Saturday, August 11, 2018

Valuing Family

We speak differently to and at and about families depending on whether they have children or not. (We also speak very differently to and about families depending on how many children they have...). Case in point:

Would you ever tell a mother dealing with toddler craziness that she's just too focused on the negative stuff and she needs to find a hobby?

Would you tell the postpartum mother of an infant that she chooses to focus on what she doesn't have instead of seeing all the blessings in her world?

Would you tell a mother of school-aged children that she obsesses too much about what's wrong with her family and needs to focus on other things outside herself?

Would you tell the mother of teenagers, who is struggling with their hormonal feelings and all that comes with them, to just let go and let God?

No. Flat no to all of those, right? If you said yes to any of those... you aren't the family/friend who is valued for your unsolicited advice. You make the mother feel worse... and furthermore you project a giant deflector shield when your family/friend reaches out for support and solidarity if you refuse to be compassionate in those moments. You may be present, but your compassion is not free.

We do these things to infertile women constantly. How many surgeries until you give up? Why don't you just: relax, go on vacation, adopt, stop obsessing, stop being a hypochondriac, find a hobby, focus on your husband, stop complaining?

You see, childless women somehow deserve to be diagnosed by you, not simply loved in their sadness and difficulties. We tell childless people awful things, often when we can't relate to their struggles, and then we move on from their lives and slot into family and friendship interactions that we can better relate to... because it's either more comfortable OR because we perceive that we've fixed the childless person's problem already and there's no reason to linger on the topic. They are just in a different phase of life, you tell yourself. That's all. They apparently deserve to be put in a box and dismissed.

The childless remain childless in the wake of your demeaning, insulting, diagnostic, uninformed, well-meaning advice. The only thing that we ensure by talking AT them instead of entering into true compassion with them is that they will feel worse and be assured that they are as alone and unsupported as they feared. How could their vocation, equal in dignity to yours but never changing in obvious outward ways like your life with children does, be less than?

God never taught us that everyone would be gifted a child in this life. He also never told us to diagnose or dismiss or talk down to the childless. And he certainly didn't tell us to judge motherhood by how many children it produces.

We are a fickle people, us Christians. We want everything to fit neatly in a box... and yet it rarely does. When we encounter people who suffer in any way, we need to remember that our job is to listen, provide comfort where possible, and be compassionate. It's not our job to play doctor, philosopher, and parent the childless. Their hurt may never be diminished in this lifetime, but they are not less than you and your brood of 10. Furthermore, you communicate that they ARE less than you and your brood of any size when you create distance. It isn't anyone's job to interupt God's plan for the childless couple's and tell them that they lingered on the 'having children thing long enough and it's time to move on'. That conversation with God doesn't include you just like your family growth and God's plan for your life isn't dependent on the opinion of the childless. It's more than not helpful though - it imparts an injury. Maybe you bounce back from such injuries quickly, but I assure you the childless rarely do.

Silence often speaks judgments you don't intend, as you likely know from your own unique interpersonal struggles that aren't within your control to overcome. What is your silence communicating to the childless in your life? That you are just too busy and that children are the most important part of your family? God didn't teach us that either.

If family matters at all, the existence of it in couple form needs to be given the divine respect that God imparts unto it with the sacrament that created it. And maybe the next time someone tells you what to do in a painful situation in which you are grieving... you will remember that being placated with dismissiveness in the form of advice or a layperson diagnosis would never make you feel better. You aren't loving someone by ignoring them, judging them, dismissing them, diagnosing them, or otherwise acting superior to their station.... but you are diminishing your own vocation.

Do you deprioritize childless people and treat them as less than? Do you judge motherhood by the number of children she mothers? These seem like things you will want to bring to the feet of Jesus. They aren't part of your vocation or a legitimate manifestation of your Christianity. You will find no judgment from me either way...I'm still over here trying to conceive hope in any form I can.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Life Now Where It's Always Winter

You sit across from me, hair in a messy bun, talking enthusiastically as you wait for your friends. 

