Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The First Year is the Hardest

Gabriel and I used to argue about whether the first or the seventh year of marriage was the hardest. Gabriel said it was the first. I argued that it was of course the seventh. I thought the logic was that people get bored in their relationship—the magic has worn off and they suddenly wake up and their marriage isn’t what they wanted it to be. Now we don’t argue about it. I just hope and pray that Gabriel is right and the first year is the hardest, because this year was hard.
Gabriel and I lived together before we were married so it wasn’t the initial shock of odd bathroom habits, or lack of housekeeping regimes that was difficult for us. Gabriel already knew that I cannot help but collect an insane amount of dishes in our bedroom (I like to eat in bed—sue me). And I knew that when Gabriel has a cold he carries around a roll of toilet paper, blows his nose and leaves a trail of tissues. We’re disgusting. We were prepared for that. I was not prepared for the slow, brutal reveal.

Gabriel and I have always had an extremely shared life. Even when we were in the early dating stages we over shared our hearts out. We talked about our childhoods, our embarrassments, our deepest fears and dreams. We knew each other. Or so we thought. I now think of marriage as the big unveiling. All of our selfishness, anger and hidden darkness has slowly been seeping through and it has not been pretty.

We have uttered phrases such as, “You never used to feel that way!”, and “I never knew!” And many icy, judgmental stares have been cast between us. Our therapist nods and insists this is a good thing.

“Most people live for 10, 15 even 20 years in ignorance and denial of their true selves. You’re hitting your midlife crisis early, which just allows you to embrace reality that much sooner!”

I almost don’t buy it. I want to fully accept Gabriel. I want to allow him to be his broken self, just as I want to be fully loved despite of all of my junk. But I’m also a little annoyed that I didn’t get my 10 years of blissful ignorance. I sometimes wish we still had our darkest closets closed and unmentioned so we could enjoy a few years of happily ever after, before we woke up and realized it was all a myth. I desperately wish I was one of those magical women who could bounce back from disappointments, or “surprise changes” as they might optimistically call them. But I am not. I flounder. I wiggle and flail and throw a fit as I try to super glue back the broken pieces of my expectations.

But maybe expectations are shitty ways of controlling and manipulating people.

Our counselor gave me this quote from Jean Vanier to mull over:
Happiness is accepting and choosing life, not just submitting grudgingly to it. It comes when we choose to be who we are…choosing life as it is, with all its joys, pains and conflicts. Happiness is living and seeking the truth, together with others in community… One of the great difficulties of community life is that we sometimes force people to be what they are not: we stick an ideal image on them to which they are obliged to conform… If they don’t manage to live up to that image or ideal, then they become afraid they won’t be loved or that they will disappoint others. So they feel obliged to hide behind a mask.
In any case, community is not about perfect people. It is about people who bonded to each other, each of whom is a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, love and hate. But there can only be growth if we recognize the potential, and this will never unfold if we prevent people from discovering and accepting themselves as they are, with their gifts and wounds.

There’s a lot that Jean Vanier has to say that I do not like. I do not like that everyone has a right to their own darkness. Not okay. I want Gabriel to be loving and selfless and a servant to God and ME at all times. Period. And he wants me to be available, kind and giving every second of every day. It ain’t gonna happen. We are selfish people stumbling through the life we’ve quickly slapped together.

Thank God we have people around us to validate how hard marriage can be. Thank God somebody said to me, “It’s okay that it sucks today. You can be angry. But it doesn’t mean everything is ruined.” We are learning to find humor in the small things and to pray more and have patience with the big things.

Today Gabriel and I were going to go on a run. We got dressed. Got Theo dressed. Wrangled the dog into her leash and gathered the stroller, a blanket, a sippy cup, my phone and the keys…it was a production. As we were walking out the door Gabriel said, “Hold on one second.” And ran back into the house, grabbed a broom and started sweeping the front porch. I stared at him with my mouth wide open. He knew our messy porch had been bothering me for weeks.

“Babe. You do exactly the right thing, at exactly the wrong time. It’s an art. I love you.” And I went back in the house and read Carry On Warrior by Glennon Melton Doyle until he was finished. Then we went on our run.

We’re learning to wait for each other. Gabriel is practicing being truly honest and hearing me. I’m striving for more grace and less bitterness. We both need more of God. It’s a mess, but it’s okay and tomorrow might look less messy.

Here’s to 50 more messy years, babe.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Finally Moving In

“I have a lot of confidence in our marriage, because we both have a really high tolerance for crap.” —Gabriel.

Gabriel and I have honed the skill of surviving together through painful life seasons. We are good at it. We can talk fairly openly about our pain. And we can comfort one another well. We have developed some successful, albeit slightly unhealthy, coping mechanisms. What we are not so good at, is thriving. We have learned how to tread water when the boat collapses, but we haven’t quite figured out how to make it back to shore. Gabriel is angry. I am sad. We both feel cheated, stuck. I fear the impending threat of bitterness if we don’t figure out how to move forward.

We’ve recently been given the opportunity to move back to Chicago. A dear friend has a connection to a beautiful apartment in a decent area of the city and the rent is cheap. We’ve stuttered about pros and cons for weeks. We’ve prayed, talked to family and journaled our hearts out, trying to decide if our family should move back to the city we once loved. My anxiety about this decision has slowly grown, and my nightmares are returning. I’ve started to feel unsafe in my own home again, battling with unfounded and unreasonable fear. One night when Gabriel was working late and Theo was already asleep, I locked myself in our bedroom and prayed that Theo would stay asleep because I was afraid to walk down the hallway alone. I do not handle major decision making well.

The more we talk and pray the more I realize how very little difference Chicago would make in our lives. Yes—a move is a big deal—especially this move, but the way we live is isolated and controlled.

