Where Grief and Hope Collide

 

prateek-gautam-wX1GSlEHzuc-unsplash

My first child was due to be born on May 13, 2020.

Perhaps it would be more medically accurate to say my first pregnancy. Who qualifies as a first child? Various medical staff ask us often: “Is this your first baby?” I never know how to answer. I want to say no, but medically, I sort of need to say yes. After an awkward pause, I stammer onto something like, “Second pregnancy, first baby.” I still don’t like the implication, but it gets the point across.

We found out we were pregnant again just after the new year, less than 3 months after our miscarriage. Within days, we told our immediate family members, because we weren’t sure how long the good news would last. I wanted them to experience that early joy, even if I couldn’t quite feel hopeful myself.

At our first appointment (week 8), I forced myself into the ultrasound room. It was the same room from October, the same room where I found out our baby girl had no heartbeat. Andrew held my hand, and I held my breath. The sonographer searched.

“There it is,” she said. “Beating away at 150 bpm.”
I didn’t believe her. “Really?” The question caught in my throat.
“Yep, you can see it right there.” She pointed to the tiny, flickering blip on the screen.

All I could do was nod. Baby was alive and well. With that tiny heartbeat, the slightest flicker of hope lit in my heart.

Four days later, everything changed. Andrew and I went out on a date night, but the evening didn’t go as planned. Before the symphony began, I emerged from the bathroom and told him we had to leave. I was bleeding, a lot. We had to go to the emergency room.

It’s happening all over again.

We waited for two hours in an understaffed ER, dressed to the nines. I cried the whole time, listening to other names being called. I knew I wasn’t in immediate danger, and they couldn’t do anything for our baby. Even so, it felt cruel to let me sit there for so long, crying, not knowing if my baby was dead or alive.

In the end, our wait turned out to be fruitless. My baby had a heartbeat, but there was also a major hemorrhage nearby. “Threatened miscarriage,” the young male doctor told me. “Only time will tell. Your odds are 50/50. You’ve had a miscarriage before, so you know what to expect if your symptoms progress in that direction.” I corrected him. I’d had no symptoms the first time around–it was a ‘missed’ miscarriage, and I had a D&C at week 9. “Ah, well in that case, it will be like a period, but worse.” As he continued talking about expectations for my reproductive system, I confirmed my suspicion that I could never see a male OB/GYN. What business did he have comparing miscarriage symptoms to a period? What did he know of any of it?

We trudged out of the hospital, discouraged and exhausted. The flicker of hope inside me faded to embers, still hot but dying away. I went home and spent several days trying not to move, willing my insides to hold together just long enough to get more answers.

We saw my doctor five days after the ER visit, and she pulled us straight into the ultrasound room to look for herself. “Yeah, there’s the hemorrhage, right there.” She shrugged. “Baby is good. The hemorrhage isn’t interfering. Your body should take care of it with time.”

“Really?”

“Really really.”

Nothing to worry about, she said. I worried anyway. Come to think of it, just about everyone told me not to worry. Sub-chorionic hemorrhages are common, and in my case, perfectly harmless. Celebrate the baby! Be excited! I couldn’t access the optimistic outlook. I had lost too much, too recently. I knew better.

After three more major bleeding incidents, three emergency doctor appointments, and two emergency visits to the labor and maternity center, I felt justified in my anxiety. Between weeks 8 and 13, we had nothing but scares. I sent a bajillion text messages asking for prayer, feeling like a worn, broken record. But every single time, in every emergency, baby’s heart pounded away on the ultrasound screen, always at 150 bpm. And the hemorrhage–however persistent–didn’t interfere with baby’s growth.

A switch flipped for me around week 14. To be honest, it completely snuck up on me. I barely noticed the shift in my self, from anxious self-protection to hopeful planning. Apparently, repeated emergency visits and professional reassurance were just what I needed to believe this baby could make it.

Tucked away in this isolated COVID-19 reality, we started talking about names, and making lists for each gender. I started a registry for the unbelievable amount of stuff that babies need. Andrew did the heavy lifting shifting furniture around the house, slowly converting our guest room into a nursery for our growing child. There’s still plenty to do, but I’m also months ahead of ‘schedule’ thanks to the pandemic hibernation. I’m too Type A to be anything but hyper-productive in quarantine.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘too emotionally avoidant.’

Yes, I’ve worked on the baby’s room, considered pediatricians, and sorted through the mountain of baby crap on the internet. But for several weeks, well beyond week 14, Andrew repeatedly asked “Have you written to baby yet?” I shook my head. No, no I had not.

I started writing to our baby girl well before she was conceived, months ahead of trying. Then I wrote to her throughout the early days of my pregnancy, sharing about our love story, and writing prayers over her little life. The quantity of empty pages in that journal is devastating. Connecting with baby, talking with baby…that is an intensely personal act. And it is much, more more vulnerable than ticking items off of a to-do list.

Eventually, I cracked open a new journal and started writing to this growing baby, around week 18. Occasionally, I sing a song for baby. But my heart is still guarded. My journal entries are shorter and less frequent, because it still feels exposing to believe this baby is going to be okay. Nothing promises that will be the case, not even the goodness of my sovereign, generous God.

As busy and productive as I attempt to be, the quiet of this season has slowed me down to feel all the feelings, and face them head on. As I cradle my growing belly and marvel over detailed ultrasound photos, it’s tempting to feel guilty. How can I celebrate this little life when my other baby never got this far? How can I be joyful when I’m still grieving? How can I believe this will turn out any better than before, even if we’ve made it to some new milestones?

Our original due date approaches, and my heart grows heavier. The baby growing in my belly only exists because my first baby died. It’s a strange notion… a little life completely intertwined with a big loss.

I wrote about our miscarriage in the fall, and the flood of support that followed was miraculous. So many women near and far reached out to tell me about their own losses, and to share encouragement. A great deal of that wisdom is precious to us, but one note in particular has stuck with me, especially as this second baby grows.

An old friend shared that years after their loss, they talk with their children about their kiddo in heaven. They acknowledge their son as part of their eternal family, and talk about how each sibling that followed was a gift from their older brother in heaven, only possible because of him. He went to be with God, and sent baby as a gift while they wait to be together again.

It’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it?

This weekend, I’ll celebrate Mother’s Day with a conflicted heart. Three days later, I’ll honor my daughter’s should-be birthday while I carry this second, healthy baby at 22 weeks. ‘Confusing’ is a tremendous understatement for this experience. But guilt… guilt is not the answer, as accessible as it may be. The turning point, as it often is for me, is to shift my gaze upward.

When I imagine my daughter in heaven, I see her vibrant, jubilant face, carefree in a place without pain or tears. I see her standing alongside my grandparents, and as beautiful as they are together, they pale in the light of my Father’s presence. In all of their faces, I see nothing but delight. They delight in my growing child, as they delight in my beautifully conflicted heart. They are full of hope and promise, because they know we will all be together again someday. The pain is a fleeting thing, they whisper. Our family will be fuller and infinitely more beautiful for it. 

Ushered onward by the sight of them, I embrace the joy that this child brings, albeit with tentative steps. Nothing guarantees that my baby will live a long, healthy life on this earth. Even so, I see this baby as the gift that it is, a miraculous addition to our forever family. This baby doesn’t change the fact that I lost my sweet girl, and that’s okay. I can love them both. I can long for them to meet. I can eagerly await our epic family reunion. Until then, I will accept and care for this blessing. I will rejoice, weep, eat a bunch, and probably do it all over again tomorrow.