It's all about sleepless nights, people who are judgey, and hoping your pre-ordered drink will soon arrive.

You actively try to bond over your toddler exhaustion, being asked the same question a million times, and talking about how childless people could never understand. Of course I must get it... my hair is in a haphazard bun and I am clinging to my coffee like it's an oracle. You'd recognize a mom anywhere, you tell me.

My nights are indeed sleepless. People certainly are judgey. And my friends are also yet to arrive. I nod into the ether of your oblivion, and it encourages you further. 

You wax on about how much room your littles take up, how loud they are, getting no time alone, and how picky their little tastebuds are. Those assertions are followed by loud rhetorical questions seeking agreement and booming laughter. Amirite?! Followed by how much you needed this, and how nice it is to run into someone who understands.

My arms are empty. Not just here, but always. It's not something I will share now that you've convinced yourself otherwise in this little cafe. I don't want to make you feel bad by sharing my hidden misery. I can't process how my suffering looks like motherhood to you. I want to make some witty comment that clears the air. But the emptiness I feel inside wells up. I excuse myself to the restroom. Text my friends that I can't make it. Cancel my food order on the way back. And politely wish you well on your night out with the girls. I'm in the wrong place. 

Being alone is the problem, I tell myself back at home. Being alone is the answer. Being alone is neither! Sometimes I choose it though. It always chooses me. It's no one's fault, I convince myself. Exhaustion sets in as the sun rises again.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sandwich generation redefined

As the anniversary of the first time my dad met me came again this year, so did the first anniversary of the last time I saw him. And the legacy followed with meeting/losing my daughter before that.

When I hear the phrase "sandwich generation" -- I don't think of it in the classic sense anymore. Because for me, three generations collide in meeting and passing on the same day. The day I took my first breath. And I'm the one still breathing. 

So I get a sandwich for that....

No, that's not what I mean. I couldn't help myself though. Persisting in breathing seems a bit of an accomplishment when I think of all those who aren't here to join me today. 13 loved ones from 2016 alone are missing. Breathing is good.

Don't let anyone tell you that surviving isn't good enough. Thriving is for those times when you can move beyond winning at breathing. Those times haven't been this past year. I'm ok with a trophy for what I accomplished and didn't accomplish. Breathing is where I place first. Maybe only tied with heart-still-beating?

When I write these thoughts, I want you to know that I thoroughly mean them with every joy I can imagine infused into them. I'm not writing after all this time with any air of desperation. Or seeking your pity. I tend to get rather private when I need to process grief. It takes a while for me to tread water and process and come back to interacting. I've learned this about myself. 

It's a good thing. Just like God. He's good all the time. Especially as I find myself pondering that goodness while breathing. That's where I get to encounter Him right now. 

And this mess? This mess is the lens through which I get see Him. I'll take the view I've been given. And if I have fewer words because I choose to embrace the path -- so be it. I never considered myself much of a leader or a blogger. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Life is a Trigger

You may have noticed that it's been winter all year here at Conceiving Hope.

Sometimes life is permeated with a grey, foggy haze that doesn't lift. That's the best way to describe 2016. The death of a parent. The death of another child. The death of an aunt. The death of a friend. A new diagnosis - this time a disease brought on by pregnancy itself. And so winter wasn't coming, it just never left.

I'm mostly still back at January 22nd, even now. Remembering every bit of that morning before I knew my world had changed.... remembering a peace that was a lie. Freshly fallen snow that morning, a hot cup of tea, a slow start to the day, and time spent soaking it in. Yet far away, the loss of a parent in those same moments. It's strikes me even now how eerily silent it was that morning. Hauntingly so, as crystals formed, and snow flakes settled and everything in the world was frozen for a moment...

Grief is a strange sensation. Like the snow that morning, it is mostly silent - but discernibly there. And after the snow, it's even like the feel of sticky morning dew on bare skin in springtime. Or like a thick, hot breath inwards on a particularly humid summer evening. Or that first crisp scent of Autumn in the air that catches your nose.