       My one deep and real connection here is with my sister, Becca. She is seven months pregnant and about to take six weeks off work to be home with her sweet baby. She lives a mere three minute walk from our house. For the first time in our lives, Becca and I will be in the same place, doing the same thing, with ample time for one another. When will this beautiful and unique opportunity present itself again?

       But we have lived in Columbus for seven months and we haven’t invested in our neighbors or our church. We haven’t established any Columbus centered habits. We have no favorite hangout spots or friends we regularly meet for coffee. We could pick up and move our little family of three to an entirely new city and our daily lives would hardly change.

       I don’t want to live that way.

       I want to feel connected. I want to have roots. I want to be invested in the lives of others and know people who know me. I want to have a relationship with the city I live in—places I know and places that know me. Am I ready for that in Chicago—the city with so many ghosts, temptations, opportunities and demons? I don’t know. How could I be if I haven’t fully embraced Columbus yet? Our hearts are still in protection mode. It’s time to fully move into our life—hearts and minds—and commit. We’ve lived in Chicago, Nashville and now Columbus and committing to our surroundings is something we’ve never tried.

       I feel vulnerable and silly trying to move outside the safety of our small circle of family relationships. I have spent over a year intentionally cutting myself off because I couldn’t bear the responsibility of other people’s lives. My own life was overwhelming enough. Now when I find myself in social situations, I freeze. I’m not up-to-date on any current affairs. It’s not cool to overshare depressing details about your life with casual acquaintances. My sister’s have always teased me saying, “You never had an awkward stage, you lucky duck!” Well, now is my awkward stage. My roommate had friends over for dinner and I mentioned my blog.
       “Oh cool! What do you blog about?”
       “Oh, just life after being raped.”

       A good friend from high school and I were catching up over lunch.
       “The documentary was about that big cruise ship sinking in Italy.”
       “What?! When did that happen?!”
       “Um. Nearly a year ago. You’re pretty behind, girl.”

       This is my awkward stage. All I do is hang out in yoga pants with my baby, or eat string cheese and watch Parks and Rec with my husband. Occasionally we go to the mall and walk around. Occasionally. How can I feel confident in my decision about where to live, when I’ve lived here for seven months and never took the necessary steps to feel at home? In an effort to feel more connected to our physical space, Gabriel and I—in a fit of inspiration—rearranged our entire first floor. We made the sitting area cozier, the dining area more intentional and we put a couch in the kitchen—we’ll see how that works out.

       Gabriel and I have decided that even though we are experts at putting up with the crappiness of life, we don’t want to do that anymore. We want to enjoy the richness of life and be grateful. I want to stop yearning for me carefree college days and fully embrace the beauty and mess of being a mom. I want to be brave enough to invite a new friend over for coffee, even when I have nothing but my awkward self to offer her. I want my son to grow up with parents who know how to care and invest in the community around them. I’m still not sure how to connect while I’m trying to wrap my arms around this new identity, but I have to try. I can’t confidently decide where to live until I’m able to fully live where I am.  Sink or swim, it’s time to commit. Seven months later, and we’re finally moving in.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Big, Bad, Ugly and Kind of Precious

One year ago today, Gabriel and I solemnly flew with my father from Chicago to Baltimore where all of my sisters had gathered to meet us.

One year ago I found out that I was going to be a mother and Gabriel was going to be a father.

One year ago I was attacked at a bus stop, dragged to a near by gangway and raped.

I felt the anniversary of that day approaching for weeks. I didn’t know how I would feel, or what I would think.  Gabriel’s alarm went off at 4:15 this morning, much like mine had a year before. He had to work today at 5 a.m. My morning commute a year ago started at 5 a.m.

       I lay in bed this morning, listening to Theo’s soft sleep sighs as I feed him in the same grey morning light that washed over my morning 365 days ago. The details of that morning will forever be carved deeply into me. I’m still wondering how to move forward.

I’ve been told it takes about a year after being raped by a stranger to feel normal again, or at least to settle into a new normal. I assumed I would be “better” in a year—whatever that would look like. And I’m so tempted to tie a pretty bow on this year and explain how everything worked out for the best in the end, and I’m actually a much better person now and I couldn’t be happier…but, I can’t say that. This was a year marred by destruction. I lost myself. Sure, I can go out and run errands alone now without a full-fledged panic attack—but I still sleep with the light on.

The night before I was raped, Gabriel told me he wanted to marry me. We talked about our first dance song and he sang me to sleep that night. October 4, 2013, we had the most beautiful wedding ceremony, danced the whole night, and he became my safe place. We are in couples counseling now because when two selfish individuals get married—while one is suffering from PTSD—there is extreme codependent fall out. If I feel let down by Gabriel—which I inevitably will because he’s human—I find myself crying in bed for my mommy and disassociating for days.

Our son was born on April 2, 2014, by an emergency cesarean after several days of hard labor. I didn’t get the peaceful home birth I had hoped for, and I was sick for months afterward. I took my very last antibiotic pill just this morning. But April 2, 2014, is still the best day of my life. I wish I could extract it from this horrible year and place it somewhere else so it could shine on it’s own. But, I can’t. My son has seen me cry more times than I can count and he always stares at my crumpled face with his serious little brow furrowed. I desperately wish Gabriel and I could have found out I was pregnant together, and I wish Theodore had more stable, and less melancholy parents. But being his mother has been the greatest joy and deepest fulfillment I have been given. He is a gift from God.

