Misconception: Grieving The Life I Should’ve Had

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This week, I’ve spent a lot of time with my two-and-a-half year old Godson, and it’s been wonderful. He’s learned to call me by name: he calls me “Godmommy Sarah.” He’ll run into my arms, run up and hug my legs, give me kisses, and all sorts of other adorable, heart-melting things.

And I love him. I love him so much that it leaves me breathless. I would give him anything, do anything for him- I would literally die for him. I love him like he was my own.

But he’s not my own.

He is my best friend’s baby. And because I love my best friend, and I see how her life has changed and the incredible joy her son brings brings her and her husband, I can’t be anything but happy for them that Nolan belongs to them. He is the center of their lives, and that’s how it should be.

As much as I love spending time with my best friend and her son, or any of my friends who have children (that would be nearly every single one of them) it reminds me of what I don’t have. They are nearly all married too, reminding me that I do not have a spouse either.

None of this is their fault. I do not blame them, I am not angry at them, nor do I wish any of them ill.

It’s not that I’m not happy for them. It’s that I’m sad for myself.

The ironic thing is that, when I really think about it, I don’t even feel ready to married or adopt children. I’m not at that place in my life. I need to focus on my education, career, and continuing to get myself healthy. And yet, when I see my friends with what I don’t have, I feel this deep and abiding sense of grief, and a feeling of something missing.

Perhaps it’s not what’s missing in this life I’ve got right now, but the life I was supposed to have. The life I would’ve had if I hadn’t grown up in violence and chaos, the life I’d have had if things had been normal. If I’d gone up through high school and college, dated and found a husband, and maybe, if I hadn’t been abused the way I was and wound up so unhealthy, I might’ve been able to get pregnant. And I’d be in the same place as all my other friends in their early thirties, and I’d feel like a person who did things on a normal trajectory, instead of someone who’s always playing catch-up, always missing something that would make me enough.

I never said this was rational.

I grieve that life that was stolen from me. I grieve the fact that I’m not where my friends are. I grieve my inability to have children.

Because all the Sunday school teaching, Children’s Chapel leading, babysitting, teen mentoring, and Godmommy time in the world does not make me a mother.

To my friends: Please know that sometimes I may be inexplicably sad around you. Just let it happen. You can’t fix it; just be there with me and it’ll pass. It’s ok to talk about your kids, talk about your marriages. If you’re trying to get pregnant or you are pregnant, it’s ok to talk to me about it. If you need to complain about it, to be honest, I’m probably not the best person for that. But please continue to include me in things. Invite me to your kids’ parties and your girls’ nights. I love you, and I am happy that you are happy. I want nothing but the best for you. I will never let my grief get in the way of our friendship.

Thank you for understanding, and loving me through this. Thank you for letting me be part of your families and your lives. You make my world so wonderfully rich and beautiful. And this grief will eventually subside. In the meantime, I have plenty to do; nursing school to tackle, a business to run, Sunday school to teach.

And a Godson to love.

 

Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

Luke 1:45

 

Judah Levi Brown: One Year

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Last night was the one-year anniversary of the death of Judah Levi Brown.

Judah was the vivacious, beautiful, three-year-old son of my dear friends Mark+ and Christi. He drowned in a tragic accident, and this past year they have lived every parents’ nightmare.

And yet, I have seen more grace through their grief than I thought possible of any human beings.

Mark+ is somewhat of a public figure. He is an Episcopal priest who goes to my church (and often serves there) and he serves around our diocese whenever another priest is needed (called a supply priest). He also has the largest online prayer group in the world, with over 400,000 people on Facebook. His life has been an open book for many years, even through the time he met and married Christi, and they had Judah. When Judah died, there were really only one of two choices: to turn away, shut down and grieve on their own, or to grieve openly with everyone. They chose to grieve openly. It’s one of the most grace-filled, courageous decisions I’ve ever seen two people make.

By choosing to bare their grief process to the world, they allowed people to witness what is usually a private pain. They allowed people to witness them struggle with their faith, struggle with their anger, struggle daily with the devastation of losing a child. They allowed people to witness the deepening of their relationship to God through that struggle. The deepening of their relationship to each other and their other children. They allowed people to see how they guided their other children through their own grief, which they did with such care and love. They allowed people to see them reach out for help, through therapy, for them and the children, and through the church. They reached out to their family and friends. They both processed through writing, but Christi especially took to Facebook nearly every day and wrote journal-like updates, poems, and prayers. Christi’s writing didn’t just tell people what it is like to lose a child. It let us into her heart and soul, to viscerally grieve with her.

As is their nature, Mark+ and Christi used their experience to help others. They created an online support group for grieving parents. They allowed Judah’s story to be used by one of his former teachers to create the Judah Brown Project, which works to prevent drowning in kids like Judah. They’ve worked very hard with his teacher, Annette, to make this project into a full-fledged charity that is saving children’s lives, preventing people from having to feel the pain they are feeling.

