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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.

On grieving.

I’m finding the grieving process to be more complicated than I anticipated. What I want is to come to terms quickly with the loss we’ve experienced and wrap my heart around it and move on to happier days. That’s proving a bit difficult for a couple of reasons. First, it’s hard to grieve with a house full of kids and a life that doesn’t stop and wait for you to be sad. Pushing past emotions to get on with “life” has become the easiest way to get through the day. My kids need me. My husband needs me. My family needs me. And sitting on the couch reflecting on my feelings (as much as I think it might be good to do from time to time) just isn’t always high on the day’s priorities.

But, perhaps the biggest obstacle to the grieving process has been my body’s inability (or unwillingness) to let go. It has been 2 weeks since we found out the baby passed and 3 weeks since he or she actually passed away and still there is…nothing. Well, nothing except nausea and sore breasts and the heavy full feeling of early pregnancy. Every second. Every moment. I am distinctly aware of the  loss that hangs heavy inside me.

Last night I went for a second ultrasound. I had no real reason to anticipate a different outcome. But, I wanted that final closure. I thought that perhaps seeing that nothing had changed would allow my body to let go. I saw the baby again. Same size. Same small little body. Same quiet vacuum of a womb. I think because I knew what to expect it was more therapeutic. I had gone to a crisis pregnancy center because our insurance wouldn’t cover another ultrasound and they offered free ones and the thought of going to one of those happy places where you see your baby in 4-D was too unbearable. The moments spent in there with women who prayed for me were so compassionate and kind. They sent me home with a picture of the baby which was something I had refused at my first ultrasound. But I am glad now to have it. It’s funny how you collect these things with each child. I’ve never been good at baby books, but I do keep a baby box full of ultrasound pictures and congratulations cards and the celebrations of the life that friends and family send. I have the same collection started for this baby. I have a couple of congratulations cards and a few keepsakes. And now condolence cards. And an ultrasound picture. But I realized yesterday I have these things saved and no one will ever see them. Who are they for? Why am I keeping them? I can’t throw them away. But each baby box I create I have always planned to give to my children. Not this one. This one I hold onto forever. It makes this process seem so lonely and makes me realize the loss we’ve really experienced.

I had this vision of what a miscarriage looks like based on my two previous ones. And it never included carrying around my baby for weeks before my body let go. And I want it to be over which makes me feel guilty. And I don’t want it to be over because this will be the last time I will be this close to my baby. And that makes me feel like I’m a bit crazy. The whole process is confusing and schizophrenic and hard. So very hard.

I’ve chosen a natural miscarriage. I’ve chosen to wait and see the process to the end. Not exactly the home birth I had always dreamed of but I guess it is a home birth of sorts. But that means waiting. And wondering. And lots and lots of praying.

The prevailing question from my children throughout all this continues to be “why?” And for days I had no answer.

Why would God create a baby and let us love it and then take it away? I don’t know. But, after attending a recent Bible study about the nature of God, Thomas had an answer that was a balm to all of our broken hearts. There are flowers that bloom in parts of the dessert that will never be seen by a single living person. Why? Because sometimes God creates something beautiful and wonderful for His own enjoyment. I am choosing to believe that this baby is one such thing. A special life that is cherished and loved and created for God’s own enjoyment. This wasn’t a lost baby. Or a forgotten baby. No, this was a baby fearfully and wonderfully made to be a part of God’s kingdom. Just not this side of His kingdom. As sad as we are not to know this child, thinking about him or her and how they were created for God’s joy gives me great comfort and peace. And in this situation, comfort and peace are almost as satisfying as happiness. Almost.

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.

Just a little housekeeping….

