I typically enjoy the “Coffee with Jesus” comics. I ran across this one today on a friend’s page and it resonated with me–although it was a different sort of resonate than the first time I saw this a couple of years ago.

Finding meaning in what you’re doing is hard. Really hard. Let’s face it: most of us work jobs where we are a mere cog in a machine we can’t even fathom. Many of us are part of a system that we hate in general, but because the system exists, so does our job. How much more self-hating can you get?!

Sometimes, though, a new attitude doesn’t come naturally. Sometimes you need a new treadmill.

I am still working as a cog in an enormous machine–a machine that, in part, I despise. If the IRS tax code weren’t so darn complicated, most of us would not have jobs in accounting (yes, there are still jobs aside from tax, and accountants have been around long before taxes became so complex–my job is actually not tax, but I can promise our firm would not employ so many or have such long hours if taxes were a simple 5% of your income or the like). And here I am. I make changes to numbers, omit or add commas, move text so slightly you might not notice if you weren’t me, and white out smudges and marks on pages before photocopying and binding. It is in so many ways a boring, unimportant job. And yet my co-workers consider my job one of the most important. Why? Because I’m the person who makes their hard work become reality. If I weren’t there, those numbers they computed would just sit in the Excel documents on their computers, doing no good for anyone. Having a job like this–which is insanely stressful some days (like today), I might add–has really helped improve my attitude toward being a cog. What I was doing before had more feasible results, in some ways–I paid bills and received money. It seems like that should feel more important. It didn’t. Seeing the product in my hands helps me feel like this treadmill I’m running isn’t so aimless.

I was reflecting today what a major change my new office is as well. I didn’t know just how deeply affected I’d been by jobs I’d worked in the past–especially at the public defenders’ office. I catch myself flinching whenever someone approaches me, and my heart races every time I get an e-mail or IM. The supervisor at the law office had a perspective that in order to be in charge of others, you have to routinely yell at them. She and the director both felt that taking the blame for something (or admitting any fault) was a severe short-coming. I apologised once for something that really wasn’t my fault, but that I had missed before handing it off, and was reprimanded severely for my lapse in judgment. I found myself quickly wanting to place blame squarely on another’s shoulders instead of taking any part in it because of that reaction. And the supervisor rarely spoke to me unless I was “in trouble.” Usually the mistake was her own, but since she couldn’t possibly admit that, I was next in the chain to take the hit. I often received angry, passive-aggressive e-mails from co-workers. There was so much anger just flying everywhere.

After four years of dealing with that environment, which at the end started just feeling “normal,” I see now what’s happened to me. I feel constantly guilty because even if I don’t feel like I did something wrong, I probably did. I am convinced everyone is mad at me. I stare at an e-mail with two sentences for an eternity before sending it, hoping that my simple request (“Please sign off on the RCS.”) won’t be taken the wrong way. When I get an e-mail, I tremble that someone misunderstood my intentions in my message.

I wonder if I’ll ever feel comfortable again. I wonder if this feeling will forever be ingrained in me. It’s purely exhausting.

The work environment has helped my attitude so much, and has helped this treadmill be a little less pointless. I see why people like working here.

It also gives me the question: why do so many people feel like they need to rule with an iron fist? Why can’t lesser-ranking staff be shown respect? Why can’t a supervisor or boss gain others’ esteem by being a good person to emulate–and not simply bow their heads in fear?

Maybe we’d all be able to find our treadmills a little easier to endure.

Mothers’ Day when mothers are difficult and you aren’t one

I’ve heard several people say, “There are plenty of women who have given birth who are not mothers, and plenty of women who haven’t given birth who are.”

Mothers’ Day is for women who have mothered their children (or someone else’s children), not for the rest of us.

I think even if the unimaginable happens and I ever have a living child, this holiday is going to be banned in our household. It infuriates me that it’s more sacred than Christmas or Pascha, and that it hurts so many women in so many different ways.

But truly, knowing what I know about pregnancy and childbirth and the frailties of infancy, I am amazed every day that any of us are even here. The fact that women for millennia have sacrificed themselves–their lives at least figuratively, and sometimes literally–for the continuation of humanity is humbling, even and perhaps especially in this age of low infant mortality. We are all here because someone sacrificed for us, even if they didn’t mother us.

