{Guest Post} Happy(ish) Mother’s Day!

happy mother's day afterwards blogThank you to Clare Wright, an Australian mother and blogger for this wise Mother’s Day reflection. It is so refreshing to read the wisdom of others when my own words are few. Clare is a gifted writer, you can find her at whenihadaseahorse.wordpress.com.

In the lead-up to Mother’s Day, I found myself both transfixed and irritated by a particular advertisement on Facebook. It wasn’t obscene or crude or exploitative, it was just, well… a bit ridiculous. Clad in a gold negligee with glossy blonde curls cascading over her slender shoulders, the “mother” rises like a mermaid from a pastel sea of roses, pastries, handbags and parcels piled across the bed. A glittery pink eye mask is pushed up her porcelain forehead, and gosh she looks well-rested.

I know advertisements are meant to tap into fantasies, but I couldn’t help thinking this one had gone too far. Perhaps it’s just my own stage of life, but I feel like fantasy for a lot of mums would be waking in a bed sans children after the stars have set. And here is the problem: after enduring weeks and weeks of a glistening, pink media assault, it’s inevitable that many mums will feel dissatisfied with their messy, noisy, slightly tatty Mother’s Day reality.

Last Mother’s Day I remember being sleep-deprived after feeding a baby through the night, and feeling a bit sorry for myself that my husband was working all day and I couldn’t whip out my “it’s Mother’s Day” card to excuse myself from of any of those menial mum-jobs: changing nappies, fixing meals, bathing kids, never-ending bedtime-rituals. I wrote about the sense of disillusionment that my Mother’s Day was far from the “catalogue version” I had been promised.

But this year I’ve been thinking of a dear friend who has just celebrated her first Mother’s Day as a mum and her first Mother’s Day without her own mum – having lost her suddenly a month before the birth of her first baby. It’s caused me to reflect on all those women who are grieving the loss of a mother or a child or who – whether through fertility issues or just the twists and turns of life – have never been granted the child they so desperately wanted.

Yesterday two very different crowded spaces – my Facebook newsfeed and the cemetery near our house – both conveyed a common story of loss and sorrow. For many, Mother’s Day brings a churning restlessness of the heart, a yearning ache akin to homesickness for an alternate version of life with no missing pieces. Thinking of these women (and men) has shaken things into perspective, and enabled me to shrug off the ludicrous fantasy that the media trots out each May.

Late last year I attended a friend’s birthday dinner with a group of girls I mostly didn’t know. As the night progressed and the food and wine flowed, a chequered assortment of life-stories emerged (as they always do at a successful girl’s night). It turned out that a birthday was only one of several events worth celebrating that night. From a group of six women in their mid-thirties, one was pregnant with her fifth child, another with her first through IVF, one had brought along her first baby daughter, one had an adoptive son and was hoping to adopt a second, one was late because she had to settle a three-year-old and breastfeed a ten-month-old before coming (that was me), and one (the birthday girl) had gleefully left two pre-schoolers at home with their dad.

It struck me: what a wide diversity of journeys to motherhood were represented by our small table alone. What thorny, winding, lonely paths many women walk to become mothers. And what travel-wounds some must sustain along the way; what bruises to the heart, what crushing blows of disappointment, what bone-aching weariness. I can only imagine, because I’m one of the lucky ones. My two beautiful children came easily: a sunny, babbling toddler who kisses everyone and hurts himself way too often, and a mostly sweet, sometimes spiky four-year-old girl with an incredible imagination, and a gift for making up songs.

For those whose Mother’s Day was marked by sorrow, I hope that you found some measure of comfort: a soft place to fall, a quiet corner where you could speak your grief. May the God who knows all things guard your heart and mind with a peace which exceeds anything we can understand. I am grateful to those friends brave enough to show me their travel-wounds, to share a little of their pain. On a day when most of the hearts on display are flawlessly fashioned from soft and whimsical fabrics, it can’t be easy to reveal one that is broken and bloodied. We need to see those hearts on Mother’s Day. We need to honour the tales of desperate loss as much as those of joy and triumph. Some of us need to remember the richness of our blessings lest we take for granted all that we hold in our arms. What we don’t need are more unattainable, airbrushed goddesses swimming through oceans of gifts – because that isn’t anybody’s truth.

