More tears to shed

Today I had my second therapy session. I didn’t really feel like going. I’ve been doing well lately and felt like I wouldn’t have much to talk about. But I went…and words poured out of my mouth and tears flowed from my eyes. I sobbed. I did NOT anticipate that or realize I had painful emotions that close to the surface.

We were talking about all the ways I try to control my environment as a reaction to my intense anxiety and feeling like the world is no longer safe or predictable. Some of these ways are intense and interfere with my life (like the extent to which I try to control exposure to germs for myself and my kids). But as we explored these tendencies, with some thoughtfully placed questions, my therapist elicited a strong grief reaction in me. And I started talking about Charlie.

The reality is, since Cami came, I haven’t felt free to grieve Charlie. Maybe it unconsciously feels like my time-line for grieving him expired and I now have a new baby, so…HOORAY! (?) Or that’s the expectation I think others have for me? I even have the thought that Charlie must be moving on as well…and I feel guilty if I distract him with my sadness.

However, I think more connected and accurate is my grief and anxiety.  I have such intense anxiety about losing Cami that I haven’t felt I could grieve Charlie because to grieve, is to remember how painful it is and that intensifies my already-overwhelming anxiety. Anxiety feels horrible so I’ve done everything I can to avoid it or minimize it…and that includes disconnecting myself from my grief.

But today I realized I still have tears to shed for him. My grief is not done…or as my therapist described, “not yet metabolized.” And all my efforts to avoid those feelings of sadness through my hyper-vigilance and control in my life are not working. And they’re not helpful.

Coming to understand these processes, cleared my vision and I was able to access my sadness in a painful but refreshing and needed way. I was able to feel how much still miss him. Deeply.

In two weeks we will pass Charlie’s two year angelversary. Though I have come very far in my journey and happiness has graced my life again, there is still sadness and pain that needs to be felt. And I will let myself cry for my Mister Mister. IMG_3050

Toward “wellness”

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, I try to pick a theme for each year. Last year’s theme was Connected and I spent the year trying to reconnect to myself and more deeply connect within other relationships around me and with my Heavenly Father. I feel I largely met that goal and am satisfied with my efforts.

This year my theme is Wellness. With this theme as my guide, I want to work toward feeling more emotionally/physically/spiritually healthy.

I’ve been doing a variety of things to try to move toward this value of Wellness in my life.

First thing I did in January was to decrease the amount of processed foods I consume. This has actually been easier than I thought it would be. Now, I haven’t eliminated all processed foods. For example, I still consume copious amounts of chocolate…but at least it’s dark chocolate, which is less processed and has fewer additives and sugar. I’ve also simply tried to increase my fiber and eat more fruits and veggies.

I’m not on any kind of diet…trust me…you won’t meet many people more anti-diet than me. For years my moral stance against dieting meant complete acceptance of all foods available to consume. I called this intuitive eating. And I considered myself largely healthy. I continue to believe wholeheartedly in intuitive eating but I learned that not all foods are created equal. I’ve been learning more about nutrition, mostly through NPR episodes, documentaries and Michael Pollan books.  I am by no means an expert on food but I was blown away to learn how much the food I ate regularly had unnecessary additives and preservatives (SUGAR) and what those products have been doing to my body! As I have been learning more about processed foods, I wanted to see if I could become even more healthy by largely eliminating those products from my diet.

At first the results were unremarkable. I didn’t feel this sudden well-spring of health where I sported Birkenstocks and practiced daily yoga. In fact I felt really really tired. Really really. I was pretty disappointed but decided to continue the experiment. Now into my third month I have to say I AM noticing some positive results. Nothing spectacular or revolutionary but I’m feeling pretty good! I no longer crave highly processed or heavy foods and my body feels a lot healthier. Yesterday, I bought Hailee some Reese’s chocolate peanut butter eggs and I ate two of them. I found I didn’t like them! This shocked me because peanut butter and chocolate are my FAVORITE. Three months ago I would’ve consumed over 1/2 the bag in one sitting before sharing with Hailee. Now, when I eat french fries I feel yucky. Not psychologically yucky, physically yucky. I like being in this place where I crave my daily breakfast of oatmeal, walnuts. blueberries and maple syrup and my afternoon snack of apples and almond butter. Nom Nom! Of course I’m eating other meals and snacks throughout my day (I’m a hungry nursing mom!) but I have truly fallen in love with these two daily staples and appreciate how satisfied and good they make me feel.

