A Mental Health Advocate Uncovers Her Own Internalized Stigma: my journey toward healing

Over the last several months, have you been continually worried or anxious about a number of events or activities in your daily life? “No.” What good would worrying do? Worrying is for the weak and undisciplined. 

Do you feel bad about yourself — that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down? “No.” Failure is obviously not an option. 

Do you feel tired or like you have little energy for things you need or want to do? “No.” It doesn’t matter if I have energy, I must do all the things regardless of how I feel. 

My doctor sets her computer down and gently asks if it’s possible I’m assessing my mental health against my husband’s. This catches me off guard and I look up, feeling guilty. She leans forward, compassionate but resolute as she says, “You know, he doesn’t set the standard. Your experiences and needs are valid, even if his are more intense. You deserve peace too. You can’t do this alone, nobody could.”

My eyes fill with tears and I look back at the tile floor, mumbling something about how hard it is to tell what is normal after being in crisis for so long. I minimize my own needs because I can’t imagine how I could handle one more diagnosis, one more issue, one more thing to become an expert about before I can find relief. But sometimes it catches up with us, no matter how hard we try to shove it down.

adult black and white darkness face

Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas on Pexels.com


A year ago on an ordinary school night I was tucked into bed with my kids, reading a pile of storybooks. All of the sudden my arm started to go limp, my sense of reality slowed, and my heart began pounding explosively loud in my ears. I felt like I was going to throw up, had cold sweats, gasped for breath like an elephant was on my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack. I thought I was dying.

8 hours and a dozen tests later an ER doctor pronounced me perfectly healthy. “It’s amazing how the mind and body work together.” He said. “Even though you have all the symptoms of a heart attack, your heart is working perfectly well. Sometimes our brains do this in response to stress.”

“But I wasn’t stressed,” I protested. “I was relaxed, cozy with my kids in bed. It hadn’t even been a stressful day!” He nodded and explained that stress triggers a release of cortisol into our blood where it builds up over time and can lead to these massive events that occur randomly, without warning. He told me to take it easy, let my body recover, and follow up with my doctor.

It took three days before I felt like myself again. I was baffled and embarrassed. Sure, our life was stressful. Being a full time caregiver and advocate for my husband in his mental illness while also caring for our preschool twins was taking a toll. Yes, we had recently lost the support of our faith community. No, we didn’t have family nearby or the resources to pay for help. But I was managing just fine! I prided myself on keeping our little family going, on attending to every need. “I can do this” was the mantra that got me through the worst days. I’m doing it. I’m doing it.

The follow up appointment with my doctor left me feeling even more defeated. She suggested I do a better job of prioritizing my own needs – sleep, eating healthy foods, making time for movement. It seemed laughable. My kids still woke up at least once a night, my grad student husband has life-halting anxiety attacks at least twice a week, and we were surviving on whatever I could quickly throw together for meals. How was I supposed to make time for all of this extra stuff? “You just have to. You’re carrying so much. I know it’s hard, but you need to take it easier. Your body needs rest.” Yeah, I know. But HOW?

Over the last year I’ve done my best to lean into this intense self-care regimen. I enrolled my kids in full day prek, prioritized early morning workouts, allowed myself to explore this writing dream, found a few new favorite cookbooks and threw myself into preparing exciting new healthy dinners several times each week. I got to bed earlier and said no to more things, set boundaries in relationships that were doing me harm. But the symptoms persisted. Every other week or so I would feel the fluttering in my chest before a heaviness moved in, keeping me awake all night or immobilizing me all day. I tried to breathe through it, journal through it, reason myself through it. It was a lot to manage but it was sort of working.

Until it wasn’t. I woke up one night this winter in a full episode, my heart beating wildly and my body so seized up I couldn’t move. The next morning I finally called for another follow up with my doctor and a few days later found myself sitting in the exam room, spilling out the story of the last year: all the things I’ve tried, all the plates I’ve kept spinning, how defeated I feel. She listened carefully until I finished, making notes murmuring affirmations. Then she smiled and asked if we could do a mental health screening.

