Ten Toes, George Clooney and Being Really, Really Tired

 

 

A photo posted by Sarah Warren (@accidentalokie) on

Dubs, he is like a big kid now, people. I can’t even handle it. Can’t even. He talks in sentences, tells me when his diaper is dirty, knows his friends’ names, is addicted to Octonauts and can throw a temper tantrum like a boss.

He came home from school on Friday a little cranky. We went to the park on our way home and had thirty minutes of running from slide to slide, which probably wore him out. (Okay, the point was to wear him out. You know the drill.) As soon as we walked into our house, he was a little crankier than normal. After eating the smallest dinner, he was now having some sort of out of body, angry baby meltdown. So we read some books and watched his eyes get heavier. It was 7:30.

My child usually goes to bed at 9:30. This was a big deal. To make things even better, a few days before I made a big Pioneer Woman spicy pork shoulder and cut up all the fixings. Dinner was already made! But it gets even better! That very afternoon, I purchased a perfect bottle of fine wine. It was sweet and bubbly and six whole dollars. 

Friday night. And our child is asleep two freaking hours early! Dinner made. Wine. Can I get a hallelujah.

We were looking ahead to an evening by ourselves to watch a new Fixer Upper on Netflix, relax and get to bed early. (We party hard, y’all). Then something horrible happened. A mere 45 minutes of bliss later, Dubs woke up. Turns out all our sweet boy needed was…a nap.

Once he was up, he was up. Commence Operation Exhaust Baby. We played with his zoo. We played catch. We read books. We chased. This kid was awake. Meanwhile, these parents were fading because being a grown up is hard. An hour later, and quite desperate, we  turned off all the lights and turned on some baby crack, which in our house is Octonauts.

I walked by Dubs and The Professor laying on the sofa as a new episode began. After watching only a few frames, The Professor turned to me and said, “Sweety, I think the Octonauts are going to help an albino humpback whale with a sunburn in this episode.” Sure enough. Thank you Jesus there is no singing on that show. Our Daniel Tiger phase was hard, y’all.

Mercifully, our little second-winded baby got sleepy. He wasn’t worse for wear, but we certainly were.

Being tired will mess with your mind. Of course, it can mess with it in serious, detrimental ways, which I’ve discussed in posts like this one about postpartum anxiety, and which should not be taken lightly. Exhaustion can turn your brain into mush in the most awesome of ways, too. It’s like a hallucinogen without the magic mushrooms. A rave without the strobe lights and weird Russian dance music. It’s truly magical.

Here are some of my favorite exhaustion-driven memories from the earliest days of mamahood.

1. But How Do I REALLY Know…

Once I was watching Dubs sleep, because that’s what you do when you’re a new mama and you’re supposed to be sleeping. He was three months old, and half awake, thrashing about. I remember watching him thinking, But how do I know he’s alive? Like, how do I know he’s breathing? It was very perplexing. How could I tell? There were literally no signs. None. Something had to be done. I put my hand on his chest to feel the rise and fall of baby breathing, but I couldn’t tell…because he was kicking so much.

I did the only rational thing: picked him up. Verified he was breathing. And started the exhaustion all over again…because somehow I had woken him up in the process. How? Who knows. It’s a mystery.

2. 10ish Toes

Another time I was nursing him in the middle of the night, and falling asleep myself. Then I woke with a start, panic traveling over my skin like a cold fog, heart racing with a specific realization.

Does he have ten toes?!? I can’t believe I forgot to check! You are a horrible mother, Sarah! Just horrible. You never checked. How could you forget to check? I ripped off his socks and made sure his toes were all accounted for.

Dubs was two months old. Or was it four months? It’s all too much of a blur to remember with any certainty. Really. You can’t make this stuff up.

3. George Clooney

Then there was the moment my love for classic literature and knowledge of pop culture resulted in *mind blowing* insights. I mean, I hope you’re sitting down. Here’s what I philosophized on a particularly late night: Many times in the past, George Clooney has made a fool of himself by pursuing women who weren’t so appropriate for him. Then he meets this classy, gorgeous, British human rights attorney whom he marries.

O.M.G. George Clooney is the real life Bridget Jones. #MindBlown

It’s okay, George. In the words of Mark Darcy, we like you just the way you are.