Gabriel texted me this morning on his break saying, “It’s been a big, bad, ugly and kind of precious year. And we got through.” And we did. Even though the light is still on every night; even though my personal sense of security is unhealthily tied up in Gabriel’s actions; even though I still feel lost and undefined—we got through. It has been a destructive year, and we haven’t recovered. But it has been a precious year, and we have fought through the waves to build our small little family. It’s a mess and I still haven’t let go of who I thought I should be. Maybe if I can do that, this next year will be less full of struggle and disappointment, and I can move forward into a new normal and find myself again.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mother Shame

There is nothing that brings me more joy and more shame, than being a mother.  For nearly a year I’ve been indulgently angry at my circumstances. I’ve selfishly raised my fist to the heavens and blamed everyone but myself for my troubles. Rape survivors are never to blame. I am not even minorly at fault for being raped—true. But I am not a spotless little lamb, tossed about by life’s rough hand either.

Surviving trauma, particularly sexual trauma, severely warped my perspective. When I was in the hospital after being raped, I couldn’t accurately read the facial expressions of the doctors, nurses and police officers around me. For weeks it took me a second to correctly assess the emotions of people around me—especially men. At first glance, everyone looked angry, like they were going to hurt me. I was wrong. My mind didn’t understand things the way it should. That PTSD symptom has faded, but I still cannot accurately see myself.

Being raped made me feel indescribably dirty. It has made me feel deeply afraid, angry and weak. But I can almost always rationalize myself out of the deepest clutches of self-loathing, by reminding myself that I did nothing wrong. It wasn’t my fault. I was a good person that was unjustly wrecked by someone else.  

But a different shade of shame has started to color my heart. A shame that can only come from personal shortcomings. A mother shame.

Maybe I’m the only one, but I feel completely overjoyed and simultaneously horrified that this perfect little human is in my care. My care. It seems like a sick joke that somebody trusted me with his sweet little life. Somebody goofed. My very bones ache to be everything he needs. I long to perfectly care for him, love him and protect him every second of every day—but I don’t. I am not even close. That shame is paralyzing. Nothing can break my spirit more than a mother mistake. I put him to sleep, go downstairs and forget to turn the monitor on? His late discovered cries rip through my heart.

He’s not even three months old and I’ve made more stupid, silly, outstanding mistakes than I ever thought possible. The shame started creeping in slowly and then sucker punched me in the stomach this weekend. My poor husband has had to live with zombie, sad Emily for days. I have been so deliciously bitter toward my rapist. I wallowed and seethed at circumstance. I could even blissfully blame Gabriel or family for some hardships. I was purposefully outward focused, but caring for Theodore has painfully flipped the mirror back at me, and it is a nightmare. I used to believe I was a pleasantly self-reflective person. I knew myself well. How na├»ve! I didn’t realize how short I fell until staring into the perfectly innocent eyes of my son.

I don’t mean to be self-deprecating in hopes of raking in compliments. (Seriously—if you only knew.) I’m simply aware for the first time how truly ugly some parts of me are. I will not go so far as to say everything about me is ugly, even if it feels that way. I know there are some redemptive elements of my person hidden in the garbage. I’m hoping God will use this new awareness to rid me of some selfishness. I don’t want to get swallowed up by this shame either. I know that is toxic. But it’s here. I’m wading through it, desperately praying to land in a place with more grace. I adore my son. I wish I could be better for him. Only by God’s grace will I ever be able to be the mom he needs.

Photo Credit: http: Rachel Joy Baransi

Saturday, June 7, 2014


I want to smoke.

When Gabriel and I lived in Chicago we smoked cigarettes at an alarming rate, and we felt very cool. I would sit on our front stoop and chain smoke as I wrote poems, read plays and drank coffee. It was very romantic, very mysterious and artistic. We met our fun Irish neighbors while sitting out front smoking. One of our roommates also smoked, and it became our own “watering hole.” We’d gather on the front steps, light cigarettes, and talk for hours. I knew it was horrible for my health, but I didn’t feel it. I felt untouchable. I felt high and important and strong. Those feelings were ripped right out of my chest on July 8, 2013. Instead of feeling high and mighty, I felt an all consuming smallness. Weakness replaced my confidence.

Gabriel quit smoking that day as well, in solidarity. Pregnant women aren’t supposed to smoke, and I didn’t feel very cool anymore. After Theo was born a new fire was lit in my chest. I was starting to look like my old self again. I would pass by a mirror and double take—surprised not to see the huge belly, swollen face and frankly appalling lack of self care. Having Theodore made me feel a bit more independent and I was aching for more. So, Gabriel and I started smoking again—just every so often at first, and only at night after Theo was asleep. We wanted adult time, just the two of us. It was a space free of spit up, diaper changes and shushing. We could talk freely and laugh like we used to.

But putting the cigarette to my lips didn’t feel the same. It didn’t sit right with Gabriel anymore either.

“I feel irresponsible now,” he said, “Before I didn’t care about my body. Theodore makes me want to care.”

I didn’t quite feel the same way. I was more concerned about looking trashy. It’s one thing to smoke as a 21-year-old. It’s another thing entirely to smoke as a 21-year-old mother. I’m discovering I have a disgusting obsession with how people perceive me. We kept our late night smoke sessions a secret from our roommates and neighbors for as long as we could.

Where Gabriel felt more physically vulnerable when he smoked, I could taste invincibility again for a few blissful moments with a cigarette in my hand. I have learned the brutal fragility of my own life. It has taken many months, countless counseling sessions and thousands of tears since feeling the life being choked out of me—but I could finally feel young and strong again—when I smoked. I could reclaim that feeling of cool and calm that I had sitting on the front steps of our old apartment building. I felt untouchable—however silly and dangerous that feeling may be.

I know smoking is incredibly bad for me. I feel it in my lungs. And I do care about my body (to some extent), so Gabriel and I finished our last pack last night and it’s already hard. It’s not necessarily hard not to put a cigarette to my lips, but I am grieving the loss of that feeling—the loss of that moment that Gabriel and I shared every night. We’ve tried to quit in the past and replace our night smokes with night time tea drinking and it’s just not the same. Sipping a cup of Throat Coat doesn’t exactly give me the same buzz of cool that dragging on a cigarette does.