Oh great. I thought. Now she thinks I’m crazy. My internal dialogue swung between guilt about my own stigmatized thoughts and a desperate need to preserve the story I’ve been telling myself: that I am the healthy one, dependable, strong, unshakable.

I didn’t know what to say so I just nod, keeping my eyes fixed on the floor.

As she asks each question it seems to hang between us, suspended in the deafening silence. I bat them away with emotionless one-word answers until she pauses and gives that speech about my mental health being entirely independent from Drew’s. More tears.

She continues, “There’s a medication I would like you to think about trying. It’s very safe, and when it works properly it helps people to feel like they have that extra bit of head space, a little less weight on their shoulders. I know it can feel like a big step, but I really think it could help you.”

And she was right. It took me two months and another massive panic attack before I was  brave enough to try it, but since then it has truly changed everything. For the first time in years I feel like I can breathe again. I can see beyond the immediate crisis cloud and hear what my body is telling me. I am so grateful.

The other day a friend was telling me about a mental health training she had at work. “Did you know,” she said, “that people wait, on average, 10 years before seeking medication for their mental illness?”

I did not. TEN YEARS? It sounds ridiculous – who would wait ten years for medication that could so easily improve their lives?

Then I thought, oh yeah. That’s me.  

Sometimes stigma isn’t intentional antagonism about mental illness. Sometimes stigma is just the quiet lie that we aren’t miserable enough to deserve care. That our experiences don’t matter. That as long as someone else is worse off, we should stop complaining and soldier on.

But it’s not true.

You deserve health.

Peace.

Good sleep.

Support.

Freedom from anxiety, physical pain, intrusive thoughts.

It doesn’t matter if they happen every day, or only once in a blue moon.

You deserve health.

We all do.

We cannot de-stigmatize mental illness until we learn to honor the connection between social, psychological, physical, spiritual, and emotional health. If we lack language to name our complex experiences, how can we pursue health for ourselves or others? One of the most important mental health practices we can adopt is simply to honor our own experiences, feelings, and needs. When we are tuned into our bodies we can more easily notice when things shift, when we begin to feel a bit frayed, when we need help. And, in turn, we can support those we love without over extending or denying our own needs.

The spectrum of mental unhealth to mental wellness is wide and we move back and forth across it day by day, season by season. Just as we would be outraged if a doctor turned away a patient with an infection or rash and told them to suck it up and come back when they were totally incapacitated, we should be equally concerned with the wounds of our mental health; adjusting our lives and seeking support and treatment to keep all of the parts of ourselves in balance as we pursue health and wholeness in every area of our lives.

I was so afraid to acknowledge my own decaying mental health because I thought it would mean a loss of control, accepting defeat, disqualifying me from the role of caregiver and advocate for my husband. Instead, I have found that learning language for my own mental health experiences has helped me to connect more deeply in my marriage and allowed me to better advocate for my own needs, validating them alongside, rather than in conflict, with his own.

I still occasionally experience the heart palpitations and fatigue of minor panic attacks. But now, instead of powering through or beating myself up for “failing”, I thank my body for showing me what it needs. And I tell someone. Because nobody can fight this battle alone, and because I’m learning to see that our inherent codependency is actually a really beautiful gift.

two people holding each other s hands

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

Standard

A Letter to the Church on Mother’s Day (Guest Post at Spiritual Parent)

One night a couple years ago, I was in the middle of our bedtime saga—trying to get dinner put away and my twin toddlers wrestled into pajamas so we could begin the  battle that would end, inevitably, with me sitting on the floor between two wiggly toddler bodies, a hand on each back, patting slowly while the white noise machine and the Moana soundtrack drowned out every thought.

I was marching my troops towards the bathroom, a slimy kid under each arm, when I heard my phone buzz on the table. It was from my pastor.

“Would you like to write a mother’s day prayer for the service tomorrow?”

Mother’s Day. Already?

