Ups and downs

Some days I feel good.  Actually, some of those days I feel great.  The pain of post-birthing has subsided.  The few hours of pain from drying up my milk last week (I had been donating it) are long gone and hardly remembered.  I have little energy but I’m getting more each day with the little exercise I’m allowed.  I’ve done some things I enjoy: I finished a couple of sewing projects, baked a freezer-full of bread, almost finished our wedding photo album, almost finished Seraphim’s photo album, read at least a dozen books so far.  Until about two weeks ago, most days I only shed a few tears before bed, talking with K about Seraphim.

Then it seemed like a torrent of sadness hit me right after the one month point.  I thought if I got through the first two weeks, it would be uphill from there.  It seems like mountains and valleys will be the route of my emotional recovery, however.  

I had been immensely looking forward to being churched and all that went with that.  I was thankful for the Church’s wisdom in allowing me 40 days to stay at home, wrestle with God on my own, recover from giving birth, not be required to be around dozens of babies and children for unrelenting hours.  I was looking forward to meeting with our spiritual father and talking through some of the residual pain, especially what has turned into anger and bitterness lately.  Everything seemed to fall apart around the time the Metropolitan died and plans changed.  

I realised then that my stability is really very thin still.  I can cling to goals and plans and lean all too heavily on them.  When things break down, I fall.  I guess it’s good to know now, before I start work.  But in reality, that just makes me all the more afraid of what’s to come.  

I start work again next week.  I got an extra week because my OB was out of town this week and she wanted to see me before I resume work.  So I get 7 weeks off instead of 6.  It has lately been seeming not nearly long enough.  But I guess eventually I have to throw myself back in to reality.

As it is, I stayed home from church last night and this morning.  I just couldn’t bear breaking down again in front of everyone like I did yesterday morning.  I’d rather talk to my spiritual father first, but that might be several days off at this point.

I have been thankful, though, for how understanding my husband has been through this.  He didn’t argue with me when I said I didn’t want to go to church.  I almost wanted him to so I could justify myself.  He didn’t seem to think I needed to.  Even the priest told him that if I didn’t feel comfortable coming back yet to just take my time.

It’s nice to be given grace.  Unfortunately I know I won’t have such understanding people at work.

40 days

Today was supposed to be Seraphim’s 40 day memorial.  Except that it was forgotten in the flurry of confusion following Metropolitan Philip’s death.

I was supposed to have confession yesterday and then was supposed to be churched last night.  My confessor went out of town this week to visit his daughter’s new baby (and attend the Metropolitan’s funeral) so I couldn’t meet with him.  Then because of that change we returned from our vacation a little late, got caught in a torrential downpour, snow, and fog, and missed last night’s akathist and my churching.

So I stayed up very late (after not sleeping the night before) making kolliva because it takes forever to boil wheat berries, let them cool, and mix together all of the ingredients.  I was embarrassed to realise we didn’t have a pretty glass bowl to put it in, so I had to put it in an ugly metal mixing bowl.  It was the closest thing to suitable.

I went to church this morning, was churched (short prayers because when the baby has died, less prayers are said), and attended Liturgy.  Half-heartedly because I felt only half churched since I didn’t do it the right way.

I guess because of the confusion of everything (a different priest was there than planned since the main priest, who had told us everything we needed to do and when, went out of town for the funeral), the prayers were forgotten and my heart felt broken.

Everything I’ve heard and read the past six years has taught me that the 40 day memorial is just as important if not more so than the funeral.  And then it got forgotten.

Maybe I should’ve said something, but I couldn’t speak at all.  I was too upset that everything we had planned fell through.  Again.

I feel like I failed my son even though I did everything I was supposed to do.

Playing tennis on my due date

Today was my due date.  I was never terribly attached to it, since I didn’t think the baby would be born on it.  I assumed that if I were like my mum, my baby would come about two weeks early.  Both of hers were.  When people asked me when I was due, I just said Annunciation–March 25–because I liked using a Great Feast as a marker.

