Relating to parents with fewer (than 9) children


I went fishing for blog topics on Facebook and as always, my friends were more than generous with their suggestions. Someone asked me two very good and related questions:

– How do you respectfully communicate with parents who are sometimes and/or all the times overwhelmed with a single child or two, when you have many (ie; not pulling the “you have it easy” card and edifying and respecting them as parents)?

– Likewise, how should those with a singleton respectfully communicate with you and your family?

I found these questions interesting because my problem is usually the opposite: people with smaller families are afraid to complain to me about their problems because they assume that I have it worst, or they apologize for feeling overwhelmed. In other words, they project their own feelings of inadequacy unto me. My challenge is not to communicate respectfully with them but to convince them that I understand.

How should people communicate with me? Respectfully is always appreciated. But if I’m allowed a second request, it would be to stop calling me (A) a Saint/Hero, or (B) Crazy. It makes me really uncomfortable to be called a saint because I’m not. I have character flaws the size of Texas, and I have been born into so much privilege I would be insufferable had I not allowed the size of my family to humble me a little. Being called crazy is just insulting. It’s probably better to err on the side of making me really uncomfortable by calling me a saint than insulting me by calling me insane. But I’m at a point where I avoid telling strangers how many children I have because intelligent conversation tends to die there. And that’s not cool because my family is my life’s work and I am immensely proud of it. Ask me anything and I’ll talk your ear off (just like I’m doing right now). Don’t just stand there with your mouth agape calling me a Saint or a Nut.

I think it’s important for everyone to know that I’ve been overwhelmed since 1996. I was struggling with two children, and with three children, and with four children… you get the idea. Nature abhors a vacuum and when given 24h, each one of us fills them to the brim. We used to wash clothes and dishes by hand and we thought that inventing the washing machine and the dishwasher would free us up. But instead of enjoying the extra time, we replaced homemaking chores with work chores. When a promotion gives us more disposable income we incur more expenses. We fill our houses with stuff and when we get a bigger house, we get more stuff. If we can’t get a bigger house, we rent a condo for our stuff (Dymon anyone?) Whether we fill the void with activities, worries or things, we take our 24h and 3 lbs of brain and use them to the max.

People feel like they have their hands full with one child because they do. It’s not my place to tell them how their hands should be full or to pass judgment on the wisdom or advisability of filling their 24h the way they do. When it comes to time in a day or in a year, we’re all dealt the same hand. Time is the great equalizer.

The truth is, I love people, and I love diversity. I love how in the words of Don Henry sung by Miranda Lambert:

Ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning
It takes all kinds of kinds.”

Listen, I have 9 children spread over 18 years. I’ve been pregnant 11 times in the last 22 years. I have been entirely focused on my family at the exclusion of everything else. If everyone was like me, the world would not be a better place. We would be missing a lot of art, a lot of excellence, a lot of invention, a lot of service and a lot of philanthropy.

Walk with me for a minute. I am a talented musician. Music comes easily to me. But I gave up honing my skills 22 years ago when I had my first child. I didn’t play any music for 12 years until I picked it up again 2 years ago. Now I dabble, I play a bit of this and a bit of that, all of it poorly. The basics still comes easy to me but I hit a wall as soon as hard work comes in the picture. Jason Isbell is almost 40. He spent the first 37 years of his life playing the guitar and getting his head and heart smashed in creative ways. He had nothing else to worry about than his own foibles before he got sober, married Amanda Shires, and had a daughter. How many hours of writing, noodling, and living went into writing Last of My Kind or Speed Trap Town? I drove 5h to upstate New-York last Summer to see Jason Isbell in concert. I have 9 children and I can tell you: outside of the four walls of my house, I never touched anyone’s life to the point where they would buy a ticket, book an Airbnb and drive 5h to watch me do my thing. Don’t try to tell me my writing is touching lives: I tried crowdfunding this blog two years ago and 7 readers committed to paying a total of $63 a month, two of them were related to me. Of the 500-ish people who read my blog, only 7 thought it was worth paying for. That did my head in for a while, that’s why I stopped writing for two years. I’m a fragile little thing that way. Jason Isbell is touching lives, including mine. The world needs him to spend a fair amount of time navel-gazing his way into thoughtful lyrics, practicing his guitar and touring the United States.