Besides nutrition, I am getting back into exercise. This last weekend I ran my first 5k in over…a year and a half? And it felt awesome!

IMG_4262It was a local 5k called The Leprechaun Lope that took place at the state capitol. It was a blast to don some face paint and a green tutu, people watch, and collect “gold” coins that little leprechauns threw along the trail.

IMG_4255This was the first of numerous races I hope to run this year. I’m running another 5k this Saturday. In May I’m going to run the 10k for Charlie again, and in June I’m going to run the Ragnar Wasatch Back for the first time! And then, to add to the insanity, Chad and I are thinking we’ll train for the Disney World Half Marathon. Am I crazy? I sort of hate running but am super excited about all these races and I’ll probably add a couple more! I love working toward goals and I thrive on the energy and excitement and fun of race day.

Beyond physical health, I’m also working on my emotional health. I will admit I think I have a bit of postpartum depression mixed into the grief/anxiety/and trauma reminders in my daily life. While this depression hasn’t become debilitating, it has definitely impacted my quality of life and my relationships. So this week I initiated my own therapy.

I think this move was probably over due but I’m grateful I’m starting now. I was surprised how nervous I felt sitting on the couch instead of in the therapist’s chair! I am hopeful the experience will help me resolve some issues, work through painful emotions, make important decisions, improve my communication in relationships, and feel more content and happy in my life!

I am also trying to do more self-care things, like read good books, journal, and re-engage my hobbies (like cooking, quilting, and scrapbooking).

The spiritual part of my wellness goal has been harder. I feel spiritually fatigued and I’m not exactly sure what to do about it. But I feel a lot of support from family and friends around this so I’m staying afloat. I’m also open to ideas around this if anyone has any.

Finally, I’m committed to proactively seek opportunities for fun. Since losing Charlie two years ago, our life has been largely (not completely) devoid of fun. My trip to Boston reminded me that fun is possible for me, for us, and I think it’s time to engender more of it in our life. We are starting with a scavenger hunt a la Amazing Race style in downtown SLC in a couple weeks!

As I move toward Wellness, I know it will require dedication, vigilance, and also flexibility, moderation, and continued evaluation. But for the first time since losing Charlie, the journey ahead seems to hold promise, light, fulfillment, contentment, fun, and well…wellness.

Biting into 8 months!

IMG_4237Gotta love Hailee’s feet photo bombing Cami’s 8 month photo shot. Anyway, I feel like this month is a big month for Cami. She seems to be reaching multiple milestones at once. She cut her first two teeth and loves gnawing fruit, especially oranges. Besides some general increased fussiness and snotting, Cami seemed to navigate the experience of sharp teeth cutting through her tender gums quite well.

Cami also began crawling! It’s a bit of an army crawl at this point but she certainly knows how to get from point A to point B.

IMG_4020 IMG_4026She also loves holding very important “Ssss” conversations. Cami makes the cutest “Ssss” spitting sound and waits for you to say it back and then the conversations proceeds with a lot of “Ssss” and huge smiles. She really knows how much we love her “Ssss” because she greets us ALL the time with it and an expectant big smile. It truly is her way of saying “hello.”

IMG_4239Cami has also begun to take the majority of her naps in her crib. This feels like a big personal milestone for ME as I am facing my anxiety about her stomach sleeping. Especially when, in spite of my efforts to keep her on her back, Cami does this:

IMG_4242And then proceeds to have the best naps of her life. If Cami sleeps on her back she will wake up after only 30 minutes, guaranteed. If she sleeps on her stomach, we can count on upwards of an hour nap or so. I hate it when she sleeps on her tummy but there’s really not much I can do about it! And if she sleeps better that way, who am I to say no? And if we don’t start extending her naps beyond 30 minutes, there will be no end in sight for her four-nap-a-day schedule. Yup…that’s right, most days Cami still takes 4 naps when by this age she should only be taking two, maybe three.