I go back to work in two weeks.  Despite manifold frustrations and complications from the Metropolitan’s death, I will be churched on Friday, but won’t be able to meet with my spiritual father for two weeks.

I was having a really bad, emotional weekend (owing in part to the above referenced “manifold frustrations and complications”), and we decided to “play tennis” with my mum.  Because of being out of practice and unable to do a lot of physical activity, this means just hitting tennis balls–not actually playing anything that remotely resembles tennis.

We were finishing out last hopper-ful of balls when a gangbanging 16-year-old and his 4-year-old daughter decided to walk through our court.  The gangbanging kid started hitting our tennis balls over the fence with his baseball bat.  I approached him, fuming, and said, “Excuse me, are those our balls?”  He said they were and I asked, vexed, “Then why are you hitting them over the fence?”  He replied, “What, do you not have enough for something?”  The 16-year-old then allowed his daughter to steal another one of our balls as we were leaving (I didn’t want to stay another minute after this).

I was so mad, what was supposed to be a positive activity ruined my day–which was, admittedly, already not terribly good, so there wasn’t really much to ruin.  Here it was, my due date–the day my baby was supposed to be fully developed in my womb–and I have no living baby, yet this high schooler can stomp into my day and my life and teach his child how to be a nuisance just like he is.

I would have normally found this situation unnerving: I can’t stand people who do things just to hurt and annoy others–it’s not like they were benefiting from hitting balls we bought over the fence.  Today, I found it almost unbearable.

I wish people like that just didn’t exist.  Society does not people whose only purpose is to destroy others’ lives.  Since he was clearly gang-affiliated, he literally destroys people’s lives, as well as hurting as many others as he encounters in his life along the way.

My one small happiness today was basically eaten up by the senselessness of someone else’s actions.  I wish I could just brush it off, but I can’t seem to.  It may be stupid to let someone so easily affect me, but it seems to be getting easier and easier right now.

Too-fancy-wedding-induced lonely days

My husband is going to a wedding today without me.  I’m still not sure how exactly I feel about it.  Part of me says I should be happy for a little more alone time to work on my personal projects and do what I want to do.  But I get plenty of alone time with him working more, and my anxiety is still significant enough that, while I can drive again, I don’t go far or very often.

The wedding is one of those where they’re paying a significant amount of money for every single person they invite, so they needed an exact head count over a month ago.  We expected Seraphim to be born closer to the end of February (sometime during the week of the 24th, since I was scheduled to be induced on the 24th, and was told that could take up to 4 days), and we didn’t know what the status of his health would be–or mine.  So K RSVP’d for himself and said I wouldn’t be coming so that they wouldn’t have to pay way too much money for someone who might not come.  

Then Seraphim came early and naturally, and died.  No baby in the hospital or at home, no C-section for me to recover from.  And, quite honestly, this week I feel pretty good.  We “played tennis” two days this week (and by that, I mean we took a hopper of balls and hit them against a backboard at the park… not much exercise, but way more than I’ve had in months), and I felt deservedly tired for the first time in weeks.  My body is still weak, I’m still healing, and my emotions are still raw sometimes (and by that I mean I am easily made both happy and sad… not just crying spells), but I’m getting there.  But I didn’t really know how well I’d be until about two weeks ago, and it was way too late to change the RSVP.  

So I’m not going, and I feel kind of dumb.  Like his friends, some of whom haven’t met me, will think I’m stuck up, or maybe just a sobbing mess.  I’m not, but they don’t necessarily know that.  So I’ve been telling myself we couldn’t afford us both to go–which is partially true.  Since it’s on the other side of the state, we could’ve driven for $50 or so (assuming the stupid passes stay open!), or taken the Greyhound for $60.  Instead, only he is going, so it only costs $30.  I don’t think that doubling that would’ve broken the bank, even with me taking so much LWOP… but it makes me feel better to say that.

