Tuesday, February 18, 2014

a slip, not a fall [post-partum depression, part 2]

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The path was worn and slippery. 
My foot slipped from under me, 
knocking the other out of the way, 
but I recovered and said to myself, 
"It's a slip and not a fall." 
– Abraham Lincoln

Photography was a gem for me. It helped me cope during Jon’s deployment. It gave me a much-needed creative outlet during my “playtime” in medical school. And as my skills grew, my camera grew. And my business grew. Capturing life was honorable and enjoyable-it reminded me of why living and loving and friendship and faith were such important bookmarks.

But the irony came when I didn’t want to take pictures of my baby. Without iphones and Instagram, I’m not sure Thatcher’s first months would be captured. My memories of them are formed through photos—my own mind provides only deep space of sleepless nights, feelings of inadequacy, and innocent threats to my own self-worth. I felt frozen, symbolically cold. Looking back, I realize now that I did things because I was supposed to. I took him for walks. I gave him tummy time. I dressed him and changed him and fed him. And I suppose that I loved on him. 
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It was months before I finally starting loving him.
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I cringe even writing that. Mom’s are supposed to love their babies. A new-mom-friend texted me last week and told me that she couldn’t wait to pick her baby up after their nap. Another cried at the thought of going back to work. The harsh truth is that I wasn’t in a good place. My valley was deep. I couldn’t wait to put Thatcher down for his naps—my space bubble was invaded all hours of the day and night. Going back to work wasn’t negotiable for me, and so we dealt emotionlessly with the throes of pumping and feeding and nursing and schedule changes and long-call-shifts and unpredictability. I shed no tears over my return to the job—if I’m honest with myself I was excited to get back to the only scheduled thing in my life.
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The fog started lifting around the 10 month-mark. I was back to (and well-below) my pre-pregnancy weight. My boobs were finally tamed and I no longer had to bite Popsicle sticks during nursing sessions. We’d successfully made it through 4-failed-“Get Your Kid to Sleep” books, 1 horrendous OB call month, 35 days of Daddy being away, and 7 months of working-pumping-not-sleeping-during-residency insanity. And while I was certainly still feeling insane, the communication between Jon and I was finally turned back on. We started to connect again. He’d found his way through the spiderweb of feelings I had spun and figured out how to best support me. And I took my “my kid screams all the time” earplugs out long enough to listen to his feedback.
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We’d made it through the lowest point in our relationship. And though involuntarily and probably subconsciously, I’d started to hike out of my own valley.
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I gave up my cleaning schedule. My floors were swept every 2 weeks and collected crumbs and dirt and mud and tears and dust bunnies in between. I’d managed to plant a garden during the summer (I needed something to do during the 2+ hours of cry-it-out each night) and felt satisfied about the freezer stocked well with harvest. Our marriage was growing stronger—slowly and painfully, but growing. And miraculously, Thatcher had survived my black abyss that clouded the first months of his life. I finally started to enjoy him—the smiles and babbles and food-fights and habits that he had developed shone light into the fading darkness.
His sleeping is still irregular. But around 15 months, another month of OB-call shifts forced him into a more rigorous schedule. We are still waking up 1-4 times per night. He is almost two. I’m waddling now from another baby on the way (1 month and counting). And the truth is that I’m in a much better place. Sometimes memory gets in the way of living. In this case, though, it is memory that provides life. I didn’t realize the depth of my despair as a new-mommy until recently—friends having babies and being in such different places than I was served as a hot-plate of reality that what I referred to as a “blur” or even “post-partum adjustment” was depression. It was true and real and unsympathetic.
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The scientist in me still attributes it to changing hormone levels, a c-section with maximum intervention, and a personality that goes against the grain of deep sentiment. But I’m learning to be a realist with my feelings and call things as they are. And although it has taken me almost 24 months to fully admit it, I was depressed. Those months were hard and dark and the despair ran deep. The feelings of inadequacy plagued every breath and utter exhaustion filled every space in my life. The self-criticism was ruthless and pungent—its stagnant odor piercing everything from body image to baby gear. I think if I am honest with myself, I’ve always viewed depression as a form of mal-adaptive weakness. In other words, something that certainly was not me.
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But it was me. And in many places, it still IS me.

There is a certain amount of fear that hops alongside the depressed—like a remora on the back of an aging whale. The fear dictates feelings and hopes and dreams and emotions. And when pressed the wrong way or twisted the wrong direction, it bites.