I winced, thinking of the card I hadn’t even managed to get sent off to my own mother. A toddler wriggled free as I dashed off a quick “Sure! I’d love to!” Because I did want to. Because I grew up in a church that barred women from speaking from the pulpit. Because even though this church didn’t restrict female voices, we rarely heard from them. Because our church had a reputation for caring for women and families, but only because young mothers did the lion’s share of the caregiving for the community. Because I had strong opinions about all of it.

The dinner dishes would have to wait.

Click here to read the rest of this post at the Spiritual Parent. 

Standard

Resurrection

It’s gray and misty outside today. Sometimes rain feels fresh and cleansing but this is the cold, sleety, spitting kind. I’m at a coffee shop but I want to be at home under a big heavy blanket with my kids tucked in beside me. I want to sleep. One of my most beloved spiritual mothers lies unconscious in the hospital. Good Friday was yesterday, Easter tomorrow, and I feel the expansive silence of this day. It yawns into the damp corners of my home and my mind.

I’m remembering Easter Sunday in the church of my childhood. The dozens of lilies circling the stage and the way the pastor greeted our pastel-clad congregation, “He is Risen!” and we’d shout, “He is risen indeed!” A full orchestra led us in the hallelujah chorus, and the pews emptied as men and women crushed in upon the choir to join them for the four part harmony.

For those of us who struggle to find a faith home, to find our part in the choir, to make ourselves presentable, Easter is another lonely holiday. I miss the old certainties during this season more than any other time of the church year. I miss the easy joy, shouting the refrain, singing the triumphal hymns without a flood of questions about what the hell they even mean or how this is good news for the poor and oppressed in this here and now world. I miss the comfort of community where everyone mostly agrees on mostly everything – biblical interpretations, politics, parenting. Nobody thinks about these messy, complicated questions. Nobody wonders what Jesus was actually like, or what he would think of our celebrations. It’s a day of victorious shouts and scalloped potatoes, why ruin that with unanswerable questions?

But it comes with a cost, doesn’t it? The millstone of atonement theology – praying to thank Jesus for dying for my sins, apologizing that he had to, singing “it was my sin that held him there” while I imagine Jesus bloody and limp because I didn’t empty the dishwasher the first time my mom asked, because I shoved my brother, because I had a crush on a boy and daydreamed about being kissed.

It makes a lot of sense that so many of us who were whipped into church submission as 8-year-olds grow up to be the people who jeer “ALL lives matter”, who want to purge our nation of asylum seekers, who scream about bathroom bills. Jesus was, after all, only turned over for execution after the mobs, whipped to religious fervor by the men in power, screamed for his crucifixion.

It’s insidious the way we’ve retold the story of Jesus. He’s been weaponized, a tool for shaming children and adults alike into unquestioning submission. He’s been sanitized from a more aloof Shane Claiborne type into someone who would have been welcomed at a mega church on Sunday morning, someone charmingly edgy who has “a past” (nothing too scandalous), someone who has been carefully groomed to stay theologically “on message”.

We’re told the takeaway, the “good news”, is that we have hope now, now that he’s dead and raised to life. He conquered the grave so you can live forever! Don’t worry about what that means, they say. It’s a wonderful mystery, they say. Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father. Yes, his literal right hand. In heaven, where you’ll have a literal body/no, no body, it’s a place for the soul/we’ll get new bodies. We will/won’t work and learn and marry and have families/new families/we’ll be reunited with old loved ones and live happily every after. We won’t want relationships/won’t want new children/ won’t have sex/we’ll be satisfied in Christ. (ew) You will/won’t get to meet your dead baby/dog/grandma. You won’t want any of that because all you will want is God. There’s really no point in worrying about it. What you need to know is that you should be hell-bound, but thanks to Jesus/predestination/the sinner’s prayer you’re not, and God no longer hates your guts because he murdered his only son for you, to fix the problem of the evil he allowed/created, so just be grateful/trust the bible/don’t ruin Easter dinner with these questions, dammit.