This whole situation does make me glad we did things so much differently for our wedding.  I appreciated RSVPs, but didn’t depend on them.  We made all of the food for the reception (with help of about 10 of our friends), so it was very inexpensive (we spent under $500 for all of the food) and exactly what we wanted.  We had many people who RSVP’d the week before the wedding and it didn’t change anything.  We didn’t have to get numbers to our caterer; we didn’t have to deny people from bringing their significant others or children because we didn’t want to pay $200/plate for extra people.  Everyone could bring their children (and the kids had a great time–the pictures of the kids at the wedding reception are some of my favourites), and we encouraged everyone to bring their significant others.  We wanted everyone to feel welcome and comfortable (since sometimes it’s awkward to go to a wedding where you know no one except the bride and groom, and you can’t exactly spend every minute of the wedding with them!).

I guess that’s the thing with Orthodox weddings though: while we aren’t required to invite everyone to the reception, the wedding is open for all.  Since it’s a sacrament of the Church, everyone from the church community is automatically invited.  Since my husband and I came from two different church communities, both of our churches were invited.  It was up to us if we wanted a private reception, but in light of the attitude that this was “for all,” we felt like having a small, private reception that excluded some of the people who came to our wedding would miss the point.  These people came to support and celebrate our joining; we wanted to keep them around as a “thank you” for their love.  It was perfect and I don’t regret doing what we did–it was a lot of work, and sometimes a little stressful, but it was so much better than dealing with caterers, or spending hours chopping our guest list.  I wish more people felt free to do what we did.  I think the wedding industry discourages people from it–insisting that it is one day of your life that you can never repeat (unless you get divorced and remarried) so you should spend as much money on it as a house or else people will think you are cheap.  I read plenty of wedding websites and magazines that insisted that making your own food was something you should never do.  I don’t think it’s right for everyone, but never?  I wouldn’t go that far.  It worked out perfectly fine for us, and while it was certainly not a gourmet dinner, we didn’t want a gourmet sit-down dinner in the first place.

I don’t have hard feelings towards this couple who are having the fancy, expensive wedding, but I know the situation I have found myself in–not being able to go because I couldn’t RSVP in time–would never have happened with a wedding like ours–the do-it-yourself wedding you are apparently never supposed to attempt.

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Our wedding cake that we made and decorated with the help of a few friends. We made about 500 cupcakes the week before, froze them, and then defrosted them the day before the wedding to frost them (frosting slightly frozen cupcakes works really well). They were perfect and delicious!

Things we do to get through Lent…

This Lent, I am especially thankful for our slow cooker.

It sounds silly because now that I’m home all the time, I shouldn’t need it so much, right?

Wrong.  I think I’m using it more now than I did when I was working.  Maybe not.  But sometimes I think so.

It makes life so much less complicated.  Since a lot of the last four weeks have involved not standing or even sitting too much (yay stitches), doing too much intensive cooking was simply not going to happen.  I might have had the time to stand at the stove and cook for a couple of hours, but I didn’t have the energy or willpower.  But I could spend 15 minutes chopping vegetables and pushing a button on the slow cooker.  No problem.

So once I got back to cooking for us again (after a week and a half of others bringing us dishes–so I had a little time to rest and recover before I needed to start meal planning again), the slow cooker has been my main go-to for cooking.  I especially appreciate that once it finishes its timed cook time, it switches to “warm,” so I don’t have to be hovering over it at the end like an oven-baked dish.

However, one thing I did make that does not involve my beloved slow cooker has been getting us through Lent pretty well.  At the beginning of Lent, I had just enough energy to throw a bunch of ingredients into my stand mixer, mix it up, and bake.  It didn’t take much time, and the stand mixer did all the mixing for me.  The result was a batch of pretty healthy but pretty good-tasting cookies for snacks.  Since they’re loaded with protein, it’s something my husband especially needs (he melts away during Lent if he doesn’t eat enough protein).

