Catalyst

I went through a few years playing faith and going through the motions. I felt I really had no viable option otherwise. I hadn’t lost my faith but I didn’t feel connected either. The time after my first grandma died was also the time I was initially grieving children we would never have, and for its entirety I felt like I was watching faith and religion be played on the big screen after I had given away my ticket to the show.

I prayed, most definitely I prayed. I felt God’s presence, but more as an obvious thing, like the fact that on a sunny day the sky will also show itself to be blue. I believed, but believing in Jesus was believing the sky is blue.. an obvious fact without depth.

About these references to the blue sky. I spent, and do spend, a lot of time viewing, admiring, and analyzing the sky – particularly sunrises and sunsets. On summer days I was convinced that the sky was just not as poignantly blue as it was in El Paso.

And then I’d start to reminisce about El Paso and begin to miss it. But not the physical city itself.. the feeling of belonging and home. In a city where I was the minority for once, I still made sure to make it my home. Inevitably in my mind I’d get off on a tangent about what am I doing in Maryland anyway. What is my life amounting to. What’s the purpose of my life anyway.

That thought of purpose brought me back to sitting on Mimi’s deathbed with a fuzzy blanket. A literal bed where her death occurred. There have been very few times in my life where God has revealed himself to me. But in those last hours before we left her, God was there. Just as He was there when she came into the world as she left it: alone. He was orchestrating the entire event. And before my heart had broken with the finality of her loss he’d already begun to mend it.

To be completely honest I had no other option, and He knew that I think. It was all or nothing at that point for me, and I needed a catalyst to not be a wallflower to my faith, or my life, anymore.

Fulfilled

For the past couple years I’ve been on a quest to find out what on this earth makes me feel fulfilled. What can I do, where can I go, that makes me feel the best kind of emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. I haven’t quite found the pot of gold yet but I know for certain one thing that fills the gap is long distance running.

I never wrote a Philly Marathon race report, partially because I was busy, partially because I was lazy, and lastly because the last three miles of 26 shifted my perspective in a big way and I didn’t quite want to share it yet.

It’s not a secret really: do what you do because you’re motivated to do it, and the only person stopping you is you. Thats it. But it’s something I’ve been battling within my soul.

Once I gave myself permission to break through the confines of pain, exhaustion, and basically any physical barrier, my mind was free to control my body instead of the other way around.

I no longer felt dread or like I was slogging my unwilling body through the mud step by step. Instead, I felt like I was truly free and fulfilled for the first time in probably 2 or 3 years.

The high lasted for little more than 12 hours. When I came down, I came down hard but I knew what to expect. My first question was how to feel like this not just again, but always. I think I might spend the rest of my life trying to figure that out.

To my little girl.

We had names for you both.

One of you was going to be Dagny Elayne, the first name after Dagny Taggart of Atlas Shrugged, a real go-getter with a kickass personality; the second name was after a character in your daddy’s all time favorite book series, Wheel of Time. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Dagny when your father suggested it. But over several years, it grew on me. Together your names would mean “new light”. Perfect, I thought. Leah Beth gave me a little pair of pink linen shorts with a bow at the waist and told me, “These are for little Dagny” because she knew that that was going to be your name. I don’t have those shorts anymore.

At your great-grandmother’s funeral, I decided then that I wanted to change your name to Eleanor Jane, after her. Your daddy didn’t even mind – he loved her too. I always loved old, classic names. This is one thing I agreed with your Mimi on – someday, a little girl was going to grow up and be a professional or doctor or something with a nameplate outside her office, or have her name read at a graduation ceremony, so she should have a really strong name. I totally agreed with that. I thought it would be so poetic, if a little tragic, if I had conceived you the same month your Grammie Jane passed away – I saw it as her spirit living on. She would have been so happy.