And yet, here I am, 8 or 10 years into the questions and I’m coming back around on this story. On Jesus. On the gospel. I can finally see that Jesus’s cosmic-breaking-in was  for those of us on the margins, those of us that can’t find hope in the answers of the religious elite. Less Gospel Coalition heretic hunting, more college students hunger striking on behalf of their food insecure friends.

The hope of Jesus is the breaking through of the cosmic Christ. The end of the us vs them binary.  In Christ we learn to see the Divine in our sister, our neighbor, and our enemy as we do in ourselves. In Christ we learn to spend our privilege for those without it and to center their stories in our communities, working towards justice together.

I imagine Jesus shaking his head at us, not because we haven’t evangelized enough souls out of hell or because we are “sinful”, but because we’re so distracted by all our rules that we completely miss the work God is already doing in our midst.

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he would say,

“She has called me to give hope to the poor. Yes, just the poor. You wealthy folks are going to have a mighty hard time understanding the kingdom of heaven.

“She has stirred in me a passion to free women and children trapped in the sex trade or in homes with abusive partners and fathers. Her spirit guides us to free the children and their parents held like animals in cages at your borders.

“She insists we ensure proper representation and fair trials for Black and Brown men incarcerated in your evil criminal ‘justice’ system.

“Our great healer waves the banner of healthcare for all, pointing out how ridiculous it is that a civilization advanced enough to develop life-saving medications and surgeries to heal the sick lacks the ethic to actually heal them without demanding payment.

“Most importantly, and hear me on this because y’all struggle: our Divine Mother calls for the centering of the stories of all who have been stepped on and used and tossed aside in your relentless pursuit of a bargain and a bottom line.

“I have come to proclaim a year of jubilee because you thick headed people need a hard reset. Forgive debts, turn over industry to the people, marry, care tenderly for the children and the aged, focus on the needs of the poorest among you.

“Then you will know the kingdom of heaven.”

The government was angry. The religious leaders were incensed. The crowd was full of fear and their imaginations could not see the imprint of the Divine in this vagabond.

So they murdered him.

Not quietly, but publicly. A warning to any others who would dare follow in his steps. I’m not sure what I believe about Jesus’ divinity or his knowledge about what was to come, but he certainly could have run away. He could have fled like his parents did 30 years before, living as refugees while the king had a price on his head. But no, not this time. He submitted to their anger, their fear, their evil. He hung on a cross, a bodily witness to the stone cold hearts of men.

His disciples hid.

The women waited.

And then the women (the women!) told the story, the story of the boy who lived.

I don’t know what the resurrection actually, literally was, and that has bothered me so much for so many years. But even so, I feel this story in my bones. I believe with my whole heart that evil, angry, powerful people do not win. Love abides. It flourishes in the weak, in the forgotten. Perhaps the Resurrection was both an infusion of hope in our desperate humanity and a tugging of the edges of our timeline, a cosmic bend away from our fear-fueled destruction.

A new life in the way of Love.

Resurrection.

macro photography of yellow flowers during sunset

Photo by Tim Eiden on Pexels.com

 

Standard

Selah, child of light

For years I have said that miscarrying our tiny Selah was the beginning of the end of faith for me. In the days after that very worst day, family and friends reached out with words of comfort, with meals, with stories of their own loss. Tangible, vulnerable acts of kindness that made me feel less alone. But there were also family and friends and trusted mentors who felt it was important that I understand that no child is promised to heaven except those that God predestines. In fact, they said, it was prideful to claim an assurance of grace for my child – who was I to know the will of God? They said I should find comfort in God who is “in control”, who leads us into suffering for our sake, or for his glory, or to teach us to trust him. It felt like a threat. If he wants to create a child to die in your womb and then condemn that tiny soul to hell, who are you to question him? Maybe he did it precisely because you are the sort who would be brazen enough to call foul. 

The sentiment itself wasn’t shocking. I had always believed this theology, I had even offered those words to friends in their own suffering. But something changed in the sharpness of my grief. Ideas that had once given me comfort now failed because they made God look like a monster who delighted in inflicting suffering or creating and then murdering unborn children and destining their souls for hell, all in some bid to bring himself more glory.  Okay crazy nightmare hitler god. At least hitler was finite. This is the all knowing, all loving, all powerful God, and this is how he uses his power? This is goodness? This is love?