My point is not that you should be Jason Isbell or make a ton of money blogging if you have only one child. My point is that everyone leaves their fingerprint on the world and every fingerprint is different. I’m volunteering at my children’s school for the first time in 18 years! Who do you think raised funds for activities, helped with field trips, decorated the school and organized the movie nights my children have enjoyed since my oldest started school in 2000? People with two kids and a job, that’s who.

One of my parents’ dearest friends is helping Syrian refugees settle in Canada, accompanying them to the grocery store, acting as a cultural translator, teaching them how to access the services they need, finding volunteers to fix bicycles for their children, and businesses to donate food and clothing. How many children of her own does she have? None. Do you think people like me are doing what she’s doing? No, they’re not.

Sometimes getting up in the morning is heroic. Some of my friends do not volunteer. They do not run successful businesses. Some of them have grown up in dysfunctional families, some of them have suffered abuse, some of them have overcome physical and/or mental health challenges. And every day they get up and they do their level best to give their children a kind of love they have never received. I watch in awe as some of my friends create happy families out of thin air, having never been in one. They are studying and learning through trial and error the fundamentals of loving, of being patient, of being self-sacrificing, all things that I learned from my parents like my first language. Some people work way harder at normal life than I do. Raising one child is as hard for them as raising 9 is for me because I received so much from life.

And some people are just selfish. Some people are jerks. Some people roll their eyes and tell me “I don’t know how you can have 9, I only have two and it’s too much” *in front of their children*. Some people are just clueless. Last week I was volunteering at our school’s book sale during the parent-teacher meetings and the children had written lists of book suggestions to help their parents in their shopping. One mother picked up her grade 5 daughter’s list and seeing with horror that it had been written in script rather than cursives, called home to tear a strip off the kid for writing like a baby. Told her she was personally insulted by it. Asked her why she would embarrass her that way. Said she was going to buy her the books but since she had written like a grade 1 kid, wasn’t going to reward that. Her sister would get books but not her. Told her never to insult her like that again. Repeated everything twice to drive it in. I felt so bad I wanted to drive to her house, find her daughter and give her a hug. I’m sure this mom loves her daughter and wants what’s best for her. I’m sure this mom thinks her brand of tough love is how you raise competent, well-rounded adults. I’m sure this woman doesn’t have 9 children and probably shouldn’t have 9 children. It’s ok not to have too many children when your parenting toolbox includes shaming and belittling.

When people tell me they are overwhelmed with 1 or 2 or 3 children, I simply say “I was overwhelmed with 3 too!” Which is 100% the honest-to-goodness truth. I remind them what is difficult about their lives. Your children are all under 4. Or you have 3 active boys. Or your husband works two jobs. Or you suffer from anxiety and depression. Or you had fertility struggles. Or you live with your aging parents. Or you are a single parent. Don’t look at me and feel bad. Look at where you are. If you feel like you can stretch a little more, stretch a little more. If you can’t, don’t injure yourself. Accept the pace. Try to finish a little ahead of where you started, try to leave the world a little better than how you found it. If everyone reaches just a little farther, we’ll come out ahead in the end.

How do I respectfully communicate with people who only have one child? I just assume that their lives are as full as mine, just with different things. I don’t need to know everyone’s story to assume they have one.

 

 

Parenting Quotes I’m Eating Back Today


This post was first published on Vie de Cirque in September 2014. I was having coffee yesterday morning and overheard a young woman talk about how having children wouldn’t change her routine, that it was all a matter of making the right choices. It reminded me of a blog post I wrote 4 years ago.

I once read a quote. It went a little like this:

“at the beginning of my career I had no kids and 12 principles; today I have 12 kids and no principle.”

I was blessed with 4 relatively compliant children before I gave birth to 5 more. When I was having children in my 20s, I believed <clears throat with embarrassment> that my success in raising easygoing children was no-doubt related to my stellar parenting skills. What I lacked in skills, I made-up in youthful exuberance. Now that I have experience and some skills, I will readily admit that I have no clue. It’s true. My experience parenting is like the used children’s shoes in my basement: no matter how many I keep, I can never find a pair of the right size, at the right time, for the right season.

