Category: motherhood

Motherhood. Mothers. And the song that cannot be stopped.

So, Mother’s Day. Blah, blah, blah. It’s never been my favorite.

To me, it feels a little like the holiday equivalent of finally listening to your mother when she’s screamed at you for the millionth time to clean up your room. You only pay attention when it gets super obvious and you’re afraid she’ll get mad if you don’t.

Still, thinking about mothers makes me think about women in general which feels especially important in this current social climate. Guess what most mothers would love instead of a card on Mother’s Day? They’d like more than 6 weeks of maternity leave. Better post-partum support. For you to keep your opinions about breast-feeding to yourself. Those are great places to start. They’d like not to worry about their daughters getting date raped. They’d like for society to stop telling their sons that the only way to “be a man” is to pound his chest and haze underclassman at frat parties. They’d like to be able to sleep at night without worrying about the world they are sending their kids into.

But, since we are supposed to celebrate mothers on this one day of the year (so we can go back to ignoring these things that matter to them the other 364 days) I will play along. Because, the thing is, I’ve known some spectacular mothers. I’ve known mothers who have walked with their child through a mental health crisis and looked those ugly days right in the eye and you know what they did next? They kept on going and carrying the load of their children’s pain. I’ve known moms who poured their heart and soul into loving a tiny baby only to have that child snatched from their arms through sickness or injury. And these moms did the most amazing thing ever: THEY LIVED.

Moms are women, after all, and women possess a strength that is to be admired and, sometimes, feared.

My journey as a mom has been less dramatic. I have loved fiercely. I have feared the unknown. I have walked the halls with a sick child and had my heart break when my child experienced the cruelness of this world. I have endured the pain of losing three babies before I could feel my body swell with the fullness of their lives. And because my own mother has passed on to me that beautiful strength and glory that all women possess in their bones I became stronger from it. I grew more determined to protect and love and change this world through the force of my love for my children.

When I was a little girl my parents bought me a cat. A cat I had wanted for my entire life. You know, approximately 6 whole years. So, when we moved to a new house they picked the most beautiful cat to give me. A perfectly lovely dark black Persian cat named Midnight. And here was the deal. If I wanted to keep Midnight I had to take care of her. I had to keep her safe and protect her and love her and never let anything happen to her. So I did.

One night right after we moved in we discovered that the train tracks out front had a train that passed by around bedtime each night. Is there anything more exciting than a train when you’re 6 years old? I certainly thought there wasn’t. And if 6-year-olds love trains so much how much more would a cat love to see it? (You see where this is going, right?) The next night was a warm summer night and right before I went to bed I brought Midnight outside with me to watch the train pass. I stood on the front porch of our house shirtless  in my pink pajama pants and waited. As it so happens, cats are not big fans of trains. Midnight reacted exactly like every adult in the world would predict she would. She tried to climb out of my arms and get away from the loud whistle of the train. But Midnight was my responsibility. And I would not let go. And so I stood bare-chested on the front porch as my beautiful Persian cat clawed me bloody until the train passed by. I never once released my grip. I was scratched and bleeding and delivered that cat right into the panicked hands of my parents. Now 31 years later I realize that motherhood is the emotional equivalent of that night.

Motherhood, I really believe, is about sacrifice. It is about loving enough to endure the painful moments that are necessary to protect others. It is about holding on even when it hurts. Even when you can’t endure the wounds that the one you love inflicts on you. Even when you know it would be easier to give up.

My kids are young. The toddler years are exhausting thanks to innumerable tantrums. The elementary ages can be frustrating with their constant questioning of the who/what/when/why of the world. The early teen years are maddening as boundaries are pushed and lines crossed. But I know the fight is just beginning for me. Motherhood is all about endurance. And the stakes begin to get really high the bigger the consequences get for behaviors.

I have known so many moms who have loved when it hurt. Who have set boundaries and consequences with a stern face even when it drove them to weep in the quiet corner of their room. Because motherhood is about love. And love is not always about the easy choices.

So, today I celebrate mothers. My mother. My grand-mothers. My friends who are mothers, who wanted to be mothers, who love and miss their own mothers. I celebrate the perfectly imperfect state of motherhood. I celebrate its complexity. It’s silliness. It’s middle of the night throw up duties. It’s quiet moments of snuggling on the sofa and reading the same book for the hundredth time.

Being a mother is the best thing that ever happened to me. It taught me who I am. It taught me what I love. It taught me how far the breadth of my love could grow. And so, to my children, I say thank you. Not for the presents and super secret dance you’ve choreographed (oh, yes, I know about that! Mothers know everything!) but for being patient with me as I discover what it means to love you with the full strength of a mother’s heart. And for your continued love as I imperfectly navigate this privilege of being the guardian of your love.

