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.