I am still hyper-vigilant around naptime!!! We got a video monitor and my favorite part about it is the resolution is good enough that I can see and hear her breathe. Pair that with a Snuza and I don’t feel super anxious. In fact I’ve begun to get stuff done in my brief 30 minute mommy-breaks!

In the next couple days/weeks we will transition Cami to the crib at night as well, as she is outgrowing her bouncy chair. That is going to be the BIGGEST milestone (for me) as it’ll be another level of exposure therapy. But I think I’m getting close to being ready and I think Cami is definitely ready.

As we pass 8 months with our rainbow baby in arms, I just feel a lot of continued gratitude for the opportunity to nuzzle her, smell her, talk to her, and love on her everyday. IMG_4037

Success

I love walking into a hotel room and smelling the stale air and feeling the scratchy bathroom towels. To me, these sensations are the promise to memories to be made and adventures to be had. I feel like it’s cliche because it seems like everyone likes to travel, but for me, travel really does it for me! I love the comfort of routine but I really thrive on adventure. But losing Charlie while on a vacation almost completely eradicated my desire for travel and adventure and replaced it with fear.

IMG_4217But this last week I took a very brave step, and flew to Boston for the American Group Psychotherapy Association annual conference. I left Cami and Hailee in the care of Chad and my mother-in-law and met up in Boston with friends from work and graduate school. This trip was the first I’ve taken since we have had Cami in our arms and leaving her felt so wrong. But it also felt so necessary.

I needed to learn that Cami will be fine without me. And I needed to learn that I can be fine without her. And while it felt somewhat bittersweet to see her on Face-Time and observe that she looked just as happy in my absence as in my presence, that gave me continued to permission to enjoy my trip.

And I did enjoy my trip! It was just what I needed. AGPA is a truly unique experience. At AGPA phrases like, “I feel really connected to you right now,” and “I really resonate with what you are saying and feel a lot of caring for you,” are ubiquitous every hour in every workshop and seminar. The whole spectrum of emotions are felt and expressed at this conference as attendees are encouraged to be authentic and dis-inhibited to accentuate their own experience and training and facilitate an intense group experience. So complete strangers are shedding tears together, or fighting with one another, grieving together, or even admitting attractions to each other (yes boundaries can be blurry here so it’s important to maintain your own, as others will not do it for you). It’s a very powerful and meaningful experience…and maybe you’ll just have to take my word on that as I read over how I explained it and realize it sounds quite hokey and bizarre. But I believe passionately in the power of group psychotherapy because I see it in the groups I run and I experience it personally at these annual conferences.

I roomed with a good friend from graduate school who I only get to see once a year, as we now live across the nation from each other. Another graduate school acquaintance joined us and after a couple days together she quickly transitioned from acquaintance to friend.

IMG_4219Because AGPA is a place of connection, I found I was able to do some healing personal grief work. I connected with others who have lost loved ones  and we cried together. I also felt free to do grief work as I was away from Cami. With Cami, grieving Charlie feels…messy. It’s been tangled up more with anxiety, trauma reminders, and gratitude for the amazing gift of another baby. But at AGPA, I felt I was able to connect to my grief without it feeling messy or threatening and though the connections and grief expression only happened for brief moments, it felt very healing and connective.

So the conference itself felt like much-needed personal therapy. Beyond the conference, my friends and colleagues and I had a great time sharing meaningful conversations, wandering around historical Boston sites, eating good food, and dancing…yes dancing! AGPA hosts a dance each year and with some persuasion, my trouser and sweater wearing colleagues demonstrated some impressive and comical dance moves!

My heart felt genuinely happy for those few days. It was a very welcome breath of fresh air. Now I am home and back to my routine of oatmeal breakfasts and reservoir hikes and feeding Cami sweet potatoes and watching Hailee jump on her trampoline. My Boston trip was definitely a success and I look forward to the possibility of more trips! Soon!

7 months of lovin on a rainbow!

IMG_3824At 7 months this little girl is on the move! Not in a crawling-sort-of-way but in a roll-wherever-I-want-to-go way. She has gotten pretty fast about it so I have to keep a close eye on her! Time to baby proof the house!