4. Unlocking Chipotle

Exhaustion wasn’t limited to my own four walls, either. After I returned to work from maternity leave, I got a lot of quizzical looks the day I kept trying to pay at Chipotle by pushing the unlock button on my car key. After about 10 seconds of pushing my button and waiting for something to happen, and growing more frustrated each time it didn’t work, the cashier asked me what I was doing. Did I have maybe some cash or a credit card?  

Spoiler Alert: the unlock button on your car will not buy you a half steak, half chicken burrito bowl. I don’t care how great the customer service is at Chipotle. It just doesn’t work that way.

The nights of no sleep are seldom these days. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived with so little sleep during the lean months, but I did. Some of those times were the hardest, the worst. The most unsettling and upending. That season reaped a lot of good, too. That’s usually how it works.

Here’s to you, the night watch. The new mamas and new daddies and caregivers and foster parents. You are the all-nighters, the fretters, the triple-checkers that she’s okay. This is a song that I am dedicated to you. You can do it! You can do it! (Oprah voice) YOU CAAAAAAAAAANNN DO IT!!!!!

I don’t know how you can do it, but you can. I think it’s a combination of hormones and Jesus and lattes with extra shots. Maybe you don’t feel like you have energy and fortitude in spades. That’s okay. You don’t need a storehouse. You just need enough energy for today. For this stretch until nap time. For this very moment.

On nights when I’m up, I hold you close in my heart. Please keep your stories of exhaustion absurdities. They’ll bring a smile to your face later down the road.

Silly reminders of real sacrifice are ours to to keep close and cherish.

Share your silly memories. They are as much as a ministry to new parents as casseroles. They feed the soul with laughter and promises that you are not alone.

 

To the Miscarriage Mamas on Mother’s Day

accidental okie miscarriage mamasDear Mama.

Yes, Mama. Not Almost Mama. Not Someday Mama. You, the grower of life, the incubator of heartbeats and fingernails.

You are not a used-to-be.

I want to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry for the death deep within your womb, for the loss even deeper in your heart. 

I don’t know how it happened, your unique story.

I don’t know when it happened. If it was late, there were probably logistics and procedures, maybe even danger for you. I cannot begin to understand.

If it was early, it probably hurt more than you ever thought possible – losing this life you didn’t even know existed just days or weeks earlier. I know it took me by surprise.

And for some of you, it’s happened again and again. The cruelest of cruel jokes.

This pain might be an ache that’s dulled over time, but will never fully go away. For others it is a sharp, fresh cut full of venom and tears.

We all have so many different stories, different pain. And now for each of us, all that complex grief, the years or months of emotions, the children you now have or the children you still dream of having – all of it – gets balled up into a tangled mess of a thing on this special weekend.

Yes, Mother’s Day is here again.

Last year was my first Mother’s Day. At six months pregnant, everyone who glimpsed me celebrated this new life, and I relished it. Happy Mother’s Day to me! 

The week before Mother’s Day, I floated about in my pregnant bliss, accepting well wishes from grocery store checkers and baristas. When the actual day came, I unexpectedly hid in my bed and sobbed. There was so much to be thankful for, but so much to mourn, too.

The well wishers didn’t know the whole story. That baby bump, our sweet boy, was the third baby I’d carried in my belly since the previous year’s Mother’s Day.

Mourning and joy. I think for many of us, they will forever mingle together on this day.

Whether hands full of kiddos who need bottles, band-aids or help with calculus homework, or hands still empty and heart still longing – we remember the cadence of those heartbeats, the positive pregnancy tests, the sweet dreams for a life that was suddenly gone.

It’s a hard week. A weird week.

Throughout my own season of loss, God was so faithful. He showed me beautiful, life-sustaining things about himself. He gave me comfort when I didn’t think it was possible.

Known

Last year, anchors were suddenly all the rage. You couldn’t click on Pinterest without seeing 20 different variations of the verse, “Hope is the anchor for the soul.” I thought it was sweet…gimmicky, but sweet.

Then after our miscarriages, I struggled to define an ache I couldn’t quite move beyond. Sure there was sadness and there was grief at the loss of these two little lives, but there was something else. Something more.

It festered and grew until one day it hit me: They were never known.