As I write this, I realize I’ve stumbled into a known reality of Christian life, but perhaps also a reality specific to motherhood in a broken world: this bittersweet place of ‘already but not yet’, where grief and hope collide.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Learning to Grieve

On October 10, Andrew met me at my doctor’s office for our 9-week ultrasound. We had managed to get pregnant with our first child on the first try, and we were about to hear our little one’s heartbeat for the first time. It should have been one of the happiest days of our lives.

Minutes later, the ultrasound technician shook her head. “I’m so sorry. I won’t lie to you about what I’m seeing–I can’t find a heartbeat.”

No heartbeat. No… 

Our excitement and anticipation melted away into shock. Everything we had hoped for, every moment we were looking forward to with our sweet baby, gone in the span of a few seconds. Baby would not make it. My worst nightmare had just been promoted to reality.

I stared at the crystal-clear shape of my child on the ultrasound screen–the child I still carried. I didn’t know baby’s name or gender, and in my ways, she was a total stranger to me. But baby was still mine. I’d been writing to her for months, before her life even began. I’d whispered to her when I woke up in the morning, remembering that she was there and inclined to greet her with the coming of each new day. We were connected, literally. And so I wept for her.

A few minutes later, the doctor came to our room and offered her condolences. She asked how I’d been feeling recently. “Pregnant!” I choked out. “Why do I still feel so pregnant? Why has nothing…happened?” Evidently, this was not unusual. My hormones just hadn’t dropped enough yet to induce symptoms. My body has betrayed me, I decided. How cruel to give me no indication of the death I carried inside me.

We were faced with some of the worst choices imaginable. After weighing the options and consulting with my doctor, we picked the best of the worst. I was scheduled for a D&C out-patient procedure the following morning, barely 12 hours after the miscarriage diagnosis.

The evening before the surgery, we sat on the couch at home, trying to digest the news. I couldn’t bear the weight alone–already, the burden of grief was too heavy for us. “We have to tell people,” I said to Andrew. He nodded. We sent text messages to friends and our pastor, because the thought of that many phone calls was too exhausting and depressing to manage.

Our pastor called us and prayed over us. Then he connected us with a woman in our church who has walked this road before–she called me in a matter of minutes. She talked me through what to expect the next morning, set up a meal calendar for us, and generally made herself available if I needed to scream or cry or talk. I felt seen.

When we arrived at the surgery center the next morning at 5:30 AM, haggard after a sleepless night, the waiting room was full. The other patients sat calmly, waiting to have their bodies righted. Shoulders would be fixed, knees replaced. Nobody was crying in advance of their procedure, from what I observed… nobody but me.

I wasn’t waiting to have my body righted–I was waiting for a funeral.

Both our pastor and one of our church elders met us in the waiting room. They prayed over us, talked to us. Distracted us. It was good to not be there alone, to tangibly feel our church present with us on a dark day. They joined us in the prep room, and waited with us.

As surgery neared, a woman introduced herself as the OR nurse. “My name is Janet,” she said. Then her eyes flooded with tears. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “This is just the worst.”

My doctor came to fetch me herself, along with other members of my medical team. They stacked warm blankets over me, a gesture of mercy in preparation of a freezing operating room. I lost my tentative hold on my emotions when they started to move me out of the room–I didn’t want to leave Andrew. I didn’t want to do the next part alone.

In the OR, my doctor held my hand as I fell asleep. I know she held onto me for practical reasons–she needed to know when I finally lost consciousness. But I think she also knew that I needed the reassurance. They would take care of me. They cared about me. And they cared about my baby.

In recovery, I woke up disoriented, fighting the weight of anesthesia. I don’t remember everything, but two of the earliest words out of mouth were a question for Andrew.

“Baby gone?”
He nodded. “Yes, baby is gone.”
I cried again.

— — —

That first weekend was exhausting; we got all of the hard conversations out of the way in the first two days. “Like a band-aid,” I told Andrew. “I just want to get it over with.” We Skyped my parents, and my brother. Andrew’s parents stopped by the next morning at our request. I became quite adept at saying the words out loud:

We lost a baby.
I was 9 weeks pregnant, but baby stopped growing at 7 weeks.
I had a D&C yesterday.
Yes, physically, I’m fine.

Right away, I noticed myself sugar-coating the news on behalf of the receiver, and perhaps also for myself. “We have no reason to believe we won’t have a healthy baby in the future,” I said. “We can try again right away.”

By numbing myself with hope, I taught many of our loved ones the wrong way to respond to grief. I rushed away from the pain, too uncomfortable to let myself feel the severity of the loss. Hope for a future child was a tempting reassurance; but hope doesn’t undo the hurt, and hope doesn’t honor the loss. My words started to feel empty and dishonest, so I stopped saying them after a couple of days. As I accepted the loss for what it was, the weight of my grief grew heavier. I carried it anyway.

We told more and more of our friends, and immediately started accepting meals. I learned to cherish the tears of others on our behalf. I learned to eat any food within reach, because I literally did not care what I put in my body. I learned to stop fretting about how clean my bathrooms were, or how many dishes were piled by the sink. One morning, I realized I missed a prenatal vitamin the night before, and I scoffed. What did it matter?

For the first few nights, I woke up in the early morning hours to go to the bathroom. As I became more alert in the darkness of the morning, reality came crashing down on me anew. I sobbed, and nudged Andrew.

“What is it? Did you have a bad dream?”
“No,” I said. “I just…woke up. Waking up is worse.”

My life had become less bearable than my most harrowing nightmares. And so it was that I started to dread the evening, when idleness replaced activity and to-dos and busyness. I dreaded the moment when I would lay my head down and have nothing more to do but hurt.

— — —

As awful as this loss is, I am astonished to see God’s mercy at every step. These little mercies don’t undo the loss–nothing can achieve that–but they do point me back to God’s goodness, which is desperately needed in this season.

I see God’s mercy in the love and support from our church leaders, brothers and sisters, friends and strangers. It is impossible to feel anything but loved right now.

I see God’s mercy in the flood of food showing up at our door. We may not have eaten otherwise.

I see God’s mercy in the timing of the news–rather than grieving or having painful symptoms in Italy, I was blissfully unaware of our loss for two weeks away, until we returned home safely from our trip.

I see God’s mercy in the sisterhood I’ve reluctantly joined. Every time I step into a room and share what I’m going through, I meet more and more women who have lost babies to miscarriage. We cry with each other. We understand each other, even if we are otherwise strangers. It is a mercy to not be alone.

I see God’s mercy in revealing details about our child through a prophetic dream and confirmation from the Spirit. We now feel confident that we know who we’re grieving. Because we feel like we know a few things about her, we are able to focus our grief and find ways to remember the daughter we lost.

I see God’s mercy in my marriage, in the unity that comes from sharing a heavy burden together.

I see God’s mercy in the timing of our loss–that I was able to resolve two targets in EMDR therapy prior to the miscarriage. Because of the healing that happened over the last year, I’m much better equipped to manage my emotions and bear the weight of the loss in a healthy way.

I see God’s mercy in the fact that we didn’t burn our house down as we remembered how to cook and operate space heaters and do the ‘normal life’ stuff with scattered brains and burdened hearts. We melted some plastic on the stove, but so far, that is the worst of it.

