Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: Grief

A Time to Say Good-Bye

When my dad died five years ago, I didn’t have the chance to say good-bye.

Since then, I’ve had a few dreams about him. But nothing that has given me much closure.

Until recently.

The dream went like this: My dad is alive. So is my mom and her new husband, Warren. And everyone is okay with this.

It’s a dream, right? You know how dreams are.

It’s also Thanksgiving and we’re back at our old house in Huber Heights. The table is set up in the living room, which is awkward. But that’s because my youngest sister’s bed is set up in the dining room, and we’re all coping with that.

Fine.

There are lots of chairs around the table, but no one is sitting down. I see that it’s because, apparently, everyone has already eaten except me. I feel hungry. And yet I’m frustrated because there is food all over the table and the floor. I start picking up, scraping bits of food into my hands: lemon wedges, wet and cold Spaghetti-os, cracker crumbs, and rice. Absolutely nothing that looks like anything we would actually eat at Thanksgiving dinner.

No one is helping me. Actually, I can sense that they are annoyed that I’m cleaning up. They’re all talking with each other, laughing, having a great time.

Apparently, my dad and Warren are old pals. I can hear my dad’s laugh above everything else. That cutting HA! that interrupts what someone else is saying, just before saying, “Well, that’s just like what they did down there in…” And he segues into a new story. They’re off to the races.

Ah, whatever, I think as I get up from scraping up food from the carpet. Maybe later.

By the time I get over to where I think my dad is, I see my mom sitting on the sofa, staring out the window, a book on her knees. She’s sad. And she won’t talk about it.

And she’s also pregnant. Like third-trimester pregnant. At sixty-some years old. Her hands rest protectively on her belly.

It’s a dream, right?

Suddenly, she’s gone. The book is still there, conveniently left open to the page that she was reading, marked with underlining. The heading reads “Brain Disorders.”

“It’s her decision,” my dad says. He’s there now, sitting on the couch.

“Why won’t she talk about it with me?” I ask.

“This isn’t about you. This is between her and God.”

“But…” I can’t think of the words. But what I feel is this immense emptiness opening in the fabric of my life. This is isn’t about you. This is between her and God.

Through the window, I see the tree in our backyard tipping over, its roots becoming exposed to the air.

“I don’t want her to make that decision,” I finally say.

“It’s not about you,” he repeats.

He is not somber. He’s actually quite jovial about it. His health has been restored to the last time that I remember him being physically and mentally well, probably around 2007. He tries to help me see the positive possibilities. What if the brain disorder actually benefits the baby? He tries to give me examples of babies with certain brain disorders who were born in the past and who are now astounding doctors. He places his fingers close together and far apart, saying something about the spaces between synapses.

“But we don’t know what type of condition the baby has,” I say.

“You can’t know everything that you want to know,” he says. “Sometimes, you have to trust God.” He is laughing.

Laughing!

The nerve.

“Dad?”

“What?” he says.

I reach over and grip his large hand in mine, pull it to my heart and lock it there so that we are connected from fingers to elbow. This is not something I ever remember doing when he was alive. Our family wasn’t big into hugs and we certainly didn’t hold each other’s hands.

But I don’t have the words anymore.

All I have is the grief of his loss.

The knowing that when this is over, he’ll be gone again. He will slip away for months or years, away into realities that I cannot sense or galaxies where I cannot travel. He’ll be gone again and I’ll still be here.

And I won’t know when I’ll see him again.

I don’t know what I’m doing, but I feel that I’m sending out everything that I want to say but can’t find the words for. All the empty spaces in my life where he should be. All the moments that he should have seen with his grandkids. All the times that I regret I didn’t spend more time with him. All the jealousy that I have for my peers who still have their fathers with them. All the love that I still have for him that has nowhere to go, nowhere to land. And so it swirls inside of me and rises at unexpected moments. Crying in the store over 0.99 cent cinnamon rolls. (I would pay you $1 NOT to eat them!, I had joked.)

My roots are raw and exposed, my world is upside down.

I pull him all the way to me, into my very heartbeat.

And he starts weeping.

He doesn’t deny how I’m feeling. He doesn’t tell me it will all be okay. He stops mentioning God and the possibilities.

He just weeps with me.

We don’t talk anymore. I just hold his arm against me until all the emotions are gone and what remains is stillness. Peace.

Once all these emotions have been released, the truth that remains is that my father is Gone.

And I don’t have to be okay with that.

I’m not angry. Anger is just an emotion that covers a far deeper wound.

No, the anger is gone.

Now, all that’s left is love and pain. And it’s not wrong. It’s not a failure or a flaw. Sometimes, this is just the way that it is.

Sometimes, love just plain hurts. Sometimes life grinds cold Spahetti-os into the carpet, pulls out trees by their roots, and takes away the people that you love the most. And it gives zero shits about how you feel about any of it.

But there is also Peace to be felt in the middle of it.

But first, the pain has to find its way out. It cannot be numbed or ignored or medicated. It needs to be felt and acknowledged, directed and released.

The only way to Peace is through the Pain.

***

I woke up shortly after that, replaying the bits and pieces that I remember over and over. Dreams are often slippery suckers. But I think this one will stay with me for quite a well.

It felt like a chance to show my dad what I’m carrying with me through this life, now that he is gone. But also to assure him that I will be okay, as long as I have someone to hear my stories, as long as there is an outlet for the emotion to flow through me and settle elsewhere. It’s the bottling up that makes grief unbearable.

It felt like a space to catch my breath.

A moment to hold on with all I have.

A moment to decide to let it all go.

It felt like my chance to say good-bye.

When you are far away
I dream on the horizon
And words fail,
and, Yes, I know
that you are with me;
you, my moon, are here with me,
my sun, you are here with me,
with me, with me, with me.
 
Time to say goodbye
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
now, yes, I shall experience them.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
which, I know,
no, no, exist no longer.

with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you

“Con Te Partiro” Lucio Quarantotto, as sung by Andrea Bocelli

On Rising Again: A Remembrance of Alyssa

Alyssa,

We were cousins who grew up states apart, seeing each other sometimes in the summer. You were two years older than me, always finding out things before I did. Always reaching milestones before me. We survived the traumatic hairstyles of the early 1990s, which inevitably led to us inhaling whole cans of Aquanet over the years.

