeing what others were reading, getting ideas about what I should read next, and helping Mrs. Van-can’t-spell-the-rest a little bit at the same time. (But most importantly, avoiding the playground.) As I looked over my laundry baskets of collected books, I thought back on those lunch times, about the Dewey Decimal System, and how I would organize things in my own little space. A story about the stories I’ve read began to emerge and it suddenly seemed like an appropriate way to sum up the year I’ve had… my mental shelves are bursting, after all. So a little recap of 2015 — in a literary context:
Even before it started, I was quite aware that 2015 was going to be a tough year. Our last round of IUI was in December of 2014 and when it was unsuccessful (again) we knew that IVF was next. I was unhappy and I wasn’t alone. My sister-in-law, Kayla, and I were both dealing with stuff, feeling unhappy, and so we thought we’d read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin together. We started and I thought the research on happiness was fascinating, but we quickly petered out — I don’t know. It just wasn’t really for me, maybe it was the rigidity? Under normal circumstances, I’m a big fan of plans and dates and times and the like, but there’s something about the beauty of evolution and letting things naturally develop over time that I guess I find preferable. Happiness is always a worthy goal, to be sure, but I guess I prefer to take a step, see what happens, and let that inform the next step over making a 12 month plan with its 12 pre-planned steps and putting checks in the boxes as I accomplish them. (Gasp! I love to check boxes! A revelation that that does not apply here.) I’m not sure what Kayla’s thoughts on the topic are (note to self: ask Kayla for her thoughts), but I think the read was worth it just to better understand the science of happiness — the idea of a set point that you can’t sway too much and the notion that little things can make a surprisingly big difference when they become part of the every day.
One of those little things that makes a huge difference for me is audiobooks. I subscribed to Audible in the middle of 2014 and started listening to books while walking, running, mowing the lawn, sewing, driving long distances, etc, and ho-ly cow, I’m so in love. While there’s no doubt in my mind that reading is a worthwhile activity, I somehow always either felt guilty for reading while I could/should have been doing something else or, conversely, while doing something else hobby-ish, I’d rather be reading. Audible has solved that problem completely — now I can do both. This year alone, I’ve listened to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Murial Barbery, Lightning by Dean Koontz, Saint Odd by Dean Koontz, One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz (so yeah, I’m a big DK fan, and his books are so fast paced that they’re some of the best I’ve found for running to), The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (although admittedly, I haven’t finished this one yet — probably better for something like driving than running), The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (which I hated so much, but we chatted about that before), all three All Souls Trilogy books by Deborah Harkness (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life), The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and, at present, Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz (his newest — yay yay yay). I also listened to Scrum by Jeff and J. J. Sutherland. That one was not my choice. It’s a book about a business productivity technique that Seth wanted to listen to and he talked me into listening along as we drove across the UP in September. It was interesting, but not super duper applicable to my lone wolf work environment. On the plus side, however, it was in exchange for that listening experience that I talked him into listening to The Five Love Languages with me on our next drive to and from Madison. As far as self-help goes, it was ridiculously cheesy and almost alarmingly intuitive, yet, Seth and I had an excellent time mocking the self-important and overly serious author and, honestly, recognizing the primary way in which we tend to hear and speak love (me in words, Seth in action) was excellent for us both. Five hours of car time well spent! As far as the rest go All the Light was so beautiful and so hard, but so important and I’m so glad I read it; Orange is the New Black was interesting and informative, definitely a good look at the broken prison system in America, but probably not what you would expect if you just watched the show — sometimes I felt like I was in prison listening to the overly long descriptions of kind of boring things, like prison cheescake and salad bars, a thousand times over; and all the Dean Koontzes were delightful as expected, except that I’m craving so much more about the smooth and blue than the final Odd Thomas book had to offer. The others warrant special attention, however.
The Invention of Wings and The Elegance of the Hedgehog were two of the best books I read all year. They’re both amazing, thought provoking, fascinating. And, while I didn’t think of it really until now, both have in some respect shaped the way I feel about life’s unexpected turns as well as its meaning. Like, so much so, that I should really go back and read Elegance again with an eye to the point of existing, as I’ve lamented over recently. I was so annoyed with both narrators at first — the self-important adolescent and the chip-on-her-shoulder concierge. But they grew and I loved them for it so much in the end. So so much. Anyone can grow, everyone has purpose. Even if just for a moment. Oh, love, love, love! Similarly, the main character in Wings seems so naive at first — and she is, I suppose, because she’s 11 and it’s basically your job at 11 to be naive. But growth and change and heartbreak and breaking hearts, standing up for what’s right for others and recognizing what’s right for yourself, all of that. It’s just beautiful. One of my favorite, favorites. So much so that after I was gifted a second copy (thanks, sweet Ellen! you do know me well!), I re-gifted it to my dear friend Marie and then again at Christmas to my friend Deb. And now you should all read it. Because it’s so so good. (Btw, Sue Monk Kidd also wrote The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, which you know you loved, and that should be an even better recommendation for The Invention of Wings.)