My 4-inch surgical scar was just the beginning.

My identity as a mom is still in flux. The truth is that I hope it always will be. Stagnation forms blood clots and smelly ponds—two things my heart and life don’t need. I’ve had to re-evaluate my priorities (more than once), (try to) give up my self-fulfilling desires, and learn the hard way that I’m not number one in my life. Perhaps this is obvious to most mom’s. Our culture feeds a pre-packaged meal of low-fat love and chemically-laden falsities when it comes to parenthood. The glam is highlighted in golden sparkles and the trenches are made out to be for weak ones. But the truth, as I am learning, is that LIFE happens in the trenches and valley’s and deep, dark places. It is dirty and tiring and dangerous and sometimes it is stagnant.
Babies come and leave cuts and scars and bruises. They give us wrinkles and gray hairs and saggy stretch-marked skin. Along with the package of parenthood are free sleepless nights and bubbling frustration over spilled fingerpaints and cultural fallacy that bunnies and fulfillment are at the end of each rainbow. But also with those sleepless nights, toothless smiles, and (out)bursts of joyous emotion from unregulated toddlers is rich, rich reward that cannot be duplicated or imitated. For as much as Thatcher has taught me about parenthood, he has managed to teach me more about myself—my selfishness, my commitments, and my timeline—none of which were ever mine to control in the first place.
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Many days of the week, I am still a disappointment. I lose my temper. I find myself playing with the fire of high expectations. And what I’m guilty of most is missing the blessings disguised in unpredictability.
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Maybe parenthood itself is a valley. And on our way up to sea-level, maybe we are meant to brave the rocks and dirt and smelly pond water. It is inevitable that we will stumble. We will learn to work hard and play harder. We will learn to love the trenches--and decorate the walls with Pinterest crafts and clean the floors every 2 weeks because it is all we can mentally handle.  And somewhere along the way, we’ll learn to embrace our scars. The old ones that have healed with keloids and memories. The unexpected ones that have branded us in places we didn’t want visible. And the ones yet to come that will shape our failures and our futures.
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On our way out of that valley we’ll encounter inclimate weather, lose pavestone, and setbacks. We’ll inevitably emerge with new scars—the result of lose soil and clumsy footing. But I keep trying to remember that when I find myself face down on those dirty floors of mine, the ones that haven’t been cleaned in 2 weeks, that I’ve only slipped.
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It is a slip, not a fall. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

broken strings [post-partum depression, part 1]

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My first breakdown was when he was 6 weeks old. I’d fallen asleep nursing (again) and Jon came in to check on us. The end result was a two hour conversation, an entire box of Kleenex tissue, and heaving sobs from the new unknown I’d become.

It wasn’t pretty.

I was exhausted from his birth. The c-section was a surprise—I’d gone in hoping for minimal intervention and walked out of the hospital with a new kid and a 4 inch scar across my lower abdomen. It was the first of many cuts.
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I look back at photos of that cold day in February: membranes ruptured, walks and bouncing and stair-stepping and deep-house-cleaning and 12 hours later just a hotspot of back pain without much progress, and into the hospital for waiting and rolling and deep breathing and stalling and IUPC’s and epidurals and cutting and first breaths and crying. It was all so rote for me—routine, emotionless, numb. I remember the back pain, the breathing. I remember the referred right shoulder pain and the bruise that the anesthesiologist left on my trapezius—probably some deeper sign of the metaphoric changing colors happening inside. I remember the awe that Jon captured through the camera, the tears that flowed freely from the Grandma’s, and the Benadryl that was like a sweet relief for me at the end of a long day. I remember all these things—these good things, exciting things, new things.
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But I don’t remember smiling.
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I didn’t take things seriously for a while. The day after surgery I walked around the room like a zombie—learning to breastfeed, feeling poked and bruised and cut-open. And for the healing that had already happened, I felt like I had a million more contusions to work through.

The first week home I ate an entire pound of Kirkland Fruit and Nut Medley, a few bites of cottage cheese, and choked down the water that was forcibly leashed to my side. Thatcher had jaundice with an elevated bilirubin, which meant daily trips to hear him scream while they squeezed rich red out of his heels. My milk was in 3 days after he was released into our lives—making me feel both satisfied that my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to and miserable that my clothes and bras and conscience were now even more cluttered with awkward lumps and sag than before.
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I’d committed myself to Baby Wise. The rave reviews from family and friends convinced me that because I wanted a baby who was a scheduled, dependable sleeper, it was the best answer to a problem I didn’t know existed yet. And so, for the following six weeks I violated every law passed down by Matriarch’s: I WOKE THE BABY. We ate. We played. We tried to sleep. I was a stickler for the dream of routine. And by “we”, I really mean Thatcher—the kid who nursed every hour for 45 minutes and refused to sleep in blips longer than 20 minutes.
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I don’t think I loved him then. I liked him then—he was our kid, afterall. But I never felt drawn to him as much as I felt obligated. There were no tears of joy after the birth; I told Jon he looked like a bruised old man. I wasn’t overwhelmed with motherly love.

