Wrestling with the Hard Spots in Life

Christmas was hard this year.

As an Orthodox Christian, I am supposed to remember that Christmas is not just about nostalgia.  Christmas is the incarnation of God, and it’s important to us.  That’s why the only more important holiday in our liturgical year is Pascha.

Christmas is the beginning of hope.  I think that’s why it was so hard this year.  I can accept that Christmas hope is hope for my soul, hope for my children, hope for something beyond this right now.  But it’s difficult when the hope is sucked right out of me.  I didn’t realise how much hope I actually had until Tuesday.  Now I feel like I am so out of hope, I owe someone some.

We were almost in desperation trying to get to a church for Christmas.  My husband’s family is agnostic but puts up with us so long as we don’t interfere with their plans (not always easy to do), so there was no hope of asking someone to take us to church.  Instead, we found a church somewhat nearby that had services during hours on Christmas Eve that fit into his family’s schedule (there was no way we could get to Christmas Day services) and figured out how to get there via public transit.  We only had to take two buses and walk about two miles to get there, but it was one of the worst things I have had to do.  We weren’t anticipating when we planned this trip that I would be in the middle of having a miscarriage.  I suppose I already had the night before, but the bleeding doesn’t just stop.  I felt weary from blood loss and urgently needed to use the bathroom a couple of times (at one point, we had gone to about a dozen businesses looking for a restroom, and they all said they were either closed or had none, and one said, “It’s only for customers,” so my husband replied, “Then how much do I need to pay you to let her use it?”  I was weeping profusely at that point, and I never learned if my husband actually had to pay them or if they just had sympathy for me.).  We eventually got to the church with our luggage, and oddly, no one ever asked why we had luggage or how we got there without a car.  Apparently walking to church there must be normal…  I was glad that they did the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil as well as Orthros for Christmas because I felt like I actually got most of the Christmas services in then (they did skip a lot of parts and were a lot more western/Russian than I anticipated in light of the fact that they are Antiochian).  Being in a somewhat familiar service even in a strange place with people I had never met (save for two, one of whom shares my name) was oddly comforting.  But I cried a lot.  Part of it was the exhaustion from all that my body had been doing, and part of it was all of the hurt and sadness I have experienced this year.  I also think part of it was bits and pieces of joy creeping into my very broken heart.

Christmas was hard because there was no acknowledgment from anyone that it should be hard for us.  If anything, people have avoided us (mostly me, however) since Seraphim’s death, not embraced us.  It was easiest to see in the number of Christmas cards we received this year.  No one from our parish sent us a card; last year our refrigerator was plastered in dozens of them.  The only time anyone even so much as mentioned Seraphim was in a card from a family at another parish who we see maybe twice a year.  They had lost a couple of babies to miscarriages, and are some of the most selfless people I know (the mother of the family made us a beautiful shadowbox of baby things with Seraphim’s name on it–none of the items were actually Seraphim’s, but it means a lot to me as time goes on because it feels symbolic of all of the lost things of his life–the things we didn’t get to do, the clothes he didn’t get to wear.).  Our families never mentioned him or made any comment whatsoever about us trying to have our own family.  It made it doubly difficult that I lost our new baby the day before Christmas Eve so very silently and was still physically suffering from it–never mind emotionally.  My husband decided that if “it came up,” then we would talk about it, but of course it never came up.

Christmas is hard because it is a season of hope, love, and joy.  All of these seem dashed upon the rocks for me.  I am trying to keep my head up so I can see the beauty around me and be thankful for all of the little things–like the first glimpse of snow this winter since the storms have swirled around us but never come close enough yet.  I read a book a couple of months ago (The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown) that pointed out something that I always suspected to be true, but has stuck with me: those who can take the time to acknowledge the beauty around them in the midst of tragedy have a better chance of surviving the tragedy, no matter what it is.  I have always found it important to look for the beauty in the small things, especially when life is difficult.  It is hard to be thankful, but sometimes it’s the only thing I have left.