Over the years, I have developed an expertise in each one of my children but here’s the catch: no matter how many children I have, they all come out as unique individuals. Never seen before and never to be repeated again. Isn’t human reproduction amazing that way? If 18 years of parenting has taught me anything, this is it: the lessons learned from raising this child are rarely applicable to raising that child. I still don’t know what I’m doing but I am more “zen” about it. Instead of seeing children as problems to solve, I see them as a puzzles to complete. I did not draw the picture, but with careful dedication I can help it come together.

When I think about my early years as a parent, it is often to eat back some pearl of wisdom with a generous serving of Humble Sauce. Gulp. Here are some of my gems.

“Children won’t draw on walls if they have access to paper.” Did you know that I spent the first 8 years of my life-with-children without a single drawing-on-walls incident? Then we sold a house and shortly before we moved my 3 year-old decorated a wall with black Sharpie. Now I have children who won’t draw on paper if they have access to a wall.

“I will never buy size 6 diapers.” Seems simple enough: if a child is big enough to wear size 6 diapers, he’s old enough to potty train. Right? Guess who just purchased a Costco-sized box of size 6 diapers for her 3-year-old child? Take heart, all you parents of late potty-trainers for it turns out that potty-readiness is completely out of your hands! The good news is that accepting this simple fact will make potty-training a lot easier for everyone involved.

“I won’t let myself get fat.” When I was dating my now-husband, he came to visit me at my parents’ house on his motorcycle wearing his full-leather gear. I was in the pool at the time and we couldn’t resist the temptation of taking a biker chick picture, him in his leather chaps, me in my bathing suit. I found out that I was pregnant shortly after and upon seeing the picture, my aunt – who had 4 children – said “Keep that picture because you’ll never look like this again.” I declared that I would not let maternity ruin my body. Well guess what?? Maternity never asked my opinion. Maternity took my body and turned it upside down. It moved my organs around and re-shaped my pelvis to its liking. It not only packed-on pounds as it was growing 9 healthy humans, it refused to lose even one as it was busy feeding them. I ran and I dieted and I ran some more. I stretched and planked and even starved myself at some point. It never went down. I got sick, I de-calcified my teeth, but I never lost a single breastfeeding pound. Today, after my easiest pregnancy and a beautiful home birth, I am breastfeeding a 4 month-old and a 3 year-old and I weight as much as I did during my last week of twin pregnancy. I am 60 lbs heavier than I was on that infamous picture 18 years ago and my dress size has more than doubled, going from 6 to 14. I’m definitely bringing booty back. And boobs. And legs.

“If your child is old enough to ask for breast milk, he is too old to nurse.” Refer to previous paragraph about nursing a 3 year-old. She’s been old enough to ask for milk for almost 2 years. She can explain the difference between cow’s milk (milk in a cup) and breast milk (milk in the mouth). Heck, she can ask for milk in both official languages.

What about you? Did you know everything about parenting until you had kids? What pearls of wisdom are you eating back today? Share in the humble pie!

The skinny on the Whole 30 challenge


Two of my girls — the first girl I gave birth to and our nanny — embarked on a Whole 30 challenge at the beginning of March and successfully completed it today. As the family cook and principal grocery shopper, I am equally proud and relieved that it is finally over.

I’m proud of them because it’s one thing to do the Whole 30 in all its restrictive goodness when you are fat, middle-aged, and suffering from a host of chronic conditions; it’s another thing to do it when you are young, healthy and beautiful with not a single pound to lose.

Clara and Hannah, 3 weeks into their Whole 30, looking as stunning as ever.

I have to bear some responsibility for switching my family on to the Whole 30. In December 2014 I hit the proverbial wall and on a friend’s recommendation, with my husband’s support, I went for it.