Once a month, for the past year, on the day that Judah drowned, and on the day that he died- the two are a couple of days apart, as he lingered in a coma- they lit candles in front of his photo and held a small vigil. In June, we celebrated Judah’s birthday at his grave, and had his favorite foods, shared memories, shared laughter and prayers. The year anniversary drew closer.

I know, from my own trauma, that everyone shows up in the beginning. Everyone is there when the original tragedy happens. As time goes on, it gets less present in other people’s lives, and people begin to drift away.

But it never gets less important in your life.

I don’t know if I’ve really done anything to help, but I’ve made every effort to be a there-for-it-all friend. I’m in, and I’m in for good. I was only friends with Mark+ and Christi for about a year before Judah’s death, and I wish I had known Judah better, but I do remember him and I will never forget him. I wish I could do more, but perhaps the best thing I can do is be there, and make sure they know that their loss is important to me. They are important to me. And their son is never forgotten.

Last night, as we sat around Judah’s grave, we watched a video about him on Annette’s phone. It was a photo series of his whole life. We laughed and cried. Stories of the photos were told. As we watched, it began to rain. It rained gently, and another friend there remarked, “We’re just being baptized.” It was a holy, Spirit-filled moment.

When it got to the minute that Judah’s time of death was called, a candle on his head stone was lit. We held silence for a few minutes. I read a prayer:

 

Heavenly God,

With a mother’s strong love
you shelter us in your shadow,
and you mourn as we do the death of this child.

Love Judah forever
as we have loved him.
Guide our steps in the way of peace
till with our eyes we behold you
and shall praise you with all the saints
for ever and ever.

Mark+ shared a little more with us, and closed with a benediction. We left with hugs and prayers and smiles through tears.

Moments like these are why I feel called to be a priest. It was a privilege to be with Mark+ and Christi and their children as they marked this anniversary. It is a privilege to be their friend, to witness their grace and faith. It will be a privilege every time I am with someone as they grieve, celebrate, wed, baptize, die, are ill, or in spiritual distress. To just be present with someone, without trying to fix, is a holy thing.

Thank you, Brown family, for allowing me to be present. Thank you for letting me remember Judah with you. Thank you for letting me laugh and cry with you.

I love you.

 

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4

To donate to the Judah Brown Project, please click here.

 

Prayer above adapted from two prayers by Gabe Huck from the Catholic Catalogue.

Published with permission from the Brown family.

The Struggle is Real: Accepting, Not Overcoming, Infertility

“There is a unique pain that comes from preparing your heart for a child that never comes.” -David Platt text

When you hear that a woman is “struggling with infertility,” what do you think? Do you think of a woman desperately trying to get pregnant? Someone timing her ovulation, taking hormone injections, freezing her embryos?

This is one picture of a woman struggling with infertility. There is another picture: Me.

I am not desperately trying to become pregnant. I will never try to become pregnant, because pregnancy is too dangerous for me. Struggling with infertility is not always about pregnancy. Struggling with infertility is also about the grief that comes from knowing that you can’t even try. That pregnancy is simply not an option. My struggle with infertility is not an attempt to overcome it. My struggle with infertility is my attempt to accept it. 

How many other women are in this part of the struggle? How many other women silently try to grieve their way through without any support? Why is there no support system for women who can’t try, can’t fight it, who have to simply accept that having children naturally will not happen?

Believe me, when you go looking for “infertility support” every single resource is focused on getting pregnant or adopting. I have not found a single one that simply says, “Yes, you are grieving the loss of your ability to have children naturally. We’re here to help you accept that and move forward.” I don’t know why that doesn’t seem to be available. If you find a resource like that, please let me know.

While I do hold on to the idea of adoption someday, that does not, in any way, mitigate the grief that comes from knowing I can never have children of my own. I wish that I could have what other mothers have with their children: getting to learn about them from inside my body, to feel their energy and get a sense of who they are from the way they move, kick, and flutter. I wish I could know what other women talk about when they describe that overwhelming love, that primal heart-to-heart connection they have with their biological children.  I don’t know what kind of love I’ll experience as a mother to a child not born of my body, but I know it will be different. Not less, but different. I don’t believe that a genetic connection is a guarantee of love, nor that a lack of one means less love. I know that isn’t true. I know that from how much I love my Godson, and he isn’t even mine. But I do wonder what it would have felt like to hold my baby moments after they came into this world, to tell them that I’m their mom, and have them look into my eyes with recognition. To know that I will love them forever.

That will not happen.

It’s a loss, and it’s real, and I will let myself grieve it.