Friends, I’ve learned that God is everywhere in our horrible, bleak situation. He is crying with us, through the tears of our friends. He is providing for us, relationally and practically. He is meeting us in our grief. In His presence, I see His mercy, and His great love for us in the midst of our pain. What an unexpected, mysterious blessing.

— — —

For those of you who long to love others better as they grieve, here is my advice, for what it’s worth.

Sit in the sadness. Crying and hugging are the absolute best responses to someone else’s loss. If that’s not your style, your best words to offer are: “I’m so sorry. That is awful.” Hurt with them. Embrace the discomfort. Your sympathy honors the life lost, and affirms the terrible weight of the grief. This is where grief lives, every day. Yes, it is heavy. Yes, it can be awkward. Yes, it is a tremendous downer. But it is better to cry, hug, and say nothing than it is to say something hurtful, however unintentional.

Don’t rush into hope. In fact, don’t mention it at all. Yes, it’s tempting to look to the next baby, the next pregnancy. But those future blessings are anything but guaranteed. We could lose 5 more babies, or wrestle with infertility. The thought of trying to get pregnant again is more terrifying than soothing, especially early on.

The same can be said for our family’s eventual reunion in heaven. I’m glad I’ll see my daughter someday, truly. But I don’t get to know her for many, many years, and I will never have the future with her that I expected to have in this life. There is loss now, even if there is hope in the distance.

Most importantly, ‘encouraging us’ with the hope of a future baby suggests that this was just an ‘oops’ before we get it ‘right’. That is so, so wrong. This was a unique, independent child. This was a full loss, a full life in and of itself. The next child will not undo the fact that my family will never be united in this life.

Pick up the phone and call. Texts are fine. Emails are fine. Handwritten notes of encouragement are good. But picking up the phone and calling shows that you are truly willing to get into the weeds with us, to hear the hurt in my voice. It means you’re not hesitant to care, nor hindered by ‘politeness.’ Calls are not an imposition; I have the agency to send you to voicemail or ignore your message for days, if I so choose. 99% of the time, when someone called to check in and I was able to answer, I picked up the phone and was relieved to have someone who cared on the other side.

Ask if you can do something specific to help. I get it…many people just don’t know how to help, and that’s okay. But grief is exhausting, and all of a sudden, everything about ‘normal life’ gets impossibly hard. There is too much apathy and exhaustion to delegate effectively. “What can I do to help?” is not nearly as welcome as “Can I bring you lunch and spend a few minutes with you tomorrow?” If it’s not a helpful offer, I have the ability to politely turn you down, or suggest an alternative.

Specific ways you can offer to help:

  • Provide a meal or baked goods or literally any form of diet-friendly food, gift cards included. If you need input on specific meals or gift card locations, provide options to choose from rather than the whole world of possibilities. We’re too tired to pull options out of nowhere.
  • Gift your time. Offer to sit and listen for awhile, especially with loved ones who process externally/socially. It’s okay if you don’t know what to say. Just show up and nod and listen.
  • Call or text when you’re already at the grocery store, and offer to pick up anything needed.
  • Offer to clean, do dishes, mow the lawn, run an errand, or take care of other ‘adulting’ tasks.
  • Share encouraging songs, scripture, handwritten words of sympathy, or resources that honor the loss. Just beware of rushing too much into hope. Focus on words that honor the loss.

Keep checking in. I got a wonderful flood of support the first week after our loss–texts, phone calls, emails, handwritten notes, you name it. But for the rest of the world, life moved on while we continued to sit with our loss. Set a reminder on your calendar to check in again, and again. Make an effort to remember, when the chaos has subsided and life becomes distressingly normal. Your friends still need you, perhaps even more so than they did that first week.

Bring up the subject. The topic of my lost baby is never a forbidden topic, nor is it ever frowned upon. It doesn’t matter if it feels like a ‘downer’, or if we were laughing about something silly just a few moments ago. I long to hear people remember my child–even objectively–when the rest of the world has moved on. There is no expiration date on this sadness. I will be this child’s mother forever, and I will never stop missing her. It’s a welcome affirmation when others acknowledge her absence, too.

— — —

There have been many revelations and helpful words shared during the last few weeks. Without minimizing those other words of encouragement, I want to close by sharing a specific insight that has been precious to me in my grief.

About a week after losing our baby, I visited my counselor. She cried and listened as I told her the story. Near the end of our session, she brought up the interaction between Jesus and Lazarus.

I raised an eyebrow. “That’s the example you want to bring up right now? The one where Jesus just chooses to revive someone, rather than let him die?”

My counselor held her hands up. “Give me a minute. Yes, Jesus raised Lazarus. But Lazarus is also a picture of hope, of eternity with God through belief in Jesus. What did Jesus do, knowing that he would raise Lazarus just moments later?”

Join me in John 11, friends. Jesus said several times that He would raise Lazarus. He knew exactly what He was going to do. But when He got to where Lazarus lay, Jesus paused. Scripture tells us that He was deeply moved, and He wept.

Think about that for a moment. Even though Lazarus would get up and walk that very same day, Jesus took the time to weep over his friend’s death, to be vulnerable. To mourn with the others present who were grieving Lazarus, too.

Jesus teaches us that the promise of hope does not undo the appropriateness of grief.

Jesus knew all about hope–He literally was hope. And He wept anyway.

Perhaps you will remember Jesus the next time you encounter grief, personally or socially. Take the time to weep, and mourn together. It is right to do so. Jesus modeled it for us. And as the Bible shows us, our tears are precious in the hands of our loving Father:

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
-Psalm 56:8

— — —

The World Turned Upside Down

On Saturday, September 7, two little pink lines confirmed what I already knew. I was pregnant with my first tiny little baby. In a matter of moments, I became a mother.

First, it’s important to know that several of my dearest friends have kiddos. A few recently went through their first year or two as mamas, and I thought I knew what I was in for as a result. Foolishly, I believed I could anticipate the experience for myself through proximity….that I could gain wisdom through friendship osmosis.

Spoiler alert: I was dead wrong.

There is nothing quite as earth-shattering as knowing that there is a tiny little life taking up residence in your insides. Sure, I was excited to see that confirmation and know what was happening. Yes, I delighted in the news, cried tears of joy, and whispered praise and thanks to God for letting it happen so quickly for us.

But very soon after that initial wave of joy, reality set in. Good lord… what have we done? Yes, we did this on purpose. Yes, we desire and feel called to have kids. But this is the point of no return. This is the moment when I begin worrying as a mom, and from this point forward, I will never stop.

Our calendar shifted immediately. No, we can’t book special event tickets 8 months out. Goodness, how are we going to squeeze in a trip to tell my parents in person? I can’t stand to tell them over Skype, but our fall calendar is already bonkers. When do I first go to the doctor? Does Andrew need to be there the first time? He’s already working extra hours at work to make sure we can go to Italy.

WHOA. We leave for Italy in 2 weeks. I mean, I sort of knew this was possible, but now I’m actually going to be 7-8 weeks pregnant for 9-10 hour flights. What if I’m puking the entire time? Airplanes are basically flying petri dishes, and I can’t afford to get sick at this point. What if I don’t have enough energy to walk around Rome? They don’t speak as much English in Piedmont. How does one translate ‘high-mercury fish’ from English to Italian?

The ripple of life logistics is nothing compared to the overwhelming fear of complications. Too many of our friends have had miscarriages. There’s nothing I can do to prevent one. Worrying and stressing won’t help, either! So I open my hands and trust God. Every day is another day of baby getting healthier and stronger. One fewer day to worry. One day behind me. One day at a time.