This year my Mother’s Day was lovely. There was no sleep-in, I missed my mum who lives overseas, and I had to do all the dinner and bedtime routines myself after my husband went back to work. My little boy put a tooth through his lip and kissed at least one girl he probably shouldn’t have in the playground. There was the odd tantrum, sibling fight and quite a bit of screaming when we got lost and lunch was delayed on our scenic drive through the hills. But there were homemade cards and a gorgeous locket, a cheese-platter in the hills, a playground and a toasted sandwich for dinner that my husband cut into a swan at my request. I thumbed my nose at the glossy-haired goddess in the advertisement and revelled in the glory of my sticky, stinky, messy, slightly tatty, beautiful family. I am blessed beyond measure.

Maximum Capacity Aliveness

A grieving person is sad, sometimes. However let me be blatantly honest about what the world can feel like following a trauma or loss: dull, grey-scale, lifeless, numb, scary, foreign, and lots of work. The feelings come and go at different times but leave such residue in the well that I forget how the water should taste. At some point I decided to officially make the claim that this is adulthood; that adulthood is primarily characterized by pain or “trudging”. After spending the first portion of my life determined to reach a maximum capacity of aliveness, the single most depressing thought I could ever think is: the best part is over – and I thought it.

It’s hard for me to write this because I immediately want you to understand that my days are filled with good things; one might even say that by some standards I’m living my life to the fullest. Not by my standards. I am not alive like I once was and I have felt like a stranger to myself in many ways. Though I pass the buck to adulthood, it’s not what’s to blame (sorry to ruin a good excuse for many of us). We all must move on from past versions of ourselves, but to forget ourselves is tragic.

I lost my mom during a time that I was adventuring, growing, and learning. I had experienced some highest highs – traveling India – and some lowest lows – relational confusion. With her death went my memories of what those things felt like. I could picture moments from my past but could not empathize with myself. It was a total disconnect.

This week, I unexpectedly experienced a trigger that pricked a pinhole in my mind, allowing a rush of locked-up thoughts and feelings to come back to me. It was perhaps less metaphysical than it sounds, but some group of wires in my brain was reattached. I felt my past; it was hard and confusing, and such a gift. This “awakening” of sorts reminded me that I am made up of more experiences than those surrounding and following my mom’s death. It revealed to me that I have unfinished business in my soul that needs attention, which holds the key to so many frustrating roadblocks I have faced. Needs and voids that are independent of death can be easily covered up by the grief experience, and so the quest to fill them can be futile. That’s what’s tough – defining the boundaries of grief.

Perhaps it’s not always something as dramatic as blacking out after a trauma that creates disassociation within ourselves. Maybe it too easily happens with time. Maybe we call it adulthood so that we don’t have to look back or dig within ourselves for answers. Perhaps feeling past wounds hurts so much that we have to block out the good too. It does hurt to remember it all, let me tell you, but it is nowhere near as painful as living with a stranger under my skin.

I guess my purpose here is to offer a vulnerable piece of myself in sharing this experience, since vulnerability has not been easy for me while emotionally dry. Maybe it’s also to ask some questions. Do we abandon ourselves by choice? Do we choose to forget what we looked like most alive because it hurts too much? Do we forget because it would take such painful work to carry that self into our present situation?

I must say, I’m terrified that I will again lose this feeling of connectedness; that I will forget to keep asking myself these questions. However, I have never been so grateful for the reminder that maximum capacity aliveness is worth fighting for.

{Guest Post} Marching: Thoughts on Grieving a Miscarriage

Afterwards Grief Blog Nicole KemperOne thing I have learned through blogging and relationships in the past four years is that you just never know who you will connect with most intimately about your experience. For me, it’s often people who have a completely different story than I. My dear friend Nicole Kemper is one of these people. She is a beautiful wife and mother of two who has always been filled with wisdom beyond her years. She’s also one of my favourite souls to cozy up with over a cup of tea, as we evaluate all the shapes of the universe. Here is her story, I thank her a million times for sharing it with us.

November

This week, I was forced to sit down. To physically stop. Emotionally finished and at the end of myself.

Last week, we went to our midwives’ office. From the moment she started to examine me, I knew something was wrong. No heartbeat to be found.

Mine was starting to go through the roof.

Off to call friends, and family and pray. Like mad.

And then to the ultrasound. We had such hope, even heading in there. They said it happens, that they can often see the baby and find the heartbeat, sometimes it’s just hiding.