As Cami has so much better control over her body and movements, it’s increasingly difficult to take decent photos of this little wiggle worm!

IMG_3914So I’ll try to add props to occupy her attention while I snap a few fast shots…and who doesn’t want a priceless portrait of their 7 month old eating a shoe? ;) At least I was able to capture this photo on my phone:

IMG_4168This month Cami seems to be losing her babyness. She is still all cheeks and chunky thigh rolls but she’s not “take-home-size” anymore. She’s getting big and squirmy and eager to explore her world! The days of her falling asleep in my arms and just cuddling for hours seem to be at an end. She still loves to be held and alertly likes to observe the world around her from this position, but she has this annoying One Arm Push off where she twists her body away from me to see what is going on.

She is eating more and more “human” food although I haven’t braved giving her anything that doesn’t come already pureed in a jar. But she greatly enjoys sucking on pickles if I let her! With this onset of human food, we have necessarily increased her intake of prunes!

IMG_3840I think prunes will be a consistent part of her diet for the near future until her gut gets used to moving those solids out!

Oh the joys of parenthood. When did my life become about bowel movements?!

We are slowly trying to transition Cami to a bed but the transition has been rough. I’ll be honest, the last week I haven’t felt up to fighting the battle so she’s been sleeping in her swing for naps and still in her bouncer over night. The success so far has been a few naps on her back but she never seems to last longer than 20 minutes. Sleeping so long in swings and bouncers where she is semi-cuddled by the fabric of the device, I think, leaves her feeling vulnerable and exposed laying on her back. She’ll sleep for a few minutes and then flare her arms reflexively as if startled, and wake herself. Sigh. She’s a lot of work.

Lately Cami has been waking up in the middle of the night wanting to hold my hand. Seriously. Cutest thing. I’ll roll over and drape my arm off the bed and give her my hand, which she will grab with both of her hands and immediately fall back asleep. The problem is, when I pull my hand away to go back to sleep myself, there’s a 50% chance she’ll wake up and cry again until I relinquish my hand back into her possession. I’d fall asleep like this if draping my arm off the bed wasn’t so akimbo and uncomfortable, sending prickles down to my wrist as the blood flow  is cut off. Last night Cami woke up so many times demanding the soothing comfort of my hand that eventually I had to just let her “cry it out.” I don’t mind a holding-hands-session a couple times a night…but not every hour!

Collaborating with other moms of infants, I am aware we have created and reinforced the habits that make Cami a high maintenance baby. For example, most babies her age and even younger soothe themselves to sleep! But our insistence on Cami sleeping in our room and not in her own quiet domain lead to us taking 30 minutes to over an hour at times to get Cami to sleep for the night! We do this EVERY night. And if I’m being honest, it’s wearing me thin. Especially since, despite Chad’s best efforts, Cami demands me each night! She will wail until I take her in my arms, where she will immediately calm down! Subsequently reinforcing me as the primary soother.

Cami seems to have a homing device for me. Anytime anyone else takes her she immediately swings around until she sees me to reassure herself she’s ok. This habit is coming with the onset of stranger anxiety. So doesn’t that seem like perfect timing to hire a new nanny?! Haha. Well, we are hiring a new nanny to come two days a week. She starts beginning of March. I’m hopeful Cami, aka, little Momma’s Girl, will warm up to her and that this nanny will be able to stick it out through, what is bound to be, a rough transition.

I would not describe Cami as hard or difficult. She is quick to smile and giggle and is generally pretty happy and goes-with-the-flow. But she IS, as I mentioned, high maintenance. It is SO HARD to manage our anxiety that dictates what likely seem to be intense measures in our efforts to not repeat fate and lose Cami to SIDS like Charlie. These efforts stretch sanity to the limit. And I’ll be honest, many days lately I feel like I’m on the brink of losing it. I am exhausted ALL the time and am lamenting my conviction to eschew caffeinated fixes…except dark chocolate which I consume in copious amounts!