 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:23

 

 

The Mother’s Memorial

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I don’t know how to write about this, which is why I have to write about it. I write to process, I write to grieve, I write to get through things. I write to feel less alone, and so others will feel less alone. Initially, I wasn’t going to write about it, because it felt like a really personal thing. But I feel like it’s part of my testimony, of how God works in my everyday life. Some people don’t believe in that, but it is absolutely true for me.

I had this idea, a while ago, to have a memorial service for…I’m still not sure. For the children I’ll never have? For my loss of the ability to be a biological mother? For my hopes and dreams of biological motherhood? For the things that prevent me from being a biological mother? I think it was all of that and more. (I specify “biological” mother because I still hope to adopt in the future.)

The reasons I wanted this memorial service were many: to acknowledge the grief, to physically manifest that, to have someone else acknowledge that grief with me, to make it real and help me move past it. Humans need ceremony, rites, and rituals to move through the pivotal events in our lives, positive and painful. It’s why we have weddings and funerals and baptisms and birthdays. We need those occasions to acknowledge that a change has happened in our lives, and we need our community to acknowledge that with us.

There is not, however, any kind of ceremony, rite, or ritual (at least in our culture) for a community to acknowledge a woman who has lost her ability to have children. Women are expected to grieve that on their own, and often, we don’t even talk about it. The few support groups that exist are for women with infertility who are desperately trying to conceive. That isn’t me. What I wanted was support for the process of accepting, healing, and moving on from the loss of fertility– and there was simply no one talking about that. So I decided to create that for myself, and I chose to do it with a memorial service. I asked my priest, Beth+, to help me do this.

At first, I wanted complete control over the whole thing. I even wrote a liturgy and a service leaflet based on the funeral liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer. I found quotes from Scripture and hymns, I made it exactly how I wanted it. I hand-painted a tiny box, which, now that I think of it, is the size of a uterus (about the size of a fist). In it, I had written and folded up several little notes, each of them with something I would be losing. I decided I wanted to bury it under an angel statue in the prayer garden at my church. I had it all arranged in my head.

God, however, in His wisdom, made scheduling my version of this service impossible for several weeks. And as those weeks went by, I felt less and less inclined to do it my way. I felt less and less attached to my version of this event, and I felt like I wanted to give up control of this whole thing. This, as it turned out, was the best thing that could’ve happened, because if I’d had it my way, it would not have been nearly as meaningful.

Beth+ and I discussed this service beforehand, and I let her know that I wanted to hand it over to her. We scheduled it for the following Monday, and I spent the weekend praying about it. The main thing I prayed for was to be present. I’m very adept at shutting down uncomfortable feelings when they show up and I knew I just wanted to be present to whatever I experienced in the moment as we went through this. I also decided to invite a dear friend of mine who was going through a hysterectomy that Tuesday. She was feeling similar feelings of loss, and I felt it would be important for her too.

The night before, I wrote a letter. It was addressed to my Children Who Weren’t Meant to Be, from their One-to-Be Mother. It was hard to write, but I’m so glad I did. Strangely, in another one of God’s timing things, I had run out of my birth control a few days earlier and was having terrible cramps. I’m usually on continuous birth control and don’t have a period at all, so this was unusual. But I realized that this was actually a good thing. I kind of wanted to feel my uterus right then. I wanted to be able to feel it contracting, like it was laboring through it’s own emptiness and grief.

On Monday, I came into Beth’s+ office and she asked if I was ready. I showed her the box and the letter, so she could figure out where to include it in the service. When we went into the Nave, she arranged three chairs around the Mary altar we have in the corner, with a kneeler in the middle. As we sat down, before Beth+ even began talking, tears were rolling down my cheeks.

Beth+ talked about how she wanted this to be a special liturgy, just for me, one that had never been done before and would never be done again. She talked about Mary and Her pregnancy, how She may have had more children or lost children, how She walked with me through this. Beth+ had me kneel, and she anointed my forehead with oil. She had my friend put one had where my uterus is, and one hand on my back. Beth+ had one hand on my head and one hand on my hands and she prayed: for the Holy Spirit to heal the places in me that felt broken, the places in me that felt damaged; for those places to be filled with light and love; that she and my friend, as my sisters, were there with me, to walk with me through this loss. Then Beth+ asked me something unexpected, which was probably the most painful part of the whole thing: did I name any of the babies that I couldn’t have? I did. I said those names out loud, and we prayed for them. When I got up, we prayed for my friend the same way, with my hand on her uterus, and Beth+ anointing her with oil. Then we lit candles. Beth+ read the letter I wrote for me, because I couldn’t get through it. She held my hand the whole time. After that, we went outside. I hadn’t told her that I had picked a place under the angel statue, but that’s where she went. We buried the little box and the letter along with it. We commended it to the earth; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We sang a hymn that my friend had picked out, and Beth+blessed the ground and us.

It was a beautiful service, and Beth+did it perfectly.