My brain is consumed with baby-related thoughts, and the world says I’m not supposed to tell anybody for another 4-8 weeksI throw the world’s rules out the window, talk to Andrew, and we agree to share the news with a few, trustworthy friends. I can’t do this alone. There are only so many occasions in which someone can ask me how I’m doing, and I shrug and pretend my world isn’t flipped upside down.

Yes, we’re telling friends who are over-the-moon excited for us. They are squealing and hugging me and enraptured by the idea of the little baby on the way. They have prayed for us for a long time, and so they celebrate with us. And yet, I know this time is fraught with risk. I know I somehow have to balance my excitement and anticipation with the reality that baby is so tiny, and baby’s future is not even a little certain. When is it too early to think of names?

When is it late enough to hope?

I go to a party alone, and I swear I’ve never been asked “Do you have kids?” more times in a single evening. My hand almost instinctively rises to my belly, but I restrain it in a clenched fist at my side. “No, not yet,” I smile, shaking my head. Not yet. But in a way, yes, I do. I have a secret baby, hidden away in me. That’s not weird at all. I brought a +1 to this party that nobody is even aware of.

Pregnancy is weird.

A list grows on my desk, questions for my doctor. I have an appointment next week, but I still itch to have answers. Nobody congratulates me on the phone when I call my OB-GYN–this is just another day for them. I cling to the stability and normalcy on the other end of the line. Yes, I can continue taking my Zyrtec. Yes, I should get a flu shot. Yes, I can take Tylenol, but only Tylenol.

The noise in my head is deafening. I regularly find myself drifting to the piano or to my prayer bench, reaching out for God’s peace in the midst of this total life upheaval. I hear Him whispering reassuring truth, but it is a distant, muddled sound. It takes far longer to calm my heart and mind than I’m used to, and on some days, I just don’t have the energy or the patience. Still, I run to Him because He is the best and only lifeline I have in this time. I continue reaching for the whispers.

Throughout the evening, Andrew calls me back to the present and reminds me to stop pacing around the kitchen. I apologize, shake my head, and manage not to think about anything baby-related for about 15 seconds. With effort, I focus on what God has put in front of me in this present moment. Just today, I tell myself. Just focus on today. 

I have never been happier, nor have I ever been more terrified. Somehow, I know that this confusing, exhausting experience is just what it’s meant to be.

We are expecting. I’m carrying our child. And thus the beautiful madness begins.

To My Maybe Baby

Dearest Maybe Baby,

You may or may not be in my belly today. If you’re in there, you’re brand new…smaller than a poppy seed. All of the discomfort, fatigue, and bloating I’m feeling makes me think that yes, you might actually be in there. I certainly hope that’s the case.

I’ve dreamed about being your mom for a long, long time. I love you now, when you’re just a ‘maybe’. I love you so much that it’s hard to focus on anything else. It’s easy to get distracted, to worry, to want to fast-forward a few days so I can know for sure.

Most of the time, I can barely get my mind off of you. But I can rest knowing that God sees you, Baby. God knows whether or not you’re in my belly today, or if you’ll first take up residence in my belly months or years from now. God knows how every cell will combine, how your daddy’s DNA will merge with mine to create beautiful, miraculous you. It’s comforting to know that God sees you and knows that you’re there, even if I can’t know just yet.

Oh, but your mom hates waiting! I’m too eager to hear your heart beat. I long to know when you’ll get here, to start planning for your arrival. I ache to surprise your daddy with the news. I smile when I imagine telling your rockstar grandparents that you’re on the way, to see the light of surprise and joy on their faces. Oh, how lucky you are, little one. You are already so loved by so many, even before you are a Definitely Baby.

When I think of you, I dream of the life I want for you. Not a life without obstacles or pain — every life will know troubles like that, Baby. Nor do I see a life with a specific path or plan; I’m not God, and your path is not for me to define or control. He will give you passions, skills, gifts, and goals crafted just for you. Hopefully you won’t want to play football, though, because your daddy is absolutely not on board with that particular category of risk. He loves you too much, you see.

Instead of a perfectly controlled life for you, I envision a balanced life. I imagine teaching you to know God, to pray when you’re scared or angry. I see us folding our hands together and thanking God for sunshine, friends, and ice cream. I imagine holding you when you cry, and celebrating with you when you overcome your fears. I see us talking, making silly fart noises, and resting in a home that is always safe. I see myself apologizing when I’ve hurt your feelings, and eventually, vice versa.

I see you puking all over me when your stomach is upset, and honestly, I don’t mind. I’m ready for the stains and the laundry and the chaos, as ready as a Maybe Mom can be. That’s because I feel called to be your mom, Baby. God has been whispering to me about you for a long time, so I know Maybe will be Definitely eventually. I feel compelled to carry you, to labor through your arrival, and to nurture you in light of the goodness of God. I am ready and waiting, whenever you decide to make your grand entrance.

So, my little Maybe Baby… for now, know that you are loved. Focus on holding on tight in there, and sucking all of the nutritious goodness out of me that you can possibly get. Growing is hard work, and I understand if you beat the crap out of my insides while you get what you need. I will be with you every tiny step of the way, caring for myself and for you, praying for you. Loving you with my whole heart, forever and always.

With more love than I knew I possessed,
Maybe Mom

Learning to Wait

I’ve never been a patient person.

When I was a kid, I often overheard my mom saying, “Hannah doesn’t queue well.” She had good evidence to support such a declarative statement: jumping up and down like a bouncy ball while waiting for a roller coaster, failing to sleep a wink on Christmas Eve. In school, I took advanced courses, hungry for the next level of material, and made friends with students one and two years ahead of me. As a sophomore, I had senioritis: eager to get out of high school and into college, already ‘over’ the season I was midway through.

For my entire life, I have been filled with an abundance of anticipation, eager to get to the next great moment, the next life season. Time and time again, I have been utterly convinced that it was most certainly time for the waiting to be over.

I imagine that when God looked at my heart, He chuckled. Then he started preparing the soil of my soul for His seed of patience.

In my singleness, I struggled to wait for the right man. Before I became a Christian (after graduating college), I dated nonstop, and with admittedly dismal standards for the young men I was involved with. When one boyfriend failed to live up to my romanticized standards, I moved on to the next, often careless of the damage I left in my wake. Sure, some of the guys I dated were abusive trash bags. But many of them weren’t! I discarded them all as easily as a candy wrapper. The remorse I now feel for those men does nothing to undo or soothe the damage inflicted by my hurried, immature heart.

Over the past couple of years, God seems to have shifted into turbo-speed for His patience-yielding efforts. Like fertilizer in nutrient-deficient soil, He has heaped on opportunities to learn to wait.

I continue to wait for Andrew to process the damage done to us early in our marriage, the suffering we endured at the hands of an abusive spiritual mentor. I wait for Andrew to start talking to God again, to begin to heal.

In silence, I waited for Andrew to be ready to start our family. Heck, I gave up on hope last year and just started praying for peace. Peace and acceptance that a biological baby might not be in the cards for us.

Now, I wait for the baby I never dreamed I could hope for.

I felt more-than-ready to dive into this season. I watched dear friends go through their first pregnancies, walked with them through the early days and the physical ramifications of labor and delivery. I was prepared for what might happen to my body, and the massive change I was inviting into my life. What I was not prepared for, however, is the waiting.