Cami is my shadow, my hip buddy, my constant companion and I love her soo much! It feels weird and wrong whenever she’s not with me. But I have seriously got to make some changes if I am going to mentally survive! I can’t get anything done (hence this 7 month update is a couple weeks late!) The slow cooker is my best friend and my husband’s whirwind clean-ups each night are priceless helps! And poor sweet Hailee is so great, understanding, and inclusive of Cami but I worry her brain is turning to mush with all the screentime I give her as I manage her sister! I hate that my vocabulary with Hailee consists largely of “no!” and “not right now!” I am over-indulging Cami and neglecting Hailee and most everything else in my life and am left with zero reserves at the end of the day.

I feel horrible having these struggles because I asked for this. I begged for the chance to have another baby. So I am trying to suck it up and be grateful that I have another exhausting day to navigate with my girls! And please believe me, I am soo grateful!

This experience of raising a rainbow embodies holding polar emotions simultaneously: fear and happiness, exhaustion and gratitude, grief and hope, faith and doubt, depression and elation, etc.

Wow, how did this 7 month update end up being this long rant? Sorry!

In conclusion, Cami is doing great. She is thriving and continues to bring us so much joy. No it’s not all sunshine and balloons and unicorns but I’ll take this messiness everyday I can! Because rainbows also shine during rainstorms, not just after the rain stops.IMG_4180PS: I really enjoyed this podcast and felt myself shouting “Amen!” to many of the points made about the challenges of parenthood: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/paradox-modern-parenthood

If you have 50 minutes, it’d a good listen. :)

Baby Steps

I feel slightly bipolar. Honestly. Enough that I am genuinely monitoring my symptoms. I know I’m not evidencing my first hypomanic episode, but am rather navigating a storm of hormones, needs, desires, and complex emotions that tossed into the day-to-day mundacity are all giving me huge mood swings! One minute I feel GREAT, so happy, enthusiastic, grateful and ready to take on the world. The next minute I feel like crying, I’m angry, depressed and feel like I’m suffocating. Poor Chad. I think he finds me very unpredictable.

In those energized moments, I am not sure where all the energy is coming from. It could be that I prepared myself emotionally and built up this big momentum to return to work and then, BAM, the next day, literally, I’m back to staying home full time (with the small exception of the weekly eating disorders group I run) and all that energy now has nowhere to go. It could also be that 22 months after Charlie died I am finally returning to myself and able to tap into happiness that I haven’t felt in almost two years.  It could be both those things or something else completely. Whatever the cause, I feel this bubbling torment of energy and ambition that has no anchor or direction. I feel this passion but I’m not sure for what. It feels a little bit like an identity crisis. I’m swirling with thoughts about what I want to do with my career (research, teach, go back to my previous job at Center for Change, stay where I am at the BYU Counseling Center, write a book, secure public speaking venues, save the world?); and myself personally (train for a triathlon, learn more about nutrition, document my kids’ lives more, remodel my house, read thought provoking/inspiring books, commit to being a vegetarian that eats fish, figure out all the hype about meditation, get better at photography, take a trip?) For a long time now I’ve been in Mommy mode and while I love my kids more than I can express, there is a latent Anna inside demanding to be acknowledged, valued, and expressed.

IMG_4102But I am in so many ways paralyzed by fear. I feel like having Cami has opened a deluge of trauma work I didn’t anticipate but need to process. I struggled a lot with memories and nightmares frequently in the first few months of her life. I am happy those have largely subsided now. I am also happy that I’m not taking a million photos to memorialize her life after her “inevitable” death, or listening to certain inspirational songs with the thought that they’d make a good soundtrack to the funeral slideshow of Cami’s life. I am happy that I no longer expect her to die. I think this indicates I’ve done a lot of the trauma work I need to…but it’s always there. Whether subdued or flaring, I am always terrified I’ll lose Cami like we lost Charlie.

A perfect example of this paralyzation happened this week. Context: Chad and I need a vacation. Badly. We haven’t gone anywhere in a year and the daily grind is literally making me want to crawl out of my skin. We have a long weekend next week with Presidents Day and we thought it’d be wonderful to go to California or Arizona and visit family. We used to travel quite impulsively and frequently. Charlie was 6 weeks old when he went on his first plane trip. Now, it’s totally different. We debate, we ruminate, we fantasize, we anticipate, we procrastinate, we almost hit the purchase button for tickets, and THEN the fear floods in and we…don’t buy the tickets.