I took this recipe http://vegangela.com/2010/11/22/healthy-peanut-butter-oatmeal-cookie/ and made a few adjustments, just because I wanted to.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I want to make them again.  I made a triple batch and we’ll be out within the week.

The best thing I found about these cookies was that, unlike other cookies, I’m completely satisfied eating one or two.  Ever since Seraphim was born, I have had hunger episodes that almost resemble panic attacks.  This is shocking since I was almost never hungry during my whole pregnancy.  Eating a little snack that’s still pretty healthy helps keep the “hunger attacks” at bay, which keeps my husband and me both sane, I think.

So this is what I came up with (after tripling the original recipe):

  • 6 very ripe bananas
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. honey
  • 6 Tbsp. protein powder
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 Tbsp. flax seeds
  • 4 1/2 cups quick cooking or rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

I just mixed everything together and used a tablespoon measuring spoon to shape and put onto cookie sheets (they don’t expand or grow at all, so the shape and size you form them is the shape and size you get) and put in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

I think my recipe made about 50 but I didn’t bother to count.  I keep about 15 out at a time in a container in the refrigerator, and the rest are in the freezer until needed.

Next time I think I’ll put some coconut in, too, just because we have some and my husband and I both like the flavour.  I saw another recipe that was rather similar to this one that called for pumpkin puree.  I might figure out a way to put that in as well.

Another thing I am thankful for: easy, healthy lenten recipes for things I can freeze to have on hand for weeks.  It definitely helps me power through the days when I’m a little too down to do any cooking, and helps keep things positive between K and me (since he’s now the one working more than I am, at least for a little while).

One month

One month ago today, I was emergency airlifted to the big city and my baby was born.  He was 5 weeks early as far as due dates go, and came on his own one week before I was scheduled to be induced (to avoid stillbirth).  If he had survived, we would be celebrating him being one month old, 5 days before he was due to be born, had he been healthy.

I so often see and hear people lament as they share a new story or a new picture of their children, “Oh, why do they have to grow up?”  Well, my child never will.  We will never have a new memory of him to laugh or cry about, we will never have a new picture to share.  He will never get any older.

I didn’t get to experience the same pregnancy joys other women do.  I didn’t have a baby shower, I never bought a crib or decorated a nursery.  I didn’t get to share my hopes and dreams for my baby with others–other than my hopes that his lungs would be strong enough for him to live, my hopes that maybe the doctors were wrong.  Few knew he even existed; it seemed like the consensus was that as few people should know I was pregnant as possible.  To keep others from feeling unwarranted happiness.  To keep others from feeling sadness.

The last four and a half months of pregnancy were full of anxiety, tears, and appointments.  I was physically miserable and emotionally strained, but I enjoyed every single day with my little baby, not knowing when his last one would be.  He taught me a lot about how fragile life is, and how resilient love is.  We don’t know how many days we get; our job is to find the small joys in every day, and to love as fully and completely as we can because we don’t know which day is our last.

I’m sure that someday, someone will ask me if I’m sorry we did what we did.  I’m not.  I don’t regret our decisions.  I don’t regret carrying Seraphim as long as I could, enjoying the moments with him that I was given.  I am thankful for the few hours we got to hold Seraphim’s hands and look at him and comfort him.  His experience with the pain of life was very brief, and he spent his whole life surrounded by love.  I don’t regret having been able to give that to him.  I’m glad I could!  I don’t believe there is such a thing as a life without worth.  Seraphim wasn’t with us long but the time we got with him was worth it all.  The pain, the grief, the frustration.

One of these days, we trust we will see him again.  I don’t know when, but that’s because we don’t get to know those things.  Hopefully I can remember to find each day a blessing because of little Seraphim.  I know the 18th of each month will have a special, sometimes painful, space in my heart.

Memory eternal, little one.

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Grieving the “Right” Way

I know there’s no “right” way to grieve, but sometimes I feel like I’m not doing it “right.”

Too much of the last four weeks has felt “normal.”  