Mostly I just want to be mad, and I want to dissolve into my sorrow and anger that things are the way they are.  So I complain.  But I am trying to hard to rediscover the hope, love, and joy that I have lost.  I am trying to identify them in things outside of me so that maybe someday I can remember what it is like to have them inside.

It’s not easy, so Christmas was and is hard.

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Sad, part II

We are set to leave in the morning now.

Shortly after my husband got home from work this afternoon, I passed the placenta followed by the baby.  I am not a medical professional so I don’t know what that means, but based on the state of things, it looked like it had been bouncing around for a while.  It was hard to look at, but I don’t regret it, and I wouldn’t trade the knowledge of seeing that for the ignorance of never knowing for sure he was there.

Times like these, I am especially thankful for a level-headed husband.  Unlike everything I was taught about men while I was growing up, he is not terrified by blood and “female issues.”  He would never complain that the birthing room is “not for men” as I’ve heard many of our male (father) friends complain.  He wanted to see it all, know it was real, and bury what we had.

I have to admit I was relieved when I had passed the baby.  My contractions became more manageable pain-wise, and I no longer felt anxiety over when it would come.  I hadn’t been taking pain medication because I kept thinking, “Just in case the baby is actually still alive…” knowing full well that was impossible as his home was being swept out from under him.  Once he came, I was able to convince myself to down some ibuprofen.

And we did.  Quietly, quickly, secretly.  We don’t have a yard so we borrowed a nearby hillside at the park a block away.  It was dusk.  I felt like we were sneaking off like teenagers, but instead of making out we were burying our very little baby.  We said some prayers and hurried back home before it was dark.  We leave in the morning, so we couldn’t wait to do something more thoughtful and lasting with the fragile pieces of our hopes and dreams that are gone all over again.

I am glad I stayed home from work, since I would certainly not have been able to handle today at work (between the bleeding and the rolling contractions every 5 minutes towards the end) and I wouldn’t’ve known what to do when I miscarried at last there.  It was a mercy to be able to be home.

Now I dread the even faker smiles I’m going to have to don the next three days, pretending like I am the happiest person alive after burying two of our children in 2014.  I love Christmas, but I am not simply not happy right now.

Sad, but mostly angry

Today I am sad, but I am also angry.

My high-school-aged sister and I usually make Christmas cookies together right before Christmas.  Since I’ve been married, it’s a little more complicated to arrange.  Last year she came and helped make and decorate dozens of cookies.  It was a fun memory we got to share with Seraphim because he was alive and well.  This year was more frustrating.  I wanted to get together on Sunday, but she was “busy” doing who-knows-what, and Monday she was “probably busy” hanging out with a friend.  I gave her those two options.  Since she wouldn’t decide whether or not Monday would work, I baked for hours by myself on Sunday, did three sinkfuls of dishes almost alone (my husband helped a bit in between things he was working on), and then cooked dinner.  Yesterday (Monday) my sister texted me to let me know that would work for making cookies.  So I told her to bring over a beloved recipe of our deceased grandmother’s and we’d make that.

Somewhere between the second and third batch of baking, I noticed I was bleeding.  Really.  Badly.  I discussed this with my husband for about five minutes (during which, Pandora mercifully shut itself off–the only time I have ever been glad that stupid online radio station has ever given the “Are you still listening?” screen, because I couldn’t shut it off myself by then without really looking evil), since I wanted my sister to leave, right away, but I didn’t want her to feel like I was mad at her.  I couldn’t figure out a way to just kick her out in the middle of baking, so my husband helped her with the last four or five batches, I packed up a bunch of cookies (we didn’t get out the frosting–I couldn’t keep it together much longer) for the family, and sent her out the door as fast as possible with the gifts I’d wrapped.

I felt–and still feel–incredibly guilty about the whole thing.  My sister and I rarely see each other despite the fact we live 4 miles away, and it figures that the one time we plan things, the great tragedy of my uterus expelling all it’s been working on the past 9 weeks has to occur.