Like so many times in my life, a single simple poetic phrase says everything I labor for hours to convey. Happy Mother’s Day, friends. May we all recognize the sacred duty we have been blessed with and accept the grace that we are given when we don’t always do it perfectly. And may we all give our children the world in the best way we know how and continue our song even in the midst of our tears.

I Ask My Mother To Sing

She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.

I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.

But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more,

Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song. 

 

On bending, breaking, and the importance of rest.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I’ve mentioned before that there has been a quiet whisper in my life lately. One about change. And welcoming the future. And being open to plans I don’t have for my own self. This whisper has rolled over me in waves until it has become a roar too loud to ignore. A whisper, still, but the loudest kind. The kind only God can make happen. A well-timed message at church about the value of emotional and spiritual health, a drawing nearer and nearer to God by digging out the deepest corners of my insides, and then this quote. Oh, Lewis, how do you always say what my heart is already learning and make it so obvious what I have been avoiding? It’s like shining a mirror into the darkest parts inside and gently revealing what is lurking there.

For 37 (okay, almost 38) years I have been building my own house. I have the blueprints from my Creator, but I’ve been the one overseeing the building. The one with veto power. The one reprioritizing things. The one sinking the whole project from the start. I really am the bossiest home builder ever.

The last few years have been difficult. So difficult. I’ve had to face a mountain of anxiety, uncertainty, and upheaval. Things that others have seen and things that have been known only in the depths of my heart. It has, as Lewis so perfectly described it, hurt abominably. This “living house” as Lewis calls it, the one God is building here with me, is so different from the house I planned to have that it is unrecognizable. It has places I didn’t want to know. It has structures that have reached impossibly high and terrifyingly deep.

I’ve asked God in midnight pleadings why He hasn’t given me the living house I asked for. Why hasn’t He given me one like my neighbor? Why is mine not completed yet? Why must I endure constant construction? And now I know. Because the house I would build for myself would be fit only for my current needs. My immediate circumstances. Because, though I am loathe to admit it, I am an impossibly short-sighted creature. I am bogged down in the now. But, oh how I love that my living house is being built by the Creator of all things. The One who knows what is now and what is yet to come. Because He knows the storms ahead He is working to build a shelter that will survive. Because He knows the breadth of my life He is working to build a shelter than can hold all the love and community that I am blessed to be surrounded by.

I never realized how much building can feel like breaking. I wonder, does the tiny acorn feel the fracture and shattering so deeply when it sprouts? Does the grapevine feel the pain of each new shoot in the Spring? I imagine that this breaking and opening and growing is just a universal pain that we all feel and that if we are truly lucky it never ceases. Lord, let me see these moments as opportunity and not as tragedy. Let me see the house You are building for me and embrace the process.

Part of this journey means embracing a Sabbath for our family and making it a holy and important day around our home. Taking a moment to focus and center and be intentional in our life is something I so often feel is lacking. Growth and change is hard. And constant busyness and the hectic nature of modern life makes it even harder. So we will rest. I’m going to warn you, this will not be an easy process for me. If you know me in real life you will probably understand how hard it is for me not to make this into an event. My first instinct is to create a “Loving Family Sabbath” event on Facebook and invite all of our friends and neighbors to break bread and “rest” with them. I really am an expert at missing the point of these things! Thankfully, I have Thomas to balance me out and bring me back to reality. So, no Facebook events. No Evites. Just our little Friday night family ritual. We’ve practiced this on and off over the years and, like many things we start around here, it didn’t always stick. It’s too easy to get busy and schedule something “just this once.” Years ago we practiced this with the kids. Every Friday we made Challah bread and lit candles and practiced a real Shabbat. Four years later it is still something the kids remember as one of their favorite family traditions.  And I cannot for the life of me remember why we stopped. I am certain we meant to continue it. But, life happened. And the resting moments fell through the cracks. And so this Friday we will begin again. I’m not promising we will never miss a Sabbath. But I am saying it will be a priority. A Sabbath from work and from things we have to do.  A Sabbath to remember. And to keep holy.

This house of my soul has so much further to go before it is completed. But I am finally able to see growth amidst the demolition. There is an embrace of the process that I am coming around to. My soul has thirsted so long for the life giving water that allows it to grow and the drought is waning and seeds of new life are beginning to make their way to the surface. Painful sometimes, yes, but beautiful, too. And true beauty, I am learning, is about renewal and growth and learning to trust the One who creates all things.

 

A slow steady beat.

Life has been busy and good and hard and crazy and boring all at the same time. I think that is what is means to be a mom. Or maybe just what it means to be a human.

