Sunday, May 10, 2015

Motherhood and Miracles

Motherhood is complicated.  Even as I sit here at my computer ready to write, my heart and head can't seem to agree on the message I want to share.  My life as a mother has been a dichotomy of intense sorrow and overwhelming joy.  I have had the unique experience of dipping my toes into motherhood, sampling it's trials and triumphs, and then watching and waiting on the sidelines wondering if I would ever return. Even now as I type and feel my expanding belly press against my thighs I wonder if I will return.  Will we all make it safely through the next three months into the realm of motherhood and family again?  How can something seem simultaneously tenuous and inevitable.

This morning as I dried my hair I had myself convinced that this Mother's day would be joyful.  I even preached to Jordan about women needing to let go of the guilt, pain, and sorrow that often accompanies this day. Looking back I'm pretty sure this was a pep talk for myself. We talked about how men never seem to feel guilty on Father's Day. They just seem to soak up the love and adoration of their families.  Why shouldn't women do the same? Walking out the door I felt empowered, grateful, joyful, radiant and ready for Mother's day.

Then I lost it, sitting on a hard metal chair on the very back row of church.

I was fine in the beginning.  Three beautiful young women who are about to graduate from high school spoke about their mother's and how their mom's radiate Christlike attributes. While they spoke I peacefully gazed at my belly watching little feet, hands, and unidentified body parts pop and glide across my stomach.  My pregnant belly and the babies inside are nothing short of a miracle to me.  My attention is always on them and I feel like I have been blessed with abundance as I watch them move.

I felt really good. Then the children in the congregation got up to sing a song for their mothers, and my heart began to break and I could not reign it in.  As a rule for daily living I try not to focus on what Jordan and I have lost. Most of my grief and sorrow has transformed into gratitude for the experience of being Jonah's mother.  And after years of infertility and longing for motherhood I feel like it was a miracle that we had him in our home, even for a short time.  But seeing those children at the front of the chapel singing to their mother's tugged at my heart and brought my grief to the forefront in a way I haven't experienced or allowed myself to experience for years.  I felt the profound loss of our sweet Jonah.  It became so real to me that he would be four, almost five, singing with the children at the front of the chapel.  Mother, I love you, Mother, I do. I started crying tears of grief and sorrow as my more sensible side tried to "keep it together."

As the meeting came to a close I wiped my tears from my red and swollen cheeks, accepted the token gift of mother's day chocolate from one of the young men and realized that motherhood is a messy endeavor.  The choice to be a mother, whether realized or unfulfilled, is an act of faith and vulnerability.  When you desire to be a mother you open your heart to the depth of all of life's emotions. Sometimes those emotions are amazing and sometimes they are devastating.  I've decided that is why this day is so hard for so many.  Everything is exposed and there is no place to hide.  It is possible to feel intense gratitude and a multitude of sorrows in the same breath.  But that is also the beauty of motherhood.  It is frightening endeavor that is full of possibility.

I came home, ate lunch, and settled in for a long Sunday nap.  When I woke up Jordan was lying beside me.  I asked him if it made him sad to see those children singing.  He said it did.  I embraced the feeling, uncovered my round belly, and waited and watched for the babies to kick.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Baby A and Baby B! 18 weeks

We got an unexpected treat of having an early ultrasound this week to check on the twins and to find out their genders!  I have no words to describe how grateful I am that these two are healthy and moving and have beating hearts.  I am overwhelmed by the opportunity to carry them and feel them move.  It seems as if I pray for them every minute and every hour.  I often wondered if I would get this chance again, and can't believe they are growing inside of me.  It is so amazing and still feels unreal, but it also feels like the most beautiful miracle possible.  

Here is a short video of our two little ones.  


We are having a girl and a boy!  

"The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude."  Joseph B. Wirthlin

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Season of Joy

On an indian summer day before Jonah died I remember feeling pure joy.  The moment was simple.  Jordan was home from work laying in the blue nylon hammock strung up between a fence post and our pine tree. Jonah was in his swing, giggling uncontrollably each time he approached my waiting arms.  His laugh was infectious and seemed to fill the air and my heart with the same magnitude.  I had a sweet moment where I recognized the pure joy that I felt.  It was a feeling of love and gratitude without fear or longing. It felt set apart and holy.  In hindsight I know that it was both of those things.  

Only a few days later our whole world seemed to crumble around us. We said goodbye to Jonah, soaked our pillows in tears, and tried to pick up the pieces of our home and family. 