After everything, I sat in the church for quite a while. I knelt at the Mary altar, I sat in a pew, I sat in front of the main altar on the floor near the tabernacle, and cried. And cried.

And cried.

Sometimes when I need comfort or guidance, I’ll say a prayer and flip to a random page in the Bible to see what direction God might give through His word. As I sat in the pew, this is what I saw, and I laughed through my tears:

But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground. I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. They shall spring up like a green tamarisk, like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, “I am the Lord’s,” another will be called by the name of Jacob, yet another will write on the hand, “The Lord’s,” and adopt the name of Israel. Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.

God is with me, I need not be afraid. As someone once said to me, “Whether or not you have children, you are fertile.” There are many ways to give life to the world. I will figure out what my way is, at some point.

Right now I’m just grateful, for the opportunity I had to do this, a friend who did it with me, and a priest who treated it with such reverence, sensitivity, and importance. The way Beth+ treated this loss, always with such seriousness, gave it a validity that I needed to stop minimizing and denying the grief I really felt. It helped give me permission to open up to those feelings and be honest about them. I’m so thankful for that. And it makes me so thankful that I am in a church that ordains women, because a male priest, no matter how sensitive, just could not have helped me through this in the same way.

This was not a silver bullet, and I still have things to work through, but it did help me immensely. As painful as it was, it was equally healing.

For that, I can’t be anything but grateful.

 

 

Sophie’s Story

Sophie and I  found each other when I was 18 years old, and she was 8 months old.

My sister Cristina’s mom Beth found Sophie wandering in her apartment complex parking lot. She was thinking about keeping her, but the second I met her, I knew we were a perfect match. She was all ears and fluffy tail, and she made this little trilling noise when I petted her. I was smitten. Beth said I could have her, and I was ecstatic.

I had just moved into my first apartment; a crummy, 400 square foot box with zero security. But it was mine. All I had was a fish to keep me company, and that wasn’t going well. I needed Sophie, and she needed me. (Sophie’s full name is Persephone, but Sophie has been her nickname since she was a kitten.)

Sophie quite literally saved my life. There were times when the only reason I woke up, the only reason I didn’t kill myself, was because I needed to take care of her. I cared about her and loved her way more than I loved myself. That kept me here. She knew how to comfort me when I was anxious or having a flashback. Sometimes the presence of her little body in my lap was the only thing that kept me grounded, kept me from completely losing touch with reality.

We moved apartments and then eventually moved back with my mom. I had to go to treatment, and I hated being away from her. I have to say, I wouldn’t have gotten through my twenties without her.

The last eight years that I’ve been in this house with my mom and sister, and Sophie has been living exclusively with me in my room (her choice; she refuses to interact with the other cats) have been wonderful. It’s really Sophie’s world. I just sleep here.

Sophie is not just a cat to me. She has literally saved my life at times. She has comforted me through painful autoimmune flares, PTSD flashbacks, depressive episodes, and manic freakouts. She has never cared whether I’m severely anorexic or if I’m overweight. She’s never cared if I look great or I look like shit. She doesn’t care if I’m crying or I’m laughing or I’m panicking. She’s there. She loves me. In the most simple, unconditional, beautiful way. She just loves me.

So no, she is not just a cat. She’s a best friend. The closest thing I’ve ever had to a child. She’s a reminder to me of God’s unconditional love. She’s a furry therapist.

That’s my Sophie.

So here’s the thing. Lately, she has not been doing well. She was diagnosed with early kidney failure a few months ago. She’s been having some kind of allergic reaction, probably to fleas, which we cannot seem to keep up with. She’s had several serious UTIs as well as cystitis. The vet said today he wants to rule out bladder or kidney cancer. When they start asking “quality of life” questions, that a bad sign. And this isn’t even her regular doctor. No, her regular doctor had to go and have a baby, and is on maternity leave until July. My friend Deede pretty much summed about my feelings about this when I told her that even my veterinarian was pregnant and she replied, “Fuck that bitch.” Only semi-sarcastically. (It just seems that I can’t turn my head without seeing another pregnancy.) And honestly, I don’t know what to do anymore. I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, less-than-hopeful, and like I’m just chasing symptoms, not really getting to the root of the problem. Sophie has been my cat for nearly half my life; I know her. I know her energy. And I feel it waning. I feel like she probably won’t make it through the year. I could be wrong, but that is my strong feeling, knowing her as I do. She does not seem herself; she seems tired. And I want to make sure that I do the right things for her.

So here’s what happens when you’re me, or you’re someone else who has C-PTSD: These possibilities turn into what the experts call “anticipatory grief.”

This means that I automatically think the worst. That means the other day, when I found her sleeping in her litter box, which is a sign of distress in cats, I began bawling uncontrollably, and not for the first time.