I expected the feelings to pass—I expected to love him more and want to hold him more and just relish in being his mommy. I expected more feelings to come, ones that were good and plenty and whole.

But the feelings never came.

And at the 6-week mark I found myself sobbing over a finally-sleeping 16-pound baby that had literally and figuratively sucked me dry. I blubbered over all the disappointments and unexpected feelings. I didn’t like being a mom—it wasn’t anything like I had expected it to be. Some days I didn’t even like my kid—the one who sucked on me and invaded my space bubble and ruined my sleep schedule and left purple ugly lines on my stomach and flab on my love-handles and challenged me in ways that I DIDN’T WANT TO BE CHALLENGED. Motherhood was not looking good on me. I was ready to throw in the towel or throw down a stiff drink laced with Prozac.

It was my deepest valley.

I gave up on Baby Wise and I half-abandoned hopes of a scheduled child. Just six weeks later I would find myself on 24 hour calls every-other-day, delivering other people’s babies and watching the obsessive, uncontainable joy through sobs of Daddies and the satisfactory hard work of laboring mommies.

I truly couldn’t relate.

Jon left in June for his month of obligatory National Guard duty. This left me with a 3 month old sleepless, schedule-less child, 24-hour OB shifts, and a sister who was a saving grace in every sense of the word. It also left me feeling like a weary lunatic.

We did cry-it-out.
We Feberized.
We cradled.
We rocked.
We nursed.
We did cry-it-out again.
We tried the Boppy. And towel rolls. And the swaddle. And the absence of them all.

And still, Thatcher ate and grew and ate and cried and ate and really didn’t sleep.

Residency changed my mindset. Ask me where I spent most of my time between 2006 and 2008 and I’d be able to tell you that aside from 45-60 minutes at the gym every day and 2 hours on Saturday mornings when I was leading Sit and Be Fit and Bingo classes at the local nursing home, I was sitting on a black pleather office chair studying. I stayed up late. I got up early. I studied in the coffee shop and at dinner and  even in the shower. And as a result, sleep became secondary. VOLUNTARILY secondary. I learned that old saying about Working Hard and Playing Harder was true. And so, on weekends and weeknights and every moment in between, I studied and played myself through medical school.

And then residency came. I expected the worst. And to my surprise I found that it was bad and sour and awful—but not that bad and sour and awful. I was just tired. ALL THE TIME. And sleep deprived. ALL THE TIME. But the truth was that I was used to it. And when the Sleep Angels did visit me? THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING. I learned to cherish my sleep—the little that I was allowed. Naps were taken. Saturday morning sleeping-in was initiated when possible. And I (we) survived.

And then we had a baby.

When Thatcher was 6 weeks old, I was tired.
When he was 12 weeks, I was exhausted.
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And at 6 months and 9 months and 12 months when he still wasn’t sleeping through the night, I was shattered. The places that I had invested my hope—the sleep, the schedule, the sweet coo’s of a baby—were things that I’d held on to so tightly, by necessity or obligation or frivolity. The gray hairs popped up and the stretch marks started to fade and the strings of that hope were stretched and thinned and worn and bruised and cut and stitched.
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One day, they finally broke. 

{continued...part 2 coming soon}

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

on getting bucked off.

Decaf coffee was probably my first bad decision today. Actually, come to think of it, maybe getting out of bed at all was. Today was not my day. I argued with my toddler. I was bitter. I said a four-letter-“s”-word more than once…maybe more than three times. I was ungrateful. And frustrated. And perhaps a bit too eager to throw in the towel.

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This, after the thought that life really couldn’t get any sweeter last night. And this, after my heart almost burst with love yesterday for that little human who almost ruined me today.

Motherhood makes me feel like a lunatic sometimes.