When we were alone, I tearfully looked at my husband and said, “I guess we won’t have Christmas with this baby after all.”  And we wept for a long time (although not together, which was a good indication that my husband was incredibly sad; he didn’t want to be near me and he didn’t want me to comfort him).  My husband never cries; I think this was the third time he’s cried as long as I’ve known him, and all three of those times were in the past year.

We struggled with what to do.  If I went to the hospital, they would just send me into surgery; I went in with bleeding once with Seraphim and the doctor coldly told me, “If there’s no heartbeat, you’re going to surgery now.”  There were no options, nothing.  I don’t want that.  If my body knows how to miscarry, I don’t want to have my insides sucked and scraped out.  Besides, and ER visit without surgery would start out at $3,000.  I know because I went twice last year–and after insurance cut off its chunk, my bill was just $2,000.  Each time.

So I’ve just stayed at home and rode out the cramps and bleeding.  It hasn’t stopped yet, but it’s not as heavy as it was, not quite as much clotting or as much tissue as the first 12 hours, though I wish it would just finish up.

So I am sad today, but mostly I am angry.

I am angry that my OBGYN refused to see me until I was 12 weeks along.  I called at 5 weeks, shortly after the positive test, and the receptionist coolly told me the next opening was 7 weeks from then, and that they didn’t care what my history was. I figured once my doctor saw my name on the list, maybe she’d request that they call me and get me in sooner.  But that never happened.

I am angry that my OBGYN told me I’d be on progesterone all through this pregnancy, and that I wasn’t during the time I needed it, mainly because I could not see her until the first trimester was almost over.  Back when I had a primary care physician (when I became pregnant with Seraphim), he was concerned that I was pregnant and said, “Your progesterone levels are so low, I don’t think you can carry to term.”  I think the progesterone helped get me through that frightening first trimester.

I am angry that I have untreated hypothyroidism right now that has been untreated since August 2013, when my OBGYN measured my TSH levels, said I was fine, and wouldn’t prescribe me more medication for my Hashimoto’s Disease.  She didn’t think the autoimmune antibodies were necessary to check, and I could no longer see my primary care physician because he didn’t accept the insurance I was on then.  (This article and related ones validate my feelings: http://hypothyroidmom.com/hashimotos-disease-the-danger-of-thyroid-antibodies-and-pregnancy/)

I am angry that my OBGYN is the best in the area.

I am angry that I haven’t had insurance since April thanks to the improvements made under the ACA and the crappy systems that were created with terrible staff who are both lacking in knowledge and lacking in power to change the “inevitable,” which for us was not being able to get our insurance back.  We have paid for insurance for January, but there is no telling if we will even get that.

Most of all, I am angry and I am sad that this is the best possible solution to this pregnancy, and has wiped out a multitude of dilemmas in one fell swoop.  Those who have lost babies will not resent me for having one, because this one is gone, too.  Those who have never lost babies and have reassured me that “Just have another; it’ll make everything better,” and such nonsense will never get the joy of telling me, “Ha ha, I was right!” even though they wouldn’t be.  I don’t have to worry about this baby taking Seraphim’s place.  I don’t have to worry about our move that is scheduled for this baby’s due date.  I don’t have to worry about trying to find a new job in a new city while 9 months pregnant or on maternity leave with a baby in tow.  I don’t have to dread our neighbour who thinks we are the noisiest people alive (because we play a musical instrument for 30 minutes once a month, if that) showing up at the door and cussing us out on a regular basis over a crying baby (to think that our landlord put us next to her, knowing full well I was pregnant with Seraphim when we moved in…).

So now everyone else gets to be happy, just not us.  As a woman with an obsession for making everyone happy, this has actually made me feel better about all this.  I hate that, and that makes me angry, too.

I am sad because despite all the dilemmas, we wanted this baby.  It would’ve been hard work, but having children will always be hard work, and we would’ve figured it out just like every other person on this planet has figured it out.