We traveled after losing Charlie but not since having Cami. We haven’t traveled with an infant since that horrible fateful trip to Kauai. And while I know logically traveling isn’t what killed Charlie, the association is still there and I feel it and fear it deeply.

I have a complete new found admiration for people who have gone through traumatic things and go on to live their lives again; even confront the things that caused the trauma in the first place. Like people who get in horrible car accidents but get behind the wheel again. Or people who nearly drown but get in the water again. Each choice, each step to live again requires intense bravery! I can’t find words to articulate how messy and scary it all is! I know this is redundant and I talked about this recently, but it’s still present for me.

That ONE full day of work required bravery I didn’t know I needed and had to dig deep to find in order to make it through those 8 hours. I know that emotionally/psychologically/intellectually I need to work, but I feel literally sick to my stomach at the idea of finding another stranger (nanny) to take care of my little ones. Even leaving the kids with Chad requires bravery. Each day requires my bravery. And some days I’m stronger than others. I’m trying to be compassionate about those moments where I let fear win but also challenge myself so it doesn’t continue to run my life. I’ve got to confront it more or I’m going to continue to be a swirling mass of bipolar emotions. And I will challenge myself, in the small steps and choices I make each day. I’m going to pursue that simple, yet profound CURE from What About Bob: Baby steps!

Plan B

I spent two weeks training my nanny. I paid for her to take a CPR class and get certified. I showed her all the ropes. And then after one full day of work, SHE QUIT! I won’t malign her in anyway. All I will say is apparently I have a powerful 6 month old who can drive off a nanny in one day!

IMG_3767So here I am, back at square 1. Going back to work has been put on hold for the time being. I’m overwhelmed at the idea of finding someone new to care for our kids. I spent months (literally) looking for a nanny. But beyond the time it took, it took a lot of emotional work to get to a place where I could take a leap of faith like that!

On the other side, I imagine we are a lot for a nanny to take on. You could definitely say we have serious baggage. It’s a lot of pressure to take care of our baby, knowing we lost our last baby. And I’ll admit, we’re a little psycho. We’re hyper paranoid and have rules that normal people don’t have. Normal people have their six month olds sleeping in a crib at regular nap times by themselves. Nap times are usually breaks for parents and caregivers. Not us. Naptime is when we lost Charlie. It’s a lot to ask someone to be hypervigilant like us. To figure out how to navigate being hypervigilant while also taking care of Hailee and getting stuff done around the house.

And yes, Cami is totally a momma’s girl. She will have a serious adjustment time warming up to someone new when she is around me all-day, everyday.

photo(44)A task I need to embark on is to start having Cami sleep in a pack-n-play instead of her swing for naps. This will be step one. After she gets used to sleeping in a pack-n-play for naps, I’ll transition her to a crib (with breathing and video monitors) for her naps. Then I’ll do the emotional work necessary to let her sleep alone, in a quiet room (for naps; she’ll be sleeping in our room at night until she’s one!). I imagine Cami will sleep so much better and be even happier with that arrangement. Then maybe it’ll be easier for a nanny to want to work for us?

photo(45)This is my first attempt at having Cami sleep in the pack-n-play. I’m experimenting with a new monitor Chad’s sister and brother-in-law got us for Christmas: Safe-to-Sleep. I like it better than the angel pad (which was recalled anyway) because it doesn’t just detect movement, it tells you how many breaths the baby is taking per minute and will alarm you if those breaths become less than 10 per minute. It also differentiates between no breathing and if the baby has rolled off the pad (important differences for a SIDS mom!). It also tells you temperature and if the baby is awake. The reviews on-line for this pad are mixed, but until the Owlet comes on the market (we’re supposed to be in the Beta testing group for the product), this seems like it will offer a lot of peace of mind.

Needless to say, Cami’s first nap on her back lasted about five minutes. But hey, it’s a start!

Ready, Set, 6 months!