Either way, when I sit down to blog it seems like I have nothing to report and everything to report. My life is so busy in the seemingly mundane stuff (homeschool, cook, clean, appointments, repeat) and none of it feels very blog-worthy or exciting. And most days I’m dead tired by 8pm (though not tired enough to go to sleep until 2 am) and I get right up the next day and go about my business and focus on getting through the week.

But, as is typical every New Year, I feel myself being a bit introspective and evaluating what has worked and what hasn’t throughout our last trip around the sun. We’ve successfully sustained 5 kids for the last year so Yay to us for that. And we’ve paid the bills and had some creative time and fostered new friendships.  Our word for 2016 was CREATE. Our family chose that word together so we could focus on creating community, friendships, art, handcrafted goods, opportunities, new skill sets, and whatever else we felt lead to create. It was a good word. It was a good(ish) year. It could stand to be improved upon and I think 2017 is just the year to do it.

I don’t like New Year’s resolutions (or revolutions as Traveler calls them) but I do have some goals for this year. I’m feeling like CHANGE is the word for 2017. Some of the change will be self-directed (healthy lifestyle changes, creating emotional margin) and some will just be inevitable (moving to a new home and all that goes along with that).

One of my big goals is to get out of the “let’s just survive the moment” mentality that I get stuck in. I’m not gonna lie, 75% of my life is chaos that I am just trying to manage. I’m talking about kids, animals, therapies, doctors appointments, fingers stuck in car doors, spilling fake Halloween blood all over the leather seats in my new van kind of chaos. You know, standard stuff. And I just want to survive most days. But I get this sense that by forgetting to be present I am missing out on the really good stuff. The snuggling on the couch at 3:30 in the afternoon just because we can and the siblings making special breakfasts for each other because they’ve been spending their TV time binge watching Master Chef Jr. Those things are ordinary and quiet and good and special.  My biggest struggle is that in my rush to move forward I forget to keep still and see them.

I’m changing that this year. I’m going to change my habit of survival mode mentality. I’m going to be present and love the little things. I’m going to look for them. And I’m going to take a page out of my friend Katie’s book over at Mama The Reader and create a gratitude jar. A place to collect those moments to cherish for later.  A place to collect the good for our whole family. And a place to teach my kids to start looking for those moments early on in life.

We’re on the move a lot in the Loving family and we could stand to keep still for a bit. Ironically, in this year of change with a literal move looming in the Summer months I am vowing to keep a slow steady beat going in the pulse of our family. I am choosing to work toward a slower and happier pace in those moments when it really matters. This season of life is moving at a break-neck speed and I can’t do much about that. But I can work to cherish where it matters. And that is going to be my change for 2017.

 

(Also, this post started out as a simple photo dump of some of the moments from the last few months but then apparently my brain needed to unload as well. Here’s some random moments from the holidays that have been simple but also kind of lovely.)

Delaware trip and visit to DuPont.

Delaware trip and visit to DuPont.

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Visiting an Amish farmhouse in Lancaster.

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My Christmas Eve helper crashed out at the wrapping paper station.

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Lobster from Maine for Christmas dinner.

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“MINE!” (A.K.A. The perfect picture of what it means to live with a two-year-old.)

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Christmas card pic…didn’t get one? That’s because only half of them actually made it into the mail. Oops.

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist.

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There are probably worse things to wake up to than a cat peeing right beside your face, but right now I can’t think of too many. When your day starts out like that it’s a sure sign that it is going to be a doozy.

And, yesterday did not fail to live up to that standard. In fact, considering the fact that my day ended with a snarky nastygram from an anonymous neighbor demanding that I “mow the grass and edge the lawn!” I think I can safely say that the cat pee on my head might have been the least jarring part of the day.

It’s not like anything catastrophic really happened yesterday. It was mostly life stuff. But some days you seem have two weeks of life stuffed into 12 hours and it is exhausting. Some days it just feels like I will never catch up. Never add up. Never measure up.

Life is like that right now. Holding up all the expectations of all the people in all of the areas of my life has been a real job. But this past weekend, thanks to some amazing family friends, Thomas and I got a mini break from that job. We dropped our kids off Friday evening and picked them up Sunday afternoon and took off to be tourists in our own city. It was a much welcome break from our responsibilities.

It’s funny what happens when you have a break from the constant chaos of kids. We got to talk and sleep and eat meals without having anyone climb on us or spill anything and it was pretty wonderful. It’s amazing, though, how much you get to think when you are without kids for a few days. I thought a lot about what our future holds as a family. What my future holds outside of my kids.

Most days it is impossible to believe that this stage of my life isn’t forever. I can’t imagine a house that isn’t a constant mess. I can’t picture not having to clean up a broken dish or toy or collectible once a day. I can’t imagine having a moment without the din of kids running, playing, arguing, laughing, crying. It seems a hundred years away.