But such was not the case for us. The little life I had carried for almost 12.5 weeks was no longer with us. An empty shell, and I was too.

This is the second time. The first time, was my first time. My first baby. And I didn’t understand the full joy of carrying a baby, the wrenching and gratifying process of giving birth, and then seeing that little one grow. Smiling, talking, walking, laughing. The hard, HARD work, and the incredible joy.

But this time I know. This little one is not going to be with us, until we are finished here. Until it is time for us to go home. I have two little ones sitting with their Papa, smiling. Will they have the blond hair and blue eyes; the laughter and joyful smiles? I do know they are safe. Taken care of.

I sometimes wonder if I am. Is my body defective? Why does this happen, to me, and the many other women that I know have faced this reality. The hurt. The disappointment. The utter physical despair, and waiting for the life inside you to leave, the heart you know is no longer beating. Wanting to be pregnant so desperately, and yet wanting the pregnancy to end, so that grief can continue along it’s path.

We are so incredibly thankful for our two kids. From the bottom of my heart, I know we are blessed. But I still feel robbed, of this special little one. Who would have had a sister and brother to love them, and was already so a part of our family.

With their death, goes the hopes and plans of the day. That first shocking day. The week, the physical agony of loss. And then the life months and year of the firsts, and hopes of the things to come. A May birthday. A summer camping trip.

March

A fitting title for this winter, these months. They march on. The cold is mindless to the isolation and stillness it causes.

Time marches on. Lives march on. We must march on.

But in me, still, lives the up and down days. The sadness and the grief of the lost little one that will not be joining us this May.

My body has marched on. With some difficulty, and I think somewhat begrudgingly.

I have read a number of articles on the internet. What to say and what not to say to people who have miscarried. How a husband might feel about a miscarriage. Or just peoples stories about what happened to them.

The thing that I am finding out about grief is that it really doesn’t play by any rules. It is unfair. There are days that it catches me in my kitchen, singing some old country song. There are days that it leaves me alone, free to soar.

I have enjoyed reading stories of others, knowing it has happened to them. Knowing that they, too, have walked those dark days. I have appreciated ideas and thoughts and suggestions that others have. I have appreciated my husband for walking with me and being patient in the mess. Oh the mess.

This grief is shared, and yet it is my own. It is my story, written in me and in my heart. I embrace it when I can. I cry, when I need to. I get mad, when I need to. I am learning to stop apologizing for doing what I need to do. Because I matter. And the little life that is gone, it matters too. It matters to me.

I matter. And because of that, I keep marching.

Pressing Play

Tomorrow I am pressing hard on the play button of my life – I’ve been on pause for too long. It is an exciting, terrifying thing to face a Last Day of Work, especially when it means leaving the family business and especially when it means starting your own.

I just had to reach into the blogging world tonight and gather up all of your good karma.

I feel like I am doing her proud.

Living Your Own Life After Loss

Banksy - Follow your dreamsSo it’s not just me…

As I have heard people share their stories with me I have started to see a theme. Something that, when I first experienced it, I attributed to my “helping” (okay, downright people-pleasing) personality. Though being a helper-type may intensify the experience, what I’ve heard all kinds of people say is:

“I can’t… because they.”

It is usually something along the lines of, “I can’t live my life, because they need me.”

As reasonable as it is to care for those around us in the hard times, taking care of people isn’t always synonymous with supporting people. Mostly semantics, I know. But, as I see it, “support” involves an even distribution of care between individuals, whereas “taking care of” can describe one person pouring all their fuel into other people’s tanks. When you lose somebody, you’re going to need your tank as full as possible.

When we cross the line from supporter to care-taker, we risk entering a place that can leave us living indefinitely for another person (please keep in mind I am referring to emotional care-taking here). We risk developing the inability to move away from family to follow a life-long dream; giving up other relationships to be a parent’s main companion; keeping feelings and personal struggles hidden for the sake of protecting family members… Raise your hand if you have, like me, ever experienced the belief that your pain is not as important as the pain of another. It’s not true.

My advice to self and others is not necessarily to toss our loved one a Kleenex and run for the hills, but it is to be aware of the levels of our giving and our living. To give up our life for others in the way of emotional dependency means that, in a sense, our life is over too.

Though it may not feel like your life right now, you still own it. Here’s to your very valuable journey, that deserves to be lived.