I spoke to her about her funeral. I promised her I would hold one, a little memorial service. I told her that I would inter her ashes in the garden at St. Mary’s, because that’s home, and no matter where I move in the future I can always come back and visit. I told her that I loved her like I’d never loved any other cat, and that she was my little soul mate.

Here’s the thing guys: she’s not dying. Not imminently anyway, not that I’m aware of. But this is anticipatory grief. It’s a defense mechanism. If I imagine the worst, and I grieve before the worst happens, then my brain thinks it won’t be so painful when it actually does happen.

I have no idea if that’s true. My feeling is that nothing will cushion the blow of losing Sophie when the time comes. It will be extremely painful, as all losses are. I have always called her my “baby” and I’ve always “mothered” her, but I’ve felt particularly maternal towards her since I found out I can’t have my own children. I know there are people who think that people who treat their cats or dogs like children are morons. Look, I understand the difference between a cat and a baby. I’d never compare myself to a parent of a human, or compare my loss of my cat to the loss of a human child. But for all intents and purposes, Sophie has been a child to me, and I have been her mother. And that may be all the mothering I get to do, so losing Sophie will have a particular sting to it.

I hate to admit this, but there are some times I think, am I just dragging out the inevitable? Should I go ahead and let her cross the rainbow bridge now while she’s in decent shape and not in pain? Does that mean I’m giving up on her? Am I being selfish, trying to end my pain now so it isn’t prolonged?

I hate these thoughts. I don’t want to be having them. I think they come from a fearful, grief-filled mind. I want to be doing everything I can to keep Sophie healthy and alive for as long and she seems happy. To make the right decisions for her, to do right by her as her guardian and mother. But I am scared, tired, and overwhelmed, and I have no idea what I’m doing.

Please keep up both in your prayers as we navigate these next few months together.

 

The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
    but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

Proverbs 12:10

The Exhausting Everyday: How PTSD Makes Everything Hard

Content Warning: Sexual Assault

I went to a sporting event Friday night.

As you may guess, this is not something I normally do. I have social anxiety and PTSD. I hate crowds and loud noises. A stadium with thousands of people and a cannon that goes off when a home run is scored is a bad place for me. However, it was “Episcopal Night” at the ballpark, and a bunch of people from my church were going. My sister really wanted me to go. And it was my two-year-old godson’s first baseball game; how could I miss that?

The things we do for the people we love.

Everyone met at an Episcopal church a few blocks away from the stadium a couple of hours before the game for hot dogs (ew) and socialization. On the 45 minute drive from our suburb to downtown, I had to take a milligram of Klonopin, that’s how anxious I was. Once we saw some people we knew, it was better. And once my best friend and godson were there, that’s when I actually started having fun. I loved seeing how excited he was. That child is the light of my life, no matter where we are.

We walked the few blocks to the stadium, and as we filed through the metal detectors one of the security guards told me to smile. I suppose I must’ve had a more grim look on my face than I realized. Also, to the men, seriously: STOP TELLING WOMEN TO SMILE. IT IS OBNOXIOUS.

When we were finally sitting down, I was focused on my godson and so I was ok for a while. We pointed out colors and shared some apple slices. Loud announcements were a bit unnerving. I only sort of paid attention to the game. I was having more fun taking photos of my godson. He was adorable. He only lasted for a couple of hours, though, which was understandable. When they left, it was harder. I became more tense.

I found myself sitting there, looking at all the tiny kids around me. Wishing I had a tiny to take to a first ball game. That hurt. Fucking grief, again. I found myself with my arms wrapped around my body protectively, my shoulders practically in my ears, feeling dissociated from what was happening around me. Towards the end of the game, the husband of a church member, who was sitting next to me, patted my knee to reassure me that our team would pick up a few runs and pull out a win. The first thing that ran through my head was, “GET YOUR FUCKING HAND OFF MY LEG.” The second thing was, “That was unreasonable.”

Here’s the thing about PTSD: Your brain literally believes and lives as if you are constantly in danger from everywhere. So there’s this low-level anxiety that hums in the background all the time, and it sends you signals of total overreaction to completely innocuous events, people, and actions. It makes things that are simple and ordinary for most people difficult, exhausting, and sometimes impossible for people with PTSD.

We left before they set off fireworks, thank you Jesus. I would not have been able to deal.

And the next day, I was completely exhausted. I slept the majority of the day, because I had to recover from trying to maintain seeming “normal” while inside parts of me were screaming. Let me tell you, that takes a tremendous amount of energy. It drains energy from your body, from your mind, from your spirit.

Ordinary things. The most ordinary things can be a nightmare. I got home the other day, and my mom had put shampoo in the soap dispenser because we ran out of hand soap. Creamy, white shampoo. And as I went to wash my hands, this creamy, white substance forcefully spurted out of the dispenser onto my hand and a bit onto my arm. I froze, because in my mind, this was not soap. And I was not clean right now.