I saw you in my dreams. I don’t remember seeing your face in every dream, but I knew that you had bright blue eyes, just like mine. My whole life they’ve been my claim to fame (ha) and I wanted to pass them to you. I know with these eyes you’d be an honest, caring, compassionate child. I saw your long brown hair, a few inches above your waist, a rich brown like your daddy’s. All I ever imagined is that my daughter would have more beautiful hair than I ever did, thick and unwieldy. And now my hair’s going gray. My theory is that we tried so long to have you that all the stress started making my hair gray.

When you grew to be a little girl, I was going to make sure I read you all of my favorite books. And I’d read these to your brother too – Goodnight, Moon; Are You My Mother?; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; Little House on the Prairie; A Wrinkle in Time – we’d sit on your little bed under a fuzzy blanket and read by the lamp next to your bed. You’d be curious and not be able to wait until the next day to read a new chapter. You’d be a bookworm, just like your daddy, and have shelves and shelves full of books.

Your father and I always discussed how important it was for kids to try lots of new things. We wanted to make sure you stayed physically healthy and meet new friends, so we would have loved for you to join a local tee-ball team, or do karate, or participate in an community art class. We’d also want you to be involved in something musical – not because we were going to be overbearing parents, but because we both were musically inclined and wanted you to enjoy music as well. Maybe your little hands would have graced a violin, or clutched drumsticks. Maybe you would have sung in a choir or had a solo. Maybe you would have been able to just play any song you hear, and not be like me where I can’t memorize anything. I never would have been mad about you innocently plinking away on the piano that was your great-great-grandmother’s if you had wanted to.

I was so enamored with you as a little girl. To be honest, I never pictured you being older than 4 or 5. I never pictured your wedding (if you wanted to get married), or your children (if you wanted to be a mother). I never pictured you talking back to me as a tween. I only pictured the sweet memories we would have had. I would have been kinder and more patient than your Mimi. I would have let you keep your hair long when you were little, if you wanted to.

I would have taught you how to spell and write before you entered kindergarten. I was unsure about putting you in preschool or pre-kindergarten, because you know, I am a teacher and would have made sure you were ready. I kept aprons for you to help me cook in the kitchen – and I wouldn’t have gotten mad at you for spilling something on the clean floor.

I had a dream one time where I saw you, face to face, and you, Dagny (Eleanor), were just the sweetest little girl. I told you in my dream as I held you close to hug you and pick you up, “I wanted you so badly. We both wanted you so much.” That’s it. That’s all we said. I woke up on my side of the bed with your daddy asleep next to me, and cried silently into my pillow. I don’t know if he knows this. But I cried.

I also wanted to give you my maiden name as a middle name. I didn’t want to hyphenate it though. I liked how your name looked written out – Dagny Elayne (or Eleanor Jane) – and I was going to call you Dag for short.

And now I have to say goodbye before I even get to say hello. It’s a cruel world out there, sweetheart, and even though I was a good little girl, and then a (mostly) good teenager, and then became a good responsible woman, I still never got to welcome you into our life. Dagny, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s how life is. You don’t get to pick and choose – sometimes you have to deal with whatever comes.

But Dagny Elayne, I have to let you go. I’m sorry. Mommy is sorry. Daddy is sorry. Mommy has to let you go and let your spirit be free.

Rejecting platitudes and accepting the pain of grief

I couldn’t hear one more platitude as I shared my story. I couldn’t stomach one more look of pity, or even worse, blank space behind the eyes. It was just too painful.

I became exhausted listening to all the things people said to me. And I say me specifically because for some reason the man’s role in reproducing just isn’t on many people’s radars. And for some reason the questions about kids – whether we had them, why we didn’t have them – were directed towards me.

 

Thanks.

It seems that the ‘thing’ these days is instead of being present with people as they’re rocked by the waves of grief, we try to fix the pain. We’re uncomfortable as a society to see people in pain. And it needs to stop.

I experienced this with the death of my grandmother, Jane, who I absolutely adored and loved. I found myself justifying my grief at what to our whole family came largely as a surprise – how ridiculous is that?