I have always been able to lose most of my baby weight — slowly — in between pregnancies. I am the proud owner of a metabolism that doesn’t gain weight easily and doesn’t lose it easily. For my first 7 pregnancies, I would gain 30 lbs while pregnant, lose 10 giving birth, gain another 10 while breastfeeding and eventually shed it after weaning. After the twins were born, I went on Weight Watcher to lose that pesky 20lbs because it wasn’t coming off on its own and that’s when my health went pear-shaped. As soon as I restricted calories, I started gaining weight. That spurred me into more restrictions, believing — as I was told all my life — that the only reason one gains weight is because more calories go in than come out. So I cut back, and I gained weight. I ran longer distances, and I gained weight. I became anemic, and I gained weight. I counted how many carrots I ate with my tablespoon of hummus and I gained weight. I realized that an avocado was as many calories as a double chocolate chip muffin. I stopped eating avocados and I gained weight. I replaced sugar by Splenda in all my baking and I gained weight. And every week, the Weight Watcher app would tell me:

“Ooops, you gained. You’ll try harder next week.”

I tried some more and I gained some more. I had my thyroid checked and was told it was normal (it wasn’t but that’s a whole other post). I was discouraged and overwhelmed. I felt guilty every time I ate something I enjoyed.
Then I got pregnant with Damien. And I gained A LOT of weight. A month after he was born, I weighed as much as I did when I was 38 weeks pregnant with the twins. I went back on Weight Watchers when he was 7 months-old. I gained 11 lbs in 6 weeks. My husband, who is really the most supportive husband I have, told me: “There is something weird happening with your body.” Seeing myself in pictures at Christmas made me cry. I lost sleep over my ballooning body. I was always on my feet, I ate well, I was making breast milk for two children, one of them exclusively breastfed. Then I saw my You Tube babywearing video, with my size 8 jeans, and I almost broke down.

9 months before Damien was born, newly pregnant, weighng about 145 lbs. Today I can’t even lift those pants past my generous thighs. But I keep trying….

 

9 months after Damien was born, weighing almost 200 lbs. Just before I started my Whole30.

I told my husband: “I am almost 200 lbs! I just need to stop gaining! I know I won’t lose much while breastfeeding but the gain must stop!” I was no longer fitting in my pyjamas. I had gone from a size 6-8 to a size 14 while doing Weight Watchers and the best my doctor had to offer was:

“Maybe you’re cheating on your food journaling.”

You went to med school for how long so you could tell me that? It was clear to me that the problem was not “how much” I ate but “what” I ate. I didn’t eat too much; I knew that from years of food journaling. The story couldn’t only be about my caloric intake. I watched this video about the effect of sugar on our metabolism and I reduced my sugar intake. That’s when I stumbled upon a friend’s testimony about the Whole 30: 30 days of strict no added sugar, no grains, no legumes and no dairy. I thought: “No way!” but the idea kept nagging at me. I knew that I couldn’t moderate my refined carbohydrate intake: I needed to punch my carb demon in the throat.The Whole 30 is not a lifetime commitment to never taste a brownie again, it’s a chance to reset your eating habits, to give more emphasis to good food and keep the less healthy stuff in proper proportion within your entire diet. It is not presented as a weight loss diet or a cleanse, but as a tabula rasa, a baseline from which to start eating well again.

On January 1st 2015, I started my Whole 30 and completed it successfully 30 days later. Other than accidentally licking a spoon of oatmeal I was making for my children, I didn’t slip. After my Whole 30, I didn’t return to my old eating habits. I still eat 80% paleo and 100% gluten-free. I allow myself milk chocolate treats, milk in my lattes when I’m not at home and occasional gluten-free baked items. I have since been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that explains a lot of my weight gain, fatigue, and depression issues.

Since doing the Whole 30 and switching to a sort-of Paleo diet, I have noticed some positive changes in my overall health. On the whole, It has made my autoimmune condition easier to manage. Here is a bullet-list of my observations, in no particular order:

– I am much more alert during the day, especially when driving. I used to have a major slump mid-afternoon which caused me to fall asleep at the wheel. I no longer suffer from these attacks of daytime sleep. As someone who spends a fair amount of time driving young children on lonely country roads in winter, this is a welcome improvement.

– I am awake in the morning (but this might be due to a switch in my migraine meds). Still. My 5 youngest children hit the ground running at 6am sharp. It used to take me an hour or two to catch-up with them. Now I wake-up awake. I don’t want to get out of bed at 6:00am but I can.