One of the things that has come out in my therapy lately is just how much I fear being perceived as a bad mom. It triggers more anxiety and panic than nearly any other thing in my life. The thing is that particular trigger is lurking behind nearly every moment of my day.

Running late to pick up one of the kids from an appointment? Neglectful mom.

Lose all of your daughter’s ballet paperwork? Disorganized mom.

Fall asleep nursing the toddler and didn’t finish folding laundry? Lazy mom.

It doesn’t help that I have the image of the Proverbs 31 woman in my head all the time. She is the ever present measuring stick for every Christian mom out there. She looms over us like some holy mother we will never live up to. She’s the inspiration for countless mothering books, magazines, and websites. Seriously, who is this lady? Could she have set a more impossible standard?

[a]A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.

You guys, my husband had to wear swim trunks under his suit the other day because his wife of noble character forgot to put his underwear in the dryer. That’s not going to earn me any praise at the city gates.

14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.

Does the Zaxby’s by the Publix count as bringing food from afar? Because if so, then I’m winning at that part at least.

15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.

Last week my kids all shared two leftover brownies for breakfast because I had been up all night with a sick baby and they were too lazy to make cereal for themselves while I slept. So I guess I can’t check that whole “gets up and provides food thing” off the list either.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.

So, I’m not sure that my trading is all that profitable but the good news is if my lamp not going out at night means my power bill is always paid then I can check yes on that. Though there was that time I forgot to pay the water bill and my kids woke me up at 6:30 in the morning to ask why water in the sink was broken…

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.

Most days I am clothed in a thrifted black dress covered in sticky toddler handprints and I think we can all agree that whole dignity ship set sail about 3 kids ago. 

26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; (Proverbs 31: 10-31, NIV)

My tween calls me lots of things lately. Blessed doesn’t happen to be one of them. Though she did gently caress my cheek the other day and say, “I never realized how wrinkly you are, mom.” so that’s something I guess.

The more I think about her the more I wonder if even she would recognize the woman in these verses? Would she have been flattered to read this tribute to her abilities? Or exhausted at the thought of keeping up such an reputation? Since, as far as I know, there is only one perfect person described in the Bible she must have had at least a few flaws. Did she wake up grumpy in the mornings? Did she have to nag her kids to help her? Did she ever forget where she put something for 2 months and only find it after she had gone out and bought a replacement? Did her three-year-old ever repeat a swear word in perfect context after hearing it yelled loudly in traffic? (okay, I’m probably pushing it there. I’ve never known anyone who has had that happen. Certainly not me. And certainly not with every. single. one. of my kids.)

I guess my point is that even the woman who is the gold standard for Christian femininity had to be imperfect at some point. She had to question how well she was doing her job. She had to have moments where she wasn’t the best version of herself. And, yet, the parts that are memorialized are the best parts. The days when she did her very best. The days when her family was proud.

My prayer lately has been that God will meet me where I am lacking. That He will give me His love for my kids. That He will fill the gaps that I leave with His perfect love so that they will never question their worth and their value. I am a recovering perfectionist. I want things to be perfect. And they so rarely are. But I am seeing that perfection isn’t what I am called to. I am called to love. I am called to give compassion. And I am called to trust in God to fill the needs of my children. Some days that is harder than others but thankfully His mercies are new every morning.

The Lord loves us very much.
    So we haven’t been completely destroyed.
    His loving concern never fails.
23 His great love is new every morning.
    Lord, how faithful you are!
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is everything I will ever need.
    So I will put my hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24 NIRV**)

I’m counting on the freedom of that promise. And I am thankful for the days to come.

**The last translation I just used was from the NIRV which is the kids’ version of the NIV. If you haven’t ever read that translation I would encourage you to check it out sometime. I’m no Bible scholar so I don’t know how it stacks up against the others but I do know it is written in simple English for kids and new English speakers and sometimes the beauty of the simple wording is exactly what I need to hear. It is often one of my favorite ways to read a verse that I am using to speak to my fears or inadequacies.

On the importance of self-care.

One of my biggest pet peeves is selfishness. I hate it in myself. I worry often that my decisions are selfish. As a mom, I hate to see it in my kids. It’s my biggest irritation at the self-love/self-esteem culture that I feel gets way out of control.

However, what I am learning this year is that selfishness and self-care are NOT the same thing.

For years I have neglected certain things in the fear that taking care of them is selfish. And I’m not talking about mani/pedi type stuff. If you’ve seen my feet you know that aspect of self-care is still one I struggle to embrace spending money on. I’m mostly talking about mental health and taking care of my mind/soul/heart.