True warriors, right?

But I didn’t know you like your family knew you. I only have a few memories that still remain sharp, even today.

Here is my favorite one.

In the summer of 2000, my friend and I were driving from Ohio to California, as a celebration of finishing high school. Our first stop was Minnetonka, MN, where we stayed with Grandma Bundy. Our second stop was Sioux Falls, SD, where you had just moved. My friend and I met you at the hair salon where you had just started working. Grinning from ear to ear, you greeted me like an old friend and insisted that we try out this burger place that you loved.

Over burgers and fries and sodas, we talked. You were 20 years old. I was 18. You seemed so much cooler, so much more grown-up than me. Your life was taking off, and it was exciting. You had an apartment of your own. A full-time job. You were the one calling the shots, and you reveled in your freedom.

While we sat there, a song came on that made you howl.

Yes, howl.

You threw your head back, laughing, saying, I LOVE THIS SONG! And right there in the middle of the restaurant, you belted it out, wiggling in your seat, arms and hips twisting in opposition.

I did not know the song. But you knew it word for word.

The best thing about being a woman
Is the prerogative to have a little fun and
Oh-OH-oh-oh, Go totally crazy, Forget I’m a lady
Men’s shirts, short skirts, Oh-OH-oh-oh,
Really go wild, yeah, Doin’ it in style, Oh-OH-oh-oh,
Get in the action, Feel the attraction, Color my hair, Do what I dare
Oh-OH-oh-oh
I want to be free yeah, to feel the way I feel
Man! I feel like a woman!

Young. Wild. Free.

I think that is how I will remember you best.

***

Although we didn’t really talk much over the years, I heard updates from my mom. You got a new job. You started a new business. You got married. You became a stepmom. Life was no longer Young and Wild and Free.

Yes, Life had taken off. But instead of riding a rocket to the stars, you found yourself navigating life in a hot air balloon. Fueled by your energy and drive to keep rising. Tethered by so many ropes. Carrying a basket holding all those you loved. You traveled a bit. Then, came back down. Then traveled more. Then, back down. Up and down. Over and over. Your will, the fuel that kept you going.

Did you ever have the chance to ride in a hot air balloon? It seems like it would be just the kind of adventure that you’d like.

Years ago, I went hot air ballooning on my honeymoon. There was a lot about the trip that surprised me, but the most surprising thing was this:

The pilot didn’t have a fixed landing site.

In fact, it was impossible to do so because the trajectory of the balloon shifts as the air currents change. At one altitude, the wind may take the balloon east. At a lower altitude, it may shift west. And so safely landing the balloon requires that the pilot be able to make adjustments and readjustments to the landing process, depending on the air currents and the landscape.

Is there a better metaphor for how many of us live life?

Hard to think of one.

You faced a lot of shifting currents as your life took off. Through the ups and downs, the surprises, the detours, and the unexpected mid-flight landings…

You kept rising.

For that is the true Measure of a Life.

It’s not about how high you rise or how far you travel.

It’s about how many times you get back off the ground.

And it’s about the people you carry and how much you lift them.

That’s what makes the loss of you difficult. You lifted so many others with you.

***

You shared memes on Facebook about raising teenagers. You seemed to be carrying a lot on your shoulders. One of the last memes that you shared was this:

That line haunts me.

We are almost there.

There.

***

How could any of us have seen this coming?

How could we imagine a future in which you died so suddenly?

Here one minute. Gone the next.

Your sister reminded us in her first post after your death that, Life is a vapor (James 4:14).

Yes. It truly is.

Even to live 80 years. A vapor.

In the millions of years that life has churned on and on and on.

A vapor.

And yet, what we do matters.

How we live our lives matters.

And when the atmosphere finally swallows the vapor that is our Life, this thing that we so painstakingly lived day after day, all the energy that we poured into our goals, getting up each morning, drinking the coffee, doing the things, making decisions, dealing with the outcomes of the decisions that we made and those that we didn’t, may we all have the perspective to hold to this Truth: All that we did mattered.

Every damn moment of it mattered.

But rest assured, no one does Life perfectly.

The true impact of our lives is measured in how we used that time. Whether we chose Love. Or not.

It’s measured by how often we chose forgiveness over grudges, mercy over vengeance, compassion over resentment, empathy over judgment, inclusion over exclusion, gratitude over envy, contentment over greed.

And so, Alyssa, when you lifted others with your sheer willpower, it mattered.

When you made space in your life for people you loved, it mattered.

When you listened to someone who was hurting, it mattered.

When you apologized for something that you had done wrong, it mattered.

And every time that you gave Love to someone, it mattered.

Love is the whole point.

It’s all that has ever mattered.

***

A final clear memory that I have of you happened during the summer when your family of six came to visit my family of seven. (How did we fit thirteen people in our tiny 1,000 square foot house? One of life’s great mysteries.) I think you may have been twelve. I can’t remember for sure.

One of the ways that we got everyone out of the house was a trip to Eastwood Lake, a fifteen-minute drive from our house.

We went canoeing.

And as a stepmom to teenagers, I’m sure you can appreciate the recollection of what happened next.

With the surface of the water so still, your father rested the oars against the sides of the canoe and closed his eyes.

Then, to the horror of my siblings, he started singing.

I’ve got peace, like a river

I’ve got peace, like a river

I’ve got peace like a river in my soul…

He didn’t have a bad voice. That wasn’t the issue. It was just Parents are so embarrassing. And what if other people hear him and look at us? What would we even do? Is he ever going to stop? How many verses are in this song?

But after it became clear that your dad was invested in this moment, you threw caution to the wind.

You sang with him.

I’ve got love like an ocean.

I’ve got love like an ocean.

I’ve got love like an ocean in my soul…

Looking back now, it was the right thing to do.

To be present and support those we love is always the right choice.

***

I believe in a God that sees through us, from top to bottom and beginning to end. I believe in a God who sees all our flaws, our mistakes, our failures, our weaknesses, and our sins. And knows the difference between them.

