Growing in Change

We change. We grow. We collect scars. We mature. We make mistakes. We learn. We carry wounds. We heal. We build relationships. We burn bridges. We hurt. We ignore. We decay. We develop.

We change.

I believe everyone changes. I don’t believe that the change is necessarily healthy or good, but all of us change. We can change into people who become more and more caustic and hateful, or we can choose to be people that grow towards health and wisdom.

I believe people can change because I can see the change in myself and the people around me.

I have grown wiser, more cautious, more outgoing, and occasionally more judgmental. I have become a better parent, wife, and pastor. I’ve developed my patience. I’ve learned to center myself in something besides myself.

I’ve seen my relationship with my husband, John, change over the past eight years we’ve been together. We’re still learning how to communicate with each other. I’d have thought I would have gotten more of it down by now. Apparently we keep changing and learning about ourselves, and keep bringing more to the relationship than we are aware of. This has been helpful to learn and challenging to navigate.

I’ve especially seen my daughter change. It’s easier to see: she adds a new word to her vocabulary each day. Her change is in greater increments. But when she reaches kindergarten, puberty, high school, college, or adulthood, she won’t stop changing. I’ll keep having to get to know her as we each keep changing.

I’ve even been able to tell that the daughter I am carrying is changing. Her kicks are getting stronger. She moves within me and listens to me sing. She grows.

I had a terrible migraine this past week thanks to Hurricane Irma that lasted four days. I cannot remember the last time I had a four day migraine. It was before I started trying to conceive our first child. The bonus is that I cannot take the usual medication I take to handle my migraines. I had tylenol and the ability to relax my body. After three days I got a rescue dose that knocked me to sleep and kept me out of the emergency room. When I am in the midst of a migraine that long, I have a hard time believing that I will never not have a migraine. I know, logically, that this is not the truth, but I feel like I will hurt and be exhausted forever.

What amazes me is that I lived through a season of migraines like this for a year and a half. I survived them hitting me in waves every single week.

What astonishes me is that it has been over three years since that season. I’ve gotten twice as far past that time than the time I spent in the midst of it. I’m far healthier now. I know my body better. I am more resilient. I enter centering prayer more easily. I am more able to relax my body through the pain, so that it doesn’t hurt as much.

As I spent hours upon hours mindfully relaxing my shoulders, jaw, hips, and neck, I realized I was receiving a small gift in the midst of the pain. Relaxing through an unmedicated migraine is not unlike relaxing through natural childbirth. The technique I use for coping with the pain of migraines is the same that I used for my first birth.

However, the pain itself is different. The experience and purpose of it are radically diametric. Migraines hurt because they hurt. Birth works the body in order to deliver a child.

Birth ushers in a radical change. The labor of childbearing, though intense, is productive.

Change in our lives will hurt. It either hurts because it is producing something new, or because we are caught in a cycle of trying to stay the same while change happens around us. I often get a migraine when a major weather system blows past. My body struggles to catch up to the change in the pressure around it. The weather eventually changes, and I eventually stabilize. But I am changed.

Every day, I change.

Advertisements

Love is what you do and what you say

Today is my Grandmomma Janet’s birthday. I’ve had three grandmothers, each very different. Now, only one is still living, Grammy Sara down in Florida. The third was the first one we lost, Sue-Sue. Each of my grandmothers had their own special name. They had their own special way of being. They have their own special impact on my life.

Grandmomma Janet loved to share love with people. She went out of her way to care for others. She set up crafts for the shut-in ministry at her church, she made pear preserves every single year that she could, she hosted our family for Thanksgivings and Christmases and Easters when we lived close enough. I learned table etiquette from her influence. (You cannot eat your dessert until the person serving everyone has been able to sit down and eat their first bite.) I learned that love is just as important by what you do as what you say. She was an artist, though she never quite claimed it. She loved daffodils.