Way, way back in the blog archives is a few posts somewhere about depression. Or anxiety. But, because I’ve been pregnant for, oh, 13 YEARS I just always called it Post-Partum Depression/Anxiety and felt like it would resolve itself. (Side note: PPD/PPA is a real thing and I shouldn’t have been “writing it off” and not dealing with it. If you’ve got it, seek some help. You absolutely deserve it.) The truth is I have been anxious for as much of my life as I can remember. I’m an anxious person. I worry. I fret. I stress most hours of the day.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And Depression. And so there I said it.

About 5 months ago I made an appointment with a local therapist to start DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) in an attempt to get a handle on all of this. My midwife was not comfortable prescribing anti-depressants any longer without me seeing someone who was an expert in mental health.

Can I just tell you how pissed off that made me? Was she implying I wasn’t mentally healthy? No, it turns out she wasn’t implying it. SHE WAS SAYING IT. And that’s okay. I didn’t need to get any more angry with her than I would with someone telling me I had Strep Throat. Because mentally I was (okay, AM) unhealthy. But seeing the right person was going to help me get better.

So, self-care. I’m learning how important it is. I’m learning that loving my kids means taking care of their mother. I’m taking medicine and being mindful and using words like “opposite action” and “radical acceptance” and feeling better and better. Weekly therapy feels like a workout at the gym. Hard but worth it. Exhausting but so gratifying.

And I wish I had done all of this sooner.

Honestly, I don’t know where to go with this. Except that I wanted to say it out loud. To say that I am a work in progress. To say that the reason I have avoided blogging for a while (um…a couple of years?!) now is because I was so afraid of not doing it perfectly and amazingly that I just kept myself from doing it at all. But these are things I am working on. Letting go of my fear of being imperfect and my expectations.

I’m hoping this will be an exercise that helps me get back into this space. Back into writing and expressing myself here. I’ve lost too much time to anxiety and the fear of not having it all together.

I am who I am. And you either like me or you don’t. So there.

I still really hope you like me. I guess my therapist and I probably need to work on that a little more. 🙂

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Summer.

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It’s firefly catching time again. The southern Summer heat has wrapped around our city like a hot wet blanket and the sun has come out to play for longer hours each evening. And as dusk descends the landscape is peppered with the blinking lights of mating fireflies.

My kids, bug haters on any other day of the year, squeal with glee and run to get jars to trap these flying twinkles of light. They place them gently and lovingly into their clear glass jars. They watch them. And marvel at them. And treasure them. And as they do I watch these children of mine and cherish their unadulterated happiness at such treasures.

Tonight my bed is filled with children. Grass-stained elbows and feet poke me in the ribs. A sweaty head rests against their daddy’s shoulder. Our queen size bed is filled with three little ones and two adults while the older girls slumber on the floor. It’s summer concert season and they have fallen asleep the minute their head hit their pillows. Saturday nights we head down the road to Alpharetta’s best kept secret, an outdoor concert venue with folk art and picnics and local bands and hippies all around. The kids play in the field with glow-sticks and hula hoops forming friendships for the night while the adults sit on colorful quilts drinking wine and enjoying the art of doing nothing.

It is nights like this that I hope my children remember when they have families of their own. It is nights like this that I will carry into my old age like a tender package. Despite my sometimes grouchy complaints to the contrary, when kids fall asleep in our room with their hands and faces stained with watermelon and their bare feet dark with the dirt of a well-worn field I am filled with so much beauty that I nearly suffocate from the weight of it.

On these nights, I run to capture the perfection of these moments and imprison them in jars in my memory where I will cherish them forever. These are my summer fireflies. And they fill me with such joy and and wonder. On the days when my living room is a mess and my four-year-old loses her gum only to find it minutes later in her hair it is these moments I call upon to remind me how thankful I am for this crazy life.

 

Previously on Land of Lovings…

It has been such a long, long time since I’ve been present in this place that I’m not even sure I know how to write anymore. I feel so foreign at the keyboard. My fingers seem to be dragging the words out of my brain like some literary taffy pull and it isn’t a fun feeling.

For as long as I can remember I’ve had writing. It has been my way of processing the events that swirl around me. It has allowed me to create order of the chaos that I feel inside my “generalized anxiety” disordered mind. Last year after my miscarriage I lost more than the precious baby I carried inside me. I lost a bit of my footing, too.

Three weeks after my D&C I discovered that I was pregnant again. I will not lie. It was a terrifying moment for me. The weight of my loss hung so heavy inside of me that I wasn’t prepared to discover new life there again. I had spent 5 weeks feeling like a walking tomb as I waited for my body to deliver the baby and to discover life again in that tomb was a shock.

My heart beat so loudly at my first midwife’s appointment that I thought it might burst forth from my chest. It was a true miracle that they discovered a heartbeat so early and I will forever be thankful to the kind and patient midwife whose steady hands coaxed that sound out of the fetal heart monitor.