But I also believe in a God who sees our intentions, our motivations, our faith, our courage, all the things we’ve done right, all the love we gave, and all the goodness we shared.

And finally, I believe in a God that gathers us in and brings us Home.

May you rest forever in the spirit that you lived.

Rising again.

Young. Wild. Free.

Home.

***

If you’d like to help Alyssa’s family in their time of need, you can donate here.

Alyssa and her siblings: two younger brothers and her younger sister.
Some of the people you loved most: Your siblings. (2009)

5 Years

Dad and Sharon 1982

“I Will Be Blessed” by Ben Howard

 

Heaven is a place we hold.
Heaven is the arms that hold us
Long before we go
If you’re there
When the world comes to gather me in
I will be blessed

 

Funerals

The last post that I wrote was over three months ago.

I’ve started a few posts, but haven’t been able to finish them.

Partly because I haven’t really had an hour to breathe since mid-February.

Partly because I have nothing to say.

Partly because I have so much to say that I don’t know where to start.

Truth be told, this time of year always gets me a little down. Every year since my dad passed away in June 2014, a general malaise and “I’m-so-done-with-this-whole-life” attitude sets in around Memorial Day and doesn’t lift until mid-June (which, sadly, is always when Father’s Day happens).

There are still a few hundred others things I should be doing right now (and as I type this, I’m falling further and further behind), but I am utterly burned out, and WHATEVER, I need to do this.

In the mood for some rambling?

Here we go.

***

Three months. Three funerals.  

One, a lifelong friend who has known me since I was 8. Her death, expected, but still difficult.

One, an acquaintance, whom I had only met only a few times. Husband of my colleague. Father of four. His death, sudden and unexpected, the last page of his story, ending in mid-sentence. Tragic, confusing, and unbelievable.

One, someone whom I have never met, but whose words created a new space for me in the Christian faith. Writer. Theologian. Mother of two young ones. Her death, also unexpected, tragic, confusing, and unbelievable.

The lifelong friend that I lost was the mother of a close friend, the kind of person who knew everything and anything about how you grew up, who you were, and what kind of person you are still becoming. Her funeral was the only one that I had any time to process, a full “luxurious” nine hours to speak at the funeral, cry, and rest with a coffee cup in hand while hearing and telling stories. (Thank you, babysitters.)

And then there were three tornadoes that tore through my hometown, though mercifully not through my neighborhood. On the morning of Tuesday, May 29th, I got texts and messages and emails, “Are you okay? Let me know.” Our community’s tragedies, front page national news.

This is the tough part of Life.

When you have to keep doing all the responsibilities, all the work, the chores, the parent-teacher conferences, dentist appointments, birthday parties, oil changes, groceriesgroceriesgroceries, not to mention all the future-focused, long-term plans (Should I go back to school? When? Change jobs? When? What kind? Where? How?)

Do all of that, while you’re reminded over and over again that:

It.

Just.

Doesn’t.

Matter.

We will all die.

Our children will die.

The homes that we build and the things that we acquire will blow away, burn, or crumble.

The great achievements that we work toward and glory in will fall into ruin and be forgotten.

Even if what we do amounts to something on this planet, Earth is still in the midst of the Milky Way, which is spinning towards Andromeda, and billions of years from now, all of this will explode in another fiery end.

What does it all mean?

pexels-photo-1205301

Image credit: 01234567890, pexels.com

***

Okay, right, obviously it does matter to my children that I teach them how to love and show kindness. That I live my life in a way that I want them to live.

Of course, yes, that matters.

I guess what I’m wrestling with is the truth that,

the plans and aspirations and goals that I have in my life… aren’t really that important at all.

What does it matter if I never have a boss that can appreciate my competence rather than be threatened by it?

What does it matter if I’m never paid enough for the work that I do?

What does it matter if I never make another creative thing–a book, a post, a video–that other people enjoy?

Why does it matter so much to me that I be productive, that I continue to achieve… because all of things that I’ll make and achieve are really just dust.

Or, more likely, bits of data, easily erased or buried.

It.

Just.

Doesn’t.

Matter.

That truth is the same for all of us.

But perhaps what is different is our conclusions about that truth and how we let it affect our lives.

***

And then there were these words from Nadia Bolz-Weber at Rachel Held Evans’ funeral.

While it was still dark.

***

So I guess there is something that you find at the bottom of the pile of grief, that continues to grow because there’s never time to process it all.

Peace.

There is some measure of peace in knowing that it’s okay.

Whatever I do.

Whatever I don’t do.

Whatever I plan to do, but am never able to accomplish.

It’s okay.

All is well.

PoP # 14: “Daystar”

Four years later. Still hard.

Dad and Sharon 1982

My father and me (at 15 months), 1982

One of my father’s favorite songs was, “Daystar.”

He particularly loved it as sung by our small church’s music minister, Darrell Sproles.

Lily of the Valley,
Let your sweet aroma fill my life
Rose of Sharon show me
How to grow in beauty in God’s sight
Fairest of ten thousand
Make me a reflection of your light
Daystar shine down on me
Let your love shine through me in the night

When it was sung at his funeral in June 2014, it meant a lot to me that my name was in the first few lines.

If I could talk to him now, what would I say?

After I’m sorry for ever causing you pain and I love you,

I probably would tell him that his grandchildren would have loved to have known him.

He always had a very tender way with kids aged 2-5.

Love you, Dad.

Miss you.

Three Years Gone, Dreaming of my Dad

Maybe it started when I fell while I was running.

That was June 1st.

5:30 a.m.

Maybe that’s when this rough patch started.

While jogging in the dark, my foot must have caught on a piece of raised sidewalk and I fell forward and hit the concrete just as a minivan was passing me.

Left knee, right knee, left hand, right hand. I saved my face. (At least physically.)

The minivan kept going.

For a moment, I just lay there against the concrete, gauging my pain.

I hurt. But I didn’t think I had broken anything. I couldn’t see how badly I was scraped up, but I felt it mostly on the outer edge of my left hand and my right thumb, which was warm and wet. Blood, for sure.