I don’t feel depressed and upset all of the time.  Most of the time I feel like me.  Probably the thing that bothers me most is that I feel better than I did when I was pregnant.  I loved being pregnant because I loved my baby and loved how close I was to him all of the time.  I hated it because I felt miserable, like my back was breaking and my hips were falling out of the sockets.  I hated being nauseous for months.  I hated being unable to do a lot of my job functions at the library and not tell anyone why other than that I had “back problems.”  So most of my guilt is focused on feeling better postpartum.  If I had a baby at home with us, or even still in the hospital, I can guarantee I wouldn’t feel guilt over feeling better.  But I feel like if I say, “I’m feeling good now that I’m not pregnant,” others will hear it as, “I’m so glad my baby is gone!”  Maybe they won’t, but maybe they will.  Or maybe I’m afraid I’ll start hearing it that way?  

As it is, people sometimes give me strange looks when I want to talk about Seraphim’s birth story.  As if I’m not allowed to talk about labour and delivery if my baby didn’t live past his birthday.  It’s still part of his story, and it’s still something that makes me a woman and a mother.  It’s something I feel like I have a right to talk to like anyone else.  I know they would be more interested and attentive and not surprised and standoffish if my baby had survived.  It’s like they think I’m not doing it right–the grieving.

The last few days, I’ve felt more depressed than usual, but even this just feels like something that will pass.  I don’t feel like I’m drowning in waves of sadness and remorse over my baby’s death.  I usually only cry at night and when I wake up in the morning, because I figure those would be the times my baby would be most obviously part of my life.

More surprising to me is the amount of anger and bitterness I feel towards others with babies.  I don’t want to see them, don’t want to hear about them.  Thankfully, aside from Facebook, I have not been confronted with too many babies yet.  I know when I am, it will bring new sadness, but I won’t feel as raw.

For the most part, I feel like life goes on.  I am doing the things I have wanted time off of work to do.  I think I may be slightly more depressed than I can consciously realise since I have noticed the weeks go by quickly and almost without consequence.  I meant to call my godmother back who called last Saturday, but then over a week went by and I don’t know why I didn’t call her back.  I don’t even know what that whole week was.  Maybe that’s what my grief does to me?  It’s deep enough that my body won’t let me consciously feel it most of the time–as if it’s physical trauma.

Still, I want to be normal.  I know life won’t be the same and that it will be hard always because I had a beautiful baby who I loved but couldn’t stay with us very long.  I know others will always expect certain things out of me I can’t always give them, whether it is grieving a certain way, or getting over things.

I have come to the point where I feel like the best thing to do when I go back to the library is to be open and honest about why I was gone so long.  I had my baby early, and my baby died of lung failure.  My supervisor always thought it’d be best if I kept it all a secret, but now I feel a degree of bitterness at her.  I feel like it was supposed to be shameful that I was pregnant, that my baby had a poor prognosis.  I feel like she didn’t want people to be happy for me, and she didn’t want me to make people sad.  Well, she let me know right before the baby was born that she’s pregnant, and now I feel like all of her concern was due to her not wanting to risk being the centre of baby-related attention.  I doubt that’s really the reason, but my bitterness tells me otherwise.  

As nice as it was sometimes to not have to deal with people’s comments about my baby, sometimes I wanted to talk about him.  And I know in the future, I still will.  I can’t just pretend like he didn’t exist and he wasn’t part of my life.  I have to talk about him sometimes.  And I also have to be allowed to talk about other things than my baby.  I don’t want to feel guilty for talking about him or not talking about him.  I want life to ebb and flow like it’s supposed to.  I want my baby to exist in my life but not have to be my every thought or utterance.

And I guess that’s why grieving is confusing for me.  It’s different than what it feels like it’s “supposed” to be.  Whatever that is.  I feel like telling more people about my baby helps.  Hopefully someday soon I will be able to look at and hear about other people’s babies without feeling ache and anger that mine is not with me any more.  That, so far, has been the hardest part of this journey.