IMG_3768Last week Cami, AKA Boo Bear, Baby, Cami-Cam-Cam, Camers, Squishy, hit a big milestone! Half a year old! It really is crazy to think she’s been in our arms for half a year. What’s even better about this milestone is knowing that 90% of SIDS losses occur under 6 months. So we are in big part past the SIDS risk. But I know a few moms who lost babies at 6 and even 8 months so we aren’t resting totally easy yet. I’m sure the fear won’t subside until she’s past one, and we’re halfway! To celebrate this milestone, I stopped setting an alarm for the early morning hours to check on her. More uninterrupted sleep has been nice.

IMG_3778Cami is so great. She now rolls both directions and has been pulling herself to a sitting position. She sleeps from about 10pm to 7:30am, but often wakes a couple times to be soothed. Those late night soothings rarely require more than sticking a binky in her mouth, so that is great. We’ve also introduced her to more foods and in general she’s a fan of most of them. This transition to more solids has led to purchasing prune juice! Which she also enjoys and gets successful smelly results.

She is likely cutting her first tooth soon as she is drooling, pawing at her face, snotting, and chewing on everything. She smiles easily but you’ve got to work hard to elicit any giggles. Over Christmas vacation she thought my nephew Mason was hilarious and I haven’t seen her giggle that much before or since.

IMG_3788(see the drool?) :)

She is really a social little girl though. She loves to stick her tongue out and see if you’ll stick your tongue out in response. This is how she greets her Dadda upon coming home from work. It’s very cute and reminds me of Charlie.

IMG_4086As Cami passes this milestone I feel the stirrings within myself to start living my life again. After losing Charlie we were governed by grief. Then after having Cami we’ve been governed by anxiety and fear. Of course we are happy but we aren’t living. We let anxiety dictate each day. I don’t want to live my life that way anymore…but it’s sooo hard because “What if something or the worst happens?” AGAIN?  My anxious brain keeps me ruminating on that fear.

But I am trying to make a conscious choice to acknowledge my fears, take precautions, but learn to trust and risk again. The biggest step for me in this regards is going back to work.

I’m only going back 16 hours but this is so emotionally hard for me! But I know it’s so good for me too. Working is part of my identity. It energizes me and makes me a better, more patient and loving mom. But I feel soo guilty! I’ve been blessed with a rainbow baby, how dare I even think about going back to work?! Hasn’t Charlie’s death taught me anything about the value of our children?! I don’t know of any angel moms with rainbow babies that have gone back to work voluntarily. It makes me feel like a horrible mom! And trusting someone else with Cami is gut-wrenching! This is particularly vulnerable since we’ve had to find a new nanny. Our old nanny who was with us over three years, Mel, is busy with her own little one and they are moving soon to Las Vegas.

We found our new nanny on Care.com and she seems great. She is understanding of our anxiety and seems very responsible. My work has been great to let me “wean” back in so I can have time to train Staci and build trust. But I know regardless of how much time I have with Staci to build that trust, it is still going to be a big leap of faith for me.

As I move forward I have to decide that I can’t live by fear or guilt. I have to hold to my personal truth that working is integral to me and I am a good mom. That working doesn’t devalue my children. But rather I am taking care of myself so I can more fully be present with them. But man it’s going to be hard to leave this little one for two days a week! I sure adore this little rainbow!

IMG_3792

Choosing to believe

“Grief teaches the steadiest minds to waver”-Sophocles

I have been astounded by others I have met with similar losses and their perceivable rock-solid faith. I wish I could claim the same convictions. I wish I didn’t find myself in a religious existential crisis after losing Charlie…but that is what happened and where I still dwell in many regards. This isn’t the first faith crisis in my life but it is certainly my biggest.

I’ve alluded to and commented briefly in many posts about this aspect of my journey, but I decided it’s time to be more vulnerable and more explicit about it.

I think in the beginning I was embarrassed to have this crisis of faith. I felt silly because in my work as a therapist, I have heard many incredibly painful stories that have happened to really good people, and their stories didn’t shake my faith. Instead it felt so cliche that my faith faltered when something so hard and painful “happened to ME.”