What else to do but keep jogging home with bleeding hands?

***

I’ve only had a few dreams of my dad since he passed away three years ago, but they’ve always come around this time of year.

In the first dream, I walked into a convenience store and was looking for a jug of milk to buy. (Who knows why. I hate drinking milk.) After I pulled it out of the refrigerator case, I saw four men sitting at a small booth, playing a card game. All their heads were lowered, studying their cards.

I walked over and even though I couldn’t see their faces, I just knew that one of them was my dad. I don’t remember what I said to him, but we talked like we always did — our eyes looking at other things, words passing between us that didn’t really resemble anything like what we really wanted to say.

Like, I miss you.

Like, I love you.

Still, whatever we said was comfortable and familiar enough to make us feel like all was well.

It was then that I realized that my ride was leaving.

“I have to go, Dad.”

“Don’t leave,” he told me, still not looking up. Still staring through his cards.

I kissed him on the head, complete with his bald spot, and I told him that I would come back.

“It will be too long. I don’t want to be alone,” he said.

“I swear, I’m coming back, Dad.”

He didn’t lift his head. He just sat there, sad and withdrawn, just as he did for the last few years of his life. Completely alone, even in the midst of company.

I kissed his head again and walked toward the door.

When I got to the door, I turned around and told him, “This is where we can meet, okay? This is where we can find each other. I’ll come back. I promise.”

I woke up feeling empty.

I’ve never been able to get back to that convenience store.

***

A few nights ago, as the anniversary of his death approached again, I dreamed again of my father.

It was a scene I’ve lived a thousand times before — riding in the car next to my dad, his left hand balanced casually on the steering wheel, his elbow resting on the edge of his open window. He was talking a mile a minute about everything and anything, the way he did when he descended into periods of mania. At first, it was normal. Just dad talking and talking and talking while I was looking out the window.

Then, it started to snow. And snow. And snow.

The drifts piled up around the car as we drove. But then he veered into the parking lot of the K-Mart in the town where I grew up. He started driving in a circle, talking faster and faster, the tires kicking up snow around us. I told him to slow down, but he wouldn’t. As the car picked up speed, we spiraled once, twice, three times, four times.

With each pass, I tried to keep my eyes on a fixed point outside of the car. The McDonald’s. The apartment building. The ATM. Anything that would keep me anchored to reality.

Maybe, if I could keep my eyes on something, I could slow us down.

Maybe, this time, I could be the one to anchor both of us.

Maybe, this time, I could keep the world from spinning, keep him from sliding into depression, keep him from falling and breaking his neck.

But we kept spinning and spinning and spinning.

In my dream, I started screaming.

And then I was beside my mother, and we were looking at a calendar. She wrote down her birthday, May 9th. But then she crossed out the 9th and wrote in dark letters, May 10th and underlined it.

“What year?” I asked.

She wrote “1” and “9” very easily, but then struggled to write the next number. It came out looking like a gigantic “9” and then a “0.”

“1990?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Sure. It all kind of blends together.”

And somehow, I understood that we were deciding when we would go back in time.

We were trying to get back to a time when Dad was Dad.

***

I woke up a few hours later and went for a morning run in the dark.

Because I’m a glutton for punishment? Maybe.

I prefer to say it’s because I refuse to be beaten by a bad experience (although, there are plenty of times when I am).

It was beautiful that morning. The moon was full and still high in the sky at 5:00 a.m. I watched the sidewalk much more carefully than before and walked for a few minutes before I started jogging.

full moon

The Head and the Heart played on my Pandora station.

Darling, this is when I met you.
For the third time not the last
Not the last time we are learning
Who we are and what we were.

You are in the seat, beside me.

You are in my dreams at night.

Turns out,

it’s easier to run with bleeding hands than it is to run with tears.

***

I’m like a lot of people — I only want to believe that dreams mean something when they’re good.

I don’t want to believe that the bad dreams mean anything more than the emotions that I’m working my way through when I have them.

But still.

But still.

A Response to the “Heartbeat Bill”: My Letter to Governor John Kasich

heartbeat

December 8, 2016

Governor John Kasich:

I am writing you in regard to House Bill 493, the “Heartbeat Bill”, which would ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks of gestation. There are no provisions for cases of incest, rape, or medical complications that put the mother’s life at risk. If this bill becomes law, once there is a heartbeat, no medical facility or clinic could perform an abortion.

I am truly shocked that this bill has passed both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate. But when I learned that this bill was tacked on to a larger bill that addressed child abuse, I just shook my head.

Politics.

I am currently 33 weeks pregnant with my second child. I’m due in January 2017. Our first child turned three years old this past August.

I’m telling you this because I know what it means to carry the life of a child.

I grew up in a conservative Christian household. We attended a Southern Baptist Church. I went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I memorized Bible verses in the AWANA program. I was quite good at that. When I was finally able to vote in 2000, I proudly voted a straight Republican ticket.

I was pro-life. I thought abortion was abhorrent. Women who had abortions must have been heartless, soulless, and godless. They needed to be saved from making the most dreadful, horrifying mistake of their lives. I believed that the U.S. Supreme Court needed to overturn Roe v. Wade. Only then would we be able to stamp out the evil of abortion across this country.

Abortion is murder. Plain and simple. And murder is a crime.

If she gets pregnant, she should suffer the consequences. If she wanted to have sex, she should have at least been responsible.

If she was raped, she shouldn’t make the child suffer. And are we even really sure that she was raped? Getting pregnant from a rape hardly ever happens.

Yes. I had those thoughts.

It was easy to hold these beliefs because they went unchallenged. I socialized mostly with other conservative Christians. At school, I viewed my classmates who weren’t Christians as “the lost.” They didn’t truly have a working moral compass. They needed to be saved.

And as an evangelical Christian, I should be the person who saved them.

I began my college career at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 2000. During my four years there, I met a lot of different people who did not grow up in the same conservative circles that I did. In conversations, I began to realize that some of my beliefs about social issues (same-sex marriage, poverty, race, abortion) were not automatically echoed and supported by others. I was challenged to think critically about my opinions. I was challenged to support what I believed.