Since I’m thinking about being more present in this space again and stepping back into blogging, I’m taking care of some housekeeping around here. Because so many past giveaways included signing up for an email subscription as a mode of entry and since the scope of my blog is very different and will not include giveaways again I’m clearing my email subscriptions for two reasons. 1. It prevents all of you who don’t care to know the day to day life of my family from being subjected to my crazy stories and 2. It keeps me from having to get the unsubscribe emails that feel a little too much like rejection for my sensitive writer’s ego. : )

So, if you DO NOT want to continue to hear about the daily saga at Land of Lovings you don’t have to do a thing. I’m changing all email subscriptions effective today. But, if you know me in real life or want to follow my blog you’ll need to come back in a couple of days and resubscribe to continue receiving these posts in your inbox.

Thanks!

Smells like…what?!

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This boy of mine is a charmer. And he has me thoroughly wrapped around his little finger. But one of the things I love the most about this little man is that I never really know what to expect from him or what new crazy thing is going to come out of his mouth. Case in point.

One morning this week he came into my room as the house was waking up and he crawled right up into bed with me. He snuggled up beside me, looked me in the eyes, and said:

“Where is your heart, mama?”

I told him where my heart was and he asked me to give him my heart. Now, this boy has my heart. Every single hour of every single day. But because I wanted to see where he was going with this I mimed giving him my heart. He held the imaginary heart in his two hands and looked at me sweetly. Then a horrified look came over his face.

Traveler: “Mama! What is that smell! Your heart is so…STINKY!!!”

Me (laughing): “My heart is stinky?! What does it smell like?”

Traveler (looking like a light just went on in his head and also a little bit relieved): “oooooooh, I know. It’s Jesus. It smells like Jesus.”

There you have it. Mystery of the stinky heart solved.

I wasn’t prepared for this.

There are lots of things I have found myself unprepared for in my parenting journey. Hard to answer questions about life and death. The “birds & the bees” talk. Poop in the bathtub. You know, the BIG stuff.

But they all pale in comparison to this newest experience. One word, friends…BALLS.

Traveler asked us about a particular part of his anatomy. And we explained what that part is. And so that is how he came to be running across the Olive Garden to see his Nina (Grandma) and yelling at the top of his lungs while grabbing his boy parts: “Hey Niiiiinnnaaaa!! Guess what?! These are my BALLS!! My balls are right here!! Isn’t that awesome! My BAAAAAALLLLLLSSSS!”

So, yeah. I bet that ruined some people’s dinner. Or, you know, maybe not. It was pretty stinking funny. And also? Mortifying.

But the good news is it isn’t just at the Olive Garden. Oh, no! He tells the little old ladies at AWANAS on Wednesday nights. And new people we meet in public. And pretty much anyone he hasn’t already told about his balls. Pretty awesome, no?

Uh…No.

My week. A recap so I remember it all…

This will be boring for those of you who don’t care to obsessively follow the goings on of my kids & family. But one of the reasons I love to blog is so I remember everything 5 years from now. Or, to be honest, even 5 months from now. It is amazing how the beautiful moments slip by disguised as the mundane…

So, this week:

Juni discovered the joy that is Southern Fried Chicken. And boy did she go to town.

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And Kai begged me for some new “church” shoes. And she didn’t get them. (She was serious BTW. Pray for me.)

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Traveler continued his obsession with preschool street art. He finds it impossible NOT to leave this on each and every cart that comes within walking distance of him and a smiley face sticker. Never fails to send all of us into fits of hysterical giggles.

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Kai and Ivy arranged an in-house lunch date for Thomas and I. They surprised us with warming up leftovers, pouring soda into wine glasses, turning on romantic music (Jack Johnson of course!) and then also turning on a recorded show about Great White Shark attacks. It was hilarious. And adorable. And the chips and salsa with chips set directly on the tablecloth (which was actually a blanket that had been laying in the floor five minutes prior to this table setting) was too sweet not to make note of for posterity.

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Lord, how I do love these precious children of mine. So thankful for the blessing of these wild and crazy and creative and spirited little people. I pray I never forget to be thankful for these moments.

And now for something a little lighter…

Hooray for back to school time! Looking forward to this being a productive and exciting homeschool year…

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