Daffodils
Dancing in the wind

 

My grandmother looms larger than my grandfather, though I have memories of him as well. Granddaddy Norris still loves to work with his hands and build things out of wood. He loves cookies of all shapes and sizes. He always fell asleep while we were watching TV, unless he was watching Jeopardy, because he had to make sure they got the answers and the questions right. He loved to travel with Grandmomma Janet, they made sure that they took each of their grandchildren on at least one trip with them, to share that love.

Memories are funny things. We remember people from different times in our lives, and from different times in theirs. We put the memories together to build the composite of who we loved and who we remember. Some memories fade and some become crystalline, clearer with each year that goes by. It is important to forgive hurts and angry words, but it is also important to remember that the people we love and look up to are as imperfect as we are. Remembering loved ones as whole persons allows us to have grace for the people in our lives now. Norris and Janet at Wedding

Spinning

I faintly recall our house in Reidsville, and I know that the house in Greensboro had blue shag carpet in my bedroom, and that my sister and I “redecorated” the bed, her doll, and a few books while we were still there. I remember learning how hot things got cold and cold things got hot when they were left at room temperature… I couldn’t understand why my pear didn’t stay cold. But my first true memory is of a very particular merry-go-round.

The Merry-Go-Round is my favorite playground element. I like the swing, it is a very close second, but the merry-go-round? You spin faster and faster and faster and give yourself over to the force pulling you against the bar, never quite sure if you might spin off or stay until the next push. It has been years since I’ve been on one, but some of the same feeling comes when I go Contra Dancing, the same spin and release of control to someone else.

As a child, I always wanted to do the merry-go-round first. After church one morning, we went to go visit one of the mission communities in Columbus, Georgia where my father would eventually serve, Open Door. And I saw it. In the back there was a playground and I saw my prize: the merry-go-round.

Like a smart child who has learned the ways of the world, I knew that the quickest way to get from one point to another was in a straight line. Even if there was grass that was kinda tall, and there was an obvious path out of the way, I went straight to where I wanted to go.

I didn’t make it.

Stinging started.

I looked down, and my legs, in their lovely white tights (that I hated, by the way), were crawling with stinging things.

My seven year old self freaked out.

I thought that I had been attacked by a swarm of bees. I did not like bees. I did not want to be covered with them. But I was covered with stinging horribleness.

I don’t know how my mother got me to calm down enough to realize that I was not, in fact, being stung by a swarm of bees, instead I had run straight into a briar patch of sand spurs.

After I calmed down enough to sit, my mother and the children around me began to pick the stingers off of my tights at least enough to get me to take the tights off. There were too many stingers to get them all off a seven year old’s squirming legs.

I distinctly remember the kindness of the children around me and I distinctly remember that they were all black.

My first true memory, with a beginning, middle, and end is of children like me and yet with a different skin color than me.

I did end up getting to play on that merry-go-round, with those children.

I don’t know if I ever learned their names.

I don’t remember if I ever played with them again, though I don’t think so.

I’d love to say that I was always as kind to other children as they were to me, but I know that is not true.

I know that I learned that caring for someone is not based on their skin color.

I know that sometimes the path might not be the most direct route, but that the people who are part of the community know the dangers that formed the safest way to journey together.

And I know that playing together and working together is better than trying to push a merry-go-round all by yourself. If you take turns as the rider and the spinner, everyone has more fun.

Two Years Ago Today

This story begins on the fifth and continues into the morning of the sixth when we met our daughter for the first time. I’m so grateful that I had the option to deliver my daughter at Natural Beginnings Birth Center in Statesville, North Carolina. They were profoundly supportive in helping me have a natural, intervention free birth. I look forward to working with them through my current pregnancy and delivering with them in January. 

Warning: medically accurate descriptions. 

I woke up at six am on Sunday morning, July 5, to contractions that were strong enough to make me notice them but not strong enough for me to think they were anything other than the practice contractions that had been occurring over the past month. I went to center and then got a shower and decided that I wanted to go to church. A friend of ours lives down the road and pastors a church in the area, so John, Beth, and I went to worship with his community.