When I was pregnant with Teaspoon, people asked me if I was excited. My reaction—steady and emotionless—probably should have been the first clue-in that I wasn’t going to fall into the category of a doting, love-at-first-breath mother. I watched as my friends fell head-over-heels for their sweet bundles of pooping joy before they left the hospital. And I sat in awe as they talked about their love for nursing and the bond and the baby and the boobs and IT WAS JUST ALL SO AMAZING. I couldn’t relate. And some days, I still can’t.  For as devastating as it was for me, I don’t think I realized the depth of transition, emotion, detachment at the time. The truth is that I think I’m still grappling with Teaspoon's “fourth trimester”—a time frozen in my mind of which I only recall sleepless nights, sore nipples, and his incessant crying. I’m also just now realizing how difficult of a baby he really was.

Maybe motherhood is like this—the gradual realization that nothing is how you intended it to be and everything is just as it is supposed to be.

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I tend to err on the side of pessimism and on bad days, like today—the ones that start with 3 night-wakings, 2 trips to the potty for my acorn-sized bladder, 1 diaper blow-out, 2 skipped-naps, 2192 time-outs, and frustration that boils out of my mommy-heart and drips on the floor behind me like an over-thought wedding veil—on bad days I convince myself that no other children, no other mother, no other woman has ever felt like this. I somehow finagle my heart into believing that the clock will never hit midnight and my head into thinking that at any time in the schedule book, I’m way beyond the grips of Grace.

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My Grandparents had a horse named Skojo when I was growing up. I first learned to ride when I could barely walk. She had a long back—perfect for 4 or 5 grandkids climbing up and taking a leisurely stroll around the pasture. She handled bare-back perfectly—which was convenient for the kid who hated the saddle. I was old enough to be riding solo when she first bucked me off. Apparently she had decaf coffee that morning or something—it just wasn’t her day. I don’t even remember now who was there to pick me up out of the dirt (manure?). The point, though, is that I fell: off the horse, through the air, into the dirt bruised and scraped and shocked. And the bigger point is that I got back on. Not immediately. Not willingly. Probably not even gracefully. Given the (ehem) emotional child that I was, I would imagine that the scene was ugly-full of tears and wailing and kicking feet. (Something to match one of my own toddler’s tantrums today about reading the wrong page in a book or refusing to let him watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for the 92nd time this month.) Skojo waited while I climbed back on. My memory has conveniently deleted the subsequent events—for all I know, I could have been bucked off again and landed on my head, an event which would surely explain so many things about my life right now.

But I got back on the horse.

The little minion is sleeping now. The one is my stomach is training for the 2034 Summer Olympics gymnastics events. And I am here…finally, in the quiet dark of deep breathing. I stepped on two toys on my way to the couch and half-tripped over a pile of clothes waiting to be taken to the thrift store. The dirty dishes are piled in the sink, the laundry is spilling out of the washroom, and the toilet still needs to be cleaned. But I am here. Finally present for today—the day during which nothing went how I would have hoped and everything went as it was Planned.

And maybe tomorrow will be different. Then again, maybe it won’t be. My kid will still be almost-two. My heart will still work overtime for the mommy-bond-with-holes. My dishes will still be undone. And the toys will still spill out of their hiding places and find their way to the soles of my feet. But the clock will have struck midnight and we’ll all get back on that proverbial horse trying to ride again. And maybe tomorrow instead of decaf, I’ll slowly sip the Grace that is sure to come with each new morning. And maybe I’ll let life buck me off a few times and depend on the Hand with Holes to pick me up. And if I’m eager enough about life, I’ll watch the kid-who-makes-me-crazy “toot toot” his trains around the house and rebuild the train track 39 times before 9am and savor the strips of sunlight in this gray of winter, knowing full-well that this day and this stage and this life can only be lived once.

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And everything is just how it is supposed to be.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Year.

It kind of snuck up on me, the New Year. I caught myself writing "2010" on a bill stub last week. Whether that was a Freudian slip, I can’t quite say. 2010 was a good year, after all. But come to think of it 2013 was too. 
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My 30s are approaching. And while I certainly won’t wallow in the fact that I’ve been given the privilege of living 3 decades, it is a bit of a mental reality check on life & the purpose of chocolate (or something). 