– My night sleep is still crappy. I only ever sleep with one eye open. I am never deeply asleep. I had great hopes that the Whole 30 would address this but it hasn’t.

– My sugar and refined carbs craving are gone. At least they don’t control my life anymore.

– I have discovered the natural sweetness of food. I find almond butter sweet. I find the taste of blueberries to be an explosion in my mouth. I really appreciate the food that I eat.

– I rediscovered the sense of smell. When my friend came over with her award-winning brownies, I found that having a deep smell of them was satisfying. The smell fills your nose and mouth and your brain gets a little kick, just enough to be able to walk past them without having to eat them at all cost. My husband thinks I have a problem sniffing croissants but I think it’s awesome that I don’t feel compelled to EAT ALL THE PASTRIES (ALL THE TIME).

– I don’t feel like the pastries in front of me are the last ones I will ever have. That’s a big one. I always indulged in whatever pretty sweet things were in front of me because I had a scarcity mindset about food, even though I have never gone lacking. I think it was due to the addictive nature of sugar and refined carbs. I felt driven to indulge. And if I didn’t indulge, my mind would stay stuck on the food items. Now I feel in much better control of my eating.

– I don’t want to eat all the time. I can easily go between breakfast and lunch without a snack. I don’t even think about eating unless I am really hungry.

– When I am tired in the evening, I want to go to bed, not eat a gallon of ice cream. My body is better able to read its own signals without reverting to “EAT” automatically when it needs rest, exercise, fresh air, water or relaxation.

– Because I’m not always lusting after food or ravenously hungry, it’s easy to skip meals or snacks. I don’t get irrationally grouchy when I have to go without food.

– And from the TMI files: it really helped with my menstrual cycle, making my periods less debilitating. Although PMS perfection has come from properly diagnosing and treating my thyroid condition.

– I drink my coffee black and it no longer tastes like death warmed over.

– I have been struggling with generalized pain all my life. Tests performed in childhood and as an adult were always inconclusive and the pain remained. The Whole 30 helped a lot with pain but didn’t make it go away completely. A food intolerance panel ordered by the doctor who was investigating my thyroid dysfunction revealed that I had an intolerance to eggs and corn (among other things). Cutting the right foods from my diet has made a huge difference in my generalized pain. I saw a physician specialized in body mechanics (a physiatrist) who told me that while there was little scientific evidence linking generalized pain with diet, she saw it all the time in her practice. Especially as it concerns dairy and gluten.

– And the big question: did I lose weight? Not a whole lot. I lost 12 lbs doing the Whole 30 but I was still firmly a size 14 until I started weightlifting in summer 2016. I lost another 10 lbs when I started training. Now I’m somewhere between a size 12 and a size 10 and I haven’t lost a single pound in a year despite eating well and exercising with a personal trainer. At 180 lbs I’m still ways away from my personal “normal” of 135-140lbs but honestly, I have (almost) accepted the fact that I have done everything humanly possible to lose this wretched weight. Thanks for nothing, thyroid jerky.

Whole 30, before and after. I went from 190 lbs to 178 lbs. I was not exercising at the time.

 

Nosy, awkward and outrageous: how I cope with comments about my family’s size


Having a lot of children raises eyebrows. Heck, having children in any circumstances not reflecting a perfect sequence of material acquisition and career advancement raises eyebrows. Having a large family flies in the face of common sense. Thankfully for my children, common sense ain’t that common.

While we know the reasons that reason ignores, and while each child coming after the second adds a new thickness to our hides, comments about family size always hurt. The intensity of the burn ranges from mild annoyance at the grocery store to lasting pain and resentment at the hands of our families. No one likes to feel like an idiot, not even mothers of 4+ children.

We have 9 kids so we’ve been raising eyebrows since 1999. I have almost heard it all. I have heard really awkward. Awkward as your three year-old making a clear-as-springwater observation about someone’s dress or facial hair. I have heard outrageous. Outrageous as only an older person with cognitive issues and no filter could possibly muster. No one has ever called me “selfish” but most moms of many have been called selfish to their face. Come spend a weekend with 5+ kids, it’ll knock the selfish right outta ya. I rent my family by the week — if you can last that long — for self-centered relaxation. Try it if you dare.