I’m so very grateful for having been challenged.

Because I began to realize that the foundation upon which I was basing my beliefs on many issues was flimsy at best. What I had to support my opinions were soundbites that crumbled under the power of even the simplest of questions. Jesus never talked about abortion. But he sure talked a lot about caring for the poor and loving others. Especially those who were on the margins of society.

And then a thought occurred to me.

Why did I think it was my responsibility to restrict someone else’s choices?

Who was I to decide how someone else lived their life?

Was I so inherently right in my beliefs that what I thought about the world should be imposed on everyone else?

Once I posed those questions to myself, I was ashamed of how arrogant I sounded.

However, I have to admit that all of my changed beliefs about abortion were still vague abstractions that didn’t directly impact my life. I had never been pregnant. Privately, I wondered if being pregnant and giving birth would change my opinion yet again. Maybe I would revert to my pro-life stance of years past?

But I didn’t.

In fact, I am more pro-choice now than I have ever been.

Because now, I understand what it means to become a mother.

Becoming a mother is not strictly a physical test of endurance. It’s a mental and emotional marathon that not only requires sufficient financial resources, but also a social support network. Otherwise, you will completely implode.

My husband and I are firmly established in the middle class, yet we still found the costs of having a child to be quite burdensome. It cost us $3500 just to give birth in a hospital—and we had health insurance. We spent another $12,000 on car seats, furniture, diapers, formula, clothing, medicine, and other supplies. Because I wanted to return to work, it cost us another $11,000 per year for our child to be in daycare.

There were days in that first year of motherhood when I wasn’t sure that I could go on—and I wasn’t worried about the financial aspect. There were days when I wanted to be free of the constant 24/7 responsibility—and my husband and I had wanted this child.

Now, can you imagine being a 20-some-year-old single woman with a high school diploma, taking some college classes part-time while you work a job that might bring in $20,000 per year? That’s the most common portrait of a woman who gets an abortion in Ohio that emerges from the Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions (p. 9).

Becoming a mother is a huge responsibility and it’s not one that we should force women to take on if they are not prepared to do so. At a time when Republicans want to slash spending on social programs, outlawing nearly all abortions would not only force unprepared, single women into motherhood, it would drive them into years of poverty as they struggle to not only provide for their children, but to do so with increasingly shrinking assistance from the government.

As I review the Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions, what strikes me most is that the abortion restrictions in House Bill 493 do not seem to respond to the reality of abortion statistics in the state of Ohio. Here are some interesting facts that I gathered from this report:

  • In 1976, there were roughly 10,000 more abortions in the state of Ohio than there are today (Figure 1, p. 2).
  • Since 2001, the rate of abortions per live births has steadily decreased (Figure 4, p. 5).
  • Since 2001, abortion rates have fallen among women aged 15-34. The sharpest decline in abortion rates occurred among women aged 18-19 (15 fewer abortions per 1,000 births) and aged 20-24 (13 fewer abortions per 1,000 births) (Figure 5, p. 6).
  • Of the 21,186 abortions performed in 2014, there were only 36 instances of post-abortion complications (Table 10a, p. 26). That means 99.8% of abortions were performed with no medical complications.
  • Of all abortions performed in 2014, 53% were performed before 9 weeks of gestation. 31% were performed from 9-12 weeks of gestation. 13% were performed from 13-18 weeks of gestation. Only 2.1% of all abortions were performed after 19 weeks of gestation (Figure 3, p. 2).
  • In 2014, 510 abortions were performed after 19 weeks. Of those abortions, only 1 abortion was performed on a viable fetus. The other 509 abortions were performed on non-viable fetuses. (Table 18, p. 39).

In short, in the state of Ohio…

  • the number of abortions have decreased
  • the rate of abortions has decreased
  • complications of abortion procedures are extremely rare
  • 97% of abortions are performed before 20 weeks
  • after 20 weeks, abortions are almost always performed because the fetus cannot survive outside of the womb.

All of this information makes me question the purpose of the Heartbeat Bill, which now awaits your signature in order to become law.

Is it to decrease abortions?

I doubt it. They’re already decreasing.

Is it to protect women’s health?

Clearly not. Abortions are incredibly safe.

Perhaps passing this law is a moral endeavor?

We should not impose one group’s definition of morality over all residents of this state.

The best conclusion that I can draw is that this bill is purely political. It is a means to appease a vocal and staunchly pro-life segment of Ohio’s population at an opportune moment, presumably to give the U.S. Supreme Court a reason to revisit their decision on Roe v. Wade.

But let’s be honest here.

Many of the people who express such disgust for abortion will never, ever face a reality in which the Heartbeat Bill will ever affect them.

They are men. They are women who would never have an abortion because of their moral opposition. They are women past the age of childbearing. These groups of people can vociferously support anti-abortion laws with no consequence to themselves.

But I am a woman who is affected by this law. I’ve got skin in this game.

As I mentioned before, my husband and I wanted to have a child. We were responsible. We got married, started our professional careers, paid off debt, and made plans for when to have our first child. The importance of my right to have an abortion never occurred to me. After all, we were trying to get pregnant.

But as I held the sonogram pictures from our 20-week ultrasound for our first child, a terrifying thought struck me.

What if we had found out that our child had no brain? Or no kidneys? Or some other fatal abnormality? Would we have been able to have an abortion?

20-week-ultrasound

Truthfully, I didn’t know at the time if the state of Ohio had any abortion restrictions.

The thought scared me. That if we had received devastating news at that ultrasound, that my choices about how to deal with that news might be limited depending on where I lived.

I began to realize that, for me, preserving the right to have an abortion isn’t about “killing babies.”

For me, it’s about offering options for the grieving process.

When you already know that your child will not survive, you fall into this quagmire of grief. The last thing that you need is the government telling you what you can and cannot do in order to move through that grief. Some women find comfort in giving birth and holding their child for however long their child lives. Other women find comfort in ending their pregnancies in the womb, so their child will not be born into a short life of pain.

