Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Woods

Is it a universal instinct of cautiousness that pregnant women feel during their first trimesters? Although there are certainly women who never give a thought to having a miscarriage, it seems the majority of women are quite careful about getting too excited during those first 12 weeks. Many of them don't even share their news with family and friends because they fear a miscarriage, and wouldn't want to have to retrace their steps and tell everyone that they lost the baby after all. With my oldest son Silas, I worried a lot about having a miscarriage, but I didn't have one. With the next two, George and Van, I worried very little about miscarriage, and--again--didn't lose the babies. With my fourth, Hjarta, I worried about miscarriage almost constantly. I experienced a lot of cramping throughout the pregnancy, and I breathed a sigh of relief every time I didn't see blood in my underwear--and with every week that passed. Three days before we learned we had lost Hjarta, I commented to my sister, "I'm starting to feel good about this pregnancy. I'm starting to feel like we're out of the woods." Those were the very words I spoke, and she was shocked to hear them because it had never occurred to her that I might miscarry, and I had not fully shared my worries with anyone. Three days later I saw the blood, and I knew. My body had been preparing my mind all along.

With the loss of Hjarta, BJ began introducing more upbeat, energetic albums into our family music playlist. We often listen to music as we're messing around the house, and impromptu family dance parties are not out of place. The four boys tend to enjoy the music more than I do, but I'll admit that sometimes you just can't beat a tune to dance to. The influx of happier music in our house has most notably consisted of Taylor Swift's "1989" and Alabama Shakes' "Sound and Color," though Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" is a favorite, and we also delight in Whip/Nae Nae on occasion. Undoubtedly, the boys adore Taylor Swift and request her music daily. Coincidentally, their favorite song on the album is number four, entitled "Out of the Woods."

The first time I ever heard "Out of the Woods," the loss of Hjarta was fresh and it stung me to listen to the lyrics. To repeatedly hear the question "Are we out of the woods yet?" vocalized was painful, as it was the exact line that had reverberated through my mind for all the weeks of my recent pregnancy before it ended in the death of a baby and a dream. In particular, the second verse speaks to me and makes me think of Hjarta:

"Looking at it now, last December
We were built to fall apart, then fall back together
Your necklace hanging from my neck,
The night we couldn't quite forget
When we decided
To move the furniture so we could dance
Baby, like we stood a chance
Two paper airplanes flying, flying, flying
And I remember thinking,

Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods?
Are we in the clear yet?
Are we in the clear yet?
In the clear yet?"

Sculpture: "Memorial for Unborn Children" by artist Martin Hudáček

Taylor Swift said the song is written to reflect a fragile relationship of which she was once a part, a relationship that ended but which she considered special. It felt like something similar to me--parts of it echoed my fear during my own time with the child I never met. It felt like I was hearing my own voice asking BJ, "Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods? Are we in the clear yet?" At the point that I first heard the song, I wasn't even out of the emotional woods of the miscarriage. At that time I could see the light between the trees but my footpath was still unsure and winding. I have since cleared those woods, but find myself back in a whole different set of woods again. This time I am pregnant with a fifth child, once again immersed in the woods of the worrisome first trimester.

I knew I would write this post tonight, and completely by coincidence Silas asked BJ at dinner this evening, "Are you afraid of the woods?" BJ responded by saying, "The woods can be scary at night, but there's not really anything to be scared of." He was right, for the most part. Usually the scary part of the woods is the darkness when the sun goes down, the amplification of unseen noises, and the confusion of one's own worries. I'm in the woods in a first trimester, but I have mostly kept my eyes closed to keep out my fears, putting one step in front of the other, one day after another day, until this baby makes it or doesn't. A friend who has been in these shoes before shared her mantra: "I'm pregnant today, and that's all I can do." I have my doctor appointments lined up, and I am taking care of my health. There is hope and there is dread. We don't know what happened to make us lose Hjarta, and we don't know that it won't happen again. We do know it is worth the risk to try though.

Nowadays, the song only hurts a little. The version I linked to below is a pretty one, but it's not the upbeat version from her album. I'm grateful to be journeying through these woods again. I realize that many women have their metaphorical hiking boots laced up, ready for the journey, and haven't yet received--or won't receive--the signal to begin the expedition. The journey of pregnancy starts with the woods. Maybe this time, with this baby, I get to add in the last word of Taylor Swift's song because the pregnancy ends in a baby and not a loss: "Are we in the clear yet, in the clear yet? GOOD."

Monday, February 1, 2016

Becoming Okay

Since losing Hjarta, a strange thing has happened to me: I've stopped writing. Writing first became both a discipline and a joy to me in my third-grade year. My teacher, Mrs. Sturch, luckily took a shine to me, and it was through her profound influence that my writing craft was fostered. I owe her a debt of gratitude. Throughout my years, writing has kept me sane; it has served as a form of self-expression that has kept my mental tubes unclogged for nearly thirty years. I have worked hard to hone this craft, and I have always been meticulous when writing drafts, be they blog posts or my doctoral dissertation. Imagine my surprise, then, as I have suddenly found myself floundering when it comes to writing. I could have stayed active on my blog, but the thought of doing so gave me mental shudders.

If you grasp one sentence from this post, please let it be this:

Miscarriage is absurdly difficult.