I have been stunned by the waiting required to create a tiny little human. It reminds me of my high school physics class, with the ancient teacher who spoke painfully slow. Time slowed down every time I stepped through that classroom door. Trying to conceive feels a lot like that physics class, mere seconds stretching into hours and days.

Since beginning this draft post 20 minutes ago, I’ve checked my ovulation calendar four times. I’ve jumped over to Amazon to look for pregnancy tests. I’ve considered physically getting in the car and driving to Target to purchase said pregnancy tests, even though I can’t actually use them for–(insert 5th round of calendar checking here)–10 days.

10 Days.

10 DAYS?! For a maybe? For a 20%-at-best, perhaps, if I’m lucky and the stars align?

All of a sudden, the weeks and months and possibly years ahead have stretched to an eternity. I feel my heart pounding, heat rising into my face. I feel the rising panic that is often inspired by empty space in my life, by not knowing.

But this time, I’m seeing the fruit of patience growing quietly but steadily in my soul. When the loud voices of fear and control shout at me: “Go out now! Buy the pregnancy tests! Ask Google what else you can do to measure ovulation! Then go, and take the test early–”

I cut the voices off midstream. I dial my tuner to a quieter frequency, and there, the soft whisper of God cuts through the static and the noise:

Wait with me, daughter.

Be still, daughter.

I can almost see Him smiling when He says, Tell me all about it. 

And I do tell Him all about it. With the promises of His word clutched tightly in my heart, I drop to my knees and unleash my tidal wave of fears. I lay down my ‘what ifs’. I lay down my tendency to rush ahead, to forge into the next season prematurely. I lay down my desires for a baby, for a healthy baby, for a soon, please God, pregnancy.

Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I shout, because working from home (alone) has its perks. Sometimes I just sit in silence, and let His Word soothe my anxious, impatient soul:

Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all of my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, Oh Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me–it is high, I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your presence? Or where shall I flee from your spirit? If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost depths of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. Even if I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you. The night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Ps. 139)

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. (Ps. 130)

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4)

When I sit before the Lord, I’m often struck by the reality that I am well-named. I think of Hannah, pleading with the Lord for a child, weeping at His feet for years and years as she bore her deep longing to conceive (1 Samuel 1-2). I have no reason to believe that I am barren, but I have certainly waited and longed for change, as Bible-Hannah did.

I waited for a husband. I waited for the time to be right in our marriage, for the season of starting our family. And now, I wait for God to bless us with a miracle.

Like other-Hannah, I am learning to wait in prayer. To see what God has for me today, and also to bring my good and proper desires and aches to Him freely. To cry, to be transparent with my loving Father. To tap into the peace that surpasses understanding. And despite all odds, to walk away with hope. Hope, and the resilience to wait for one more day, or perhaps two…when I fall to His feet and do it all over again.

God’s Invitation in the ‘Not Knowing’

Trying to conceive is a true roller-coaster state of being.

In a span of five minutes, I can swing from excited about baby names, to horrified about what might happen to my body during labor, to absolutely enraptured by the thought of Andrew holding his first child, to completely terrified that it simply won’t happen for us. Or that we will get pregnant, and then something will go wrong, as it has for so many people in our lives.

If I’m honest, I can run that full emotional spectrum in under one minute.

The ambiguity of ‘not knowing’ is one of my greatest discomforts in life. I love to be in control — I love to plan. I thrive on a thoughtfully-filled calendar and ‘perfect’ timing. On my wedding day, I shared the followed exchange with my dear friend, my maid of honor:

Her: I keep waiting for you to freak out. But you’re not freaking out, and that’s making me want to freak out.
Me: I planned this wedding. I know that all of the boxes are checked. A few things may go wrong, but at the end of the day, I will marry my best friend and that’s all that matters.

The knowledge that I would be married to Andrew in a few hours was indeed calming, in and of itself. But honestly, the fact that I’d planned that wedding day down to the smallest detail was equally comforting. I didn’t doubt that everything would go smoothly, because I’d considered the day from every possible angle for months. My wedding day emergency bag was filled to the brim, literally. I even had a bunch of stick-on cold patch strips typically used to treat migraines, just in case it was super hot and I needed a method to cool down.

It felt good to be prepared and calm on my wedding day, but was it entirely worth it? Running through scenarios was exhausting. Obsessing about the weather was exhausting, not to mention pointless. I wonder if I could have been spared a lot of pre-wedding-day anxiety, if I’d only noticed the flaw in my logic.

As God has continued to remind me since my wedding day, any fantasy that I have of being in control is purely fictional. I have free will, but there is a great deal that lies outside of my ability to control. And holy cow, is that annoying.

At least, it’s annoying at first.

Day by day, I’m learning to appreciate and lean into God’s sovereignty. When I feel myself grasping at logistics, drowning in a sea of unnecessary pre-pregnancy Pinterest ‘advice’, or spiraling into a mental pit of ‘what if’ scenarios, I have a lifeline. God is waiting for me to simply turn to Him. To choose to see the situation in light of Him and His sovereignty, rather than make-believing that I’m god of my own little world.

When I turn to Him, I experience catharsis. I sense His love and His goodness, and I know that His plan is good. His timing and plan will very likely look different than my own, but they will also be better. Richer.

That simple, always-available reassurance is all I need to stop the mental spiral in its tracks, close the browser tab, and focus on what He has for me today.

The ambiguity of this pre-pregnancy season reminds me of singleness. I recall desiring a relationship with a godly man, which is a beautiful and worthy desire, but having no guarantee that God’s plan for my life included a spouse. That gray space is uncomfortable to sit in — for early-20s me, it was much easier to swing to the extreme of trying to control the outcome. Date a whole bunch of people, try to make the wrong guys feel right. But all of that effort only led to disappointment, and a deeper sense of loneliness. Not to mention some broken hearts, on both sides of the table.

Now, as I’ve entered another season of ‘not knowing,’ I’m more in tune with God’s voice. I hear His whispered invitation to trust Him. I find myself regularly marinating my soul in Psalm 139:

Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!

It is reassuring that God knows everything about me, including what the heck is going on in my reproductive system. He knows when I’m about to freak out, long before the anxiety spiral begins.

He knows if I will be a mother to a biological child or not. He knows what form of motherhood is best for me, and most glorifying of Him. He knows precisely when and how I’ll be a mother, and He has good reasons for that timing. His ways may not be my ways, but they are reliable and perfect.

Sure, I still check the weather 12 times a day. I will probably always check the weather at least a couple of times a day, because well, I’m me. Still, I find peace in the knowledge that my loving and generous Father will be with me along this journey, in every moment of joy, and in every shadow of disappointment or grief.

I need Him more than I need a child. And He is always there, waiting with open arms.

Today, that is enough.

When Hope is Revived

January 23, 2019 started out as an average, albeit crummier-than-usual day.

Andrew got home from the office around 4:00 PM, and he was greeted by an exhausted wife. I was tired after a long day of work, and frustrated with the politics of an office that I wasn’t accustomed to dealing with. I had aches in my heart that I couldn’t share with my husband, and I was lonely in that pain.

In short, I was not having a good day.

Andrew was empathetic, and knew just how to ease the irritation of a disappointing Wednesday: he went out and picked up some Thai takeout for dinner.

When I wandered over to the dining room table laden with styrofoam containers promising salty magic within, I noticed a yellow journal on the table. This wasn’t just any journal — I jerked to a stop at the sight of the soft cover with its embroidered arrows.