These were the first questions of my deconstruction out of reformed fundamentalism, made possible by the life and death of our dear first daughter. Deconstruction is, itself, a kind of death. An end. But as the years have passed I have begun to see her brief existence as more than just the tipping point out of a toxic faith. She was like a portal to the non-dualities of this universe. Through her I gained eyes to see the fear and oppression that was keeping me in line with this frightening theology. Through her I found the courage to imagine that, if there was a God, a Divine Being, a movement of Love in the universe, it would not, could not, delight in inflicting suffering on human beings or burning tiny fetuses eternally in hell.

Selah taught me how to wonder, how to fight against fear, how to sit with grief and heartache without pithy answers or submission to a dictator’s will. I don’t know if I ever would have found my way out of that toxic theology without her. She led me, with her short life, through all the rules and gates meant to protect God from our humanity. She showed me that God is not a king in a walled off fortress. Love cannot be contained.

I have gained momentum in running after her, following her small frame towards glimpses of the Divine in the wilderness beyond the gates, but it hasn’t been easy. The blinding flood lights and the hum of fluorescent bulbs that keep every doubt or shadowed thought at bay distorted my view of what laid beyond. The light of certainty illuminates all the carefully laid doctrinal walls between the desperate within and the desperate without. For so many years I was so sure that they were right, that God could only exist in this pure architectural wonder. I left timidly, with backwards steps, tripping my way down the front steps and across the grounds. I told myself that I just needed perspective, perhaps a new group or guide could show me how to find my way back in, back to God, back to the community I loved.  The further we ventured, the dimmer the light, the light I thought was God, became. I grew angry, then weary, then hopeless.

But then, at the edges of human answers, I stopped. It felt like the small soul that was tugging me out there was trying to turn my face, to finally look ahead rather than back at what was. By now the fortress was nothing but a dim glow on the horizon and my eyes were finally adjusting to the dark. It was so quiet. But then I turned and found the whole universe stretched out before me, before us, a resplendent tapestry of light and void. It pulsed with hope, with song, and I could finally see the shimmering movement of Love in and among all beings, across time. 

I fell into it, and it caught me, like a child safe in her mother’s arms.


Thank you, Selah-girl, for showing me the way.  For giving me the anger and the courage to escape the oppressive ‘certainties’ so I could experience the delight of true wonder and mystery and awe. Your name means “pause, reflect deeply” and is found at the end of many lines of psalmic poetry. It came to me in those vulnerable days curled up on the couch as you faded from my form, and at the time all I could reflect on was my helplessness and sorrow. I am so grateful for the journey we have been on from that place. Together we have lived into your name fully, always circling back, always with more questions. I never would have had the courage without you, my beloved girl. Thank you leading me home.

Standard

selah, star child

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


March 30, 2017

The memory of exhausting  emotion and then throbbing, empty pain is all I have of you, little one. Elation, then suffocation. You were but a wisp of a thing, sliding on through from this world to some other. Stardust to stardust. (I read that this is true for all of us. 93% of our mass is stardust- matter changing form but unchanging in substance across space-time. It is infinitely more hopeful to think of you this way than as a clot of cells contracted out and washed down the toilet in a little basement apartment.)

Tonight I planted seeds for our little vegetable garden and marveled at the life and nourishment that will come from these tiny pods of possibility. When your life ended you were already much larger than they – the cheerful pregnancy websites say you were the size of a blueberry, with eye color and eye lids and internal organs. We were beginning to be tethered together by our placenta, if I could have held onto you. Oh, all that you could have been if I could have held onto you, sweet girl. 

My inestimable star child. One day my body will be reduced to ashes, scattered or flushed or swept away into this world or some other. Some day, we will be as one. It is not so lonely when I think of this, you and I becoming soil for growing things, life-sustaining molecules ingested by wild creatures who, as Wendell Berry says, “Do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” Wise ones.