I am asked often how I deal with negative comments about my family’s size. I have a supernatural ability to ignore things that bug me, that’s the easy answer. I’m like the Penguins in Madagascar:

smile-and-wave

That said, I had two meaningful interactions with older folks when I was a young mom expecting my third child. One had had one child (whether by choice or circumstances, I don’t know) and that one child had died suddenly in his mid-forties. The second had had 10 children in close range. The one with one child still had regrets at age 80 about not spending more time with his family, about not seeing his son grow-up. The one with 10 children told me of the people in her nursing home: “All these people were sorry for me when I was having my children one after the other. Now they think I’m lucky.”

These two conversations had a profound impact on me. On my perspective on having children and making family-centered decisions. It taught me that (1) none of us gets another kick at the can once our fertile years are behind us and once our kids are grown; and (2) that raising young children is the grunt work of parenting, the tiling of the field from which the harvest will later come forth. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it proposition: we don’t get to pour the time, care and affection we didn’t pour into our children once they are grown and we don’t get to have more children once we are older and lonelier. The blessings of children are not the sleepless nights, the bum-wipings and the ear-piercing shrieks. No. Those are the latrines of parenting. The blessings come later, once the field has been tended and nurtured, early in the morning, late at night, in the cold, in the rain, back-broken and exhausted, when you felt like it and when you did not.

Most people make their family size decisions in the here and now. That’s fine, whatever floats your goat. whatever-floats-your-goatBut we never consider what comes after the crazy years of raising small children. Of course two children under 3 is enough! Children under 6 are crazy animals. Maybe some people have large families because they love being pregnant while chasing a potty-training toddler who still doesn’t sleep through the night but I sure as heck did not. I have more children because I know that however intense these years are, they are but a flash in comparison to the other lifetime I will spend in my older years.

Bear with me for a second. I started my family at 21, now I’m 42. That’s 21 years of having little kids in the house. Assuming my 9th is my last, I have another 5 years of little-kid-madness ahead of me, for a total of 26 years. Insane right? That said, assuming I live as long or longer than my grandparents, who died between the ages of 80 and 100, I have another 42 years — probably more like 50 — of life without small-kid-insanity on the horizon. Fifty year. I haven’t even been alive that long! That’s what I mean by “another lifetime”: 40-50 years of friendship and support and family meals and visits and help and whatever other amazing things will come out of having a large gang of properly attached people around me. And no one will burn-out supporting me because the work will be split 9 ways, times their spouses, times their own kids.

My husband and I were on a dinner date last year and while chatting with the waitress she pointed at a large group seated nearby. She mentioned that it was a group of 14 celebrating their mother and grandmother’s 80th birthday. All her children and grandchildren were present around the table and the matriarch was beaming, seated in the center of the table as I had seen my own grandparents do so many times when their descendants were visiting. I counted 4 grown children and their spouses with 6 grandchildren among them. The small popular restaurant was almost full and renovations were underway to open-up a mezzanine overlooking the main floor. I told my husband: “It just occurred to me that if most of our children get married and have children, and if some of their children have spouses and children, we will need to book the entire restaurant when we turn 80. It will be full to the rafters.”

When I get totally overwhelmed by the present moment, I remember the “after” and the rafters. People who think we are nuts today can’t see what we’re seeing. This is the truth.

14285651_1071349806315861_1900627908_o

You don’t have to be on all the time


I was listening to the CBC Radio: Spark podcast on the effects of parental use of technology on children. This hit close to home. I use my iPhone for everything — from reading and writing to looking up recipes, words and maps, taking pictures, recording voice memos, shooting and editing my YouTube videos, communicating with my parents, husband and children, checking the weather, traffic, the news, streaming music and podcasts, look-up knitting patterns, get calendar reminders, learning Spanish on Duolingo, Netflix & Chillaxing, I must forgetting some — often fielding accusations from my children of being “always stuck to my phone”. My technology use is mostly family-related, serving their needs more than mine but appearances don’t lie: I use my phone a lot. I also remember how lonely, isolated and depressed I was before being able to connect to friends via social media. The podcast didn’t make any earth-shattering revelations for anyone who is aware that young children need their parents to be emotionally engaged. Whether you are distracted by your work, your book, your latest fling or the money you just don’t have, the question is not whether being tethered to your phone is harmful but whether it is harmful in different or more severe ways than everything else going on in your life. The study discussed in the podcast points to a shrinking attention span for children when their parents’ attention wanders.