In Christmas 2015, I had to walk through that path of grief. At nine weeks of pregnancy, I watched the doctor show me our silent, motionless baby, floating on the ultrasound screen. No heartbeat. I do not have the exact words for how I felt in that moment. It was an awful feeling of denial, anger, sadness, guilt, and frustration.

I had the choice to either miscarry naturally or to have a D & C.

I waited for my body to miscarry naturally. But it wouldn’t let go.

After a week of carrying death inside of me, I just could not take it anymore. I wanted to move on. I wanted to let go. I was ready to move through my grief. I called my doctor and scheduled the D & C. The procedure was quick and uneventful. I had no complications. In five months, I was pregnant again.

But under this new law, if my baby still had a heartbeat, even if the diagnosis was terminal, I would not have been allowed to choose that same path. I would be forced to bear that grief for as long as my body wanted. Only then would the government be satisfied.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that all women have a choice. And because of that ruling, no woman is forced to walk a path that she doesn’t want to. No one will make her have an abortion. No one will make her carry her child to term.

In the end, it’s the mother who bears the emotions of her choice. She is the one who cries the tears. Not the advocacy groups. Not the protesters. Not the government. She, alone, lives with her choice.

And with that in mind, I hope that you consider voices like mine above the voices of those who have no personal stake in this issue. Women like me are the ones who will be affected by this law.

I am not a baby killer. I don’t disrespect life. I don’t need to be taught a lesson in personal responsibility.

I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a Christian. I’m educated, thoughtful, responsible, and compassionate. I deserve to be trusted to make my own health decisions.

Please remember that as you make yours.

Respectfully,

Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Dayton, OH 45459

 

 

My Heart is Broken

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My heart is so completely broken today.

My heart is broken as a woman, who cringes at the words,

I moved on her like a bitch… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

As an academic, who values facts and information and evidence-based decision-making.

I just see how I’m feeling and go based on that.

As an educator, who values critical thinking and acknowledging the limits of my knowledge so I can learn more.

I know more than the generals. Believe me.

As an intercultural communication practitioner, who values the richness, complexity, and benefits of respectful communication between cultures.

(Mexicans) are bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

I propose a complete and total shutdown of all Muslims entering the U.S.

As a mother, who wants to support her nation’s leader as a role model.

(About his 1-year-old daughter, Tiffany): She’s got great legs.

If I weren’t her father, I’d be dating her. (his daughter, Ivanka)

 

But most of all…

 

My heart is broken as a fellow American

who now knows that there are enough angry and disillusioned people in this country who would rather upend the whole system than try to fix what’s broken.

(Not paying taxes) makes me smart.

We’re going to completely repeal Obamacare.

We’re going to tear up our trade deals.

We’re going to have a deportation force.

We’re going to build a wall. And Mexico is going to pay for it.

 

My heart is broken as a Christian

who values fighting for the poor and the marginalized

How smart can poor people be?

who values humility and forgiveness

Why should I ask God for forgiveness? I don’t make mistakes.

who values compassion

There are simply too many examples to list here. And they all break my heart.

***

I want to believe that I’m being overdramatic. That things won’t change that much. That our system of checks and balances works well enough to stop this ridiculous man-child from engaging in nuclear war when someone insults him.

But there are enough people in this country that have decided that this

racist

sexist

uneducated

narcissistic

6-time bankrupted businessman

buffoon of a human being

is more qualified to be president of this great country than someone who has spent her life serving the public.

***

I fell asleep at 11:30 last night and woke up at 2:40 a.m. with a pit in my stomach. The baby was going crazy, flipping and nudging and turning inside of me. I tried to go back to sleep.

I couldn’t.

I was so sick with worry.

So at 3:10 a.m., I looked at my phone. Hoping for a miracle.

Instead, I lay there in the darkness, overcome with anxiety, tears coming down my face. Deep denial coursing through me.

It’s impossible, I kept thinking. There aren’t enough people in this country that could possibly think he’s a better choice.

And then the fear.

Replaying all the hurtful, painful, idiotic things that he has said over the past year and a half.

And then imagining all the people in my life who voted in favor of those very words.

All the people who really thought that placing this man in the White House would actually result in benefits in their lives.

(For the love of God, I wouldn’t even let this man into my own house , not to mention in the same vicinity as me or my daughter.)

Listen, Americans who voted for Trump.

Donald Trump cares about no one but himself and his image.

He taught us that when he spent $20,000 on a painting of himself. Out of funds from his “charity.”

Write it down. Carve it in stone if you want.

Americans who voted for this man, he will break your heart.

Just as you have broken mine.

trump-photo

Without a Name: When a Parent has Bipolar Depression

I knew something was seriously wrong when my mother told me that she had woken up late one night to find my father sitting in the living room, talking to some pennies that he had been collecting.

To be fair, there were a lot of other signs before this that made us think, What the hell is going on?

Like when he ominously thanked my mother for all she had done before slowly sinking to the bottom of my brother’s pool. (He eventually came back up.)

Like when he spent that one family reunion handing out tiny envelopes, each carefully labeled with a person’s name and their birth year. Each holding a penny stamped with that year.

Like when he suddenly became completely comatose for a week, refusing to eat or talk, but the doctor said that it wasn’t a stroke, and he should be fully aware of his surroundings.

Like when he insisted that my mother not talk in the house–because it was bugged and the FBI was listening to their every word.

We called it paranoia. We called it depression.

It all started with a sudden change in his career that catapulted him into a future where he could not see his identity.

Although he was still a husband. Although he was still a father. Although he was still, still, still. Once he lost his professional identity, the great unraveling began.

***

I remember walking into the room in our house where Dad had set up his laptop on a cheap table and called it his “office.” Our border collie, Gator, dutifully lay beside his feet. He said, “Sharon, I don’t know what I’m going to do. If I can’t do the bakery business… I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

It was 2006. For twenty-five years, he had been a bakery specialist for SuperValu grocery stores. But faced with increased competition, SuperValu pivoted its marketing strategy towards a higher-end retail model and launched a new produce company, W. Newell & Co.