Tomorrow we are going to visit my husband’s family across the state, so I’m taking off work today to try to get my body to speed things up without hurting myself too much.  We are both anxious to find the baby, but we never got a confirmation that it was a “real” baby, so how do I even know what I’m looking for?  It could’ve been an empty sac, or it could’ve died weeks ago and I’ll miss it entirely.  I do know if I lose another baby in that city, I am going to scream.  I want it to happen here.

I’ll call my OBGYN’s office on Christmas to cancel my January appointment so that I don’t have to risk talking to some cold-hearted receptionist.

losing faith

I am irritated because I think she is back in town (from Canada), and I am irritated because I think she called me today, but I couldn’t get a hold of anyone when I returned the call (I surmise it was her number and that I have her number in my phone backwards an 8 and a 3, so it didn’t register as her calling… then again it could’ve just be a WILDLY WEIRD wrong number).

I wrote this two years ago, so change the “6s” into “8s,” and so on.  I could add more to this, but I won’t.  I think it says how I feel still, more or less.  Losing friends sucks.  I wish it were easier to just get back people you love.

I have been feeling awfully nostalgic lately.  I have a strong desire to reconnect (in an unobtrusive way, such as a letter) with an old friend I haven’t spoken to in over 6 years who was my best friend for 9 years of my life.  I still read her blog.  She writes heartfelt, meaningful text–something I always wanted to do.  I think we are more alike now than we ever were growing up together. We even worked at the same job, 8 months apart.  We also seem to share similar thoughts about the job itself.

She is perhaps the only friend I have ever lost that I still genuinely regret losing.  She is the only one for whom I still have tears to shed.

I want to tell her how much life has changed since we last exchanged words, what deep footprints she left in my heart, how her rhetoric lights up my life just like her poetry used to (and how intensely I miss her crititques of my poetry; I have written no more than 20 poems in the past 6 years, which is notable), how glad I am that the person who tried to kill her was unsuccessful because, among a great many other things, I would be devastated to lose the opportunity to attempt to make amends for what happened between us and whatever hand I had in causing it.

I don’t want to sound like I stalk her.  I don’t.  But I do think about her just about every day–she left a huge impact on my life growing up.  I spent the majority of my childhood talking with and spending time with her, and when she moved to Texas, I pinched pennies to afford the long-distance phone calls and wrote her novels for letters.  She was not quite as enthusiastic about letter-writing as I was, but she still heartily replied.  When she returned here, we called each other nearly daily and spent time together as often as we could.  We read the same books, devised “secret societies” (but only the innocent kind), and she inspired in me a robust imagination I have never had since.  Of course our relationship wasn’t perfect.  We got into some of the nastiest spats I’ve ever gotten into with a friend, but we always recovered.  Except that one time in October 2006 when she said I was too high maintenance and never spoke to me again.  I somewhat understand why she said what she did, but it still baffles me that that decision on her part has led to permanent silence.

In one of our last conversations, she strongly encouraged me to attend the college I went to, since she had visited the school.  I begged her to come to college with me, but she relayed that it was perfect for me but not for her since she had other things in mind.  I heeded her advice and I am continually glad I did, though I doubt she fully knows I decided to go there or how influential she was in helping me decide.  I would trust her with just about anything.  She was what Anne would call my “bosom friend.”

I simply wanted to let her know my thoughts, but a letter seems most nonconfrontational.  A phone call, e-mail, text message, or Facebook message is an irritation you almost MUST respond to.  And when it isn’t responded to, it hangs there awkwardly for the sender.  A letter, at the very least, can be appreciated for what it is and for the effort expended to produce it.  The main problem remains that I don’t exactly know her address.  I believe I know her parents’ address, but whether or not she still resides there is unknown to me–it has been 6 years, after all.  I supposed I could send it there with instructions to forward to the correct address if that is not it, or to not sign the letter and see if she even remembers me.  Sometimes I wonder if she does.  Mostly, I am concerned that I sound obsessed.