They are all so distinct, aren't they? Familiar, yet new. Recognizable, yet different. There, yet not really. The deafening quiet of that snowy morning and particularly the change of the seasons this year are some of the most poignant to me still, as I think back on the loss. The world kept going, but I did not. And loss upon loss, I became numb. I didn't even keep up motions in my numbness. I just was. Or am. Or something...

In 2016, all of life has seemed a trigger. Maybe it's hope delayed? Or maybe this is some Phoenix metaphor where I have to be burned to ashes before some dramatic rebirth. Perhaps my Hashimoto's is conjuring up exactly that scenario. I'm not sure, nor does it really matter much which it is. I just am. Or whatever is left of me, anyway.

Losing a parent is so very different than losing a child. Almost everyone can relate to one, and very few can relate to the other. Yes, losing a parent is expected at some point, but even in the shared experience - the reality of it is utterly unique and unshareable.

I buried my father on my birthday. And since the year I was born, it always snows that day. It did that day too. I'm not sure how it's 8 months past that day already, but it is. I'm still in winter, stuck in January, and the rest of you kept going.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Martha's Dignity, My Infertility

You could throw a proverbial rock into the Christian interwebs and the chances would be pretty good that you'd hit a blog that teaches women the virtue of how to be a "Mary" in a "Martha" world. It seems to be the *it* thing to write about as a female Christian blogger and you can find just about any of the advice that you are looking for, whether it be in checklist form, countdown form, prose around biblical verses, or some snazzy pin with a pretty graphic.....unless you want to explore the dignity and virtue of Martha.

If you've read Luke 10:38-42, then you know the story. Martha worries about serving, Mary lounges at the Lord's feet. Martha is anxious and seeking for Christ's validation. Mary is carefree and hanging on Christ's every word. No, I'm not a biblical scholar.... thank you for asking! :)

The interesting thing to me though (but that I never read in all these Christian blogs and analyses of Martha/Mary) when people are referencing this story is this: the good of Martha. We focus on what we perceive are Martha's shortcomings or what we perceive are her missteps. And more often, I think we see her as the woman who doesn't find favor with the Lord in those verses. Don't be like Martha is the mantra we're all taught. But by comparing Martha to Mary.... we really don't afford Martha her dignity. As women - and humans - we don't get the luxury of comparison without the consequence of being sinful. We are not all just compilations of our sins... there is dignity imparted onto our souls by God Himself and it is greater than our missteps, failings, and sins. Put more simply, our job isn't to judge Mary or Martha, but that role is left open only to Christ's bailiwick. And what does He do when the opportunity to judge and compare is upon Him? He does neither.

I feel like infertility has taught me a lot about Martha. Infertility taught me to eagerly welcome Christ... just like Martha. Infertility reminds me of all the worries and anxieties that I possess.... much like Martha. And maybe most poignantly, the path to and through infertility reminds me of the intense feeling that I've been denied by Christ. But that isn't really what Christ did, is it?

Martha served Christ...freely, enthusiastically, and seeking favor. Even when what seemed most important to her was not granted, I believe Christ's exact words in that passage afford her dignity more than they point to someone else being more virtuous. His careful words address her worry directly as a balm and He focuses on what she needs in light of what she wants. We should all be thankful for that kind of attention, right? Notice that Christ's words don't actually offer a comparison of the sisters. It's a powerful passage to reflect on, if you look at it from that vantage point and reread His actual words carefully. He certainly could have compared them, but look at what He did instead.

Let me never judge anyone who enthusiastically seeks to serve the Lord for any reason. Let me focus more on what Christ says to me alone. And if I feel denied in my request when I feel unfairly left alone to carry what I see as the heavier burden, let me remember the tenderness with which Christ will speak to me if I seek His Will. I get there by recognizing the good of Martha, not by comparing her to anyone. And maybe there is something to that cartoon I drew a couple years ago after all....