“My grandmother passed away, but she lived a long life.

“My grandmother died last month, but now she no longer suffers.

“My grandmother died suddenly, but she’s with Jesus now.

These are things I said, and I so longed to just allow the discomfort of the heart-wrenching loss and let people join me in my grief.

We look at the other side as greener. It’s the American way, right?

“We can’t have kids, but now we can travel and do whatever we want!”

“We could have gone through IUI or IVF, but it just would have had a horrible impact on my mental state.”

These “but….” phrases are dangerous. Not only do they not satisfy us and make us feel better, but they allow us to completely drive by the very real grief a person is going through. I don’t owe anybody an explanation or a platitude to make them feel better, for God’s sake. When we’re grieving, we have a horrible propensity to do unnecessary emotional labor for others.

I was (am) desperate to just say, “We couldn’t have kids.” and allow that truth, however uncomfortable, to settle in. I wanted to say for once, “I lost my grandmother and we were very close.”

I had to do this on my own. Even my church community seemed to be at a loss, more about the intangible loss of parenthood than about losing a person who was lucky enough to live 87 years.

There is a lot of work to be done in the area of grief, death, dying, and trauma in this society. But those of us who have been afflicted can’t stay silent. We need to be willing to compassionately educate others – to have the difficult conversations,

To let the uncomfortable truth of loss fall where it may. To allow space for discomfort. To reject platitudes. To accept our grief. It is only in this acceptance and space that we as a society can get closer to the hard things and be okay with it. And from there, we can better comfort those in need and in grief.

The maternity section

For years and years I imagined what I’d look like with the coveted and adorable baby bump. I remember even from a young age I’d playfully stick out my stomach (especially after eating) and see what a baby might look like. I thought it was pretty cute. No lies – I’ve done this as an adult too.

Whenever I went shopping at places that still have a dedicated maternity section, like Target, I’d make a mental note of the types of clothes I’d want to buy when I needed to bedazzle the bump.

I even had a Pinterest board called “Baby W” or something equally banal, with all things baby pinned, including maternity wear. (Said board was deleted probably a year and a half ago.)

I dreamed of when leggings and long tunics would actually be socially acceptable to wear to work, when comfort would finally be justified over every other quality in my closet.

How naive I was.

When we were trying to have a baby (#wilcoxonstakeonbabymaking2014… #notarealhashtag) I made sure that the items of clothing I bought would cover a I-might-just-be-fat belly as well as a pretty-much-a-whale belly. Just to be safe. Just to make sure I didn’t waste any of my clothing budget on stuff that wouldn’t fit in a few months.

Again, how naive I was.

The point is that the quest for motherhood was absolutely all encompassing, even affecting decisions like what to buy to make sure it’ll fit my beautiful, fertile, pregnant belly.

So in the end, I ended up with a lot of cute comfy tunics (that started off as dresses but basically became shirts because ya girl is tall) and leggings. I also had, ya know, real clothes, like skinny jeans and work pants. Now I can go to the store and nothing holds me back from buying something except for the price (I never buy anything that’s full price. I’m the queen of Target’s Cartwheel app, and also thrifting).

I won’t lie: I do have two dresses that are actually maternity dresses. When I found them, at first I didn’t realize they were meant for baby bumps (not food babies…) but they fit really well so I decided to buy them anyway.

I feel a slight bit salty when I wear them – they’re really cute, no one would know they’re maternity, and I feel a slight bit vindicated that ha! I do get to have something remotely related to motherhood. Take that!

And then the 31-year-old voice in my head speaks to me:

#growupelizabeth #actyourage #buildabridgeandgetoverit

 

Yoga made me cry.

As I was standing in the last tadasana of my practice with hands at heart center, it hit me how actually close to my heart I had become. In the third floor ‘bonus room’ of our new beautiful house, with windows open and sweat (or humidity) dripping off my body, I realized that more unity had been cultivated between my mind and body in the past several months than I realized. This realization brought on tears that I didn’t expect.