Most of my friends and a lot of our family didn’t even know I was pregnant both times. Life – glorious life that was prayed for and yearned for – came and went. Never known or quickly forgotten. It seemed too cruel. Even I, the holder of those heartbeats, didn’t know them.

Grief finally identified, I wept for the babies I would never know here on earth. Were they boys or girls? Did either have The Professor’s hint  of red hair or my random hatred of apples? Would they have been funny or serious, or maybe a bit of both? 

As I processed my grief over my babies not being known, I felt a strong urge to read Psalms 139. It’s the Psalm that says, “I knit you together in your mother’s womb.” For someone having miscarriages while seeing a fertility doctor, the thought of that passage seemed more like a cruel joke than a divine word from God.

As I begrudgingly read the passage, one section I’d never paid much attention to came alive.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

In that moment, I heard the tender voice of God whisper, “Your babies are known. They are known by me.”

In the depths of the earth – in the secret place where not even I could know them, He knew them. In that instant, I remembered the anchor pictures I kept seeing. The anchor – the same one that was the hope for my soul – it was down there in the depths of the earth, firm and secure.

Jesus knew my babies, and they were never alone. This has become my hope, my anchor. And if you ever wonder why I always wear an anchor necklace, that’s why.

Your babies are known. Fully, perfectly, completely known. Maybe not by you and maybe not by anyone else, but by God who formed them in that secret place.

And because they are fully known, they will never be forgotten.

Seen

I learned that God didn’t just know my babies. He didn’t just see them. He saw me. 

He saw the deep hurt that so many people didn’t. He saw me at my ugliest, saddest, angriest and most confused.

El Roi – The God Who Sees Me.

It has become my favorite name of God. There’s something really special about this name. The context isn’t The God who sees me win races and post Facebook statuses about my perfect life. It was the God who sees when we’re at our most vulnerable and most scared. 

Here’s the really cool part: it is a name given to God by a pregnant lady. Hagar encountered God while trying to run away from the crappy hand she was dealt.

“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the one who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13).

He has seen your deepest pain. Not the put-on-a-pretty face you. Not the b.s. The real. The ugly. The lost.

Just like your babies, you are known. You are seen. Your pain is not forgotten.

Dear miscarriage mamas, this Mother’s Day, I pray that you honor it as you need. That might mean hiding under the covers, tear streaked. It might mean putting on a pretty face at church or a family gathering, and screaming in the shower later in the day. It might mean accepting sweet misspelled cards made by tiny fingers, and still giving yourself permission to feel that pinch of grief mingled with great joy. It might mean visiting a grave site.

Mother’s Day is about celebrating life and life givers. I think for us, the miscarriage mamas, who hold this day with interweaving and complicated emotions, we have a piercing reminder that today we can also celebrate the ultimate life giver – the one who ravaged death and will someday make all the sad things come untrue.

Your babies are known. You – your pain, your grief, your joy – they are seen.

You, sweet mama, are not a used to be, and so to you I want to say this: Happy Mother’s Day.

Praying for a Second Miracle

praying for a second miracle

We’ve never had nice cars.

I’ve always had Volvos, and I like them. I’d rather have an older, safer Volvo than something new. I was the middle-income kid at a high school that was named snobbiest school in America by Time Magazine my junior year. A handful of my classmates had Vipers. I had Jean Claude, an aging Volvo station wagon I talked to in a French accent.

Jean Claude – he was awesome. I’d show you a picture, but I think I destroyed everything from those horrible brassy hair-dye years.

The Professor is the same way. His first car was an old oil field truck he used for pumping wells in college. It was gone long before I came into the picture, but I hear it was sturdy, but battered, and covered in red dirt and crude oil.

Yes, some Oklahoma stereotypes are very real. 

I think the truck racked up 300,000 hard miles before The Professor and his dad limped it to the lot and traded it in for a used SUV after he got his first teaching job.

Last year, right in the midst of our fertility treatments, our old but reliable cars started dying fast. Both of them. Simultaneously. My Volvo sedan was well over 200,000 miles and the Professor’s old Explorer our “reliable car” was suddenly very unreliable.

It was a time of big stress, but even bigger prayers. I prayed so hard, so often that sometimes I felt a little inside out. Like I dwelled in my heart more than my body. Those were days of deep, intimate times with God.