The day is not just sad because our babies are not with us, and I can’t be a legitimate mother, but also because I deeply mourn not having a mother-in-law. I always wanted a mother-in-law who would be like a real second mother to me–someone I could call and e-mail and go shopping with. I have met my mother-in-law three times now, she has never said more than five words to me (I remember them all: “Hi,” and “Go sit over there.”), and she didn’t bother showing up for our wedding. Having a baby made us more distant from here, since she verbally expressed to my husband that she was “too young” (at the young, young age of 60) to be a grandmother so we needed to have an abortion.

On Mothers’ Day, I mourn for our lost children (especially since everyone chooses this day to announce their own joyful, perfect pregnancies) and for the mother my husband and I both lost.

It is hard to be joyful when my heart is in pieces. The struggle against bitterness is ever so hard.

Maybe if others can be shocked and horrified when you asked what they did on Christmas (“*gasp* I don’t celebrate THAT!”), I should be able to do that about Mothers’ Day, too.

The mountains that were once molehills

Last weekend, I made a trip that four years ago would have been effortless–and was, since I made a similar one about four years ago.

Strange how time and experience change everything.

I visited my alma mater for an alumni get-together–an extra special one that the symphonic winds group throws just once every five years for alumni of the group. A concert is held and former students spanning fifty years attended. It was a good excuse to see people I hadn’t seen in a long time, and also those I doubt I’d ever see any other way since we weren’t close enough to actually visit each other, but it’d be nice to keep up on each other’s lives once in a while.

We’d been planning the trip since November, when I was pregnant but didn’t quite know it, and then I was contemplating going with the knowledge that I’d be six months pregnant for the trip. By the time we bought plane tickets, that baby had died, but his presence in our plan-making hung over my head the whole trip.

The plane ride was by far the most difficult I’ve ever endured. I’ve been on planes nearly a hundred times (perhaps literally) and they never really bothered me. Then again, last time I flew, I was still able to drive, I was still able to bear being a passenger in the car–let alone the driver! I can hardly stand the almost rural area we live; could I survive Southern California traffic??

I felt like it was a huge milestone for me to be able to make it through the flights, and to be brave enough to suggest my husband rent a car for two of the days we were there. I didn’t drive, of course, but I only had a handful of minor panic attacks, which is improvement. Just being able to get there, make plans, be OK with plans not working, and to be calm enough to face those I haven’t seen in so long and admit that I’m not the person I thought I’d be today–those were all huge things for me.

I try not to compare it to how I was upon graduating four and a half years ago. Let’s face it: there is no comparison. I have been through more like in the past four and a half years than the first twenty-two (and those weren’t a piece of cake either). So why would I expect to still be that person?

I dreaded most the number of colleagues who would be happy, ignorant parents by now. But I was surprised–the vast majority of them, while married, do not have children born or in the works. One friend had a baby shortly after Seraphim was born, but she left him at home. I think all of this helped me feel more comfortable. Do I want people to have babies and continue the human race? Absolutely. But right at this moment, I have to admit I don’t want to know their children. Right now I want to feel comfortable in my own skin again, with other people my age, and then maybe I’ll feel comfortable with children again–once we have our own, as unlikely as that will ever be as it looks now.

I am thankful the trip was so positive, and it makes my heart ache for the past. I hope I can channel the ache into encouragement–supporting myself to come out of my shell of pain a little, revisiting the things that once brought me such joy.

Just fat, not pregnant… anymore

“So I see you’re expecting.”

I never lost the baby weight.  My stomach is still protruded.  Despite months of strict diet and faithful exercise, I couldn’t lose a pound, couldn’t lose a dress size.  I am a perpetual 6-month-pregnant blimp.  I was never a “big” pregnant woman, but what I was is how I’ve remained post-baby.

And so I get these questions and comments.  They hurt because they remind me I have had babies inside of me before, but not now, and I have nothing to show for the 55 pounds I gained.  It’s like the weight is holding on, still anticipating a baby before it lets go.