The journal was a gift from my maid of honor on our wedding day. My sweet friend had a beautiful intention for those pages, that Andrew and I continue to write love notes to one another. It was a romantic idea, but one that never gathered steam. After three and a half years, the empty notebook had grown to be a depressing and discouraging little sight, so I relocated it to a shelf in my office. There the journal had sat, untouched and unnoticed.

“What’s that?” I said, pointing.
“Oh, nothing really. I wrote you a note in there. It’s not a big deal,” Andrew said.
I raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure? Should I read it now?”
“Nah,” he shrugged. “Let’s eat. You can read it later.”

I nudged the journal to the side to make room for crab rangoon and pad thai. We ate, doused our plates with sriracha, and shared about our days. But the journal was always there in the corner of my eye, piquing my curiosity.

When we finished eating, I couldn’t help myself.

“I feel weird not reading this,” I said. “You took the time to write it, after all. Do you mind?”
“No, that’s probably good. There’s something in there you’ll be happy to have today, I think.”
“Fair enough.”

I started reading, and broke into a grin. He had found some spare change at work, he wrote, and he knew exactly what to do with it. With his spare change, he went to the vending machine and got me a present. In writing, he told me to stop reading and have him fetch my gift for me.

I followed the instructions, and knew what Andrew had purchased well before he retrieved the bag from his backpack. Cool-Ranch Doritos are one of my favorite treats, a go-to on bad days. Andrew rarely indulges in the processed portion of the food pyramid, so this was a welcome nod to my love of junk food.

Laughing, I accepted the little blue bag with glee. “Aww, what an adorable reason to write me a love note.”
Andrew smiled. “Keep reading.”

His note left the light-hearted territory of salty snacks behind, and adopted a more serious tone. He apologized for not loving me better in a season of pain and bitterness. As a gesture of love, even though it was January and our anniversary wasn’t until September, he had an early anniversary present to give me.

My jaw dropped, and I looked up from the journal in irritated disbelief. “Are you KIDDING me? You got me a present 8 months early? C’mon, man! Give the wife a chance to keep up!”

He nodded. “I knew you’d feel that way. Just trust me, keep reading.”

After one final glare, I reluctantly resumed reading.

The fourth anniversary has many suggested gift categories, he explained. Very few lists agreed, from UK to US, from traditional to modern. So Andrew had picked just one category of his liking: linen. Linen starts out a little rough, but gets softer over the years. It is considered an heirloom, something to pass on and cherish. With proper care, it will last for generations.

Andrew handed me a white envelope.

Curious and confused, I opened it. Inside, I unfolded a piece of plain white paper. There was a picture of a crib on each side, one decked out in pink linens, and one in blue. In between, a row of linen swatches were stapled in a neat row, a rainbow of pastels.

I’m fairly certain I stopped breathing at this point.

I looked up at my husband, eyes wide, then rushed back to his note, hungry for confirmation. His sweet words offered a resolution to one of my deepest, most secret longings. I collapsed into a heap of sobs, attempting to read on with tear-muddled eyes.

For the past three weeks, our church had been sharing a season of prayer and fasting. I’d spent the bulk of the January new-year season on my face in my office, hidden away on my prayer bench. I sobbed into the carpet. I wanted to be a mom, yet knew with absolute certainty that Andrew wasn’t ready. We’d been through too much. It was too great a change to ask him to consider. So I set my ache before the Lord, and asked Him to carry it. I asked for peace, but it didn’t come. I kept praying, repeatedly asking for Him to teach me how to trust Him with this grief. God’s presence was comforting, but He was mostly silent. I did not get the reassurance I was seeking.

I think God knew what was coming on January 23.

I don’t know how long I cried, or how long I squeezed Andrew in a bone-shattering hug. He was ready to start our family. And he had given me the best anniversary gift he could possibly dream up: hope.

The EMDR Experience: Reframing the Past

Well, this is embarrassing.

My most recent blog post was titled Where I’ve Been for the Last 4 Months. That was almost 3 months ago, which is… not great. But hey, life happens! And man, did a whole lot of life happen in these last 3 months.

This blog post isn’t about the full scope of the recent insanity. But for those who are curious, I spent March-April buried in a massive project for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Side note: OTSL is an incredible local arts organization, and their festival opera season runs May 25-June 29. Check out the Young Friends events for some amazing ticket deals, and while you’re enjoying a show, please do marvel over the 160 page program book that consumed my every waking moment for 8 weeks!

In addition to the OTSL project, March and April brought a number of urgent care/ER visits, a massive kitchen renovation, and a new job offer for Andrew. Not all bad, by any means, but yikes. Enough is enough, yo!

The last week or so has ushered in a cathartic change of pace. I’ve had time to paint the kitchen, put our house back together, do laundry, breathe normally. And at long last, I have capacity to dig into a subject that’s been on the blog docket for quite some time.

The Science of EMDR

anika-huizinga-624630-unsplash

Back in the fall, I sought out a new counselor, specifically one who was certified in EMDR. For the rookies out there, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Prepare to have your socks knocked off, because the science behind this unique method of psychotherapy is (somewhat literally) mind-blowing.

If you’ve ever experienced any sort of trauma, you know that painful memories can fester. Like a clogged pipe or an infected wound, ripples spread, creating new problems that multiply and escalate quickly. Until that root cause is appropriately and thoroughly addressed, healing is more or less impossible.

Back in the late 1980s, Dr. Francine Shapiro discovered a relationship between eye movement and a decrease in negative emotions associated with distressing memories. Intrigued and well-aware of the potential implications, she dove into case studies to test her hypothesis. The results spoke for themselves: with a cognitive element added to eye movement stimulation, EMDR essentially cured the negative effects of traumatic experiences.

Allow me to summarize: EMDR can rewire the brain to treat PTSD and negate the debilitating effects of traumatic memories. 

Cheers to you, Dr. Shapiro!

But how, exactly, does eye movement relate to these painful memories? During EMDR therapy, the client focuses on emotionally distressing material in brief doses, while simultaneously focusing on a physical, external stimulus. In my case, I hold a small disc in each hand, attached to a control box that my therapist adjusts to create alternating ‘tapping’ sensations, sort of like a phone on vibrate mode. These alternating ‘tappers’ kick my brain into hyperdrive, improving my ability to process information, while also allowing me to forge new connections between the traumatic memory and new, adaptive information. 

Isn’t the human brain incredible?!?

The Experience of EMDR

richard-jaimes-532718-unsplash

In casual conversation, EMDR can sound like a cryptic, intimidating, massive endeavor. And honestly, ‘intimidating’ and ‘massive’ are not inaccurate ways to describe the experience. Before you even begin the process, you acknowledge that 1) you have experienced trauma and 2) you’re going to sit in those painful memories, experience those moments with fresh eyes, and feel all the scary feelings again.

And yes, you’re doing this on purpose.

So yeah, it’s an intimidating concept! But it’s also a worthy, empowering therapy to choose for yourself. It’s an act of defiance, in a way: challenging the lies of your past, facing down the false narratives that you’ve adopted, and determinedly moving forward in the light of the truth.

I didn’t ask a ton of questions leading into my own adventure with EMDR, and I wish I’d done more research in advance. So for the sake of you, Reader, let’s talk about what it’s really like in the EMDR hot seat (from my unique, limited perspective!).

You don’t actually start EMDR therapy in your first session; there’s a bit of prep work required to get to that point. As with more standard talk therapy, your counselor will get to know you and understand your current challenges, relevant history, and goals before diving into EMDR.