There are no two ways about it. It has been the most challenging emotional and physical experience of my life. Granted, my physical experience was an atypical nightmare that could have cost me my life. Even had it not been so physically complicated though, I was bound to be thrown off my axis by the loss of my unborn baby. Miscarriage is drastically under-discussed in our world, but I have learned through my experience that it is astoundingly common. When I scroll through my "Galentines" phone file, which consists of the 15 women I text most frequently, I realize that nine of them had at least one miscarriage and two have lost a child. Clearly, I'm in good company. As I publicly shared my grief through my blog and Facebook, increasing numbers of friends whom I never realized had a miscarriage told me the stories of their loss; I found their support to be invaluable, and I feel strong bonds of sisterhood with them now. I think, "She gets it. Others don't really get it, but she gets it." Friends, if a woman is brave enough to tell you that she has had a miscarriage, please take her and her loss very seriously. The death of her baby may seem abstract, and it may seem trivial to you when compared with xyz, but I promise you that it was earth-shattering for her. I consider myself an empathic person who mourned when friends of mine had miscarriages, but I had absolutely no clue how awful it really is until it happened to me.

How awful is it? Well, for the first two weeks I was only halfway emotionally functional. I didn't cook a single meal besides breakfast for two solid weeks, and that is not an exaggeration. I depended heavily on restaurants, family and friends bringing food, and my mom cooking for me. My kids' screen time increased exponentially and I found myself letting them play Minecraft while I huddled on the kitchen floor, crying silently and texting friends who knew my exact hurt and could comfort me. BJ was on a business trip that second week, and the boys and I were well taken care of by my parents and my mother-in-law. I considered it success just to get Silas to school, homework done, meals doled to my children, and the kitchen kept clean. The most healing thing I did for me in those first two weeks was name my baby.

After those first two weeks, I turned a corner. I began looking forward to things again. Imagining the upcoming holidays no longer nauseated me. My crying spells went from 50 per day to just a few per day. The attention that I gave my children was more complete, and I was heartened by their kind play gestures toward Hjarta, gestures like finding beautiful leaves for their angel sibling, and bringing my phone to me and announcing that I had an email from Hjarta. Physical repercussions of the miscarriage began to occur, most notably an unpleasant case of anemia. I lost a significant amount of my hair and struggled with other symptoms like fatigue, sores in my mouth, restless legs, and finally pica. It was during a Thanksgiving ice storm when I began acting like a crazy woman, running outside to ravenously eat icicles in my pajamas, that I realized I was iron-deficient! After about a month on an iron supplement, however, each of these symptoms vanished and now I physically feel perfect (I'm still taking the supplement). I am running again and signing up for a 5K soon. Running is different for me now though; I am letting myself run as I would like, letting myself control my pace, distance, walking breaks, sprints, etc. exactly as I want, with no pressure to perform any particular way. It's been refreshing to let my jogging be a means of getting some exercise simply so that I can eat chocolate and read more books!

Oddly for me, I have found myself in a place of emotional quiet in recent weeks. My thirst for books has never been so great; I read eight books in the month of January. I am taking great satisfaction in reading, exploring through other people's words, and soaking in experiences that are not my own. Perhaps as I continue to spend time in reflection, my own writing will begin to feel like a natural form of expression for me again. I think it will because I have never truly known life without creative writing. My soul has needed time to absorb, reflect, and protect itself though, and I don't think anything worthy or genuine could have come from my typing hands these past two months anyway. As writer William Zinsser stated, "Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can't exist without the other. It's impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English. He may get away with it for a paragraph or two, but soon the reader will be lost, and there's no sin so grave, for the reader will not easily be lured back."

Rest assured, I am doing well now, even though I haven't been active on the blog. BJ and the boys are also doing well, and we sure are hoping to add a fifth baby to our home. In the meantime, the boys, BJ and I have dance parties, swim lessons, dinners with family and friends, bread-baking extravaganzas, and three of the five of us have had fun birthdays in the season since we lost Hjarta. On Friday I get to attend school with Silas and volunteer in his classroom, which tickles both of us! I'm still relying heavily on Of Monsters and Men and their lovely music to help me appreciate my days. Their proclivity to celebrate nature encourages me to breathe more fresh air, and I hope fervently for a trip to their native Iceland someday. Is there any other band out there who sings of a relationship by comparing it to two sea creatures fighting to the death, "red in tooth and red in claw?" I mean, come on! (I'm referring to the song "Slow Life.") I read voraciously about Iceland and feel very much in love with this little island that I have never glimpsed. It was at an Of Monsters and Men concert in Tulsa in December that I felt the sudden realization that I am okay again. After the miscarriage, I told people that I wasn't okay, but that I would be okay again someday. At the concert I was having a blast, jumping up and down and clearly unable to contain my enthusiasm. Poor BJ was huddled in his seat next to me, sick to his stomach. Apparently my antics captured the notice of a security guard, and he gave me a free pit pass a few songs into the OMAM performance. So with BJ's blessing and Nanna and Raggi singing "Hunger," I began the process of making my way through the crowd. It didn't take long before I was on the front row, probably six feet from the bassist and ten feet from Nanna, who was more center-stage.

I was still on the third row when I took this photo.

What a cathartic experience it was for me to be so close to the performers of this band that has changed my life for the better, that has given words and a melody to my experience of losing my child! I could see freckles on their faces, the orange nail polish on Nanna's fingers, and the nonverbal glances through which the band members communicated to one another. It was truly the thrill of a lifetime for me! I later sent a card to Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir's P.O. Box in Reykjavík, with profound thank-you's for having written "King and Lionheart," and having given my grief both a name and a release. I hope she isn't inundated with fan mail and actually receives it.

So here I will continue to be, plodding through life, exulting in the roses at times and also deeply feeling the thorns at times, because that's what life is. I cry about once a day, but mostly reflect on Hjarta with a smile. I think about that baby at least 100 times daily, as mothers are wont to do. And now, now that I have been through this terrible thing we call miscarriage, I have the opportunity to optimistically anticipate the day that I will reunite with my Hjarta, my little Lionheart, who is waiting on the other side for me. Not every mother gets to anticipate that--the angel waiting for her that she dreamed about and feels she knows, but never really knew.

(Pictorial proof that we're okay):