Where the podcast rubbed my buttons the wrong way was with this quote:

“I see parents mindlessly pushing their kid on a swing while looking at their phone”

To be fair, the message was not that it is wrong to check your phone at the park but that your device should not prevent you from engaging in the normal activities of parenting such as the park. The image of the parent revelling in every ounce of childhood is one that won’t die. Once you are done cooking, cleaning, shopping, organizing, cuddling, control-towering, time-managing, refereeing and driving, you should also make a public display of gleeful cheer-leading while your children ask you for the 12 millionth time to look at them climb the slide backward for the 20 millionth time. I’m sorry but no. There is a surface covered in expensive, obsessively safe, kinetically-correct, expert-approved, City-stamped, edible, equipment right here. It has been designed to foster cooperative play with other children who are, conveniently, here at the same time you are, doing exactly the same thing you are. I gave you a bunch of siblings and believe me, it’s not because I like hospital food. So don’t mind me while I sit my ass down on this bench right here and check my phone while you have fun.

You don't have to be on all the time

A miscarriage debrief Part II


 

I wrote the first part of this debrief about 6 weeks after my miscarriage last September. Now that my due date has come and gone, I find myself dealing with a new range of emotions as I move past the shock of the miscarriage itself and into the realization of the broader ramifications of recovering from a significant health crisis.

 

I started showing signs of peri-menopause after the twins were born when I was 37. Low progesterone, erratic cycles, just the usual. When my husband and I decided to have another child in 2015, we knew that I was walking into a growing chance of miscarriage. I had never miscarried before but I knew enough women who had been through this ordeal not to expect to be spared forever. Through the years, pregnancy after pregnancy, I had always been acutely aware of my luck and of the increasing likelihood that it would eventually run out.

 

We conceived in May of 2015. I took a pregnancy test as soon as my periods were late and it came back negative. As my periods got later and later and pregnancy tests kept showing a negative result, I knew that this pregnancy was probably precarious. I took a third test, this one positive and my periods started the next day. It was a non-event. We celebrated the tiny flicker of life that had dwelled in me privately, without informing our children or our families. We were thankful that we had “tried” for this one. That we had known from day 1 that it was a possibility. The next cycle, I got pregnant again. This time, a strong positive test informed us of the existence of our baby number 10. We told our families right away and started informing friends and acquaintances as we saw them in person. It was an ideal pregnancy. For once I didn’t have any nausea. I started wearing maternity clothes in August and I met with my new midwife in early September. When I met my midwife, she offered to listen to the baby’s heartbeat adding: “I don’t like searching for a heartbeat at 10 weeks because we often don’t hear it and it really makes parents nervous.” I assured her that I knew what was in the realm of possibilities and we searched, in vain, for a heartbeat. I kept a brave face because I knew that 10 weeks was too early but in previous pregnancies I had always been able to hear a heartbeat at my first appointment. In other words, “normal” wasn’t normal for me.

 

The next day, I started seeing some spotting. “Bleeding is not normal but it’s common” my midwife told me, “you don’t need to do anything unless the bleeding becomes a concern.” And so I waited. I relied on the encouraging words of friends who had gone through episodes of bleeding and visualized myself at an ultrasound being showed a healthy beating heart and a pesky hematoma.

 

Two days shy of completing my 12th week of pregnancy, I was in the basement with my husband sorting through all the newborn clothes when I started bleeding heavily. I was not feeling any cramping or contractions, it was like my body was trying to flush the fetus by opening the faucet. I headed for the hospital wearing three menstrual pads and sitting on a towel.