2012 was admittedly my low-point. I lost all the zest & I stopped caring. And I think, intrinsically & subconsciously, I was just surviving. The survival part seems necessary--I had just had a kid & all--but the zest & spice, that stuff that flavors the day-to-day & makes meals a bit fancier than regular rice & bland beans was gone. 
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I think it is back now. For how long I’m not sure. Another baby is on the way & I can feel my mental axis tipping ever-so-slowly--perhaps a pre-emptive warning sign that I (we) need to plan for intervention. Or invention. Or innovation. Any of those "I" words would probably do.
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Unlike the previous decade of my life, 2013 was not filled with reflection. Aside from the growth of our giant child, my own heart felt stagnant. And maybe for the first time in a handful of years, my faith felt like more of a burden than a blessing. (Honesty is harsh, sometimes). I used to thrive in lists, planners, & concept maps. Cleaning, the ritualistic cleansing of everything tracked in & smeared on, was restorative. And my solitude--the time I took to pound the pavement or sweat out the day’s worries or listen to the furnace roar in an empty house was exactly what my busy mind needed to re-center itself.
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But now, life is different. And though my nature desires to have all things the same, the nurture in me--the functional everyday part of my existence--screams that it just can't be so. I’ve convinced myself that faith alone is not enough--& spent my time reflecting on my lack of scripture reading instead of actually absorbing the life-Words. The lists sit unchecked, notebooks unpenned, & planners (mostly) unplanned. The floors are dirty, the baseboards need to be Magic(ally) Erased, & the curtains desperately need a trip outside in the sunshine. I probably need one too. 
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In the midst of it all, though, I have to give myself a bit of credit--as much as it doesn't feel deserved. The bottom line, through all the failures & cold meals & cereal-for-dinner's & sleepless nights & times that I didn't respond with love & pictures I wasn't in--through all of those, we survived. 
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And through those long nights of nursing. And sleep-deprived days teeming with unstable emotion. And ups and downs of marriage & friendship & belated birthday gifts. Through all of the muck-that-doesn't-really-matter, I have changed. My person has evolved. Our marriage has developed. Our kid has gotten bigger (believe it or not). And even though I may not be a better person, I am still me. And I am still changing.

My goal in 2014 is to write more. To reflect more. And really, to appreciate more. Heaven’s Son wasn’t Heaven-sent for me to wallow in the life I’ve been given. It is fleeting. And short. And the days are long sometimes. But for all that matters most in life, this little space of writing & reflection, so I’ve come to realize, is just that: a space. One that I think I’ll want to look back on in 15 years & realize that hey, we’ve come a long way baby. And through all life throws at us, sometimes it is the clicking of keys & quiet solitude that this space forces that inspires me to recognize my abundance.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


It usually comes slowly, gradually building strength. Like a self-formed movement of reform in the household, it tightens its grasp just when thoughts of freedom rang loud enough for all to hear. The
sound of silence is deafening & the lull in the quiet chatters of fear turn a warm hearth & heart & home icy cold.

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This week has been a doozy, no? I’ve been glued to my phone. My computer. My thought-life--which has taken off running wild in the wind of fear & misunderstanding & sadness. I’ve been distracted. Jon
asked me again this morning what was on my mind.

A lot, actually.

I wrote a letter to thatcher. I told him to do things that I later realized even I struggle with. Particularly, the "do hard things" part. I keep thinking about his world--the one he will raise his
children in. the one that keeps disappointing, keeps polluting, & keeps stretching my strength & faith & hope for the future.

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And I keep thinking that raising this kid (we've only broached a year, people) is much harder than I thought it would be. Much more exhausting & frustrating & 'just keep to a dang schedule, punk' than I
expected. The love runs much deeper, too--it surprises me sometimes. to know that my heart breaks for him already, to know that our love for his little soul runs is more piercing than even I realize.

The truth is that love is probably the reason I’ve felt just a bit suffocated this week.

It’s been easy for me to get up & go to work. Easy for me to come home & lay beside my husband. easy for me to rise in the dead-night-hours & feed my kid (again) & fill my coffee cup in the morning & write orders for patients & make phone calls & laugh at funny ecards. It’s been easy for me because I’m comfortable. In my home. In my neighborhood. In my city. Our schools aren't closed. Our neighborhoods aren't on high alert. Our police officers aren't looking for bombing suspects. Our factories haven't exploded.

Oh but they have.

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And that is the grip. That is the threat. That is the vice that sneaks in & leaves cheerio trails across my kitchen floor. I didn't even invite it in--it came anyways & invaded my tranquility. Instead of rocking my roof & leaving me to literally pick up the pieces, I'm left holding on to my comfortable & wanting so badly to let go of the stuff & give it to someone who just lost theirs. The thrill of silence has been replaced with deafening fear. The comforting lull of chatter has left us paranoid about what is coming next--like a mutated game of Telephone. We're prepped, lingering, so that now in the next moments
or hours or days when the sound waves blast that "something else has happened", the shock waves probably won't be quite as deafening.