I felt suddenly sick. I washed the stuff off my hand and arm, sat down on the edge of the tub, and freaked out. I was shaking and crying. I was an abused child in that moment, a rape victim. I was not a confident adult with a voice, a woman who can heal and protect herself. When trauma kicks in, it kicks hard. I recovered after a little while, and went on with my evening. But I was angry. Because that type of rude interruption is so unfair, and so frustrating.

It’s not always this bad. I can have months where things like this don’t happen at all. For me, PTSD get worse when my general stress level gets worse. So right now, with all the commitments I have and worrying about school and money and processing grief as well, trauma becomes a part of my life again. Which stresses me out. Which makes me more prone to experience the trauma. It’s an ugly cycle that I truly hate, because all I want is to be a person.

I just want to be a person. Not a victim, not a survivor. Not a person who can’t go to a ball game without taking medication. Not a person who sees semen in shampoo. Just a person, whose life isn’t interrupted by trauma.

Will I ever get to see that?

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 6-7

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5: 3-5

Understanding Grief: Love With Nowhere to Go

grief-is-just-love-with-no-place-to-go

I can’t seem to find a reliable source for the author of this quote. But it’s the best explanation I’ve found for the type of grief that I’ve been experiencing around the loss of my ability to have a child.

I was sitting in therapy the other day and I was frustrated. I was saying how I didn’t understand why this “grief process” was taking so long. How I didn’t understand, didn’t anticipate, that my grief over not being able to become pregnant and have a child would be so intense. And why it had only seemed to be since that last ultrasound the previous March that I have felt this way.

It’s not like I didn’t have some understanding that infertility was a possibility for me. I’m not an idiot. I’ve been on psychiatric medication since I was 14. I was diagnosed with my first autoimmune disorder seven years ago, and PCOS six years ago. I was told about the scarring from repeated sexual trauma when I was 25. I knew all of those things could affect my chances to get pregnant and have a healthy baby at some point in my life, but I wasn’t putting it all together. I thought I still had options. I thought there was still some chance.

The truth is, I know why it’s only been since March 11, 2016 that I’ve felt this way. It’s because that’s when I put it all together. That’s when all my options were taken away. That’s when I was told that there was, essentially, no chance, unless I wanted to risk both my life and the life of any fetus I tried to carry. That’s when whatever little hope I had was crushed.

And so the grief really began. The loss that had been, up to that point, only theoretical, became an actual, tangible loss. A death. One I was not prepared to mourn.

The strength of this grief and the length of time is has gone on has confused me, frustrated me, angered me, and generally been a stumbling block in my healing. I understood that there would be grief but why was there so much? For a long time I felt like I didn’t have the right, didn’t deserve to mourn so much about a loss that, for the first few months, I still had to convince myself was a real thing. I told myself that I was mourning “imaginary children” and that was “stupid.” Disparaging and minimizing the truth was a defense against the pain I was feeling, just a another stop on the way to acceptance. I had to have multiple people tell me that this was real. That I had the right to feel what I felt. That it made sense.

Six months after that ob-gyn appointment, two dear friends of mine lost their three-year-old child to a drowning accident. And suddenly, my grief seemed like the stupidest thing on earth, because this mother had lost a real child. Her living, breathing child whom she had carried and birthed and held and known and played with and taught and fed and rocked and loved beyond measure, had died. I mourned for her child, mourned for her. I stopped mourning for myself because I felt unimaginably dumb doing so.

I’ve never said this to her before, but I know she’ll understand if she reads this.

I had to get past the idea that there was some comparison to be made. I had to understand that we are two separate people with two separate stories, and we each have the right to grieve our own losses. I had to get past the idea that there’s like, some scarcity of grief out there, and that if I grieved while she did I’d be taking up too much of the supply.

There’s plenty to go around.

I finally really understood this two months ago when I went to a Lenten discussion on grief with a few people from church. Why they chose to do this in a loud,  hamburgers-and-beer place was beyond me but I found myself leaving the discussion to sit outside at a picnic table and cry. A woman I know, who had also lost a child, came and sat down next to me. This woman had lost her fourteen-year-old daughter to a rare disease just three years ago. Without a word, she sat down next to me and opened her arms. I fell onto her shoulder and sobbed. She told me something I hadn’t known: that since she had been very young, she thought that she couldn’t have children, so she understood my pain. When she got pregnant with her daughter, it was a total shock.

Something about the fact that this woma who had lost her real, living child, was willing to sit down and be in my pain with me over not being able to have any was extraordinary. It was one of the most generous acts of grace I’ve ever seen. She validated my grief with hers. She validated it by being a mother who had arguably been though much worse and still was willing to comfort me. I can’t thank her enough for that.

I remember continuing to cry after they left, in my car, for an hour. I drove around, eventually ending up at the St. Mary’s church grounds. I walked the prayer path, stumbling in the dark, not seeing the irony of the metaphor at the time. I went home, because I had to. And I felt something shift.