I’m trying to be a more honest person. For someone who posts an incredible amount of highly sensitive personal information on the internet, I’m actually an extremely private person and that can lead to dishonesty. It’s hard for me to share my true feelings and thoughts with my husband and family. I wanted to hide the fact that I loved smoking cigarettes because I didn’t want people to see that ugly, immature part of me. I would love to look like a clean, put together, innocent survivor, but alas, my life has never quite looked the way I wanted it to. I quit smoking because I want to be able to honestly tell my son not to smoke because he should respect his body. I suppose I need to learn that lesson as well.

        But I really would love a cigarette.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Starbucks and Thongs

       Today, I wore a thong.
       Gabriel was very excited.

       I haven’t been able to wear one since July 8, 2013. Of course I had the convenient excuse of pregnancy. What pregnant woman wants to wear lacy underwear and thongs?  I certainly didn’t. I wanted full coverage and granny panty comfort. I also didn’t want to remember the feeling of that thin fabric being ripped away from my vagina. I reclaimed dresses and leggings, conquering the associated physical memories. I’ve even been able to wear a dress made of the same fabric I was wearing that day. But I was never able to wear a thong without triggering a memory too dark, too deep to withstand. Today I was ready.

       Ever since Theodore was born the fear has shifted inside of me. Before, Gabriel and I were still waiting. Waiting to see how our lives would change—unsure of how we’d feel. Now, our son is here. We had to fight through the first two weeks of his life in the hospital, but now, hopefully there are no more surprises. I’ve stopped preparing for the inevitable, and I now feel permission to plan for the future. A few days after coming home from the hospital, after all of our family had left and we were on our own, we went to Starbucks and made a list of dreams and a list of goals. For the first time since being raped, I felt a stronger hope for my future. With my son in my lap I felt grounded and a little freer.

       In the one month of Theo’s little life I have gone out of the house alone more times than I did in the previous 9 months combined. While I used to be confined to our bedroom by fear, now I move about the house freely, and even sit on the porch alone. I have gone to the mall alone several times and found that I can sit in a Starbucks without counting the number of people in the room. I can sit with my back to the door and not feel the hot, lead taste of panic rise in my throat. I notice myself not breaking eye contact with men as quickly or as often. My heart doesn’t race as I walk down the street.

       I was so afraid that when Theo was born I would have a perfectly packaged excuse to never leave my house. It’s easier to stay home with a newborn. Goodness knows my back would appreciate not lugging around my huge purse full of diapers, wipes, pacifiers and baby clothes. But as soon as we were discharged from the hospital, I felt a fire in me to get out of the house. I wanted some independence again. I knew the longer I waited to leave the house with Theo, the harder it would be and I was tired being stuck inside.

       Maybe all of the drama of his birth and the hardship of getting sick made the big bad world seem less scary, but I think it was more than that. Being pregnant was difficult for me to say the least. I felt trapped and suffocated by my uncontrollably changing life and my invaded body. My pregnancy was intrinsically entwined with the most hellish day of my life, and finally meeting my son meant the end of being pregnant. Not only was I gifted with a stunningly beautiful son, but I was freed from a body that linked me with July 8, 2013.

       I’m tempted to feel sad that I didn’t have the glowing, restful, miraculous pregnancy experience some women do, but I’m growing to see how poisonous regrets like that can be. Now I have a beautiful, perfect son and maybe someday, if Gabriel and I make the choice to have more children, I will have a more joyful pregnancy. But my first pregnancy will always be remembered as a burden that yoked me to a painful past. Now I am in a stronger, new body that is tingling with independence the more I heal. This body is more nervous of a newborn melt down in H&M than the man standing alone at the bus stop. This body can wear a thong without being paralyzed by heart tearing memories.

       A trip alone to Starbucks, and a lacy thong are small mountains, but I am grateful to have finally overcome them. With a new sense of freedom and sexier undergarments, it’s time for this little family of three to stop waiting and to start moving forward.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Birth Story

       If I’ve learned one thing in the past ten months, it’s that even the best laid plans are at best, strong wishes. I couldn’t control the events on July 8, 2013, even though I’ve thought of a million ways I could have avoided that bus stop. But I didn’t. I was there, at the wrong place and the wrong time, simply on my way to work, and my life changed forever. If Gabriel and I had gotten pizza that afternoon instead of making love at that particular moment, on that particular day, I’d be in school right now–not exhausted, covered in a thin layer of breast milk and cuddling the sweetest baby boy. My twenty-one years of life are more keenly divided into pivotal moments now that I know my own profound weakness.

Being raped has instilled a deep fear and insecurity in me, and uncontrollable circumstances are more difficult to face now. Since I found out I was pregnant, my mind has slowly become consumed with pregnancy, labor and birth. I welcomed the distraction. I read everything I could—books, blogs, websites. I watched YouTube videos and documentaries. I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to know what’s coming. I didn’t want any surprises. I was determined to take as much control as I could. Gabriel and I made the choice that our baby would be born at home, away from a hospital system full of triggers and controlling protocol. I made lists of behavior I wanted and didn’t want in labor. We bought and prepared meals for our birth team.

       I had a plan.

       Then March 19, 2014, my due date came and went. For the weeks leading up to my due date, Gabriel and I would optimistically wake up everyday thinking ‘Maybe today’s the day we’ll meet our son!’ Maybe it was wishful thinking gone rogue, but I actually believed I would have my baby before my due date. It was part of the “plan.” I was very done with being pregnant, and Gabriel was more than ready to no longer have a pregnant wife. But not only did I not go into labor before my due date, but our little babe didn’t make an appearance for another two weeks.

       I was pregnant for 42 weeks.