I hadn’t even finished my coffee yet.

When one’s body doesn’t perform or operate as it should, it’s frustrating. I would even say that it can be damaging to one’s psyche. I’m no psychologist or clergyperson, but I can imagine that without unity between one’s body, mind, and soul, the body is no longer revered as a ‘temple’. What I believe is that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit  but I’ve been defiling my temple for a long time.

When I think of not loving my body, I first think of hating how I look in the mirror, scoffing at the number on the scale, or eating copious amounts of whatever food will bring me comfort. But — always, always, always — these seemingly superficial manifestations of the lack of self-love stem from a deep-seated disunity among mind, body, and soul.

I’ve medicated with food, with alcohol, with running, with CICO (calories in, calories out). And all these things help a little bit, whether it’s by dulling the pain, creating more pain, or giving a sense of accomplishment. Ultimately, however, I have to find a balance and heal myself from the inside out in a way that’s sustainable in the long run.

This isn’t about healing my body so that I can carry a child. Friends, that ship has sailed and is half way around the world by now. What I’m discovering is that my mind-body connection, my temple, has to be healed for me. And then, from there, I can fulfill my purpose in life. I can then pour into my marriage, into my students, into relationships with colleagues and bosses and neighbors and fellow congregants.

So, how do I fix a broken temple? How do I rebuild? Truly it’s not built in a day. It took weeks, months, years of deterioration to destroy what God created as good — my body, mind and soul — and therefore it’ll take time to rebuild.

I’m not saying I have to cry and show emotion like I did in my yoga practice in order to rebuild my temple. But for me, that’s how I roll (I’ve mentioned before how much like Kristen Bell I am), and that’s how I know something’s working. Something’s hitting a nerve.

In yoga (and I’m an amateur so hear me out), your body can never be far from your mind. Even in savasana, you feel the ‘earth’ beneath you and are aware of the air, the noises, the breath.

What I absolutely love about the end of yoga practice is that no matter how aligned or how klutzy I was, I just spent time with my body in a positive environment seeking new challenges and bringing things into alignment. I come from death back into life, and it’s a new chance to honor my temple so that I can do the work meant for me since the beginning of time.

The bend in the road: a reflection from January 2016

Again I write, not sure if these words will see the light of day. My last post was written almost four months ago, when I shared our story of infertility. I mentioned that there’s hope that can overshadow the disappointment that comes with this journey.

I wasn’t sure how hope would play out over the next few months. I was hesitant to try to put that into a vision of reality. But I hoped it would come in the form of a perfect baby, a product of our love (and genes).

Unfortunately, that’s not the hope that has come to fruition. We did another round of fertility treatment which wasn’t successful. I had more testing that came back normal. There’s just not an explanation. Hence, the ‘unexplained infertility’ diagnosis.

The fertility drug is the least invasive of treatments according to the doctor. But according to me, I felt invaded. My hormones were raging, I was in pain, I was moody, I was emotional. I did not feel like myself, and so we decided that that was the end of the line for treatment.

We decided before we even began this journey that noninvasive treatment would be the stopping point. And before you get to that stopping point, you can maybe make a list of the things to try after that… adoption? Fostering? Fostering to adopt? Living without children?

Now that our natural options are exhausted, we face a sea of unknown. I couldn’t even tell you how I feel about adopting. Or fostering. Except that I don’t feel ‘called’ to that right now. I don’t know if I ever will.

Living without kids? Well, living without our biological kids? That is something that blindsided me. I could have never foreseen that that would even be a path for our life.

I remember way back when Aaron and I had first started dating (almost 13 years ago…) that I saw him fling a kitchen towel over his shoulder. It seems kind of silly, as he was just helping clean up after dinner, but I was 17 and in love (only I didn’t know it yet) and made this image in my mind of instead of a kitchen towel, it would be a baby blanket or burp rag he’d fling over his shoulder, followed by holding our baby. Our baby. Ok. That’s a little crazy to think that. But it was my romantic idealized mind.