His boss told him that he could also pivot in his career. He could abandon his twenty-five years of experience in bakery marketing for SuperValu and embrace a new career in produce marketing for W. Newell & Co…. Or…

“Well, you don’t want to know the other option… That’s what my boss told me. Those exact words, Sharon,” he pointed an accusative finger at me, the only person there who was listening.

I don’t remember what I said. Probably something like, “It will be okay. Maybe it’s a good opportunity to learn something new.”

But he just kept saying,

“I’m not a produce man. I’m a bakery man. Always been one. I don’t know what to do.”

Dad_2005

***

Looking back now, I can track my dad’s slow descent into madness. I can see how he withdrew and surrendered, year after year after year. I can see a constellation of strange interactions and responses.

I remember him walking up to an empty cash register at Wal-Mart and suddenly screaming, “I NEED HELP!!! HELP ME DOWN HERE!!!”

I remember my brother telling me that they barely got back into the country after a trip to Jamaica because Dad was “making a fuss” at the airport.

We didn’t know what to call it, so we called it moodinessWe called it angry old man syndrome.

When he started to walk with a strange gait, when he started to lose his facial expressions, when he started to go days without speaking, we began to understand that something else was going on.

The doctors called it Parkinson’s disease.

But we all knew that wasn’t enough.

More doctors added that it was bipolar depression.

It seemed fitting, but we still wondered: What is causing what? Will we find out there’s a third monster, just waiting in the wings? Why now? Why haven’t we seen this until now? Has he always had this and we just didn’t realize it?

Could losing his career really push this precariously balanced snowball down the cliff of his mind?

Or would he always have disintegrated this way, regardless of the stressors in his life?

***

In his last years of life, stranger things started to happen.

He called the sheriff on himself, insisting that he be arrested. He was convinced that the government was going to come and arrest him for not paying taxes on some Parent Plus loans that he had taken out for my sister (He had just received a notice that the loans had been forgiven because of his disability).

The government was coming for him. He just knew it. They would hunt him down–and he deserved it.

But when the sheriff arrived, he said that he couldn’t arrest my dad.

To which my dad screamed, “What does a guy have to DO to get ARRESTED around here?”

“You have to be a danger to yourself or others,” he explained.

“Well, I AM! I’m a dangerous person!”

“Are you going to hurt yourself?” the sheriff asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“If you were going to hurt yourself, what would you use?” he asked.

“A gun.”

My mother interrupted, “You don’t have a gun.”

“Then, a knife! I’d use a knife!”

God bless this sheriff, who mercifully took my mother aside and asked her if she wanted him to take him to a nearby psychiatric hospital. She said yes.

***

My mother. Oh, my mother.

The things this woman has plowed through. The pain that she’s endured over and over again.

Sometimes, there are no words.

***

Last summer, she passed out in a grocery store while shopping because her doctor had her on medication that caused extremely low blood pressure. I sat with her in the emergency room while they checked her out, making sure she was okay.

We told stories to pass the time. It was coming up on the one year anniversary of my father’s death, and she asked me how I was doing. The conversation stalled for a moment and she started laughing.

“What are you laughing about?” I asked.

She told me of a time she needed to drive my dad back to this psychiatric hospital, on one of his particularly manic days. It was mid-February in Minnesota, the high for the day averaging a balmy five degrees below zero.

My father was growing frustrated that they hadn’t already arrived at the hospital, so he started banging the dashboard of the car.

“Quit that!” my mother yelled at him. “You’ll set off the airbags.”

He hit the dashboard harder.

Then, God knows why, he rolled the window down and started making bird calls.

My mother cranked up the radio to drown out the sound of his bird calls. With the windows rolled down, freezing air pouring in, she could see strangers peering curiously into the chaotic scene of their small Ford Focus wagon.

Sitting in that emergency room, two years later, we laughed about this.

“How did you get through all of that?” I joked with her.

She smiled. “What else was there to do? I could cry about it or laugh. So I laughed about it. It was the only way to get through it.”

***

How do you love your father when he makes your mother miserable?

Where do you place the blame when you know it’s not his fault?

There were times when my mother would open up and tell me how bad it had gotten and I would hang up the phone and think, What if she leaves him? What will happen? Who will take care of him? 

Truth be told, part of me wanted her to leave him. Because he was that heavy stone, pulling her down in the dark, suffocating depths of psychosis. And my mother didn’t deserve that. Couldn’t she be released of her marriage vows if the partnership threatened her very well-being? Wasn’t marriage about bringing out the best in each other?

But then… who would take care of him?

Who?

I try to fathom what it was like for my mother to have been caught in this conflict every day.

To be married to someone who had become so completely different than the man she fell in love with.

To be caught in the tension between her love for his past self and her anger toward his present self.

To run through the narrow list of options every day and still come to the same conclusion:

I promised in sickness or in health.

For me, I couldn’t choose to end my connection to my father. He is half of my DNA. He is my nose, my chin, my dark features. He is my stubbornness, my sarcasm, my sentimentality, my impeccable memory, and my gift for storytelling. We are ISFJs, the practical workers who work with their “noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel” (as Dad would put it) and then quietly revel in a job well done.  

But it was different for my mother.

For my mother in those last years, showing love for my father was a painstaking, daily decision. One in which my father rarely even acknowledged and, on a bad day, even resented. She could have chosen to walk away after thirty-four years of marriage, chalking up their connection to nothing more than years and years of shared memories.

But she didn’t.

And that is how my mother has schooled me.

She showed me that love is more than fortifying the ship as it sails along on smooth winds. She showed me that love is also grabbing his hand when the ship crashes and refusing to let go when you see him sinking. Even as something dark and terrifying grabs hold of him and takes him down.

Sometimes, your love for your partner cannot be returned.

And when it can’t, your love needs to be strong enough to hold the both of you.

SCN_0046

***

It took me time to understand how sick my father really was. That’s the way it is with illnesses that alter behaviors, emotions, and moods. I think it would have been easier for our family to understand and adjust if some visible growth had invaded his body rather than this invisible force that laid waste to his mind.

We could have understood earlier that he wasn’t just “being difficult” or “acting funny.” We could have understood that a bad exchange with him wasn’t because we said something wrong or because he was suddenly a terrible person.