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The truth is that in my routine--my resting & writing & calling & walking & LIVING--I am processing the why's & how's & who's & "what the hell’s & how could you's". And I didn't walk down Boylston Street this week or sign my address in the city of Waco or hear babies muffled cries or engage in negotiations with wayward world powers or plan a funeral. But I did LIVE. And those neighborhoods & children &people & fumes, that shrapnel & chaos & tragedy & threat, those marks they left & people they hurt & time they stole--those are REAL. And they are mine just as much as they are theirs--the people of Boston, of Waco, of Philadelphia, of North Korea. And when pain & fear & suffocating futures threaten to damper the call of freedom, we all have 2 choices really. To fall slowly, letting fear invade & vice-grip
of the unknown become our permissive stingray envenomation. Or to rise up. To greet the mornings with new hope. To find a world where there are helpers, heroes, & fighters. To raise a world in our children that is hopeful, brave, & based on the sovereignty of God's promises.

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I tend to like the silence; my solace lies there. But I’m learning to like the chaos, too. My growth comes from the latter. And somewhere in between lays a place of buoyancy & balance. I choose to rise. I choose to greet & grow & plant & help & nurture. I choose to live on & move on.

And best of all, I choose to look up.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


originally written January 14, 2013

My grandma lost the baby in the bathroom, or so the story goes. It was one of many—gone before the advent of modern medicine & prenatal folic acid. She said the spine was open, all deformed-like—at least that is what my young mind chooses to remember of her stories about “the olden days”. She grieved those babies, I think. I heard about them only after she died, my mom talking in fond distance about the ever-present pain she could sense when the anniversary of loss rolled around once again.

I think of it as the scene in The Help—sweet Cecilia Foote burying those tiny miracles-gone-awry under the rose bushes in her backyard. Except my grandma’s experience probably didn’t involve rose bushes. Or red high heels.

What it did involve, I would presume, is the anxious anticipation that fills all of us when new life is on the horizon. Modern medicine, in all its wisdom, gives us choices now. Something like ordering up a favorite drink at Starbucks, we can now choose a donor & a gender & name for the record books. We can choose pink or blue or yellow or gray—or some smattering rainbow of them all. And most of the time, if we are lucky we can choose the birthdate. So. Many. Choices. Among them, the choice of DNA sampling—a trend quickly becoming the genetics version of something you’d order up at a tapas bar, customizing the profile to exclude Down Syndrome & Cystic Fibrosis, Huntington’s or BRCA mutations and I’ll take my green eyes on the side, please.

It seems that in an odd way, modern culture tells us that this menu of specialized tests will tell us what life will be like with our newborn if they have something that this modern medicinal miracle can catch. And for some parents, myself not entirely excluded, a preview of the dessert before the dinner starts can lead to a heart that soars with relief when the tests come back negative.

We seem oddly shocked, then, when the tests are wrong.

As parents, we seem to grasp onto the results, for reasons that I’m not even sure I could list here. The satisfaction of knowing the answers & the status & the FUTURE. Because let’s call it what it is: we want to know, to the greatest extent of our ability, what life with that baby & this child & that boy & this girl is going to be like in vivo—on the other side of the womb.

I’m taking care of a 14-month-old munchkin. She’s been in the hospital for a little over two weeks. Some might say she is sick, nay sayers just unlucky. And while I’d like to think that luck has nothing to do with it, she’s one that follows me home & begs more questions than answers. You see, this long-eyelashed, round bellied, brown-eyed baby is brain dead.

This modern culture, the one that seems to serve us babies made to order makes us believe that if we can just see that negative result, that not found, that 40-week-due-date, safe delivery, first breath, first poop & pee & sleep, those first six months…everything will be fine. Sometimes I think back to February & try to relive the feelings I had when we walked into the hospital a couple & walked out of the hospital a family. And aside from the exhaustion & blub & soreness & overwhelming emotion, part of me felt invincible.

Modern culture told me that I had gotten pregnant. I had carried this baby to term. I had delivered a healthy kid with a successful first breath & poop & pee & sleep. Irrepressible success.

Invincible because we had succeeded.

The truth, though, is that life is yet to be lived. Accidents are yet to happen. Diagnoses are yet to be made. Love is yet to break our hearts. Babies don’t pop out with a crystal ball--& despite what we’d like to believe, modern medicine doesn’t create them either.