Speaking of good fiction… I also devoured The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and think it was truly the best of the best that I read all year. It’s a World War II-based story about two sisters who are both simultaneously jealous of one another and insecure about themselves, in the end realizing that they’re both incredibly courageous in two distinctly different ways. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful story. Simultaneously heart breaking and heart making. This is probably the book I’m the most insistent that other people read — when Aimee said she was reading books with bird titles I was so excited for her to get to this one, I told Erika to start here when she was looking for recommendations, I sent it to Melissa after she had surgery, and gave Marie a copy for Christmas. These are people I love very, very much and this is a book I love very, very much. Definitely my 2015 Must Read. Oh! And one more “deep fiction” winner — At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants knocked it out of the park once again with another fascinating look back in time, although this time it was the Loch Ness craze in war battered Scotland rather than the depression-era circus scene. Loved.
But it’s not just prize-winning, super deep fiction that I love… I just love, love, love a good story, and twice this year, Lara Lacombe delivered, with both Lethal Lies and Killer Exposure. The biggest problem with Lara’s books is that if you have even the tiniest inkling of nerdy girl-ness inside you or potential for enjoyment of romantic suspense, you better start reading on a Friday night so that by the time you have to go back to work, you’re done with the book and ready to come up for air. I can never put them down and I think that Killer Exposure was actually my favorite that Lara has written so far. It’s crazy to me how addictive her stories are! Similarly, I devoured lots of Dean Koontz, as mentioned above, including my old hard copy of Life Expectancy, which again, proved itself to be my favorite Koontz of all time. It’s just SO good. I also forced Erika to read it. And she loved it. N = 2, must be true! I also loved One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, which wasn’t quite as amazing as Me Before You, but still excellent and a good reminder that when life is super crazy hard, we can, and should, lean on each other; Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal, a race-exploring New Orleans-based book with super likable and interesting characters; Invisible Ellen by Shari Shattuck because I’m a total sucker for stories about fat girls finding acceptance, friendship, worth, purpose, self-love, etc (a la Jemima J by Jane Green), and this book totally fits that bill — brilliant and interesting and funny and witty and super feel-good; and Lila by Marilynne Robinson, which is apparently a stand alone part of the Gilead series that I obviously need to read more of. Sadly, however, not all the fiction I read delivered quite so well and I did find myself pretty disappointed in Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, probably because it was my understanding that Le Guin was a science fiction writer and I just couldn’t reconcile my expectations with the reality of the book — although if I really wanted to read about a woman bogged down by unreasonable expectations that had to overcome great adversity, particularly within the context of her unexpected husband, I’d re-read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (a total masterpiece) instead. I was also disappointed by The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner, which is so sad because it’s a legitimately brilliant idea for a story — I just didn’t really dig the execution, I think. It could have been such a lovely little love story wrapped up in history, but instead felt cheesy. I feel like I want to read the same story with an author like Sarah Gruen or Sue Monk Kidd instead, which seems like such a mean thing to say, but it’s my truth. Sorry, Susan.
Perhaps my two most personally important fiction reads, however, actually fall under a broader category of books — namely, those I read in the wake of grief and really helped me to cope. I re-read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series this year, as we’ve discussed, and while I thought it was about making my maybe baby magical, it actually ended up being an important thing to have done for myself, as I learned only in the wake of my miscarriage. Interestingly, my friend Kristen also recommended to me an adolescent-fiction-slash-graphic-novel called A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and it kind of had a similar story line — a young man’s mother is dying and he calls up a monster to save her, except, the monster wasn’t actually there to save his mother. The monster was there to save him. It’s a quick read, but ridiculously profound and I loved it so much. Probably my number one recommendation in the context of grief specifically. It’s beautiful. I sobbed. So did Kristen. I highly recommend this book. I also recently finished the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness as I mentioned above. Had I read anything about them before diving in, I probably wouldn’t have even stepped a toe in the water — the vampire, witch, demon deal sounds a bit too Twilight-y to suit my HP devotee style (Hermione for life!!), but my mom’s friend and former school social worker, Linda, recommended them to me as I walked and walked and walked through IVF and I am so grateful that she did because I absolutely adore these books. History and magic and love and family and meaning and spirituality and all of the above. Love, love, love, love, love. At nearly 30 hours a piece, it’s impressive to think how many miles I must have run and walked while listening to these three books. The main character even grieved a miscarriage at one point. It was perfection.