       As the days ticked by with no sign of labor, I started to panic. I had never intended to be pregnant this long. Finally, on March 29th I felt a change. Gabriel and I were at a Mosque with my sister attending an Islam 101 course and as soon as the teachers began to speak I knew something was happening. My back was radiating. Contractions started and I couldn’t sit still. I quietly excused myself and walked around the beautiful Mosque, swaying my hips, leaning on tables, squatting when I needed to, and praying that this was it.

       That night I called our midwife to let her know things were moving.
       “Get to bed soon,” she suggested, “You’re going to need your rest.” The warning hung over us as we excitedly headed to bed early to pray and prepare ourselves for the journey ahead. That night I woke frequently and restlessly tried to sleep but nothing picked up or changed. This was normal, I told myself. Labor can start slow. I had contractions 6-15 minutes apart all day Sunday—again thinking, this was it. Sunday night rolled around and I fell asleep, waking often through the night with the same infrequent contractions.

       Monday morning was greeted with tears. This was not part of the plan. Labor was long, but not this long. We had already eaten our labor food, done our labor tricks and burned through our early labor excitement and nothing was changing. Our midwife came over Monday and started some mild homeopathic labor enhancers. Gabriel and I went for a walk. Nothing changed. I was still only in latent labor, and we had foolishly already told our families that the baby would be here soon so Gabriel’s family had driven 15 hours overnight from Minnesota and my family drove in from Tennessee and Maryland. Everyone was waiting.

       Monday night was much the same as the last two nights—but with more tears and less sleep. Gabriel and I watched a chick flick in the middle of the night to distract ourselves from the steady, slow contractions and dulling disappointment. Tuesday our midwife came over to begin some hard-core crunchy methods to speed things up. Before we started with the blue cohosh and castor oil she did the routine check of the baby’s heart rate and position.

       “Oh! That’s different,” she said as she prodded my stretchmarked belly, “He’s turned. He’s now posterior.” After discovering the undesirable position of the baby, the long latent labor made more sense, but was no closer to being over. All of Tuesday was spent drinking special concoctions every fifteen minutes, leaning in certain positions and rebozoing the heck out of our sunny side up baby. Finally, Tuesday night, after Gabriel and I made a huge pot of vegetable soup, something changed. Contractions started burning through my back to my front and they were now coming every 3-4 minutes apart. We had finally hit active labor!

       We were in the home stretch—or so we thought. I spent the next twenty-four hours rocking through intense back labor, with six hours of transition and zero sleep. My beloved husband stayed with me the entire time, holding my hands, wiping my tears, putting counterpressure on my back with every body splitting contraction. Due to exhaustion, my body started involuntarily pushing midafternoon on Wednesday. The trouble was, I wasn’t fully dilated yet. I still had an anterior lip of cervix left. I had to keep my body from pushing with each contraction to prevent damage to my cervix. This is when I lost it. After hours of laboring and resisting, I was losing my strength.

       Without my knowing, my family had started to silently gather downstairs. My mother, and three sisters were waiting, praying and hearing my cries. Early in the evening my midwife came to me and quietly brought up the possibility of transfer to a hospital. “There’s no shame in a change of plans. We could go to a hospital, get you an epidural, get some rest and try to push him out then.” Gabriel went downstairs in tears, not knowing how to make these decisions and asked my family to come upstairs and help. My mom, three sisters and Gabriel all gathered around me, holding my hands, praying, breathing with me and singing childhood lullabies over me. I could feel their strength. I could feel their love.

       With exhaustion and desperation swiftly approaching, my midwife suggested that even with the swollen lip of cervix, that I try to push him past it. Finally, I was allowed to give in to my body’s impulse to push. With Gabriel holding one leg, my oldest sister holding the other, my mom and my two other sisters around me cheering I pushed for over an hour. We tried different positions—squatting, side laying (which made my back feel like it was splitting in two), on my hands and knees, and it seemed to be working at first. But after pushing for so long my midwife checked my cervix again and it was only more swollen.

       Gabriel and I retreated to the bathroom to be alone and discuss.
       “I just don’t want you to be disappointed,” Gabriel said crying, “I want this for you.” Tears streamed down both our tired faces as we held each other, knowing the decision that had to be made. We knew it was time to transfer to the hospital. My sisters rushed to pack our bags while I painstakingly made my way down the stairs and into the car. The twenty-minute car ride to the hospital was hands down the most painful part of my three-day labor. Once the decision to accept pain relief was made, I wanted it immediately, not after a long car ride, triage, and nurse’s questions. I snapped at every nurse or doctor I saw, delightfully demanding, “Could you please hurry!” I apologized to everyone after I finally got the epidural.

       “You’re having a contraction. Can you feel it?” These were the most beautiful words spoken to me, because no, I could not feel it. I could have wept with joy. Minutes after having the epidural, the baby’s heart rate starting dropping. A doctor examined me and discovered that there was meconium present and the baby was in distress. Quickly a flood of nurses and doctors were in my room, poking and moving and shifting me around, talking in rapid, succinct statements about emergency procedures.
An imposing, tall doctor walked in the room, looked at the scene before him and declared, “I never would have even given her the epidural. She needs an emergency c-section.” Another doctor quickly recited the risks and reasons for having a c-section and asked me if I consented. My mind was cloudy, and my ears were ringing as countless strangers touched and manipulated my body. I quickly locked eyes with Gabriel across the room.

       “It’ll be okay,” he said with a sweet, slow smile.
       “I want whatever is safest,” I said quietly. And with that, I was whisked away to be prepped for surgery. Gabriel was given scrubs to wear and was soon by my side. I expected fear, anger, and disappointment to flood my heart as more needles and monitors were attached to my body, but all I could think was “I’m going to meet my son soon.”