Parenthood has given me fear that I did not expect. I do not fear for you, Selah. I trust you are more where you are than you could be here. This world could not hold you. But the longer it holds your brother and sister and father and I and all those we love, the more I grieve the end. There is a wild and terrifying man and many like him sowing seeds of fear and greed that are already taking root in irreversible ways. What is there to do but sow our own seeds of hope? Of life? Will you nurture them, Selah girl?

I feel the elephant weight of mother’s guilt confessing this, but sometimes I feel the relief of only two children. Even as I carry my grief, you are one less child to worry into the certainty treacherous future. In my lifetime or certainty Rowan and Evelyn’s, there will be water wars and major weather events disrupting growing seasons and floods and the death of marine life and more animals will become endangered before disappearing altogether. I feel powerless. But you are already doing wild life-sustaining work – the bits of star energy of your cells nourishing the ground or water or comprising the very cells of the creatures that struggle along on this beautiful, dying planet.

Thank you for your gift, Selah.

I carry you always in my heart.

You are life.

You are death.

You are neither life nor death, for you straddled the space between.

night sky

You are stardust.

 

Standard

Selah, Like Water

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


March 30, 2016

First-born daughter of mine.
I imagine you
maybe towheaded like your brother
with a mess of curls like your sister
wild life in your eyes and mischief on your mind.

I picture you, big sister
helping and giggling and playing and teaching.
Adoring. Doting. Smooching.

I can see you, sweet girl, proudly reaching milestones before your younger siblings.

Dressing yourself. Potty training. Fetching diapers and pj’s and being just a little bit bossy as you tell them where to sit and not to talk while you ‘read’ them their favorite board books.

But of course, that was not – could not be.
You were and then you were not.
And then, before you could have been ready for this world anyway,
there they were.
Here, in our arms.
And you were not.
And so, in your death you made room for new life.

I wonder, was it because you came first that their budding bundles of cells
could burrow deep enough into my womb? Because you slid right through,
helpless babe being washed out, they could live?

I think I will forever carry the weight of that question.
The weight of all that I could not be for you.

Sometimes I think of the mom I would be if I got to mother you first.
Just the two of us, learning to nurse and play and grow together.
Perhaps I would be a bit more patient or calm or creative.
Perhaps I would have found a rhythm sooner. Hosted more. Been a better friend and spouse.
Or, perhaps I would be even more overwhelmed, mothering the miraculous 3 babies conceived 6 months apart.
Perhaps I would feel guilty for all that I could not be for you with two new newborns in my arms.

Selah, you were like water.
Flooding us with greatest joy and then deepest sorrow.
Washing all the way through until we were dry again.
No trace of you save for the carved out hollow space in our hearts.

But see, here is the beauty of it. The beauty of the 3rd year of grief.
Now I see how each hour of grief spent in that space has worn it smooth.
Now I invite others there.
In the space that could not hold you, I can hold others.
When we weep, we widen the walls of this memory-place.
Because in this broken world there is no end to grief, but also no end to love.

The peace I have this year on your birth-and-death day,it feels like a little arm swung around my shoulders, the way that kids do
when they lean in to tell you a secret or a silly joke
and their breath tickles your ear
and you smell their sweaty hair
and feel something sticky on their fingers
and everything feels safe and whole and true
and there’s nothing you’d rather do in all the world but be in this moment, giggling together.

You, dear daughter, wherever you are in the cosmos:
In infinity, in tomorrow.
I hold you in my heart.
You are to me a voice of wisdom and love, little one.
A reminder of the fragility and intensity of life.
A reminder to slow and savor.
A reminder to lean in and laugh.
A reminder to love fiercely and freely.
A reminder that sorrow and hope are meant to be woven together,
hemming us all in as we live with fuller joy.

But I miss you, my love. Oh how I miss you.

Standard

Carrying Lost Hearts

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


March 25, 2015

Tuesday will be two years since we lost our little girl. Selah was an unexpected Lenten mystery in our lives, one I will never understand. She launched us into giddy parenthood and bottomless grief in one swift week. When I began miscarrying on Easter Sunday, the last bits of my feeble faith crumbled.