 

I soaked through everything during the 20-minute drive to the hospital. I immediately went to the bathroom as I felt a giant blood clot coming through. It was so big that it fell in the toilet with a splash and splattered blood all over the walls and the floor. I called the nurse for help and she casually walked-in, flushed the toilet and helped me back to my gurney. Was it my fetus? I will never know. A few hours later when the gynecologist was able to remove the retained tissue causing the hemorrhage there was only parts of a tiny placenta, a tiny cord and a tiny, ripped-up, sac left. I told my husband to take pictures of whatever came out. That’s all I have, along with my unshakable belief in my fetus’ unique, eternal soul.

 

I eventually passed out from the blood loss a few minutes after joking: “I can bleed like this for *days* with no side effect!!” — loosely quoting Meet the Robinsons because what else are you going to do while everyone is watching you miscarry but quote Disney movies? I fought it hard until a nurse told me: “You’re in a hospital, we’re here, you’re lying down, you can go.” Suddenly, there was no more pain and no more worry. I was completely comfortable even as I felt and heard people rushing around me, insert an IV into each of my arm and push a bolus of saltwater into my body. I knew that there was nothing I could do but pray and let people do their work. I remembered a friend who was in labor and thought that I could offer-up my loss for her son’s healthy birth. So I prayed and I floated. There was nothing else I could do but rest in the arms of God and trust. I still remember the supernatural calm and clarity of the time I spent “under” with a smile.

 

I’m telling you all this because before my miscarriage I thought that I would handle miscarriage with sadness but also an understanding that pregnancy loss was an integral part of the experience of motherhood. When I lost the first pregnancy in May, I knew that my low progesterone would make it difficult to carry a pregnancy past the first few weeks and I thought that I would keep trying. Now, I must come to terms with the fact that even trying to conceive in the current circumstances would be unhealthy. Walking into repeated miscarriages is more than an exercise in accepting God’s will, as I have read in some forums, it’s a gamble with your health. A miscarriage can be as straightforward as a heavy period or it may cause a hemorrhage, require surgery, a blood transfusion or even a hysterectomy. We simply don’t know how and when our bodies will pull the plug on a pregnancy and this has been, for me, a very painful realization. Can I sacrifice my health — a health that is not only my own but that of the family who depends on me — to have the child that I so painfully desire?

 

Lately, I have been struggling with the notion of sacrificial love. The Catholic Church — to which I belong — is all about sacrificial love. In the Catholic Church, nothing should be held back from God. Our lives are not our own. We know that Heaven is opened to those who are “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” This self-sacrificing perfection is acquired in this world or in the next through purgatory — but it must be acquired before we can rise to eternal life. Saints’ stories are rife with men and women who have sacrificed their health and even their lives in the pursuit of holiness. But it is equally rife with stories of ordinary people seeking holiness through quiet, ordinary lives, in their work, their families and their communities. Is the desire for another child a sign that I am called to offer-up my health in the pursuit of self-sacrificial love? Or, if we believe as the Evangelist Matthew tells us, that where our treasure is, there our heart is also, is the desire for another child the earthly attachment that needs to be offered-up, sacrificed?

 

This is the discernment that has been gripping my heart and my soul since the due date that wasn’t. While I was still supposed to be pregnant, I was struggling with the loss of what should have been. But when the friends and acquaintances who were due at the same time I was started welcoming their babies earthside, the bellies lost their anonymity and their babies were obviously not mine. I shed the feeling of present loss like a snakeskin and moved into foreboding, a realization that the future would look very different from what I thought it would be. In discerning whether I am called to sacrifice my health or my desire for another child, this fear is telling. Fear is never from God. When I start comparing myself to others and feeling like I “only” have 9 children, when I start feeling inadequate because I didn’t have a certain number of children, when the desire for another child overshadows my gratitude for my existing 9 amazing children, when I start feeling less, when I see a mother of 10, 11, 12 as more worthy than I am, I know that I am idolizing a larger family, that I am beholding a golden calf. Sacrifices should not be easy. When getting pregnant despite the health implications appears easier than accepting the end of my reproductive years as it is, I know where I need to direct my spiritual gaze.

 

And thus I will give until it hurts, a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, as I know that it will be returned to me in eternity where I will finally meet the children I never had.

Canada Parachute edit