In the midst of worship the contractions continued.

At home for lunch, we ate and decided to head out for the afternoon to do some more shopping. I called Margo, my doula, to let her know that I was having regular contractions, but that they didn’t hurt. She encouraged me to ignore them, and to rest, if I could. If I wanted I could keep track of how many I was having per hour and then just calculate back how often I was having them.

After lunch, I went down for a nap, which was the last true rest I got that day.

We went out and went shopping for furniture to finish out our house. After shopping at GoodWill and BigLots, including going from Mooresville to Statesville to be able to have the furniture delivered, we headed home with a new set up for our living space. Nesting indeed.

My contractions continued to grow stronger, and more frequent, but I was still unsure if I was in labor, or just having another practice day. But I wanted to call our parents, just in case labor had begun…

Beth fixed us fajitas for dinner, which were delicious. A few times during dinner, I had to stop eating so that I could breathe through a contraction. At least once I got out of my chair to kneel on the floor. We determined that we needed to call the midwife on call, Margo, and our family. Mom and Dad headed our way and Margo came to help me cope with the strengthening contractions. Nicole, the midwife on call, encouraged me to get in the bath to see if the contractions would space out any when I got in the water. We left the Womens world cup playing.

They slowed, a little, but not much. Margo came and encouraged me to go rest and while I did lay down, I didn’t sleep any, since the contractions continued to get stronger.

I threw up at some point around here, I am not sure exactly when.

I came back into the living room, and we started watching Twister. I figured that a movie would keep me distracted while I coped with more and more pain. Every seven minutes or so I would move from my position on the futon to my yoga mat on the floor, resting my head on my exercise ball, while Margo applied counter pressure to my back in the midst of the pain. I started feeling nauseated at each contraction, and thought I might throw up, Beth went to go get a big pot to sit by me on the floor, just in case. Margo massaged my feet while I rested and watched the movie.

While we watched the movie, Beth and John (mostly Beth) constructed the bench we had just purchased from GoodWill for the end of our bed. It was good to have folks distracted around me, so that I could also be distracted from a lengthly process that had only just begun.

Mom and Dad arrived shortly after the movie ended, and I called Nicole again, letting her know that my contractions continued to get stronger. By this point, the only thing that helped me cope with them was not only pressure at my lower back, but also counter pressure on my hips. This meant that two people were responding to me each time I said: help.

(Mom made cookies as she arrived, and they got ready to come to the birth center with us.)

We called the midwife and she said to try the tub again. I got back in the tub to see if the pain would lessen or slow down, but even in the tub I needed the pressure on my lower back to cope. I threw up again, and Margo encouraged me to call the midwife to let her know that things were progressing.

By two in the morning, I was ready to go to the Birth Center. We knew that I needed to be dilated at least 5 or 6 to be admitted, but I really didn’t want to get much worse before making that car ride. Beth rode in the back of the Prius with me, applying pressure to my back while I attempted counter pressure to my hips with a kikoi, while John took the curves of the road as quickly and as smoothly as he could. Margo and Mom and Dad followed in separate cars.

When we arrived at the Birth Center shortly before 3 in the morning, Nicole checked me, and let me know I was at 5 centimeters. She admitted me, though they would have preferred to wait until 6. John, Beth, Margo, and I took a walk around the parking lot, stopping every five minutes or so for me to rest into John, while Margo and Beth applied pressure at each contraction. This was pain that I was standing on my tip-toes trying to avoid. I was nauseated again at each pressure rush.

We went back to the labor room, and Margo suggested that I lay down, trying to relive some pain and get some final moment of rest. This position, however, made the pain so bad that I threw up for the third time.

The Baby’s heart rate was checked and she was doing well, so I got in the shower to try to get some heat and water on me before I got in the tub. The shower worked a little, John got in his suit and helped apply pressure when I contracted, but I asked them to go ahead and fill the birth tub so that I could get in.