In the three years that have passed since Jonah's death I have felt an amazing array of emotions. Some that I would not have believed were possible.  The day we lost Jonah I experienced indescribable pain and the feeling of my heart being crushed by the weight of intense sorrow.  In quiet lonely moments I have felt anger that burned inside of me and seemed unquenchable, peace that surpassed my limited understanding, and overwhelming fear as we faced seemingly endless disappointments.  I discovered a deep and new found empathy for the heartaches of loved ones and total strangers.  I have also fallen deeply in love with my husband as I have witnessed his kindness, endurance, and constant selflessness.  

But I am not sure I have recaptured the joy that I felt in that moment in our backyard.  I have experienced happiness, laughter, peace and love, but joy has felt elusive.

Twelve weeks ago Jordan and I began our third and final round of in vitro.  We had two remaining embryos to transfer and several obstacle to overcome including genetics, my killer immune system, and a blood clotting disorder.  I felt excited about the possibility of getting pregnant, but I also felt an overwhelming fear of the additional pain and heartache that might come with another miscarriage.  I woke up every night worried and anxious, my heart racing and my mind imagining all of the ways in which my heart could break again.

After a long two weeks of waiting I went for my first blood draw I braced myself for bad news and disappointment, but only good news followed.  I was pregnant and my hormone levels looked great.  Still each day I wondered if I felt sick enough or tired enough and waited for the signs of another failed pregnancy.  

At 6.5 weeks we went for our first ultrasound expecting the worst only to discover that we are pregnant with TWINS!  We were both stunned. 

We have had five ultrasounds and each time Jordan and I are a bundle of nerves, yet each time we have seen and heard beating hearts, wiggly arms and legs, and growing babies. It is nothing short of a miracle.

And yet I am still so afraid. Every day I wake up and wonder if I am still pregnant. I have been afraid to share the news because it feels like celebrating will inevitably be followed by heartache.  Each time I say the words "I'm pregnant...with twins" it feels like a lie or a crazy dream. But I am trying to be brave and say it and rejoice in it.  I want to be joyful and I want to share that joy with our amazing friends and family who have supported us, and prayed with us, and loved us through 5 very difficult years.  

I fully recognize that it is still early and anything could happen.  But I think my fear has become a barrier to the feeling of pure joy I want to recapture. I felt prompted this morning to read in the book of Ecclesiastes about times and seasons.  I read the following words:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven...A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

Heaven knows that we have had our time to weep and mourn.  It has been a long, painful, and sometimes shockingly beautiful season.  But as I read this scripture I felt like I was given permission to move into a new season - a season of joy, and hope, and laughter.

Monday, October 27, 2014


At my deepest point of grief my neighbor Mary saved me with love and yoga.  When Jonah died I stopped eating.  I was too sad to eat. I stopped moving because my heart hurt so much.  My physical and emotional strength was wasting away and Mary could see it.  Before Jonah's death we had not known each other well.  Mary is a few decades older than I am and our paths had not crossed consistently.  But she began calling me on Tuesday evenings.  She would ask me if I wanted to go to our church's free yoga class the following morning. Sometimes I said yes, sometimes I said no, and sometimes I just ignored her calls, but Mary always called.

On the mornings I felt like joining her, Mary would arrive at my doorstep with a smile on her face. She didn't have a yoga mat so she would bring a long green and white cushion from her patio furniture.  As class started she would lay her lumpy cushion alongside my mat and begin moving through the poses. After a few sun salutations and downward facing dogs I would turn to see Mary in child's pose taking a much needed break. Although she enjoyed the class, I knew she was not coming to meet her own needs.  Her choice to come to yoga each week was a choice to support me. She knew I needed to be strong again. She knew I needed help.  

As the weeks passed, and I began saying yes more than no, I began to feel strong again.  It felt good to move and stretch.  I regained my appetite and felt more energy.  As I practiced hard poses my capacity and strength increased.  As I fell out of other poses my muscles began to compensate and correct.  At the end of each class, when I laid flat on the floor in meditation, I found space to reflect and I often cried.  Mary became a dear friend and she carried me until I could carry myself again.  

Now I wake up early in the morning, when the world is still dark, and I drive to a yoga class. I want to practice.  Comparison is frowned on in yoga, but I can't help but strive to move as freely and effortlessly as some of the people in my class.  I watch people in my class move through amazing poses: handstands, headstands, and arm balances. I think about the practice it takes to be able to push your body and gain strength, and to make such things look smooth and easy.  I want to be that strong and graceful. I want to be able to move into the full expression of each pose.  