       The anesthesiologist calmly explained to me everything that was going on. Gabriel held my hand and smiled as the blue curtain was raised, separating me from my pregnant belly. I was finally in no pain, Gabriel was still my support and the surgical team was confident and kind. Jokes were being made and laughter bounced off the shining surgical equipment.

       “Dad do you want to take a picture because here he comes!” the surgeon offered. A full cry covered the room like music, or color, and all I could say was “My son. My son,” as tears rolled under the surgical cap and into my hair. Our son, Theodore Eldon Duane Myrin was born on April 2, 2014 at 10:16pm. He was eight pounds, ten ounces and twenty and one quarter inches long. He was perfect. Gorgeous. The most stunning newborn I had ever seen. And he was mine.

       The days in the labor and delivery unit were joyous, too. Family came and stayed all day. Theodore was held and adored by many, and the hospital parfaits were fantastic. But when the day came to be discharged we were ready to take our son home. After being home just five hours I started to get chills. I assumed I just needed my pain medication prescriptions filled, but we soon realized that my 102.3 degree fever was an indicator of something more sinister. We headed back to the hospital. After a few hours in the emergency room I was readmitted to the hospital with a uterine infection.

       A young resident asked, “Who will be taking the baby?”
       “He has to stay with me,” I asserted.
       “Well, we have to make you better.”
       “I will not stay, if he cannot stay.” And that was that. For the next week and a half our little family of three huddled together while my fevers continued spiking above 103 several times a day. Countless doctors came through, poking and prodding, offering their individual opinion. Pretty soon the idea of another surgery was brought up. On three separate occasions I was told I could not eat or drink in preparation for surgery, only to be told the next day that we wouldn’t be going to surgery after all—I would be starting a different round of stronger antibiotics.

       I had an infection in my abdominal cavity that they couldn’t figure out how to get rid of. I had a hematoma in my abdomen, and an abscess on my uterus that was obstructing my ureter. I had numerous CAT scans, several blood draws a day (with many blown veins as a result), a drain, and several delightful catheter experiences. I had to consult lactation consultants to insure that I could still breastfeed Theodore with all the medication they were giving me. Thankfully, I could.

       Finally, the strongest cocktail of antibiotics available broke my fevers. With a minor surgery to insert a stent, and a PICC line in place for continued IV antibiotics at home, I was discharged. Gabriel and I once again, packed up our new little family and headed home. We were tired, sore, bruised and much thinner than before (the hospital parfaits lost their charm), but we were finally free. By the grace of God, the fierce support of family and our new dazzling love for our son we arrived home with worn smiles on our faces. We were ready to sleep in the same bed again and get to know our baby without the invasive beeps of hospital machinery.

       The plan didn’t involved epidurals or hospitals. It certainly didn’t include surgery or infections—but in the recovery room after my cesarean as Gabriel and I held our little gift from God—we were elated. No remorse, no disappointment, no fear. Just joy and wonder. He was ours. Our son was finally here.

Photo Credit: Katherine Michael

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ready or Not: Forever a Mom

              The other day, as I was sorting and cleaning more of the nursery, I hit a wall. It had been a hard few days for Gabriel and I. We’ve been dealing with family stress, money burdens and the many to-do lists that accompany the ever approaching due date. As I sat in the beautiful glider my mom gave me, I looked around at all of the wonderful gifts I’d been given and I began to sob. With a little blue and white starred onesie clutched in my hands I rocked myself back and forth and let myself cry for fifteen or twenty minutes.

        The last few weeks have been marred by new crazy hormonal meltdowns and the stress of the last few days has stolen sleep from both Gabriel and me. We have weathered more than our fair share of dark times in our year old relationship, but in the last few weeks any minor issue is enough to wreck any emotional control I have. We haven’t even fought, or stayed angry at each other, but the mere thought that Gabriel is unhappy for any reason, has kept me up late into the night days in a row. And today my fear, exhaustion, hormones and sadness collided and I soaked a little onesie with my tears.

        As I rocked and cried, I prayed and asked God for help. I asked for wisdom, provision, strength and protection. Soon my prayers morphed into whispers to my son. I asked for his forgiveness. I apologized that I had to be the one to bring him into this world. I promised that I would try my best and that I would love him. I promised that his daddy and I would never quit striving to make our family the warmest, safest place it could be.

        Gabriel called and told me he was on his way home from work. I hung up the phone, dried my tears and splashed cold water on my face, hoping I could hide my tears. I didn’t want to seem dramatic and I didn’t want to add more stress to our day. Of course, I couldn’t hide from him my fear and insecurity and we were soon cuddled in bed, my head resting on his chest, my fresh, hot tears on his shirt.

        I’m scared to be a mother. I cannot wait to meet my son, but I feel so unprepared. The nursery is complete. Countless pregnancy and baby books have been read. My body is certainly ready. But today I realized that I will be the only person this little human calls Mommy. I will be the one to care for him, teach him, and show him this world. He will be my son and I will be his only mother. The idea of being pregnant was scary enough, and now nine months into it I’m realizing that this is the temporary part. The forever part of the equation is motherhood.

        I am a 21-year-old girl, with serious emotional turmoil to deal with and virtually no idea about what kind of mother I will be. I’m more dependent on my husband than I ever imagined I would be in a relationship, and I am still afraid to go anywhere on my own. I called a teething ring a ‘chew toy’ in front of thirty women at my baby shower, and I have no idea how to use cloth diapers. I can hardly cook and grocery shopping overwhelms me. I am still a child.

        “Honey, I want you to realize that a lot of this is hormone induced.”
        “But it’s still real! I still really feel this way!” I sob back.
        “You’re right. It’s still real, but it’s worse because of hormones. We’re okay.”