I think I was most irked by this woman’s comment because I felt like she should know better.  I guess the priest who had arranged for us to stay with her while we were in town for Palm Sunday services didn’t warn her.  I guess she didn’t put two and two together when, a little panicked, the priest called her while we met with him to inquire if her pregnant daughter and 2-year-old had moved out yet–they had just moved that day, thankfully.  He had forgotten that that would be intensely difficult for us.  I guess she didn’t wonder at all that he asked about that, and her first comment when we met was to congratulate me on my pregnancy.

I always want to talk about my son, but I don’t want to have to talk about him like that.  “Oh no, not pregnant, just still fat after a depressing year+ of losing babies.”

It would be easy to say that maybe others shouldn’t jump to pregnancy conclusions, but among Orthodox women, it’s usually true, so I can’t really blame her for that.

Day 3 of the New Job

I started working at the CPA firm on Wednesday.  (Why, oh why, did they have me start two weeks before taxes are due?!?!  It’s beyond insane there!)

My first assignment was to travel four hours from home to the regional office (which is further away than the national headquarters, sadly), and that terrified me.  I don’t really drive anymore, and the job promised no travel.  Thankfully, a friend was on spring break and said she’d be up for a road trip.  So we made the trek through dust storms (our state is experiencing a drought thanks to no snow this winter) and hail.

I learned right away that working for a private company is so. much. different than working for the government–essentially my only background.  They handed me a stack of gift cards, a polo shirt with the company name, a water bottle with the company logo, a backpack/laptop case (again, imprinted with the company name), and a laptop.  The laptop is technically my CPU but is also portable, so I eyed it in hopes that it means I will at some point be allowed to take my work home once in a while.

My new employer is proud of being a family-friendly company.  That was something that attracted me to them.  For folks who work more than 75 nights away from home, they can take their spouse with them (on company money).  They offer short-term disability insurance for 12 weeks, and that covers maternity leave.  If your normal childcare is unavailable, they have back-up childcare for you.  You can get a bonus for adopting a child.

All of this is really great, and really encouraging in our own plans to try to have a baby again whenever feasible, but then there’s the issue that I didn’t really think through in a family-friendly company: everyone has kids and everyone wants to talk about them.  I have already had to tell about ten people that my son died last year, and I know in time I will need to tell everyone.  I need to guard myself for triggers and remember that people don’t understand if I’m distant or uninterested in someone’s new baby.  I must be careful to be approachable while still being able to take care of myself.  It’s a hard balance.

So I am glad I am where I am, and I am encouraged that if we do succeed in having a baby in the next year like we hope to that the company provides resources much better than FMLA.  In the mean time, life is still going to be really hard, even with the much-needed change.

Bridal Showers

The problem with Orthodox women is that it seems like they are perpetually pregnant.

I never thought this was a problem before.  I used to think it was great that everyone was having babies and creating new life, new people to share our beautiful world with.

Now every time someone is pregnant or has a baby, I feel like I am pushed further out of the circle.  “Where’s your baby?  Why aren’t you one of us?” their eyes seem to ask.

No one else has heartbreaks.  We were the first family with an infant loss in decades, as far as anyone could remember.  And those women went on to fulfill their quotas.

It is strange and shocking how deeply I grieve my own babies whenever I am in proximity to a pregnant woman or newborn babies.  Especially when I know the people.

I was at a bridal shower today, and it was painful.  More pregnant women (for one, it is her eighth), more babies (the fourth for one, the ninth for another–her eldest daughter was married last summer and her eldest son is the groom-to-be), and the mandatory jokes about how long before the peace will be shattered in the newlyweds’ home before the children arrive.  All I could think of about those jokes was how this “peace” they were talking about was a lot more likely to reign with living children than dead ones.  The death of a child is a hard, hard thing on a marriage.  As much as we have grown closer and clung to one another, “peace” is not a word I would use to describe what the death of our firstborn brought to our home.  We would have a much more peace-filled home if he were in it.

A couple of years ago, I was in her shoes.  I had the bridal shower with all of the pregnant women in attendance, all of the jokes about the babies we were going to have (and how our first would be about nine months after the wedding, which my well-meaning bridesmaid was just about right on).  I wish I had that carefree feeling still, that hope.  I see this bride-to-be sitting there amid the jokes and love and know she will probably not have to experience any of this.  Maybe I will be the only one.  But it still always makes me fear for the newlyweds, that they will face some sort of devastation as we did.