I guess this is where I struggle the most—I like to think of myself as an optimist in medicine. Over the past two years, I’ve convinced myself that despite what the evidencegrade says, anecdotal experience trumps. Which is why I’ve been recommending gluten-free diets to my patients with IBD, encouraging mild diabeticsthat their disease is, actuallyreversible, & holding the hands of parents who freak out that their strong & healthy 14-month-old will not actually walk—she will—on her own terms, in her own time.

Evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, doesn’t own stock in the future, either.

Which is why this brain dead beauty rocked me. And the early death of a mother-of-six from a heart attack. And the traumatic accident that took the IQ of the school teacher. And the infestation of cancer in the 20-something’s cells. And the scleroderma that is taking her twenties hostage.

Last week, I reached a turning point. It wasn’t hopeless. Or desperate. It wasn’t tearful or emotion-filled or overly dramatic. I walked in the door & hung up my coat just as I’ve done for two years. And I kissed my husband & hugged my kid & stacked the mail in the exact same manner as before. But my come-to-Jesus left me solemn, broken, & oddly… restored. You see, the responsibility had been weighing too heavily. To learn. To know. To keep up. To read. To answer. To predict.

I realized that for the past two years, I’ve been trying to preview the dessert—trying to hang on to the last glimpse of predictable hope of health. And with full certainty, I finally know that I actually don’t know. I don’t know the future. I don’t know that if you take a baby Aspirin every day after age 50 that you’ll be spared from a heart attack. I don’t know that if you take prenatal folic acid, your baby won’t be born in the bathroom with spina bifida. And I don’t know that if you live, if you grow beyond your sixth month or your sixteenth year that tragedy will not knock on your door & steal your livelihood. And I most certainly don’t know your future, despite the medications that I prescribe to try & make it better.

As a culture, we put too much hope in the tangible. The pill bottles. The prognosis. Even, the prevention.

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God

Psalm 146:3-5

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


[originally written 07.28.2011 during my ICU rotation]

The stories these walls bear. Miraculous recoveries. Unspeakable tragedies. And mostly everything in between. The flow is steady, rhythm strong. The floors covered in blood and in tears. Sometimes independent, but usually all at once.

And oddly enough it seems like that how the patients come, too: steady, independent, and all at one.

The man in room #44.

The woman in room #22.

The alcoholic grandmother. Smoker. Mother.

The trauma. The car accident. Pneumonia. Hemorrhage.

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We see them cycle. And sometimes they leave us floating—smiling at their recovery, body full of miracles and fervor. Others make us shake our years. Thirty-seven, so young; her liver aged  and poisoned from alcohol. And then, in some rooms, tears track in and out all day long—the goodbyes too much to handle, the dying too long and life too short. The hanging on—just barely, and the holding on—too strongly.

All sorts are wheeled through these doors. It’s a battle of the heart and mind, the practical and the justifiable, the quality and the quantity—of life, illness, moments, and madness.
Days have been tough for me. Upset families. Dying patients. Tragedy striking unannounced just one time too many. And for some, the inevitable finale rearing its ugly black head. My tears have been tracked, too. Implanted on footprints, dropped on sterile lines, hidden in the cuff of the white coat I’m forced to darn.

I’ve lost more sleep over these patients than over the sick babies, the neglected children, the homeless asthmatics in the dead-of-winter, and the cancer filled ovaries I’ve seen. Not because they don’t make sense—that an obvious part of the conundrum, but because we don’t make sense.

It’s been a soul-filled journey. Soul and sour, actually, depending on the day.

George, the hilariously absent minded, misunderstood character in Grey’s Anatomy pre-raunchy Season 1 was distraught about pouring his every drop of energy into a code on an already obviously-dead patient—antiarrythmics, defibrillation, chest compressions. But his all-knowing supervisor reminded him WHY those measures, ridiculous and seemingly wasteful were necessary.

                Because we have to be able to tell the family that we did 

And now—at the end of these five weeks. A the end of my nights of lost sleep and growing gray hairs.

At the end of this rotation, I finally get it, too.

This isn’t about the medicine. It’s really not about the disease or the diagnosis, the tears or traffic or tragedy. 

It is about TRYING. 

Giving the body one last chance to heal, the family one last chance to say goodbye, and Jesus one last chance to say hello. And at the end of the day, we go to bed knowing not what the future may hold, but knowing that what we tried was 100% and what we gave was EVERYTHING. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Getting Up.