        Gabriel and I have had this exchange countless times as I sob late at night in bed. I know we’re okay. We love each other relentlessly, and we are both actively trying to care for each other better. But we are about to transition, yet again, into one of the most trying parts of life. The bigger my belly grows, the more difficult it is to put on socks and the more frustrated I become. I recognize that we have our good days, and our bad days, and all of the issues we’ve been dealing with are inevitable and impermanent. Being pregnant is beautiful, miraculous and extremely difficult, but pregnancy is only another transitional phase in my life. Motherhood lasts forever. The weight of it all scares me more than I can say.

Photos by Rachel Joy Baransi

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Process or Distract

       In the last several weeks I have written several blog posts, journal entries and even one poem, and abandoned them half finished. I write what I’ve been processing, and then I move on. Never looking back at them, never editing, never sharing my writing with Gabriel or my mom. It’s not like I haven’t had anything to process. Our baby is due in one month. A Chicago friend came to visit, bringing with her the bitter and beautiful reminder of the life I once had. I’ve embarked out into the world several times without Gabriel by my side (not a small feat for this anxiety ridden girl). But every time my mind tumbles over a new shift in perspective I eventually hit a wall. At least half the time I allow my mind to mull over the abstract future, the distant path or the ever confusing realm of spirituality in my life, dark clouds gather in the corners of my mind. I forget where I am, who I am and any positive forces moving through my life. 

I don’t know when processing life became such a dangerous pastime. As a theatre and creative writing major in college, processing existence and human experience was what I did all day. I thrived on it. One of my theatre professors and mentors described theatre as the “art of human behavior.” He also reminded me often that in theatre we work with combustible materials—people. I never fully understood the danger of deeply trying to understand or even just truly see life for what it is, until this season of my life. Now, with every introspective thought comes the risk of deep regret, fear, sadness, anger and most often dissociation. 

Yesterday was a hard day. We’re painting our bedroom—well, Gabriel is, I’m not—so we had to sleep in the guest bedroom. A new environment for an anxious person with sleep issues definitely is not part of the recipe for a restful nights sleep. Gabriel and I both fell asleep accidentally after watching a movie in bed and woke up at 4 a.m. with the lights on, vitamins left untaken and our routine obliterated. I couldn’t fall back asleep and the whole morning my mind was racing. I held it together through breakfast, but when midmorning hit, all I could do was lay on the couch. Gabriel played piano while cool tears leaked through my closed eyes and streaked down my tired cheeks. 

I had counseling that afternoon. There were tears in my eyes before my counselor even closed the door for our session to begin. As emotions more complicated for me to articulate barraged my mind, my head began to spin. I began to sweat. I felt as if my planted feet on the floor were now on the ceiling and I was losing all control. One of my least favorite side effects of trauma is the unexplainable disorientation that occurs when flashbacks and memories override the system. This dizziness and disconnection from reality would sometimes happen when I did EMDR with my counselor in Nashville, but then I was able to safely pack away the memories we had worked on and come back to reality. Yesterday, I hadn’t invited the process to begin. I didn’t want to think about the attack. I couldn’t keep the debilitating sadness from clouding my whole being. I was too tired to stop it. 

Eventually my counselor and I just stopped and prayed. I allowed my lonely tears to chase their brothers and sisters down my face onto my churning belly. The baby inside of me kicked and turned, prodding my resting hands. My counselor quietly asked me if I wanted to pray. With a sigh I shook my head. I just wanted to feel my baby move. That would be my prayer. Focusing on his life and growth is safer than realizing my own. 

I’m caught between the questions: Should I process this? Or should I distract? Distraction sounds like a cowardly option, but there are stages of healing, and some times are meant for bravely focusing on daily life. Is this meant to be solely a season of preparation for motherhood? Have I done enough emotional and mental processing of the attack for the time being? Is it safe to neatly package it away for now—allow God to do His work on it—but focus on my present life? It’s been seven months now since I was raped. I will very soon hold my first child in my arms. I anticipate another complete life 180° when that happens. When is it safe to wade forward into dangerous memory processing and self reflection, and when should I put it away, read a book and have a cup of tea? 

       I wish I had the wisdom. 
       I wish I had the strength. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

What a Gift

I’ve started counseling here in Columbus with a sexual assault therapist who also attends my church. In our first session together she asked me how much I wanted faith to play into our counseling together. With a sigh I said, “It’s gotta be important. I need it.” My previous counselor was a Christian too, and knowing that these women were able to ask the ultimate Healer for wisdom made my inability to pray easier to handle. 

Gabriel and I both grew up in Christian homes but in college, waking up for church on Sunday mornings after an inevitably late Saturday night wasn’t so easy. I never lost my faith in God. I just wasn’t interested in the Christians that honestly seemed to dislike the somewhat ‘edgy’, artsy theatre people I hung around with. I still believed in God, I just didn’t think I needed His input too often. Things were going well. 

It’s funny how when life starts to not go so well…or in my case, life completely explodes, God suddenly seems very distant—also very necessary. I cried for Him during the attack. I prayed and sang little lullabies and hymns to myself in the hospital while waiting for someone to come get me. I thanked Him when the doctor told me I was pregnant. There was a lot of God interaction that morning, but soon after, the communication lines tapered off. My impulse to pray is shrouded in layers of distrust, anger, gratefulness, desperation and brokenness. I know I need Him. I’ve always needed Him, but I need Him now and He doesn’t always seem to be around. 

       I can feel the image of His love shifting inside of me, just as I feel our little babe toss and turn. Sometimes His love feels cold and unseeing. Other times it is breathtakingly personal and present. I’m afraid of how the last seven months have warped my understanding of God. I want to be able to model real faith and trust in God for my son. I need to believe He is good and won’t abandon me—because if He’s a God that doesn’t care, then what’s the point? 