The water felt really good. Being supported by the weight of the water helped. The pain was still there, but I could cope. I had to be reminded constantly to keep my face loose and the tones of my voice low at each contraction.

At some point after getting into the pool my water broke all in a rush, and I pushed for the first time. I did it instinctually, I didn’t even really register that I had done it until Margo asked me: Kathy, are you pushing? Yes. I guess I am.

They got me out of the pool so they could check me; I was at 9 centimeters. I was allowed to start pushing, following my body’s natural urges. I think this was around 5 in the morning. I asked how much more they were going to hurt, and whether I had gone through transition yet. I knew I could take more, but not much more at all, and I wanted to know what my limit would be.

I kept changing positions in the pool, and finally came to a squat, where I was bent over the edge of the pool, gripping Beth and Margo’s hands, getting a drink of water between each contraction. I pushed.

Around 6 or so, I was told I could reach down and feel the baby’s head. Indeed, just inside was the dear crown of my child. I pushed.

At some point Tracie, the midwife who was working with me, said that I had only two or three more to go. This did prove to be the case, unfortunately, she meant pushes and it turned out to be hours.

At around 6:30 Tracie said that if I wasn’t going to give birth in the next few minutes, that we would need to get out of the pool so she could help me. I asked what help entailed, and she said, she would be able to coach me better if we were on the bed.

At 6:45 or so I got out, already shaky, and we moved to the bed. And that’s when the pain changed.

I didn’t feel it in my back any more. I didn’t feel nauseated any more. I could feel Rebekah pressing at me, trying to do more than crown. She would crown for the next three hours.

I got on the bed and we began to push. I held my legs, and pushed. I held on to John and Beth, and pushed. I felt my mother and the nurse, Jennifer, hold my feet, and pushed.

Tracie began to run her fingers along my perineum at the break of each contraction, and it hurt deeply, I wanted to leave the pain. She was massaging me, applying a quart of olive oil over the next three hours, trying to help Rebekah slip out.

I pushed. I asked if I could get on my hands and knees, and we tried that, and I pushed. I couldn’t do it as strongly, so we pushed again from my back. I laid on my side, with my legs in full squat, and I pushed.

I could only get three real pushes in with each contraction. At each contraction, Rebekah moved the tiniest amount. But it was not enough.

I had a hard time catching my breath. I was so very hot. (I learned later that everyone else was very cold, the room was cold, I was just doing so much work.) I got a drink of water after each contraction. I realized, at some point, that no one had said for a very long time that I needed to loosen my face or speak in low tones. Beth actually told me: say it, just say it. I couldn’t even get in a curse word in the midst of the pain.

I kept myself from biting John but I realized the next day that I had bitten my lips to smithereens.

Mom prayed that I would use my strength to complete this task that I had begun.

I was tired. I was in pain. I was working. I was still working so hard and I knew that she was so very close.

They kept monitoring Rebekah’s heart rate and she continued to be good, even though she had been in the crowning position for such a long time.

Tracie said that if I didn’t push her out on my own in the next two to three contractions, she would have to preform an episiotomy. She said that she hadn’t done one before.

I went through one contraction. So close. So very close. Not there yet.

I breathed deep. I waited. I felt the contraction come on, and took a deep breath and pushed. I breathed and pushed again.

They said I was almost there. I took one more breath before the contraction ended, and pushed for all I had for the final time.

Rebekah came. Oh, praise the Lord, once she came, she came all at once. They rubbed her body and placed her on me. She was perfect. It was 9:43 in the morning on Monday, July 6, her due date.

Mom cut the cord after it stopped beating and I don’t even really remember the placenta coming out.

I could barely move. They pulled the sheets under me to the head of the bed so that I could sit up. I was so very tired.

I held our new daughter. She is so very strong.

I was in pain the next day over my entire body. My throat felt like it had been strangled. I was sore from my shoulders, head, hips, thighs, and down to the arches of my feet.