I’ve been absent for a while, trying to keep up with the tides of life—always changing with the moon & the storms. To be honest, it feels like life has been a storm lately. The addition of a baby in the middle of residency has left us (me, really) treading water. It is exhausting. And just in the last couple of months, I feel like I’m finally coming up for air—or hanging on to a pool noodle. Either way, having Teaspoon around feels normal now (although admittedly I still sometimes wonder when the heck his parents are going to show up & relieve us, the ever-babysitters). Because if you didn’t realize, HAVING A KID IS A BIG RESPONSIBILITY.

When Teaspoon was about 3 weeks old, I made my way out of the house & joined a “Mom’s Group” (more like a help-me-I-have-no-idea-what-I-am-doing Support Group) for a couple of weekly meetings. And while the more seasoned mama’s sat in a circle & talked about yelling-matches with their teenagers & testing boundaries with their 3-year-olds, I sat there looking at this creature that had invaded our lives thinking HOLY HECK, what did we do?! I AM SO NOT READY FOR THIS.


But ready or not, here he comes.


I’m starting to find joy in the daily routine. The snuggles before bed. The cooing & splashing & spitting & open-mouth-kisses. I know that it all will change, it is all a phase/stage/season. I am, by nature, a pessimistic realist. And I’ve had to catch myself more than once, take a good self-inflicted whap upside the head, & refocus my positive energies toward soaking up this phase, this stage, this season. I am certainly not there…but I am working on it.

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And the truth is that in the midst of all of it, we are thinking about major changes in our household. Moving. Jobs. Future; all trying to weave in the provisions of God’s plan & the preferences that overwhelm our hearts.


The amazing people around us have been through trials--& our hearts, our relationships, &our marriage have carried just a bit of their burden. Occasionally, we’ll pour out our breaking souls & shattered lives in fellowship. But most often I find that it is in the quiet of the wee morning hours or the end of the day that I find solace & peace. (Which is why I’m holed up in our freezing cold office at 9pm on a Saturday night…by myself). Despite the heartbreak &tincture of tears that have washed over us, we’re continually inspired by the will to move on, break in, & let go that radiates from the people affected. Lives are changed, y’all, & the change can’t be easy.


If anything, the events that have transpired with neighbors & friends & Believers, have been a reality check—for us, for our hearts, & for our marriage, that we are not immune from the woes of the World, that we are a fallen people who desperately need rescuing, & that we have much to learn about the mysterious ways of God.

For the third time now, I’ve (re)started reading Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges, if for nothing else than a gut check. My heart, despite every ounce of blessing, has been overtaken with bitterroot more times than I’d like to admit over the past year. I’ve strayed from focused time in the Word. I’ve brushed off the drive to treat my body as a temple for the Holy Spirit. I’ve struggled with the attachment to materialism (once again). And now more than ever—at this point of uncertainty in our lives—I’m finding the need to cultivate the home, the heart, & the health that God calls us to so boldly.

 Jon has been incredibly supportive, continually amazing me with his choices toward family & faith. The adjustment with Teaspoon has been a hard road for him, too—my moods, the post-partum woes that invaded our relationship, & a shift in the corporate ladder for him. We keep talking about new adventures, wild & crazy ones that probably won’t ever come to fruition--& in the midst of it all, he is learning the new me. I’m more convinced than ever before that once you become a mama, God flips a neurotic switch in your brain…& suddenly nothing is good enough & there is always too much laundry & never enough time & the days become shorter & nights become longer & hair becomes grayer & heart becomes fuller. And when the switch is flipped, the world’s axis tips just a little bit—bucking your loved ones on their rumps until you decide to climb off the saddle of self-absorption & i-have-a-newborn-focus & lend a hand to help them up.

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It took me a long time to help Jon up.


So all in all, we are alive. This space will be sparse. And it might become a Teaspoon-gallery. But I miss writing. I miss the mind-dump feeling of accomplishment after I hit publish. And since I’ve been constantly inspired by the everyday of this space, I want to have those thoughts for my kids (if they ever care enough to read them)…& for the other mama’s who feel crazy & loved ones who haven’t been helped up yet.

Life is constantly changing. And even though I would love to find an altitude to cruise at for a while, I have a bold feeling that life doesn’t really work that way. God ordains change in our lives, challenge in our hearts, & combat in our minds to draw us closer, hug us tighter, & help us up

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