Still, in my nervousness, it took me 4 months to tell anyone I was pregnant. I spent the remaining 5 months in an absolute panic. I was terrified each day that I would awaken to find this baby gone as well. I was scared to be excited. Scared to be happy. Scared to be hopeful.

I remember the morning of the day I went into labor. I woke and frantically poked my sweet girl to get her to move. I needed a reassuring jab in the ribs to make me relax and know that she was okay. She obliged and kicked me lovingly in the bladder. I’ve never been so happy to almost pee my pants!

Viola Sky Ahonui Loving was born just after midnight pushing her into a May 1st birthday. A very important thing to her 10 year old sister whose birthday I spent laboring. My first and last baby born nearly exactly ten years apart. There is something really special about the timing of that.

Viola was breech, a fact which surprised everyone but me. I had spent the last couple months telling the midwives only to be reassured that I was wrong. But I knew, as mothers often do, where this baby of mine was nestled. My C-section, one of the family centered variety that I will blog more about some other time, was as lovely as a C-section could be. I nursed Viola immediately and snuggled her skin to skin. I marveled at her dark hair and her big milky eyes and one other thing– the pre-auricular skin tag by her ear.

I remember looking uncertainly up at Thomas as she was passed to me. Is she okay? I mouthed. Is something wrong with her ear? The midwives, sensing my concern, reassured me that it was a simple skin tag. That she was fine. And that old monster of anxiety that had plagued me the last nine months crept stealthily into the operating room. Something was different. And I did’t know what.

The next day was spent in those blissful newborn moments. Oh, how I love those first warm days of life with a newborn. The tightly wound ball of anxiety in me started to uncoil. Viola was fine. She was better than fine. She was amazing. And I nursed her and kissed her and wrapped my arms around her every minute of the day. When she didn’t pass her hearing test on the second day I was assured that it was perfectly normal for that to happen with C-sectionn babies. But then she didn’t pass it the next day and I got worried.

Maybe I had been right. Maybe something had been wrong. She looked so different from my other children in their newborn state. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I spent time on Google feeding the monster with every possible scenario that could be causing her differences. I became convinced that the doctors and nurses were scared to tell me what was going on with my baby. I knew where this anxiety spiral would lead me and so I put a call in to my midwife for my usual post-partum anti-depressant cocktail before I was even discharged.

Eventually we had her pre-auricular tag removed. She kept failing hearing tests and we were assured that any hearing deficits were minor so we continued to enjoy what a beautiful sweet spirit our Viola is.

There were things I noticed, though. Torticollis. Slightly twisted arms. A precious little tongue that perched out on her lips all the time. And her skin. She had rolls like I had never seen in a baby before. Soft, sweet bunches of skin that reminded me of wearing socks that were far too long for your legs. The skin bunched up around her thighs and upper arms. But I assumed it was just the result of some good breastmilk, kissed those sweet arms and legs, and moved on. The monster would not take my enjoyment of my daughter away from me.

And then we went on vacation. We spent time at the beach and in the sun and I looked at my little girl more and more. I was getting closer to discovering just what it was that was different about her. She was little. Not just small. Little. My mom and sister and I took some pictures of her and sent them to a friend who is a Little Person and a pediatric PA. Could Viola be a Little Person? Could that be what I had been missing? What everyone had been missing?

The moment the question was asked I knew. I mean, I just knew. THIS was it. And I was flooded with relief. Because I finally felt like I had discovered the truth that my daughter had been trying to show me. She was different. She was amazing and beautiful and she was Little. And I was relieved to know who she had been all this time. We were months from any real diagnosis* but I didn’t need a doctor to tell me what I had known all along. I could see her so clearly now.

I remember driving home from San Destin and being somewhere in the midst of Alabama and just mentally digesting the possibility of what new information would be ahead of us and I wept. Not with sadness. Or disappointment. I wasn’t unhappy that my daughter was a Little Person. I had met too many amazing LPs who had accomplished great things for me to be fearful of “disadvantages” for her. I wept with relief. And understanding. And a bit of nervousness for the ways this world might treat her. But, also, I wept with love and thanksgiving. I was so thankful to be given the opportunity to parent such a special girl. I was thankful that she was born into a family with a sense of humor and a fierce sense of protection for its members. I knew in that moment that Viola would be fine. More than fine, she would be amazing. She would be deeply loved and cherished by each of her siblings and by her parents and by all the members of our family.

Her differences don’t make her more special than my other children. They don’t make her more important. But they do make her a unique gift to our family. Each of my children have changed our family for the better in so many ways and though Viola may be smaller in size her gift to our family has been monumental. And I wouldn’t change a thing about our sweet girl.

*As of right now we are dealing with an undiagnosed skeletal dysplasia. We know she has some form of short-limbed dwarfism but testing has been inconclusive.