       I’ve been as unproductive as an infant the last seven months—spending 80% of my day laying in bed, alternating between reading, napping, facebooking and then napping again. Mostly I wait for Gabriel to be home from work. When he’s home, he just joins me and we cuddle, talk and rest the days away. Now that we’re finally in a more permanent place this idyll routine is less relaxing and more numbing. So today I somehow found the energy to try something new. I did nap, but I set an alarm. I made myself lunch (a bagel and clementines) and headed to the nursery. There were shelves of miscellaneous items that needed to find homes all around the house, and a small stack of baby clothes that needed to be sorted. 

       I got to work, huffing away as I pirouetted to the ground, reaching around my big belly to pick things up. I saved the baby clothes for last, knowing that would be the best part. Settling on the floor I began placing accessories in one pile, blankets in another, bibs and wash clothes on the left and different onesies into the appropriate sizes. A few minutes into the process I picked up a particularly soft newborn sleeper with brown and white stripes and a little fox sewn onto it. I paused and stared at the little garment. My baby—my son—will close his eyes and dream in this sweet sleeper. He will trust, love and learn without layers of pain and confusion distancing him from God’s love. Tears of joy and gratitude fell from my eyes for the first time in months. 

       What a gift. 

       I heard those words the first time I was told I was pregnant, and today my heart swelled with that truth again. Clutching this little sleeper, my heart was compelled to pray and thank God for this baby—no regrets or hesitation or pain blanketed that prayer. Just thankfulness. 

       If God is the Almighty, the Creator and the Healer then I think He understands my confused heart better than I do. Oftentimes, I don’t feel like I can trust Him, but I do have faith in Him. He says there is nothing He can’t restore. I cling to that with all my hope. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


       Two nights ago I turned to Gabriel as we were reading in bed and said: “I’m starting to get anxious. I feel like we have nothing prepared! We have space here, but nothing is set up for the baby, our room is still in shambles, the guest bedroom doesn’t even have a bed yet…we haven’t even set up the crib!” As my negative list grew longer, a small smile grew wider on Gabriel’s face. “Why are you laughing at me!?” I very emotionally accused. 

“I’m not laughing at you! I promise. Honey, do you see what this is?” I shook my head no. “Nesting! You’re nesting!” He smiled, kissed me and promised that tomorrow we would do some work on the house. And we did. My Aunt Debby had generously offered to buy us any crib we picked out.  Our choice had been delivered to us last week, but sat untouched in the corner of the living room. Yesterday we bravely ripped open the cardboard packages containing the Ikea Hensvik crib, promising each other that we wouldn’t get angry or flustered no matter how confusing the set up instructions were. To our surprise and delight the picture-only instructions weren’t too confusing! We could identify all the parts and decipher which tool the little gingerbread people were using, and within an hour our sweet little crib was standing. We were both giddy. 

My due date is in less than two months, and I can’t stop thinking and talking about our little man. I can almost always tell when he’s going to move, before he does and his constant company has brought me such comfort. I feel like I know him already. It’s harder for Gabriel to connect the idea of my pregnancy to the reality of a little human being given to us, but that’s normal for fathers, I hear. It’s mostly factual to him, which I can understand—he doesn’t have little feet digging into his ribs at three a.m.! I cannot wait for him to meet his son. 

Because being raped led straight to the hospital for me, hospitals are not empowering or safe places. They represent powerlessness, humiliation, fear and loneliness. I don’t want even a whisper of those negative emotions to touch the birth of my son. I don’t think they have to. When we lived in Nashville we thought a hospital birth was inevitable. We didn’t really have our own home, and only knew of one trusted midwifery practice that worked out of a hospital. I was not excited about the prospect of vaginal examinations in cold labor rooms or hospital gowns exposing my bum to the world of strangers filtering in and out. For many mothers, being in a medical setting feels safer to them, but for me it means no control. Labor is hard enough with out all of that baggage. 

Gabriel and I have decided that because we now have a space to call our own, we will have our baby right here in our home. I know the idea of a home birth sounds dirty, scary and dangerous to most people, but for me that’s how going to a hospital would feel. I trust our home. I feel safe with Gabriel. I know my body is capable of bringing this little babe into the world. I have faith that with some proper guidance and help, we can turn our family of two into a family of three without further trauma. 

       Before we moved to Columbus I did some researching and asking around for trusted midwives and I was given a few names. I called them all, explained the entirety of our situation and set up consultations with some of them. After meeting with one midwife in particular Gabriel and I both felt really jazzed. She met us in our home, on our own turf and sat with us for two hours discussing our pregnancy and our ideal birthing experience, along with her practices. We fired question after question and when we ran out of ideas, she handed us a sheet of paper with more questions we might want to consider. She offered to lend me her book When Survivors Give Birth as another way of emotionally preparing for birth. Her confidence and humility gave us a new sense of security. We knew as soon as we closed the door behind her that we trusted her to be with us for the birth. We waited till the next day to call her, so she knew we gave it a proper amount of thinking. 

       Having our son at home and un-medicated is an exciting and overwhelming thought sometimes. But just the idea of having a baby at all right now is overwhelming—but it’s not like I can just cross my legs until the timing is right. In two months this little boy will be ready to meet us, whether we are prepared or not. Getting the house in order is just a start. I’ve been reading a host of books, including Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin, (contrary to how it may sound, it’s not about witchcraft—just a bunch of positive natural birth stories). I’ve been praying, journaling and talking with anyone who will listen about the amazing things my body will do. Of course it will hurt, but I’m honestly more afraid of the mental and emotional pain that labor can potentially throw my way. I’ll be more prepared to handle those obstacles at home.

       Every time I walk down the hallway I pause in the doorway of the nursery and look at our son’s room—empty but for a small white crib. We don’t have a lot, but we have enough. I love this boy already and I haven’t even seen his face.