But, like just about everyone else, they will probably have a healthy baby by this time next year.

The end of a chapter

Today was my last day at the library. Next week, I start a new adventure at a CPA firm consistently voted best 100 places to work (and top 100 places to work for women).

I am thankful for my time at the library (despite the slew of bad experiences I had) to teach me the unique importance of the existence of libraries. Even though I jokingly say I “grew up” in a library, reading every book that interested me and spending hours upon hours of my homeschool years camped out at the library to study and explore the shelves, I never realised until working there how valuable they are for our communities.

I often received comments from others scoffing the need for libraries today in our “high-tech” world–a world where so many hardly ever pick up a real book. Yet these people obviously have not walked into a library lately since there are so many more materials available than hard copies of books. Check out your local library and you will find yourself amazed at the resources available to you–resources like genealogy tools, language-learning tools, access to prominent newspapers, and more than I could possibly list! Besides, reading keeps your mind sharp, so while you’re taking advantage of all of the online tools that your tax dollars are already paying for, pick up a book and learn how to do something new, remember how to imagine, explore a time period far in the past.

I am glad to be going to a new opportunity to use my knowledge and skills, but I will continue to be passionate about library services–even though I can no longer say I am employed at one.

In some ways, it’s bittersweet.  In other ways, it’s just plain great to be moving on, with a head full of knowledge.  I keep looking at my son’s picture and saying, “This is for you.  Everything is for you.”  I want the change that I am living today to be because of and always dedicated to him.  Too many bad things have happened in the last year; it’s time to forge a new road with new opportunities, new room for growth, and, most of what I long for–new hope.


Why are decision so hard?

I made what turned into a hard decision, strangely.

I applied for a job I really wanted, and got it.  So when I went to resign, at one of my jobs, my employer offered me full-time hours at a higher rate than what the new job was offering me (I have worked half-time for four years).  It is comfortable to stay, so I let the new job know.  They countered with a higher rate, which really surprised me.

Every time I thought I picked which one was the “right” decision, I second-guessed myself.  My husband and I have gone back and forth on it for a week now.  I have driven myself half mad over it.  I’ve turned this into the biggest decision of my life, upon which all other things rest.

Neither option was the “obvious” choice.  Both had pros and cons.

I ultimately chose the new job, deciding I need something new, I need to be somewhere I can use my talents and skills as well as learn something new.  Where I am now, I will not be challenged to grow and learn.

I have developed a deep fear of failing, and I know that if I stay where I am, I won’t likely fail.  I know my job too well.  This new job is, well, new.  I could fail.  Maybe I’m not actually worth the money they’re offering me.  Maybe instead of 40 years, I will only be able to give them a year or two of my life.  I don’t know anything about the future.

I feel a deep guilt over leaving my current job–especially since they said they could double my hours since they want to keep me.  And instead I’m going to do something new and unknown instead.

It’s stupid that I’ve spent all afternoon crying about the decision I made.  I didn’t want to see a good opportunity go and regret it forever, like I have about some things.

I hope that a month from now I am glad I made the decision I made.  I have been asking God for guidance and help, and this is what He kept shoving me towards.  So all I can do is leave it up to Him to help me find peace about this decision–especially since starting a new career feels like putting motherhood on hold for a while.  And I neither want to do that, nor do I feel like I can afford to, with my track record.


On Seraphim’s birthday, I had a job interview.

I was angry about the whole ordeal for a number of reasons.  First, I had already needed to be nearly two hours late to work the week before for a phone interview (my interview was at 9, and the bus schedule didn’t allow me to get to work till 10).  Second, I had been called the day before Seraphim’s birthday asking for an in-person interview for Wednesday or Thursday.  I requested Thursday the 19th, late morning.  It was supposed to be a two-hour interview, which made it worse.  I received an e-mail later that day confirming my interview for Wednesday the 18th.  I nearly cried right then.  I was feeling OK that day, but I had no idea what it would feel like to celebrate Seraphim’s first birthday without him.  I wasn’t so sure I could impress an interviewer on my son’s death day.  As much as I wasn’t sure I even wanted the job, I didn’t want to embarrass myself either.