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Just a few hours after meeting Viola. I was exhausted but completely in love!

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Just minutes old, Viola meets her daddy for the first time.

Our sweet girl is one! Oh how we love her.

Our sweet girl is one! Oh how we love her.

Loss.

Mother’s intuition is a funny thing. When I discovered I was pregnant on Mother’s Day of this year I was beyond excited. We’ve wanted to add to our family for some time now but nursing a toddler has made things a bit irregular and I’ve not really been my usual fertile self. Either that or it has something to do with 34 having come knocking on my door this past birthday. I was thrilled when we finally got the positive pregnancy test but from the beginning I was more worried than usual. I didn’t feel quite right. I had the same symptoms I always have. Crushing exhaustion. Weird food aversions. A sea sick feeling. But there was something else. And I didn’t know quite what it was.

I convinced myself I was just being paranoid after my 9 week midwife appointment when it was confirmed that everything was going well. No problems on the horizon. Everything looked good. I let myself breathe a sigh of relief and began to really embrace this new little life. I started planning what cloth diapers to make. And room scenarios. I settled in for 9 months of nesting and I was thrilled.

But, this Monday I went in for a routine dating ultrasound and I had that bad feeling again. My mom, my husband, everyone I told thought I was just being paranoid. So I took a breath and believed them. And then as I was lying on the cold ultrasound table in the darkness of the room the tech seemed to get  a bit nervous. She suggested we switch from abdominal to vaginal ultrasound and I knew what was wrong. I knew that very second. I looked at the screen and watched as she discovered my small precious perfectly formed baby hover silently with no heartbeat. She turned on the doppler and I closed my eyes because I knew. When she asked if I would like her to tell me what she saw or if I would rather wait for the doctor to tell me I began to cry and my heart nearly buckled with the weight of my sadness. She didn’t have to tell me. I didn’t need a doctor to show me. I already knew what I had known the whole time. This baby was not going to be born into my arms. It was gone. And I was left feeling that terrible fullness of pregnancy with the knowledge that this baby was no longer living inside me.

The next hour was filled with information about how long ago the baby had passed (less than a week) and what to expect next. There were tissues and hugs from strangers and knowing looks from the women in the waiting room whose swollen bellies were the indisputable evidence of the life growing inside of them. And I smiled while I cried and thanked everyone for their kindness and went out to my car and wept. Because it was over.

I’ve been pregnant 7 times in the last 10 years. And this is my third miscarriage. Each of them is heartbreaking and sad. The first two were so early that nothing ever even had a chance to grow. They were gone nearly as soon as they had started. And with both I mourned the loss of what had never been. This time it’s a new mourning. A new and fresh sadness. This time I got to see my baby on screen. So small. So alone in the darkness of my womb and having died without me ever noticing he or she was gone. A silent, unseen, unheard tragedy. And I find myself wrestling with the guilt of knowing a child of mine died without me feeling it. And I feel sad. And at fault. And lonely. And crushed by the weight of it.

So now I wait. I wait for my body to process the loss that my heart is in the throes of feeling. I wait for the inevitable. And it hurts.

When you’re 9 months pregnant and waiting for labor every day you waking up scrutinizing each pang or twinge wondering if that is the feeling that will bring you to the moment you meet your little one face to face. And waiting to miscarry is a lot like that. Each minute I’m wondering is this the feeling? Is this it? Will this be the moment? Was that a cramp? Is it happening? And in the meantime I carry inside me the small and tender body of the baby that, had life moved differently, would have been another quirky member of the Loving clan. Would he or she have the same mischievous grin as Juni? Would this baby grow to be as stoic and tough as our Ivy? Would he or she share Traveler’s kooky sense of humor? Or Kai’s knack for philosophizing? I don’t know. And I won’t in this life. And the reality of it hits me every time I look into the dark brown eyes of one of my children. This, their brother or sister, will not sing silly songs with the rest of them. He or she will never snuggle up on the couch in my lap and ask to stay up past bedtime. There will be no family vacations or memories with this littlest member of our family. The memories begin and end here. Too brief. Too fleeting.

I wish I had a neat and perfect way to wrap up my post. Something about having peace in the midst of the storm. Or knowing there is a reason for everything. I do have moments of peace and I do believe there is a reason for everything, but it seems too simple to put that on top of this grief like a nice shiny Christian bow. I don’t doubt my God in this. I truly don’t. When my children ask why God would give us this baby only to let it die my only answer to them is an honest one. I don’t know. I likely never will. And sometimes having faith means terrible things will happen that will never make sense but that you choose to believe God is present through them. And that’s where I am today. And for now that’s as good as it gets.