The very next day, because this is how God works, I saw the image at the top of this piece on Facebook. It hit me like a ton of bricks: The reason my grief is so intense is because I am feeling all the mother’s love I ever wanted to give to all the children I ever wanted to have, all at once– except there are no children to receive it. So this love has nowhere to go but straight back into me, where it sits like stagnant water, a swamp full of care-taking and nurturing and hand-holding and playing and teaching and mothering. 

I’m a mother, but I will never be a mother.

That’s why it hurts so much, and is taking so long.

 

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Job 1:21

Tears from Fears

Having PTSD is weird.

Having Complex PTSD is weirder. You know, I have needed to cry for a while now. After a year of grief, death, loss, stress, excitement, pain, hard truths, and very little time to process, I have needed to cry. Really cry. The kind of crying that leaves you a red-faced, snotty, puffy-eyed mess. The kind of crying that comes from your gut. Loud, ugly, soul-cleansing crying.

Thanks to PTSD, I have not been able to do this. In order to cry like that, you need to relax. When your body stays in stressed-out survival mode the way mine does, your sympathetic nervous system does not allow your brain the luxury of feeling safe enough to feel emotions deeply. So they get shoved away, stuck on a psychological shelf somewhere. They wait. The weirdest triggers can bring about the crying, though, and it happened last night.

It was nearly two in the morning. I was about to try to settle down to sleep when I got a message from a dear friend: her cat, who is like her baby and her best friend, had unexpectedly died that day.

Suddenly, it happened. I was crying, and I couldn’t stop. The crying got loud. I didn’t want to have any attention or talk about anything with anyone in my house, so I crept downstairs, grabbed my keys, and went and sat in my car in the driveway. I just sat in the silence of my sealed car, like my own soundproof booth, and wailed.

And wailed.

I’m really not sure how long I stayed out there. I was messaging with my friend for part of that time, when I was able to stop and gather myself for a few seconds.

Here’s the thing about this type of crying: while it’s uncomfortable, I find it to be an incredible relief, almost like a prayer of supplication through my body: God, please take these things which have been weighing on me. As I express them through my tears, please take them from me and by your compassion replace them with your grace. Amen.

You want to know something weird? I almost enjoy crying. I’ve done a lot of it since September. That’s when I figured out how to cry.

See, when I was a child, I literally never cried. Ever. Not when I was being abused. Not when I broke my arm. Not when I smashed my finger in a heavy wooden door and my fingernail came off. I just. Didn’t. Cry. And I thought that was like, just an “abused child” thing. Like I was just super tough, because I had to be. But it wasn’t.

Through counseling I figured out that when I was being abused, it was my father’s specific goal to make me cry, to make me react in pain. He wanted to see me hurting and terrified; he got off on that. I must’ve intuited that, and as a way to defend myself, to hold some control, I stopped crying. I stopped reacting at all. I refused to give him what he wanted. Which meant that he became more and more violent to try to elicit the reaction he wanted from me. Which meant I withdrew deeper and deeper into myself to survive, until I didn’t know how to feel anything.

When I realized this, it was huge. I was able to see my inability to cry not as a fault but as an act of heroism on the part of the child that I was, who refused to feed the evil energy attacking her. And therefore, I was able to redeem my tears as something safe, something holy. Withholding them once protected me. Now, every time I’m able to cry it’s like spitting on my father, and saying: you won’t take this from me. Every tear is like a tiny baptism, a birth by water into the newness of life beyond that trauma.

So you can see how, even though crying is painful, for me, it’s an experience I’ve only really been fully having for a few months, and so in many ways I almost relish it. It’s a release most people take for granted that I never really had. I’m grateful because, even thought crying is usually seen as something negative, to me it has made me more whole, more human. How could I be anything but glad about that?

So yeah, PTSD is weird, and you never know what will set you off crying. I’m just grateful that at this point, that’s something I can do.

 

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:4-5

 

 

Day After Mother’s Day: Moving On

Today is easier.

Today I did normal things. Took the cat to the vet. Wrote emails. Went to the pharmacy. Drank a Frappuccino. Today I was a person again, not just an empty womb walking around, which is what I felt like yesterday.

After the five pm service, Deacon Russ came over to me and hugged me. He said, “You just look so sad today. You don’t have to tell me what’s going on, I just wanted to give you a hug and tell you that I see your sadness.”

He doesn’t check social media much.

I got a hug from Beth+ too, and when she pulled back she said to me, “You made it.” I said something along the lines of, “Sort of.”

Once at home, I cooked dinner and made dessert for my own mom. She works the 3 to 11 pm shift as a nurse, so she didn’t get to enjoy it until midnight, but that was ok. It was good to see her smile, give her a gift in an act of service and make her feel loved. She gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for letting me be your mom.” I said, “Genetically, I don’t think I had much choice in the matter.” Because that’s how we are. And she laughed.