And when IT (Charlie’s death) did happen to me, the world no longer made sense. I knew cognitively before his death that the world didn’t follow a “fair” formula. I knew that bad things happen to good people and that bad people are sometimes greatly rewarded and successful in life. But before, I reconciled this lack of justice with the concept of agency. Most of the stories I heard from clients or other people in my life, or even on the news, were stories where someone used their agency to negatively affect someone else. Either through making poor choices (e.g. driving drunk or recklessly) or bad people purposely hurting others through abuse, neglect, etc. And because my understanding has been that agency is an important condition of this mortal existence, God will not and cannot interfere with our agency. Subsequently, most of the pain we experience in life is a result of that eternal law.

But Charlie’s death wasn’t “agentic.” We weren’t hit by a drunk driver, I didn’t accidentally drop him, or shake him in a fit of anger. And I don’t believe my four month old could choose to stop breathing, anymore than you or I can choose to stop breathing.

This experience caused me to question Who God is and whether He is involved in my life at all? Was He involved in Charlie’s death? Or did He just let it happen? And WHY? Why does He intervene on behalf of others; why do others get miracles and we didn’t? These questions spin and spin and get deeper until I asked myself the painful question, Does my Heavenly Father love me? But these questions lead me down a rabbit hole that is confusing, painful and hard to articulate. In service of making sure this post doesn’t become a novel of inarticulate ramblings, I will save those thoughts for another time.

What I want to boil this post down to is what I conceptualize as the first step in my faith journey. Or perhaps better stated, the foundation upon which I return and upon which every other step I take in this journey rests. That foundation is simply this: I choose God.

I have found ample reason to doubt Him. To doubt His love, to doubt His goodness, to doubt His involvement, or even doubt His existence. But faith isn’t about erasing doubt or finding truth. I believe faith is about CHOOSING. And we are rewarded with increased faith and knowledge after we choose, or as we  consistently choose in the face of doubt.

My conclusion is this: I do not have the answers. I’m not sure if I will find the answers in this life. But I DO believe in God. I believe this with all my heart. Experiences before and after Charlie confirm this to my soul. But I still have to choose. Because those confirmations, although powerful and deep, are quiet. I think Heavenly Father is giving me a powerful gift by allowing me to choose Him. To believe. And these doubts come back again and again…so choosing Him is a repeated process again and again. It’s not always easy to make this choice. Cynicism, my analytical brain, and my feelings of unjustice and betrayal start whirring and it takes significant effort to turn those thoughts away and choose to believe; to draw closer to God instead of away.

photo(43)Jerry Sittser expressed my feelings perfectly in his book A Grace Disguised: How the soul grows through loss, “Loss may call the existence of God into question. Pain seems to conceal him from us, making it hard to believe that there could be a God in the midst of our suffering. In our pain we are tempted to reject God, yet for some reason we hesitate to take that course of action. So we ponder and pray. We move toward God, then away from him. We wrestle in our souls to believe. Finally we choose God, and in the choosing we learn that he has already chosen us and has already been drawing us to him.”

Merry Christmas Charlie

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IMG_3616Here is Charlie’s tree we decorated. The tree is a hodgepodge of homemade ornaments and I love it that way.

IMG_3636On Christmas eve we went and put the tree on his grave. When we arrived at the cemetery, I thought we’d have some digging to do to find his headstone but his headstone was totally uncovered, whereas those around him were buried in snow. It was as if he was waiting for us.

IMG_3627 While I’ve come such a long way, it’s still so hard to visit my son here, rather than have him home with us. Holidays are bittersweet that way. I wish this holiday hadn’t come so fast. I feel disappointed that I didn’t make the time to donate toys and goods to another two year old in need, in Charlie’s honor. I was so touched that my brother and SIL donated a toy to a needy two year old in their area for Charlie. I hope in the new year to pick up my service efforts again. In the meantime I hope Charlie can see my heart and know my intentions were good. I think he’s understanding of the time and effort a houseful of sick kids requires, including my own recuperation. But I’m still sad about it because without those service activities, the spirit of Christmas felt subdued in our home. But I am grateful to have the light of Charlie’s Festival of Trees tree in our home and the sweet experience of decorating this small tree with Hailee and her cousins.

IMG_3626Even if I couldn’t do all I wanted for Charlie this year, he is truly always in my heart and I have much to be grateful for this season. Missing him this holiday and always. Love you Mister Mister!