To prepare, my counselor had me do a couple of assessments, one of which determined my Top 3 negative schemas: concepts that I have adopted as true over time, which shape and filter all of my thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Everyone has schemas of their own, whether they’re aware of them or not, and some are positive while others are negative.

Here are a few examples of icky, negative schemas:

I am unworthy of love.
I am a failure.
Everyone will abandon me in the end.
People are cruel and they will hurt me.
Something bad is going to happen.
It’s my fault.

So, those are fun.

After we identified my 3 negative schemas, my counselor and I explored my past to identify target memories for each schema. The target memory is an early memory (often the earliest memory) that reinforces the negative schema as true. It’s also a distressing memory, something that is already considered traumatic, perhaps, or is distressing when pondered in depth for the first time.

At this point, it’s worth nothing that I didn’t come into EMDR to process one-off trauma, such as a car accident, or being robbed at gunpoint. I imagine the set-up procedures for processing very specific memories would be somewhat different. In my case, I was processing complex, sustained trauma over time. All this to say, each situation and unique counselor’s approach will vary!

Once the target memories were identified, we picked the strongest/most distressing one, and it was time to dive into the heart of EMDR.

For the sake of specificity, we’ll use my first (completed!) target and associated schema as an example:

Target memory: A moment from my childhood when I wanted to ask for help, but didn’t feel like I could.

Negative schema: “I can’t safely express what I feel or want.”

Target cognition: “can safely express what I feel or want.”

For me, a typical EMDR session goes something like this:

  • I have an opportunity to share any new information or check in with my counselor before starting.
  • My counselor hands me the tappers. I hold one in each hand, get into a comfortable seated position, and close my eyes. My eyes are closed for the rest of the session.
  • My counselor asks me to immerse myself in the target memory, and gives me a moment to pull up the picture mentally. She might ask me to notice specifics in the room, or other sensory details.
  • To begin, my counselor generally asks a series of questions:
    • On a scale of 1 to 10, how much distress do you feel when you look at this picture?
    • On a scale of 1 to 7, how true does the following statement sound: “I can safely express what I feel or want.” (Here, she names the opposite of my negative schema, the ‘target’ cognition that I’m trying to get my brain to adopt.)
    • Where do you feel the distress in your body? For example, I often feel distress in my chest.
  • From here, my counselor asks me to focus on that sensation in my body, or a specific detail that I’ve honed in on from the target memory. “Just go with that,” she might say.
  • For a period of time, we sit in silence. My counselor turns on the tappers, so they are buzzing gently in each of my hands. I focus my mind where she has asked me to, and notice what other details or memories arise. This is all about letting my brain lead me down necessary paths–I am not consciously making these connections. My brain is doing the work, revealing related problems in my past. (Cool, right?!)
  • After a period of time that my counselor magically determines (seconds to minutes), she turns the tappers off, and asks me to describe what came up. I keep my eyes closed while I share out loud what came up in my mind. It might be an entirely new memory, a thought about the initial memory, a detail I hadn’t noticed before, an emotion, a physical sensation, or a combination of the above.
  • My counselor asks me a clarifying question, if needed, then asks me to focus on something that I’ve mentioned. Again, she turns on the tappers, and I follow my brain in silence.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat!
  • Wrapping up a session varies a bit based on what comes up in the process. But often, my counselor will have me look at myself in a particular memory and focus on that version of myself:
    • What does she need in the moment? Just notice.
    • What do you feel when you look at her?
    • Can you look at her with compassion? What do you notice?
  • To ‘box me up’ neatly and gently, my counselor may ask me to put myself in a pre-determined safe space mentally, to notice the details of a room I like being in. Alternatively, she may ask me to think about a friend or loved one who is emotionally safe, and sit in that experience of being near them.
  • My counselor tells me to open my eyes, we exchange a few closing thoughts, and we part ways until the next session.

Those are the mechanics of an EMDR session. But the true experience is much more than a list of steps. A number of other items are worth noting at this point.

It’s hard to hide/deflect. One of the reasons EMDR is so effective is that it’s significantly more difficult to run. In traditional talk therapy, you can avoid subjects left and right. You can use humor to hide what you’re really feeling or thinking. You can change the subject according to your whims. But in EMDR, the emphasis is firmly set on your memories, which means that you get right down to the crux of the matter. For rookies in EMDR who have a longer history of talk therapy, this contrast might feel quite exposing. Exposing, yes, but effective!

EMDR is utterly exhausting. The session itself is one matter — the body carries a lot of stress as it relives difficult moments, and that takes a toll. The brain is working hard to make new connections and dig deep into the memory stores. And on top of that, the subconscious work continues after the session is over! I generally go to bed early the day of a session, and try to allow time to sleep 11-12 hours that night. If I don’t get this extra sleep, I’m falling off  my chair the entire next day out of exhaustion.

For this reason, though I initially did EMDR once a week, I pulled back to every other week pretty quickly after beginning the process. It was just too exhausting for me to keep up the pace, and my counselor totally supported my decision to pull back. Every other week is a better rhythm for me. With a good amount of sleep night-of, I can operate at 85-90% normalcy the next day.

I cry a lot. EMDR requires us to experience some things for the first time, or re-experience painful moments. In my experience, crying is inevitable, my friends. I regularly experience feelings of grief, shame, sadness, disappointment, and anger. But these intense emotions are worth digging into, because…

It gets easier. That pain of sitting in unsettling memories definitely isn’t perpetual! Eventually, as EMDR does what it’s designed to do, I become desensitized to the pain of those moments. I can be more objective when I look at a memory that was, previously, distressing.

And most importantly…

It’s 150% worth it. I find it deeply cathartic and empowering to 1) identify the junk in my past, 2) appropriately and objectively distance myself from my initial response, and 3) reframe the experience with a more accurate, truth-based lens. In a surprisingly small number of sessions, I’ve noticed a dramatic change in my emotional stability. I feel much more in control of myself, and much more confident in my ability to enter into challenging conversations and topics.

Though I’m more aware of the damage done in my past, I’m significantly less chainedby it. Day by day, I experience new freedom! 

This is the gospel at work, my friends. I see EMDR as God’s merciful invitation to fully embrace the reality of Jesus’s death on the cross: we are truly dead to our past selves, and alive in Him. We are not enslaved by our own sin, the sin of others, or the brokenness of this world. We can fully embrace an identity that is rooted in the gospel, casting out all other narratives but the truth:

I’m a child of God, and love is my freedom!
I can ask anything of my Father the King.
I’m an heir, I’m adopted, and my brother is Jesus.
I’m a child of God, and my soul is at peace. 

Cheers to freedom, my friends. May your own journey of healing lead you to a place of peace! As always, questions and comments welcome below.

Where I’ve Been for the Last 4 Months

aaron-burden-230674-unsplash

Oh, it’s good to be back!

For those of you who follow my other blog regularly, you may have noticed some changes in historical content, as well as some major radio silence since my last post in October 2017. This is certainly an unusual lapse in content for me, and I’m thrilled to be able to resume my regular posting as of today.

Let’s rewind a bit for context.

Back in early November, I was doing life-as-usual and absolutely owning the first few days of NaNoWriMo when I got a phone call from one of my previous employers. Collaborative Strategies, Inc. (CSI) is a St. Louis-based consulting firm with an executive search practice; I supported them back in 2016 as a member of the Search Team prior to starting my career coaching business. My colleague Sarah called to request my services and support as the Search Team underwent a staffing transition.