I cried my eyes out the whole way to work, which was disastrous for the makeup I’d dutifully applied in preparation for my interview.  I don’t wear makeup often, but I know that it is considered important in the job world, so I do my duty once in a while.  Somehow, the mascara and eyeliner did not leave hideous streaks down my cheeks, so I was miraculously saved from looking like a zombie bride for the interview.

I had never had an interview that lasted two hours before.  The mere thought frightened me nearly sleepless the night before.  I was running through my head trying to dig up every single interview question I’d ever been asked and more.  I couldn’t compile a list long enough to necessitate such a long interview.  I’d already done hours of testing for the job, so I knew that wasn’t part of it.

The interview turned out to be five interviews with six different people–apparently getting six CPAs in one room at the same time to perform an interview is too difficult, so they needed to split up the time.  I also figured it was so they could see if I were consistent.  They all asked me about two things that were the same.  What struck me, though, was that this interview was not in front of a panel with a sheet of questions in front of them.  All that each CPA brought with him or her was my resume–my resume that each of them had actually read and had actual questions to discuss with me about my experience and education.

The first question I was asked was not something along the lines of, “Describe your accounting experience,” or “What is your biggest professional failure?” but rather, “I see you have an English minor.  What book are you reading right now?”

Each of them loved that I had an English minor, am currently taking accounting courses, and needed no explanation that my music degree is useful in the “real world” (even in accounting) since they all readily noted that they know music and mathematics to be intrinsically related.

It was a loving, accepting, encouraging interview.  I left feeling like those people would be the people who would understand me in ways that most of my co-workers have not over the years.  It was not the bad experience I feared on Seraphim’s birthday.  It was the opposite.

I cried when I got home and told my husband about the interview.  That is usually a bad sign, but this time it was because I was overwhelmed.  I told him how much the interview made me want the job, but how I don’t feel like I deserve a good job like that.  I am still struggling with getting up in the morning, I still can’t drive, I still have mood swings from hell.  It was a job I wish I could have gotten two years ago, but realistically I knew I would not have been prepared for it then.  The job involves writing financial statements, which I could have learned at any point in my life I am sure, but I know that part of the reason the CPAs liked me is because I told them I have been reading financial statements every week for my online courses.  Would I have been as appealing if I had stared at them blankly when they asked me if I knew what a financial statement was?

I feel sick in my stomach about the job, in part, because they made it clear that the woman who is retiring now–whose place I would be filling–has been there 40 years, and they’re hoping the same for whoever takes her spot.  I can’t commit to decades of service for the sole reason that I can’t commit to living her for decades.  The deep pain and grief we have endured this year have nearly driven us out of the city altogether.  One of our goals was to move away, start over.  In the mean time, I needed a job where I could start over, too.

Accepting this job means committing to living here longer.  I have mixed feelings about that.  Not accepting this job would likely be something I would regret forever.  Yet I am fearful about not being able to drive, about living away from my husband for half of this year if his teaching assignment moves him somewhere else, which is probable.  Yet, there was no guarantee I would find a job where he would be forced to move, so I might have had to stay put anyway.  I might as well be doing a job that uses the skills I have and develops new ones, at a place where I feel like I “belong” for once.

I find myself fearing the silliest things–like giving up the slightly more paid time off I am getting at the law office, and giving up my grandfathered-in pay scale that I was never going to truly benefit from anyway.  I will give up my public employees’ retirement plan I was probably never going to get (and if we stay in the state and I go back to government work at some point, I’d still have it).  I will give up security–knowing how to do my job and having enough seniority to say, “I remember four years ago when we were doing this…” to the newer staff.

I have lost some of my sense of adventure and motivation that I had when I was fresh out of college.  Losing my baby has a lot to do with this.  I like being safe.  I like things staying the way they are.  If I take a new job outside of the system I am currently in, it means not being in my comfort zone, not being in control.  It means failing because I’m going to be learning.

Maybe it will be good for me.  We’ll see.

They still have to do all the background checking and reference checking, because for some reason they do things in opposite order of everyone else.  So it feels surreal and like a “maybe” until then.  I feel the same way about the new job that I felt about having a baby–it was all just, “Maybe this will happen…”

I want to be confident, whether I succeed or fail.  I want to know who I am in the process and be able to cling tightly to that.