I will never forget the hours I spent in the shower that week, crumpled on the floor sobbing as I contracted and bled out what should have been my daughter, passing the clots that should have sustained and nourished her. When the water ran cold Drew would bundle me back into bed and we would shiver into each other, exhausted. I felt so dry when the tears stopped, parched for words and life and hope.

It is hard to talk about a lost child. I can’t remember the last time I cried for our Selah. Life with Evelyn and Rowan is so consuming, weeks will pass and I haven’t even thought about her. We’ll be out grocery shopping and as I’m bagging up some spinach a woman will walk up and coax a wave and a giggle from R&E and gush “oh twins! Are they your first? What a blessing! And look, one of each, now you’re done!” Ladies in the grocery story don’t mean to make young moms cry about their never-to-be-born child, so we put on brave faces and lie.

I don’t know if we’re done having children. I don’t even know if we’re going to survive today, growing another human is the farthest thing from my mind. But so is swearing off them all together. And one of each? Why do people say that, as if the genders of children are limited edition collectibles that depreciate in value if you have duplicates?

But she doesn’t mean any of that. She’s just forgotten what it feels like to be young and overwhelmed with needy children. She just wants to be friendly. I look at her kind eyes and stutter a reply and then she says they are beautiful and “God bless” and wheels her cart towards the deli. And there I am, plastic bag in hand, swept up momentarily in the impossibility of life and death and our ability to mourn and move on and mourn over and over again.

And then Evelyn is chewing on the index card that was my grocery list and ink is smudged around her lips and Rowan is howling because he wants paper too and so I’m digging in my purse for the Tupperware of snacks that will get us through to the checkout line. All thoughts of new life and motherhood and death are crowded out by the realities of my needy children and the clock ticking down to naptime.

And it really isn’t fair. There’s no good time to ask about the child I lost at 8 weeks. Even if you and I were sitting in my living room and we were drinking tea while the children played quietly and peacefully at our feet, if you asked about what I’ve been thinking about my Selah I would be overcome by the guilt of being a woman who hasn’t thought about her dead daughter since the last time someone reminded me in a grocery store. I would stumble for words and feel the need to try and sound like I think a devoted grieving mother should, but I would come up empty.

Selah flung open the door to my motherhood and then she left me standing awkwardly on the stoop, waiting to be let in. When Rowan and Evelyn came along I was suddenly shoved through the door with such force that I spent the next many months stumbling for footing. Now, as we round the corner on their first year and the dust is settling I’m finally finding some brain-space to feel all that we have become together. Because of Selah but also without her.

Dear friends, there are more people in your life who have lost children than you would expect. There are brave women who have labored and birthed beautiful babies and had to say goodbye to them the same day. There are mothers and fathers and grandparents who carry the broken hearts of parents who have outlived their children, taken too soon. Always too soon. There are family members and friends, people who were in our life one day and gone the next, leaving us in the void. We all know grief in some way, the weight of the world cannot be shouldered alone.

When grief is fresh, carry it together. When it rushes in and out again unexpectedly, accept and acknowledge it without guilt or fear, as much as is possible. If grief abides, do not be alone for too long. Remind others that you are hurting and let them stumble along beside you. It’s the best we can do, to offer our open hands and beating hearts in love for another. We do it for the ones we’ve lost and the ones we still have. We do it because love was meant to be given, to flow freely in the way of grace. We do it because we are alive and this is hope. This is the way we push back against death and press into life.

My faith is still in shambles, scattered and splintered like a shipwreck on a rocky shore. But I am picking my way through the debris when the tide is low and the sun is warm and, somehow, I am finding hope in these smashed bits. I’m grateful that whatever can be resurrected from this mess will always bear the marks of my heartache, that Selah’s story is forever my story too.

I carry her in my heart.

 

selah's memorial

The view from our little memorial site for Selah on Lake Ontario.

Standard