Now I added our car need to my big prayers. God, both our cars are crapping out, and if they die at the same time, we’re screwed.

Can you say screwed to God? And crapping out? I think you can.

As I prayed, I had this vision of me strapping our baby’s car seat into an SUV. I saw this vision over and over as I prayed, so I began to pray specifically for it. 

I cast a wide net, looking on Craigslist, online, newspapers. Nothing was in our price range.

Some friends were moving back to the mission field after a year back in the states for her to have a kidney transplant. Maybe we could buy their car?

I learned it was on loan to them from an older couple in our church, people we knew. So I emailed the car’s owners, apologizing for my impertinence, but would they be selling their old SUV? What would be the cost?

It was the quintessential casting a big net moment. Praying hard and following any lead.

Just 30 minutes later, I got a phone call from our friend. It went something like this. “Oh Sarah! What an answer to prayer you are. We were just praying about what to do with that car. We have no place to put it and no use for it. So we’ll just give it to you!”

Really, give it to us?

Had God just answered our prayers in this big, majestic, undeniable way? He had, and it was a lot to take in. I started crying. Not in a socially appropriate, pretty, I’m-so-thankful-for-you sort of way. No, slobbering, snotty, ugly crying on the phone with the classiest, most composed lady I know.

A month later, our friends plus one new kidney went back to Nicaragua where they help rescue children from human trafficking. And we got our new car. It was was 12 years old – way newer than our cars. It was our first car with keyless entry. And it was fancy.

I prayed for that car with yearning, and God gave it to us. Really, I just prayed for a car we could afford, not a free one. But that’s what he provided. It was beyond anything I could have imagined.

The next day I had my second miscarriage.

It was hard and horrible because miscarriages are hard and horrible. But this time, I had a glimmer of hope. Intertwined in my prayer for the car was the vision I had of putting a baby in an SUV. Logical or even theologically correct I still don’t know, but in my mind, God gave us a car to put a baby in, so I knew he’d give us a baby.

He had to. 

The next month, we got pregnant again. And miracle of miracles, we stayed pregnant. It all felt so perfect, driving our miracle car with fancy keyless entry to the doctor to check on our miracle baby. We drove it to Texas for baby showers. We transported our loaned bassinet in it, and we thanked God and our friends for such an answer to prayer. 

Then one morning when I was 35 weeks pregnant, we woke up early so I could get to the city for a midwife appointment. I walked outside to find that our SUV had been stolen in the night.

Like really, actually stolen. It was the strangest feeling.

How do you process your car getting stolen? Especially when you live in a nice, low-crime town. We live in a cul-du-sac at the end of our well-kept, but not fancy neighborhood. One of our neighbors told me he leaves his keys in his car and has never locked his house. Another neighbor accidentally left her garage door open the night before and nothing was taken. We almost always put it in the garage, but just hadn’t that night.

It was, in every way, an anomaly.

Being the middle of summer, we figured a few bored kids found some trouble, and the car would show up in a day or two in an empty parking lot or underpass. But it didn’t. Also, our insurance guy had advised us against full-coverage insurance because of the payout versus premium. So, no insurance coverage. And I was 35 weeks pregnant! 35!

I cried out to God with honesty and confusion. What are you doing, God? We’re about to have a baby! The Bible is full of honest prayers, so I think God was fine with those. I really do.

But here’s what he’s not okay with. He’s not okay with us forgetting who he is.

I prayed so big, so boldly before, but I didn’t this time. I didn’t because God already gave us a miracle car. Who was he to provide us with a second miracle car? Add a miracle baby on top of that. We had reached our supernatural provision quota. We were on our own with this one.

I couldn’t ask for more, I decided. And so I didn’t. 

My initial Psalms-like “where are you, God” prayers quickly turned to bitter, accusatory rebukes. 

This was the car God provided for us, for our baby. In just a few weeks, we were going to drive it to the hospital and a few days later actually buckle a baby into a car seat.

Now what? Now what, God? You let this happen, now fix it. 

This went on for a few weeks. A few very unproductive weeks. Shock.