But it took years to diagnose him with bipolar depression. And without a name to call it, we just called it “Dad.” And for me, this is what hurt the most.

Because this wasn’t my dad.

***

I didn’t see my father many times in the last years of his life. They lived in Texas for a few years, and then, they moved to Minnesota. I lived in Ohio.

I wish I had known that 2006-2011 would be the last years that I could still have semi-normal conversations with him. Ones in which he would at least say something after I said something, even if it didn’t quite respond to what I said.

I wish there had been some kind of map at the beginning of his descent into mental illness. Some kind of markers along the way that read,

This is your last chance to tell your father you love him–and have him believe it.

Or This is the last time that you’ll see him smile without being prompted.

Or This is the last time that he’ll make a joke with you about politics.

But there were no markers. No maps.

There were just moments upon moments when we decided to draw close to each other or to move away.

To move away.

To move away.

Until he was gone.

***

I don’t tend to be a mystical person. But sometimes, I wonder.

This past March, I was making some cookies for St. Patrick’s Day with my daughter. We were using mint chips instead of chocolate chips and adding green food coloring. As I transferred each piping hot cookie from the sheet to the cooling rack, I could almost hear my dad crooning one of his favorite sayings as he would rub his hands together excitedly.

You’ve got to have the patience of Job, he would say, as if he were advising himself from giving in to his childlike temptations.

Baking was his life and I smiled as I thought, He would love to have seen this.

And then this song came up on Pandora:

Remember when our songs were just like prayers

Like gospel hymns that you called in the air

Come down, come down sweet reverence

Unto my simple house and ring… and ring…

It was Gregory Alan Isakov’s “Stable Song,” the same song that I used for the video that I created for my dad’s funeral.

I looked out into the kitchen, partially expecting to see him standing there. It was just a millisecond, I’m sure, but for that millisecond, I really had the expectation that he would be there when I turned around.

I would see him inching his way toward one of my cookies with his sneaky smile. I would tell him, Hands off!

But he would grab one anyway, shove it in his mouth, and then say, Heh? What was that? Did you say something?

Then I would laugh and poke him in his belly.

Then his hands, already in motion to grab a second cookie, would instinctively curl up to protect his middle, only to arrive too late, leaving me free to poke him mercilessly until he would twirl out of the kitchen, hands clutched around his belly.

For that moment, he was not only alive, but fully restored. There was no anger or paranoia. No delusions or mania. Instead, he was funny, charming, and tender. He was the man I always knew him to be.

And that was how I was caught in one of the paradoxes of grief: the simultaneous desire to laugh and cry.

Then the hurt all over again. Wishing that I had the superhuman ability to push into another dimension, where we are not caught between these two fundamental dichotomies of human biology and physics. Alive or dead. The past or the present.

I pray to God that this is true—that there is another possible reality, one in which life and time are suspended so that there can be no more loss or illness or deviation.

Only wholeness.

 

 

The Stories Without the Happy Endings

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We announced my first pregnancy to my husband’s family at a wake.

True story.

I was eleven weeks pregnant with my daughter when Doug’s grandmother passed away. Her nine children, many of her grandchildren children, and even some of great-grandchildren flew in from all over. We had been planning to tell everyone when I was twelve weeks pregnant but… Everyone is going to be here, he said.

So there, in the funeral home, we quietly shared the news as we greeted his aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews. I was worried that it would have been wholly inappropriate. That under the great loss of this matriarch, his family would be unable to feel happiness or excitement while deep in grief.

I could not have been more wrong.

I was hugged. Bear-hugged. Kissed on the cheeks.

***

In the midst of grief, gratitude is possible.

It will even save you.

We’d like to believe that emotions are like light switches. Anger and sadness on, happiness off. Some emotions are diametrically opposed like that. And if all emotions were like that, they would be easier to understand.

But some emotions are tricky.

Some emotions make odd companions at different times in our lives.

Pride. Despair.

Love. Grief.

Disappointment. Gratitude.

***

Emotions are more like a rich cast of characters, all vying for center stage. But it’s easy to forget this. When you’re caught up in grief, it’s easy to narrow the emotions that you believe that you’re allowed to feel.

Only the ones that feel appropriate.

Only the ones that you feel you won’t be judged for.

I think if we acknowledged this, we could save ourselves some of the guilt that comes with grief.

Of all people, mothers are acutely aware that the truth is much richer. Much more complex. Much more distressing. That in the midst of your grief, you can feel contentment. Even gratitude. And in moments of gratitude, you can feel resentment and frustration.

Walking with love teaches you that every moment is rich with emotions, even ones that you’d prefer not to acknowledge.

***

Not all stories have happy endings. We know that, of course. We happily acknowledge that fact when it doesn’t apply to us. But it’s harder to own a story that doesn’t have a happy ending. Harder to admit.

Harder to make it your own.

But what if we could? What if we could fold the abnormal into the normal? What if our stories didn’t need to have happy endings or silver linings?

What if our stories could be just what they are?

Sometimes joyous. Sometimes painful. Sometimes redemptive. Sometimes humiliating.

What if we could believe that all of our stories–happy or unhappy–are worthy of being told?

Maybe if we normalized the stories that don’t end happily, the ones that don’t end with an “it’s all worth it,” we could feel less blind-sided when we are struck by tragedy. Maybe we would feel less singled out when we are affected by tragedy. Maybe we wouldn’t feel like we are the focus of God’s wrath or indifference, or however we decide to frame our loss.

If more of us can talk about the hard stuff, it becomes more bearable.

Not because it’s less painful–but because we can see that we’re not walking this path alone.

Dealing with loss is more bearable when we can see that the words Why me? are so misguided. Why me? are the words that we say when we believe our stories have never been lived by anyone else.

Why me? is a lonely phrase. It reduces everything to a simple, defined concept. It is heavy and narrow, like a brick. And the more you say it, the higher you build the walls around you. The higher the wall, you reason, the safer you’ll feel.

But a higher wall doesn’t make you feel safer, does it?

The only thing a higher wall does is keep you from seeing outside.

And what a sight it is.

 

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