Did I choose her, though? Was my soul bound to hers before I was born? Do I have a child somewhere out there whose soul is bound to mine, and I just don’t know it? Or does that only happen to mothers who carry their children inside them?

I will wonder about these things for a long time to come. In the meantime, I will focus on finishing school, on discerning if I am called to the priesthood. I will write emails, drink Frappuccinos, take cats to the vet. I will live a regular life, and maybe someday, when God thinks I’m ready, a child will come into my life.

Or maybe not.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

 

Mother’s Day Missing: Continued

Today was a sort of nightmare.

Being on social media today, especially Facebook, is like being assaulted from every angle. All I want to do is forget and grieve in solitude and peace but today the world has chosen to say to every women who can get pregnant, every woman who can do what I can’t do: congratulations on being everything Sarah wants to be but can’t be! Congratulations on being a mother!

God, help me.

This is all very selfish and self-pitying and irrational. Trust me, I am aware. It’s not a conspiracy theory to make me feel like shit, although that’s how it seems to me right now. I am, as my friend Deede says, “all up in my feelings.” It’s hard not to be.

I decided I needed to go to as much church as possible today. For me, that’s the best place to be when I’m all up in my feelings. I need Jesus and my friends to sort me out. So I went to Adult Christian Formation, where we talked about Why Bad Things Happen To Good People. A timely subject. I could have shared for hours about all the fucked up shit that has happened in my life, but I mostly kept my mouth shut. I only opened it to say that the idea of “bad things happening to good people” is a fallacy in itself. Because to believe in that, you have to believe in the notion of “good people” who deserve good things vs “bad people” who deserve bad things. And as Christians, that is fundamentally against our core belief that God loves everyone equally.  

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5: 44-45 

So during the 10:30 service, I was called away to help with Children’s Chapel. Of course. Actually, it was sweet. A little girl who I had in my Vacation Bible School class last year, who has since been quite attached to me, was there and wanted to hold my hand the whole time. We did prayers and songs and what the kids prayed for was adorable. Everything from a dead dog to “hungry people” to “grandma’s hurt back.”

When we came back from Children’s Chapel it was time for blessings. Rev. Beth called up every woman in the nave to the altar rail to receive a mother’s day blessing, because she said, “If you are a woman, then you are a mother in Christ and you help to raise the children of this church.” When I got up there, I was surrounded by friends, people who know about my grief over my infertility. I began to cry, but tried to hold it back. Then Beth+ gave me a meaningful look, and put her hand over her heart. My friend Mary grabbed my hand. So I lost it, and just cried.

I continued to cry through the Eucharist. Someone behind me handed me kleenex. I felt honored, recognized, and deeply empty at the same time. It was incredibly sweet and incredibly bitter.

I don’t know how to do this.

I will never forget the day that I was told in definite terms that pregnancy and children would not happen for me. It was March 11, 2016. I will never forget lying on a table having a pelvic ultrasound, looking at this giant flat screen on the wall where most women see the progress of their growing fetuses, and seeing black. Seeing my big, empty uterus in HD, with a cyst on my fallopian  tube and another on my ovary, seeing the huge, black, empty space that would stay empty forever. I watched as my ob-gyn moved the wand around to check for more cysts, just staring at the black emptiness. That, as Rev. Beth said, is when the death happened for me.

The death of all my hopes and dreams. The death of my identity as a hopeful future mother. The death of my ability to give life through my body. Part of me truly died when my ob-gyn told me my chances of ever being able to carry a pregnancy without me or the baby dying were less than 1%. It’s not just about the cysts (PCOS), thought that’s a big part of it. It’s my bipolar medications, my autoimmune diseases, and scarring from years of rape and sexual abuse. The combination of those factors makes it nearly impossible.

I am not meant to be a mother by natural means.

Maybe I am meant to be an adoptive or foster mother. Maybe God has a child out there that isn’t even born yet, and I am destined to be his or her parent. Maybe I am meant to rescue a child from a situation like the one I grew up in, and because I went through that, I will be specially equipped to help that child. I don’t know.

All I know is that right now, the loss still hurts. It’s been one year and three months, and it still, still, hurts. I sometimes feel silly or stupid for continuing to grieve for so long. A part of me is like, you should be over this by now. C’mon, stop it already. Another part of me says that this will take as long as it takes, and I have to just follow where the grief goes.

I hate that.

That’s the way grief works though. The more you try to suppress it, the more it comes rushing up to make you pay attention. You can ignore it, but it won’t go anywhere. Grief will wait. It will sit there, kick back and relax until you deal with it. So you might as well deal with it.

I am trying.

 

“Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”
says the LordDo not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    He is called the God of all the earth...
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

Isaiah 54: 1, 4-5, 7-8