It was all worth it. It was worth it to labor while fully present, even with all of the pain. It was worth it to have to go through three hours of her crowning to be able to not be cut. It was wonderful that I was in a place where I felt supported, surrounded by folks that were focused on me and my ability to be able to do this work, this labor, on my own, following my natural instincts.

Four days later I’m still sore. I’m still tired. But I have the most amazing gift in my daughter, resting in my arms. I am sure that we will have many more adventures together.

Hearts Formed and Unformed

Trigger warning: Pregnancy loss

Three years ago, today, John and I lost our first child to miscarriage.

Nothing prepares you for this kind of loss. It unravels you. After the fact, we learned that at least a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage, but no one talks about it, so no one knows. I didn’t tell more people outside of immediate family than I could count on one hand for over a year.

It was the continual questions of, “Is this your first?” when I was pregnant with R that hurt the most. How are you supposed to respond? Do you throw metaphorical cold water over the conversation by saying, no, but there’s not a living kid? Do you grin and grind your teeth?

I was pregnant two Mothers Days in a row but only had one kid on the way.

I had a meeting to go to that night, and I was not sure what was going on, and so I went to the meeting and the only thing I could think about the whole time is, “I think I’m losing my baby.”

The next day, I had a transvaginal ultrasound while the technician spent the entire time speechless. And then I went into the exam room to wait for the doctor and she came in and said, “so you know what’s going on,” and no one had told me, and she went into an explanation of what Down’s Syndrome is… No. I needed someone to tell me I had miscarried, to just tell me and let me sit with it for a little while.

I don’t think it was Down’s. Something just didn’t stitch right. Her heart could not beat. And we lost our child.

I named her Sarah Grace. I’m still learning grace through this experience.

Don’t tell me it was God’s plan. Don’t tell me I should just be grateful for my Rainbow baby. I know this can be uncomfortable, but sometimes you simply need to sit with someone in their grief whether you have experienced the same thing or not, and hold the space of their grief.

The first trimester of my second pregnancy I don’t think I really ever relaxed. I couldn’t write the cheery letter to my firstborn like the one I wrote in the week I knew I was pregnant with Sarah Grace. I didn’t dare to dream until I heard her heartbeat the first time.

My parents, my husband, and I stood around a stand of daffodils in our yard on the first anniversary of losing her and prayed a liturgy for pregnancy loss together. Sometimes other’s words help.

I’m healing, still. I encounter the grief when I think of her, when I remember the experience, when I hear of other women who have experienced the same kind of loss. It’s easier to deal with, to examine, to turn over in my head and consider how I’ve changed because of losing her.

Gradually, my heart mends. Eery so often I’ll find a stitch that slipped and needs to be worked back into the fabric of my heart. The patch remains, but I become more whole.

Life is a very strange thing. It’s tenuous. So many things have to come together in the right way to create a life. But those around us can seem so strong sometimes that we forget the frailty under the surface. We forget the careful knitting that was necessary to form our inward parts and bring us into being.

I pray for hearts formed and unformed.

I pray for hearts broken and healing

I pray for hearts joyful and grieving.

I pray for hearts questioning and certain.

I pray for your heart and for mine.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

This prayer by Rev. Karen Westerfield Tucker from “A Service of Hope After Loss of Pregnancy” found in The United Methodist Book of Worship (p624) helped me heal. I offer it to you if your heart needs healing.

Lord, we do not understand why this life, which we had hoped to bring into this world, is now gone from us. We know only that where there was sweet expectation, now there is bitter disappointment; where there were hope and excitement, there is a sense of failure and loss. We have seen how fragile life is, and nothing can replace this life, this child, whom we have loved before seeing, before feeling it stirring in the womb, even before it was conceived. In our pain and confusion we look to you, Lord, in whom no life is without meaning, however small or brief. Let not our limited understanding confine our faith. Draw us closer to you and closer to one another. Lay our broken hearts open in faith to you and in ever greater compassion to one another. So raise us from death to life; we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.