I guess I just think that if we could have met for the first time tomorrow, we would be really good friends, and I feel somewhat sorry to have missed that opportunity.

“Just Be Thankful…”

I read this last night and greatly appreciated it:

http://lostboysandbearings.blogspot.com/2014/12/what-subtle-suggestions-feel-like.html

I liked it so much, I shared it with several friends and sent it to the priest’s wife who has been especially heartless towards me the past year (saying such garbage such as “We did enough for you and you’re just not grateful,” on repeat like a broken record).

I think what I liked about it best was how raw and honest it was.  I saw immediately that anyone who hasn’t gone through this would dismiss her blog post as bitter, self-centered, over-the-top.  But this is what it really is.  If at least part of it doesn’t resonate with you, you haven’t gone through it, so stop trying to rationalise that something horrible has happened.

It is not that we are not grateful for what we have, that we are not aware that we have blessings that we love very much.  We are not so self-centered that we are just screaming “pity me!” all the time.  We are genuinely aching.  Getting out of bed is hard a lot of days.  Taking a step forward is almost impossible.  We pour our strength and energy into the basic things that those around us do every day and take for granted.  If it looks hard, it’s probably because it is.

So stop telling us to “just be thankful,” or “just be happy,” or “just get over it.”  It’s not as simple as those words that are flapping out of your mouths.  Real life and its struggles takes effort.  We have not for a moment forgotten what we are thankful for–one of those things being that that child was in our lives for a brief time.  So stop acting like we have.

It struck me last night as I was going to bed that when I hear others complaining about how “horrid” their child are (to the extent that a couple of ladies from church have actually told me on separate occasions, “Be glad you don’t have kids!”) that if one of us who has lost a child were to say to that mother, “Just be grateful you even have children and stop whining!” that we would be ostracised and condemned.  If you can never tell a mother with living children to “just be grateful,” why is it so easy to tell a mother with dead children to “just be grateful”?

I say either folks need to stop telling us to buck up and be thankful, or else we’re going to start doing the same to them…

Christmas Tree

I was thinking a few weeks ago how no one ever has Christmas tree decorating parties any more.  They’re always in the movies, but have you ever been invited to one?  I certainly never have.

Looking at our Christmas tree with its one decoration (the gift my husband gave me for my birthday), I feel like I need a Christmas decorating party to get this thing looking better.

And it’s 2 feet tall, if that tells you anything about my lack of motivation…

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Walls

I fear having another child.

I am not afraid of experiencing the same thing I went through with Seraphim.  Having a child for however short a time we would get with him or her would be enough for us.  Even if he or she died too soon, at least we got to know that little one just a tiny bit.

I fear “moving on.”  I fear what it means for my relationship with my deceased child if suddenly a currently living child is between us.  I fear the things that others will say.

I fear offending those I know who have also lost their babies because I will have a new child.

I’ve already lost the friends I had before Seraphim died, and I fear gaining them back because I have a child who isn’t dead.  I fear their comments: “See I told you everything would work out.”  “See I told you you’d have other kids.”

Could we just never talk about a new baby?  Never tell anyone else?  Even my husband has started saying that the new baby will be “just for us.”

I’m sick of hearing the same things from the same people, justify their actions and words for which there is simply no excuse.  You don’t leave someone you care about when they’re having a hard time.  That’s not “caring.”  Telling someone “We did enough for you,” when you never asked or listened to us when we said what we needed is not caring.  I don’t want these people to even be in a position where they feel “obligated” to help us out by bringing us meals or whatever.  If we just keep everything in our lives to ourselves from now on, no one can get in and hurt us.

I have shut down completely on myself, I have erected tall walls around me, and I rarely go anywhere except work.  I don’t spend time with friends because there are none left.

I’m ready for something to change, but I’m not ready to left anyone hurt my bruised soul any more than it already is.