In addition to the grief-important fiction, I’ve also read a lot of grief-important non-fiction. Early after my miscarriage, Aunt Becky sent me a copy of To Live Again by Catherine Marshall and I walked with Ms. Marshall for a good long while — in Hawaii, on my way home, many difficult nights, and she’s proven to me over and over again why I find her Prayer of Relinquishment so meaningful, it’s how she lives her whole life. It’s the place she found after the greatest of tragedies, in the wake of the most difficult situation, and she and her words are really an amazing source of strength. Similarly, and then again so completely not similarly at all because there really is no comparing the Catherine Marshall of the 1950s to the Jenny Lawson of now, I also read and loved Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy this year. We talked about the brilliant Bloggess already, but to bring the point home one more time — to move from grief into a state of long-standing, long-battled, hard fought mental illness is not a surprise. Depression is always there waiting for me and I live with it, through it, in spite of it, every single day of my life. Some periods are harder than others and I am not alone. To have collaborated with my healthcare providers to decide to use medication, to participate in talk therapy, those things are not weaknesses — they are strengths, they are good decisions, they are active participation in my own wellness and growth. Also, Jenny Lawson is freaking hilarious and for someone to fit jokes in amongst all that good stuff? Well, that just seems rather amazing, doesn’t it?
(Sad sidenote: hoping for non-fiction goodness a la Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling and Jenny Lawson and the like, I also picked up Yes Please by Amy Pohler at the Honolulu airport after I busted my Kindle on the beach. Unfortunately, I was disappointed — I feel guilty for even saying so, but it just felt so name droppy and gushy about the amazingness of her amazing friends without being particularly hilarious, except when she basically says, “trust me, we were all so hilarious”… I guess you had to be there? So sad about this… but it’s the truth, and it sits half read in a stack next to my bed. Sorry, Amy. This doesn’t change the way I feel about Parks and Rec. Promise.)
I also super loved The Shack by William P. Young and found it particularly encouraging to read Young’s super fascinating imagining of God the trinity. God as black woman, even if only as a representation, among other anti-institutional and/or anti-dogmatic sentiments, has this book frequently labeled as heresy, which I love so much because it says so much about the people who label fiction (a la the Dan Brown books) as such, don’t you think? But besides that, it’s just such an interesting read. I especially loved the way God, the black woman, greets the main character when he first shows up:
Instinctively he jumped back, but he was too slow. With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms, lifting him clear off his feet and spinning him around like a little child. And all the while she was shouting his name — “Mackenzie Allen Phillips”– with the ardor of someone seeing a long-lost and deeply loved relative. She finally set him back on Earth and, with her hands on his shoulders, pushed him back as if to get a good look at him.
“Mack, look at you!” she fairly exploded. “Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face-to-face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my, how I do love you!” And with that she wrapped herself around him again…
… He felt the presence of love. It was warm, inviting, melting.
…and I lose it. I highlighted that passage when I gave this book to my dad for Christmas (even though he’d already read it) because I wanted to make sure that he knows that that’s what it feels like to be his daughter. I just loved the things this book made me think and feel and consider. If you’re at all interested in spirituality sans dogma, in spite of dogma, or to make you think about dogma, this is a really good read. Also, spiritually speaking, I super loved The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I started reading it right after my friend Aimee‘s mom (I love all Rathbuns so much — like, they’re basically my sports team and I should get myself a jersey to wear) pinned it and shortly thereafter, my mom bought me a copy that she then kept for herself because she loved it so much too. Brene Brown is a shame researcher, a true academician and expert in psychology, and also one of the greatest spiritual thinkers/writers I’ve ever encountered. Imperfection is all about being who you really are, warts and all, why that’s hard, and why it’s so necessary. There was so much good packed into the book that I feel like I need to have it with me at all times as a reference manual — things to constantly think about until completely internalized. Similarly, Savor by Shauna Niequist is a daily devotional, or perhaps more accurately a book of daily reflections, chock full of this kind of thing — ideas about giving yourself grace, being present in the moment, etc, that are totally worth thinking about. Beautiful things, every day. And something I think I could read over and over again every day in perpetuity.