Ever since that moment, I’d always imagined what our kids would look like. I’ve had dreams about our kids. I’ve thought about what kinds of parents we’d be, and how Aaron would have to be the disciplinarian of the two of us because if we had a little boy that had his irresistible curls and his disarming smile, it would be impossible for me to give a stern look and mean it.

I’ve thought about how maybe if we had a girl, she would be interested in music, and computers, and sewing, and running. Or maybe not. But I knew I’d want her to have my blue eyes and Aaron’s thick hair.

For years we’ve had names chosen. Good, strong, meaningful names. I imagined that over my pregnant belly I’d pray for my children, that they’d embody those names. I imagined that the first time I held them, I’d say the name out loud and instead of it being in a dream, it would be proclaiming that new being’s existence in this world. An existence that would contribute kindness, love, and Christ’s heart to the world. An existence that would be light.

Maybe I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never bear children of my own. In anyplace we’ve lived, I never could truly see that a child would also live there. Even now, in our new house, each bedroom has a purpose and not one of them seems like it could be a nursery.

The past four months have been reflective, of course, and a little crazy. We’ve been taking a break from trying because of Aaron recently getting out of the Army and tackling our major cross-country move to the East Coast. I also didn’t want to be preoccupied with infertility and pregnancy while home visiting with family over Christmas. From what I read and hear, so many infertile people have a hard time enjoying the holidays, and rightfully so. But I wanted to make the most of it, and I did.

I look back over the nearly two years since we started this walk (May of 2014) and I’m astonished at how I’ve changed. Physically, I’m worse off. With hormone fluctuations, stress, and coping, I’ve gained 25-30 pounds. That upsets me because I worked so hard several years ago to lose that weight and was able to maintain. I’m back to square one with running. That also upsets me because I was doing great after the Transmountain Half.. I was the fastest and fittest I’ve been and I let it all go.

Emotionally and mentally, I’ve been through the wringer. If it weren’t for this break and also the cessation of fertility meds, you’d find me back in therapy. I’ve been in some dark spaces in the past 6-8 months especially. I’ve felt a disconnect with my body and a betrayal despite the positive thoughts I’ve forced.

Spiritually, I don’t know where I’m at, to be honest. I love God. I know Jesus died for me so I could have new life. I pray. I do devotions. I’m still motivated to be involved in church. But as far as ‘God’s plan’… I’m not even sure what that means completely in the context of these circumstances. I do know that it means that my gifts and talents are to be used to show Christ on this earth and draw people to Him. Does it really matter what I do as long as I’m doing that?

I teach. I embrace each student I meet as a person before we even get into the material. Right now I have a herd of about 150 middle schoolers that I sub for every day. Soon I’ll have community college and continuing education students who will sit in my classes to learn English. I’ve been taking a hold of every opportunity Maryland will give me.

Teaching is my passion, and it’s evident to those who know me. Talking about ESOL lights up my day and puts the pep in my step. Some women feel this way about being a mother.

At this point, despite trying to become a mother for so long, I don’t know if I would feel that way. It scares me a little bit to think that maybe I wouldn’t feel that way about being a mother. I’ve always joked about how being a stay-at-home-mom would drive me crazy after awhile, but I think there’s some truth in that statement.

Maybe I know deep down where my call is. Some women are indeed called to a life of motherhood. And I guess there is a maternal aspect to teaching. But there’s also this constant knowledge that the students I have are not my own. They go off into their own lives and directions and I’m totally okay with that. I want them to not need me. It’s a relief to know that most of the time, they’ll leave our time together not needing me.

After all that, what I really wanted to say throughout all these words is that I’m taking time to grieve and heal. I’m at a bend in the road. I see a little bit ahead of me – isn’t that only what we all see, always? – and right now, I see students in desks with expectant looks on their faces and the promise of new relationships. New opportunities to love people and give them practical tools for life.