Each morning when my class is ending and the sun is bringing light into a sleeping world I think about the ideas of practice and full expression.  Everything in life requires practice.  We try and fail and try again until we begin to master the challenges we face.  We look to those who we admire and we follow their lead.  We slowly become better at the things we practice and eventually reach a point where we can move into a fullness of understanding or action or love.  

I'm trying to carry these ideas into my religious practice.  I have been trying to visualize what it looks like to fully express christ-like attributes like love, compassion, and service. I want these ideas to shape who I am trying to become.  When I think about the fullest expression of charity I will always think of Mary, stretching into a difficult pose, on her green and white patio cushion, carrying me through my heartache to a place of health and healing.  

I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

Martha Graham

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The River

Two nights ago I woke up to the gentle motion of the river's current lifting and lowering my body. My feet pressed firmly against the tightly inflated tube of our raft and I sat up.  The hot dry canyon air lingered from another sweltering day on the river, waiting to cool until just before sunrise.  I reached out in the darkness and was surprised to feel the rough grit of sandstone against my fingers.  We must have drifted in the night, I thought. We are pressed against a cliff. A moment of panic filled me, and I glanced up searching for the reassuring light of vivid stars or the spotlight full moon from our previous nights on the river.  But the night was only black.  I looked more fervently trying to maneuver beyond whatever overhang was obstructing my view, but I only found more darkness and complete stillness.

Gradually dim horizontal stripes illuminated the wall behind me. My hand moved up the canyon wall and as it did the grit beneath my fingers became smooth.  The lines of light rested on my hand, and the heavy-duty waterproof tube beneath my feet began to feel soft and fuzzy. I could hear the faint sound of an engine approaching as the light intensified.  I turned to look at the source of the light and began to see the familiar angles of my bedroom window, the framed photo of Jonah on my dresser, and the wool Pendleton blanket beneath my feet.  A car sped by outside, the light disappeared, and I found myself alone, crouched on the edge of my bed feeling completely disoriented.

In the morning the feeling lingered. I couldn't help but wonder why my subconscious mind remained on the river.  Jordan and I just returned from a 10-day commercial river trip working as unpaid crew through the Grand Canyon.  It was majestic and exciting.  But I have never spent a vacation working so hard.  Each day we woke up at 5:00 am as the night sky faded into dawn.  We made breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 30 people amid blowing sand and blazing heat.  We cleaned dishes and moved the groover (toilet).  Twice a day we loaded and unloaded cots, chairs, bags, tables, and dutch ovens.  We baked in the sun and watched our fingers turn to prunes after hours of torrential rain. We held tight through 8 days of rapids and felt our skin harden and peel in the dry heat of the canyon.  We fell asleep each night, creating makeshift beds across the hard metal frames of the raft. On our final day as we motored off the river towards Lake Mead my body was ready to come home. My muscles ached, and my face was ravaged, but my heart and mind could have stayed much longer.

The day we launched on the river was July 14th.  It would have been Jonah's 4th birthday.  In the past I have found joy and peace in sharing this day with everyone I know.  I have felt that the power of collective memory and mass observance would carry me through and make Jonah's short life more meaningful.  It has meant a lot to me to know that people still remember him and think of him.  But this year was different.  Instead of posting on Facebook or writing on this blog I sat next to my husband in the sandy quiet beauty of Redwall Cavern.  As people milled around and took photos we talked quietly about our little boy, and wondered what kind of 4 year old he would be.  We said how much we missed him and love him and then returned to the river.  It was a simple conversation in a beautiful place shared with the only person who loves Jonah exactly the way I do. And it felt like enough to me.

I recognize now that the river provided a much needed escape from my daily struggles.  A place where few people knew my story and my heartache; where I could remain anonymous amongst the rapids. A place where I could lay in solitude beneath endless layers of stars and satellites and simply contemplate their beauty until sleep took precedence.   A place where doctors appointments and life's trials faded behind more basic needs like food and shelter and safety.  I found as I immersed myself in the canyon I was forced into the present moment. My thoughts stayed in the stretch of river that laid before me, with no anticipation of what would come around each bend.  I lost any sense of time or sequence or obligation.  I surrendered to the experience, disconnected, and let the river carry me.  It felt like the purest form of freedom.  A freedom that is not easily forgotten or abandoned.

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me 
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.