At present, I’m reading Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America by Margot Adler as quickly as I can and tiny bits of Praying with Celtic Holy Women by Bridget Mary Meehan and Regina Madonna Oliver on a daily basis. The Moon is a really interesting historical narrative on polytheistic practices in this country over the past century, as well as where they may have come from in the more distant past. I got interested in the topic after reading about some of these Celtic Holy Women who were really fascinating early adopters of Christianity. I wish I had more time to spend deep diving into all the millions of areas I get interested in because both of these books make me ask more and more questions and want to read more and more books. I suppose that’s what my little library and all this spare time are for.
I approach 2016 knowing that we’re in for another tough year. My 32nd birthday is nearly here, which means my ovaries are rapidly approaching what the fertility specialist appears to believe is the end for me in my fertility journey. We’re doing IVF again in the spring and I know full well what that means now. In addition, I also know that even in the unlikely event of pregnancy, miscarriage is not only a very real possibly, but a pretty likely outcome. I know what that feels like too. But I’m not ready to give up on this path quite yet, so we head into the new year with our eyes wide open and our scars still red and fresh. My mental library has a whole new annex and my physical library will be a place of refuge when I need it. So back to my dear Hagrid, one more time — what’s coming will come and we’ll greet it when it does. Fortunately, for me, I can greet it like my beloved Hermione, frizzy haired and nose in a book.
Au revior, 2015! Any recommendations for stocking my shelves in 2016???
In my last post before the Worst Thing happened, the one where I talked about being scared about the Worst Thing (EFF, right?), I ended with an HP quote from Hagrid, the loveable half-giant groundskeeper of Hogwarts. I said:
It’s funny because I thought that when the IVF was over, we’d have an answer and I’d feel resolved in some way. But I don’t. Not at all. Excited and happy, of course, but definitely not resolved. And what I probably need most of all is to circle back to that lovely prayer of relinquishment — the one that, with both hope and gratitude, accepts what is to be. Or, as Hagrid says, “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”
It made sense when I said it. It made me feel like a confident person, ready to handle anything, good or bad, with a bit of grace.
I’m devastated and angry and broken and oh so messy — always on the brink of a sob, full on water works with snot and ugly crying and ohmygod why does my mouth do that. Swollen lips and puffy eyes. Kleenexes and kleenexes and kleenexes. There is not a single thing that is graceful or dignified, stoic or brave about it.
But I finished HP very, very early on Friday morning (I fought the sleeping pills — which are the only thing keeping me alive, I believe — until 1:40 in the morning, just to see sweet Albus Severus get on the Hogwarts Express). And it was fitting that I finish it now, the end of the series coinciding with the end of… everything. The IVF, the pregnancy, all of it. Interestingly, though, the thing that meant the most to me this time around wasn’t the defeat of Voldemort, the duel between Mrs. Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange (“Not my daughter, you bitch!”), or Neville’s moment of glory. I still felt sad over poor Fred and overjoyed at Ron + Hermione. Grateful to Narcissa and shocked, pleased, amazed over Snape. But the thing that meant the most this time around… it was Hagrid’s grief over Harry’s lifeless body. His absolute devastation in that moment, the messy, sloppy tears and absolute wretchedness. It led me back to remember the other moments that Hagrid wept, over Buckbeak (whew) and Aragog (also whew?). Nearly lost it when he discussed his dear, departed dad.
The very same Hagrid who said with confidence implying grace and stoicism: “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” And I suddenly felt just a little less stupid about all the things I’d said. Have ever said. The things I told my therapist made me a complete and total idiot, full of shit, writing and writing and writing about things that made absolutely no sense and that I didn’t actually believe when it came right down to it. (He said that we probably didn’t need to discuss that quite yet, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t obsessed anyway.) Because what was coming did come, and I have met it as I am. Having said all the things I said and wrote all the things I wrote. I never did promise to meet it with grace, just to meet it — because what, exactly, does grace look like when your baby dies??? Quite frankly, I reacted just like Hagrid would have. A curly-haired, creature-loving, half-giantess in my own right. Snot and tears and full on grief — grief because I loved. Like Hagrid.