My response was a resounding yes!

Yes, that meant setting down my epic NaNo novel progress and putting writing on the back burner. Yes, there were sacrifices involved and yes, I went a little batty for 4 months. My house got dirty, friends. The Christmas tree is still up. But it was absolutely the right decision.

As I worked with CSI, there was a mutual feeling of fit. I wasn’t the right person to fill the permanent open seat, because I love my career coaching business and am eager to continue serving my clients in that capacity. Even so, we explored what it might look like for me to continue my partnership with CSI in a different capacity, and I’m pretty stoked about the results.

As of February 2019, I serve CSI’s Search Team in a limited part-time/remote role. My primary responsibilities include:

  • Reviewing applications and making preliminary decisions
  • Sourcing qualified candidates and pitching relevant opportunities
  • Conducting preliminary phone interviews
  • Executing reference checks

All of my responsibilities are candidate-facing, meaning that I primarily work with candidates in consideration for a given search, rather than working with the client organization that is hiring the new position. Basically, I get to do the dream role that I would’ve designed myself in my wildest dreams! I love candidates, and I’m so thankful that I now have this additional channel for supporting and interacting with individuals in job transition.

So what does this mean for my career coaching clients? All good news. Check out the details on my career coaching blog.

Yes, I’m writing this blog on a different website. And yes, I’m now sending you back to the other blog for coaching-specific content. Stick with me for a minute, and this madness will all make sense!

If you’ve been reading my other blog for awhile, you may have noticed that some prior blog posts have fallen off of the archives. Don’t worry — that content isn’t gone forever! Posts have just been shuffled around a bit.

In an effort to better serve my clients and tailor my writing to the correct audiences, I’ve separated professional/career coaching content and personal content. You can continue to find helpful blog posts about job transition and career development on my business site.

For those of you looking to follow my personal blog that covers a variety of topics, especially authentic, faith-based musings, I hope you’ll enjoy this revived blog at Calling All Courageous. You can sign up for updates via WordPress. All of my historical personal content has been copied over from the other site, so nothing is lost in transition.

I appreciate your continued interest in this content, and your comments are always a tremendous blessing as I continue to share transparently about life, faith, marriage, friendships, work, travel, writing, and more. My goal on this site is to model courageous vulnerability, and to empower others–especially women–to do the same.

————

So that’s the scoop! I’m so thrilled to report that the radio silence is over, and that my partnership with CSI begins a new stage in my business efforts. I’m particularly excited that I have this revived blog to really unleash the personal writing that I’ve somewhat held back on historically. Thanks for sticking with me over the last few months, and as always, don’t hesitate to drop a note in the comments section below. It’s always good to hear from you!

A Lesson from Patrick Rothfuss

For the last five weeks or so, I haven’t been able to write.

Okay, technically I’ve written a little. One day last week, I did a freewriting session to dump out all the crap in my brain. And after that, on Saturday morning, I made a list of blog posts I could write to reflect on my upcoming 30th birthday. I scribbled out a few to-do lists, shot off some emails, and did my usual writing on the client side.

Still, I haven’t really been able to write. I haven’t touched my novel draft, or my short story in-progress. I haven’t sat down and brainstormed new ideas.

But that’s not the worst part.

Five weeks isn’t an alarmingly long period of time to have trouble writing. We’ve had some things going on…family health stuff, routine disruptions. Life happens, you know? But I didn’t see it that way. Instead, I stared at myself in the mirror and came to the daily conclusion that I can’t do this. I am failing. And it’s never going to get better.

I accepted the fact that I wasn’t writing, and adopted it as a rule of life. And that conclusion left me feeling–on top of everything else I was feeling–like a complete waste of space.

Then today happened.

I hopped over to Goodreads to add a book to my “Want to Read” shelf. While I was there, a blog post from Patrick Rothfuss caught my eye.

Now, if you don’t know who Patrick Rothfuss is, you should. He has written an astonishingly beautiful fantasy series that is in-progress: The Kingkiller Chronicles. The first two books are published along with a novella (#2.5). If you haven’t read Patrick’s work, I dare you to go get the first book (The Name of the Wind) and tell me it isn’t well-written. You might not dig the genre or specifics or whatever, but it is an indisputable fact that Patrick Rothfuss knows how to write. The series is one of my favorites, and like many other readers, I eagerly await the day when he brings the trilogy to a close.

Anyway, on to the blog post. I don’t typically read Patrick’s blog (or anyone else’s really), but this one caught my eye. It’s titled “A blog, if only barely,” and in it, Patrick talks about why he hasn’t been posting much. He shares feelings of exhaustion, busy-ness, and a lack of motivation. He talks about how lonely he is, how dark his moods have been, and how discouraging it is to feel like he doesn’t have anything good to say.

I read the post with wide eyes. It was like living the lyrics to “Killing Me Softly,” minus the crippling fear of exposure.

Instead, I felt relief.

Of course it sucks that Patrick is in a bad place–I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. But I was relieved because this amazing, inspired author whose work I respect is in a familiar place. He described something like the valley that I’ve been in this summer, and even with Patrick’s massive reader base, he’s still willing to write and put himself out there. He’s willing to talk about the dark crap, even if it feels useless to do so.

Patrick’s words were exactly the kick in the pants I needed to write this blog post.

A few days ago, I was crying in the dining room, trying to explain how I’m feeling to Andrew. I told him I hate socializing right now, because I have nothing to say. People ask “How are you?” and the only honest answer is unacceptable in 99% of social settings. They ask “How’s your writing going?” and I just want to crawl under the table and die. Outside of my dearest, inner-circle friends, I can’t respond to “How are you?” with the truth.

Even now, with this lesson from Patrick Rothfuss at heart, I wouldn’t answer the question honestly in most social settings. A dinner party is no place to dump my problems on the table, especially not with just anyone. I may be in a valley, but I still don’t want to be a party pooper.

But my blog…well, it’s mine. This is my space, and the only people who read this blog do it because they choose to. They know the content can get real, and they enter in anyway.

So on my blog, at least for today, I am choosing to tell the truth.

Things are pretty shitty. I haven’t been writing. My overall self-esteem is in the toilet, and that’s extending outside of my professional life. I drew out a literal Venn Diagram of potential mental health concerns that are contributing to my total absence of motivation, productivity, and self-esteem. I frequently stare at the computer screen, paralyzed by this false but prevailing catch-22: it doesn’t matter if I write, yet it doesn’t matter if I don’t write. I know that concept is a lie, but it paralyzes me even so.

I’m working on all of this. I’m actively seeking solutions for the mess that’s going on in my heart and mind. But I think the most important thing to say right now is that things are bad. But I choose to sit here and write about it anyway, even though it’s awkward and exposing.

This may seem to you (and me) like a small victory, but I’m still calling it a win. Thank you for reading. Thank you for all of the times you’ve told me that my writing matters, that matter. You wonderful people are helping to sustain me in this season, and I could not be more thankful.

One of the not-really-writing things that I wrote in the last week was a Facebook status on primary election day. It said, “Your voices matter.” I can’t help but grin just thinking of it! How ridiculous and mind-boggling is it that I can value everyone else’s voices, but fail to appropriately value my own?

Cheers to the catharsis of speaking truth, my friends, even when the truth is less than shiny. And an extra special shoutout to Patrick Rothfuss for modeling vulnerability when the words are dark, and yet still worth sharing. And cheers to you, Patrick. May life get a little less crappy for us both, hopefully soon.