Birthday, Memories, and Life Today

Last week was my little Seraphim’s birthday.  I have mostly been holed in, trying to cope with the fact that life goes on around me even if I’m not prepared for it.  I couldn’t even taken the day off for his birthday.  Life keeps moving forward even when it feels like it’s standing still.

I remember so much of the day he was born: being rejected by the local hospital three times the night I started labour since everyone was in disbelief I actually knew what I was talking about, my preterm labour that couldn’t be stopped until I got to the right hospital (only then to need to be restarted), being life-flighted across the state, the amnioinfusion that might have helped my baby make it into the world more safely, the epidural that was almost very bad for both the baby and me, the anxious hours waiting for my son to be born, the anxious hours waiting to find out if he would live.  The hours we got to hold him before he died, and then after.  I remember his red hair and brown eyes that shocked the nurses and doctors so much.

I remember how much my husband cried.  He’s cried in my presence about a handful of times, and always about our children.  Seeing him cry is almost hard in itself because I know he is hurting inexpressibly.

A year ago, I was caught up in the belief that if I made it through the first week, the second week, the first month, then everything was going to be OK.  That that first month would be the very hardest and then I would start climbing up out of the grief.

As it turned out, it was the opposite.

The first month was the best.  I had the brightest outlook on life, the best possible feelings a bereaved parent could ever have about her beloved firstborn’s death.  Then things quickly unraveled.  Much of it was circumstantial, and I firmly think if I would have had a better support system, the rest of the past year would not have been so traumatic.

I didn’t realise that the feelings I had about the strongest grief being over in the first month were shared by those around me.  So though I felt I was handling it well, the lingering grief I clung to shocked those who had initially cared for us and they quickly turned against me.  I wasn’t dealing with grief “according to plan” and that made people uncomfortable.

A year ago, we had numerous people who loved us and would do anything to help us.  Today I cannot say the same.

I wish I had known that earlier so I could’ve prepared better.  All I had seen and read was about how the world comes together to support a broken person in his or her hard time.  I had not heard about loved ones deserting.

I still deal with lingering–sometimes mounting–guilt over doing things that may not have been possible had Seraphim not died.  To make matters worse, others will often feel it their place to remind me, “You have so much free time without kids!” or “If you had a baby, you wouldn’t be doing that!”  I think they are just flippant comments people make to all “childless” people they see–but when they say these things to me, I feel like they are reprimanding me.  I have at times opted to not do something I wanted to because I don’t want it to look like I’m grateful my child is gone.  Other times, I have to justify an outing with, “Well, we would’ve gotten symphony tickets anyway.  Mum would’ve watched the baby, I’m sure.”  I wasn’t prepared to have to justify my every decision like this.

In the wake of the death of my child, I also find my courage and confidence completely stripped.  I am afraid of failure on an almost crippling level.  If I can’t guarantee my perfection at something, I won’t attempt it.  A decision I made today (with much vacillating and many more tears than it needed) that would have been simple and exciting a couple of years ago was almost like choosing my own death it was so difficult.  I wish I could restore my confidence.  I try to look at Seraphim’s picture and say, “I’m doing this for you,” but sometimes not even that helps.  I would be making this decision to make a better life for my family no matter what.  For some reason, even though I desperately need the change so that my every day isn’t wrapped up in my hardest memories, changing what I’m used to for a great unknown has me grieving the stupidest things.  I think this is because change of any kind right now is equally hard.  The smallest thing can be a day-changer and can be on par with something that is actually life-altering in the way it impacts me.

I have felt so much grief on so many levels and in so many ways in the past year, it is hard to reach inside of myself and find the “me” I used to be–the “me” I likely would’ve been with my living son, but for some reason retreated deep, deep inside of me in the aftermath of his death.

So this is how I know that the first year is not really progress.  Not yet.  I wish I could say, “Look at all of the amazing things that happened this past year!”  But I can’t.  I am still missing my son, and I am still missing the life I had and the life I could have had.  The in-between is frankly terrible.  I hope I can find myself again soon.