But, sadly, also like Voldemort. Because when my baby died, a piece of my soul went with her. My grief is like Slytherin’s locket turned horcrux, hanging heavy around my neck. Making me think crazy, twisted, untrue thoughts — all the reasons it’s my fault, all the reasons I deserve to hurt, to have lost, to not be a mom. It drove Ron mad, and he was magical… what chance do I have?
But then again, Ron found his way back. The strength to try again. I guess I have to believe that I will too because despite the fantasy, the magic, the make believe… is there anything truer than Harry Potter? Good and evil, yet nuanced — “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us.” And outside us too. We all spend time basking in the brightest light and plunged into the deepest dark. Harry, Hermione, and Ron… Ginny, Luna, and Neville… Hagrid and sweet Dobbie, even Kreacher… they can teach us so much about that.
I started re-reading the series from the beginning on the day I started injecting the IVF drugs, in the hopes of producing a baby who loved it too. Of imbuing my eggs with a sense of magic. Of passing that on to my little one.
But she didn’t need it. I did.
It’s fiction. Children’s stories. But it’s parables too. Messages and lessons and thoughts worth thinking about, characters worth learning from. When nothing else helps, I’m glad I had it. Have it. Magic.
I had surgery last Wednesday. I woke up heart broken and body destroyed.
I’ve spent a lot of my time crying since then. And by Sunday, all the crying started to make me feel panicky — shouldn’t things be getting easier? Why does the pain keep coming? Wave after wave, worse and worse.
I made an emergency appointment with my therapist on Tuesday morning. I told him that I couldn’t stop the thoughts and that when the thoughts came I couldn’t stop the pain. The tears. The torture.
He reminded me that I’m grieving. He told me that this is normal.
I had a follow-up appointment from my surgery with my ob/gyn today. I told her about all the bleeding that comes and goes, about my puffy, swollen (think over-risen bread in a loaf pan) ankles and feet. Everything hurts. She reminded me that I just had surgery. That my ovaries are still hyperstimulated. She told me that this is normal.
I explained it all to Seth over gchat and ended with “I hate this new version of ‘normal.'” It was the truest thing I ever typed.
Normal has never been this hard. Normal has never felt so broken.
One of the weirdest things about this new normal is the lack of intense focus, the goal in mind. We’ve tried for years (YEARS) to get pregnant. Appointments, pills, ultrasounds, procedures, injections, the works. Since April, when we started gearing up for IVF, the intensity has been even greater. All eyes on the prize. And we won the prize. We held it in our hands, so briefly. Even after winning, so to speak, the focus didn’t lessen — 9 months ahead to parent-dom and a baby on the way. The goals changed, but they were still intense… eat not to vomit, avoid the smells, schedule the appointments, do all the things. Until in one awful moment, there was no longer any goal at all.
And this weird place, broken body and soul, became my new normal.
My therapist suggested on Tuesday that maybe now I just focus on healing — my body and my mind. It’s hard to say ok to that, honestly. Because I don’t want to heal, I want my baby back, to go back to two weeks ago when that little heart was still beating inside me. But one of those things is possible and the other is not.
So to heal is the only way. The only focus worth having.
Healing has to become my new normal. Maybe I can hate that less?
Admittedly, healing definitely starts from without in this instance. I can’t tell you… can’t even begin to express… how much love and support Seth and I have felt in this difficult (absolute crap) time. My friend Margaret said to me, “I pray that you can look out the window at a beautiful day (as I’m doing now) and be able to thank God for all the amazing blessings that you HAVE received, knowing that there will be many more to come.” And the blessings that we HAVE received are unbelievable and generous and innumerable and amazing. We have so much love in our lives, we have each other, we have our pup, our families, our friends, our jobs, our health, and so many other really, really Good Things. Even the weather, which actually has been lovely, like Margaret said.
We are lucky in a lot of ways. And no one is lucky in all the ways.
On Saturday evening, my dad and I sat on a boardwalk on Mackinac Island watching the sunset over the bridge.
Admittedly, my faith has been shaken and my beef with the almighty feels kind of big right now, but my dad assured me that someday, I will find Meaning in this. Even this. I think he’s probably right. I can’t look too hard for it at the moment. I’m still too sad, too angry, confused and upset and… as I’ve said a million times, broken, to find it. To even know where to start looking. But maybe that meaning is what comes with healing. And eventually incorporation of that meaning into my life can become my normal. That would probably be a better place to be. Another new normal, a little better than the last.