On turning 33…

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My many blessings…

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday. And the end of birthday season in the Loving family. It’s quite an exhausting and expensive season. Between March 25th and May 23rd we have no less than 7 birthdays in our family- 5 of which are in our little family alone. It’s a marathon for sure.

By the time we get to my birthday we are usually worn out and tight on cash. It’s just par for the course. Throw in a beach vacation that went a little over budget and you have a 33rd birthday without too much fanfare. My usual reaction to this has been to passive aggressively play the martyr. There I admitted it. I act like a baby. Oh, poor me! I don’t have a big spectacular birthday! Boohoo.

Something changed this year and I hope it means I’m finally growing up. Or gaining perspective. Because it felt good not to act like a total baby about it for once. It felt nice to have a good attitude and to be happy with my day no matter how simple it was. There is something so empowering about peace.

For years and years I’ve had an inner war with my underlying materialism. It’s partly why I love embracing the hippie Earth mama ideology. It helps me break out from materialism. But it is a struggle. Probably always will be to some extent. How can you live in our culture of rampant consumerism and not be tempted to want want want more than you need?

But yesterday I was putting my littlest ones down for a nap (which sometimes entails snuggling up in bed with one or more of them until they/I fall asleep) and I was laying there with my babies and hearing the soft rhythmic breath of the deep sleepers and listening to my big girls play happily in the other room with their dolls and I realized something. I am happy with what I have. I am happy with a simple day and simple joys. I am happy to have a small house with a big life. I am happy. It was the perfect birthday present to myself. How could I not be happy with my blessings? How could I not love this season of life?

I realized that lamenting having to sacrifice an elaborate birthday would essentially be saying that having these babies in my life is worth less than the new purse or shoes or sunglasses I would have gotten if we didn’t have so many little ones and their birthdays to celebrate. And the truth? My simple birthday with a home cooked meal and birthday brownies and hours spent cuddling my littles was 1000 times better than any store bought birthday present I could have gotten. It fills a place in my soul no material pleasure could.

Last night after snuggling up on the couch with my husband and watching a movie he asked me if I was disappointed that my birthday wasn’t more “exciting.” For once I could answer with 100% truth that I wasn’t disappointed. I could say with all honesty that my heart was full and I was completely content. My life is not exciting to most and it isn’t filled with glamour but it is good. And it is great. And it is everything I want it to be right now. Realizing that was a gift on my 33rd birthday. It was, perhaps, my most valuable gift ever.

Summer Days…

There is nothing quite so wonderful after a busy season than a trip to the beach where you have absolutely nothing to do. And last week we got to do exactly that.

We spent 5 fantastically uneventful days down at Amelia Island just connecting as a family and enjoying our time with each other. There were no fancy meals. Every day was spent barefoot and in the sand. And there wasn’t a single day on the trip that Thomas and I both didn’t get a long, glorious afternoon nap. It was good for our souls.

The kids loved the lazy days and playing in the surf and we loved that since it was the week before most schools get out we didn’t have a crowd of battle for the best spots in the sun. It was just the most ideal vacation for this season of our life. And, as a bonus, we got to celebrate Mother’s Day down at the beach where I was spoiled with breakfast in bed, cards, drawings, flowers, and a fun vintage silk scarf. It was, in a word, dreamlike.

We took a few pictures on the beach for Mother’s Day and even though I know on a daily basis how blessed I am to have these kiddos there is something so concrete about photos that makes me see my blessings frozen in time and my heart soar all the more. It is when I look at these pictures that I realize just how at home I am as a mother and how happy I am to have so many little ones who depend on me and who love me and who make my Mother’s heart whole. I never quite feel so complete as when I have a lap full of children. I am a mother through and through. It is my life’s calling. After 8 years and plenty of momentary lapses with self-image, I know that now. A mother is who I am. No matter what else I will be in my life I am at my core the mother of my children and for that I am eternally grateful. There is nothing I would rather be.

Today was the last day of our “official” homeschool year (though we do a scaled back version of school all summer long) and I am ready for long days in the backyard with sprinklers and kiddie pools and popsicles at the end of long afternoons. I am ready to see my children brown from the sun and tuckered out in their pajamas and watching movies into the night. Summer days are such fun days and even more exciting, I think, when you get to see them on the other side of adulthood. Every year since my kids began school, summer has felt like this long amazing stretch of possibility. There are so many things I look forward to filling their days with – even if 90% of those days are spent simply enjoying childhood. So, now is the time to enjoy the blank canvas of summer possibility and all the fun that promises to be lurking over the horizon.

I wish that those days will be filled with light and joy and fun and laughter and sticky popsicle fingers and freckles and big smiles. I wish that for each of my kids. And I wish that for each of you…

Oh, yeah, and just because I can’t get enough of these kiddos I’m leaving you with some pics of my babies from the beach. You’re welcome, Mom and G-ma! : )

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