One Saturday three weeks later, I was driving home from the grocery store praying my usual, “What were you thinking, God?” I can tell you what intersection I was at when I heard a voice deep in my heart, deep in my ears. 

“STOP!”

And when you hear God tell you to stop, you stop – your angry prayers that is, not your car in the middle of traffic. There have only been a few moments in my life where the Lord’s voice has been so…so present, so undeniable. It was a stern rebuke, but it was gentle and loving, too. 

“Pray that I would work this out in a way that would give me the most glory.”

To my shame, in three weeks, it never even crossed my mind to pray that prayer. Even knowing our car being stolen was a complete, total anomaly, I never thought about God’s glory. Instead, I had assumed I was marooned, forgotten.

When I forgot who God is – that he doesn’t abandon, he doesn’t forget – I began to focus on my inconvenience, my suffering, my beautiful ideal vision shattered. 

So I prayed, God work this out in a way that would bring glory to you. Let this be a story about you, not a story about a car. The more I prayed it, the more I believed it.

Later that day, we got a phone call from some family members. I won’t mention who they are because that would embarrass them, but they are awesome parents, foster parents and intentional in their community.

They needed a different car and couldn’t get a fair trade-in value for their older-model Volvo SUV. They were so annoyed that they decided they’d rather give it away to someone than essentially give it away to a car dealership. Did we want it?

Wait, what?

The story unfolded. Two weeks prior, they realized they weren’t going to get a fair trade-in value. She started dreaming of driving halfway across the country to give us their car, but that’s ludicrous, right? So she kept it in her heart. Then, on that Saturday, her husband brought it up to her. He had been praying about it, too.

We could only afford to pay them what the dealership offered, but they refused and God worked in some cool ways to get a few repairs it needed done at a lower cost. Our family came together and paid for some of the repairs. The Professor’s dad flew out to help them drive the car to Oklahoma. They arrived the day Dubs made his eventful entrance into the world.

It’s equal parts amazing and humbling. No, it’s more humbling to be loved in such a real, sacrificial way. 

God is not a genie in a bottle. He wasn’t waiting for me to say the magic words so my wish would be granted. But he was, I think, holding out his grand solution until my heart changed, until I remembered who he is.

It’s hard to ask for a second miracle.

It’s hard on our egos and it really seems just too much. God already brought miracle provision. He can’t possibly do it again. He forgave that massive screw up. No more grace for me. I already prayed for and had a healthy child. Can I pray for another miracle? Like, am I even allowed to?

Over the coming weeks after Dub’s birth when my postpartum anxiety/OCD became very bad, that car became more than a car. It was a standing stone (errr…a rolling stone) of God’s faithfulness, and a reminder that I could come to him moment by moment.

That vision I had of buckling Dubs into his carseat in an SUV came true. Like the rest of this story, it was completely different than I had imagined. Our first trip by ourselves was three weeks after he was born and we went to my first counseling appointment to begin tackling my postpartum anxiety.

I’m by no means wise or anything like that. But after this experience, this is what I know: When we believe God is who he says he is, we can pray for a second miracle. Or a seventh or hundredth.

Because who God is, is enough.  

Infertility: How to Support a Friend

accidentalokiefertilityseriessupport-01

This is post two in my Infertility Series. Read post one here.

In the first post of my Infertility Series, we established a few things: 1 –  we all say stupid things, so we’re all starting fresh together.  2 – you (right now at this exact moment) know someone going through infertility. 3 – infertility treatment is hard. Like really, truly, horribly, life-alteringly difficult. 4 – people going through infertility treatment are attacked with a bevy of bad advice and worse jokes, insults, innuendos, jukes, embarrassments and garden-variety crapola.

But what do you do now?  How do you support a friend going through infertility?

First, I want to say this. You – the one who googled this article in search of answers and advice – YOU ARE A ROCK STAR. You are an awesome friend. Thank you for your intentionality and for wanting to help your friend. You’re already way ahead of the curve.

A typical woman in the trenches of fertility treatments is isolated, physically drained, emotional as hell, and financially depleted. She’s mourning ever-growing losses – miscarriages, failed treatments, the loss of intimacy with her husband (since nothing says romantic quite like hearing a doctor say “you’ll need to have intercourse on Tuesday at 11:15 a.m. sharp”), another month with no success, and the idea that she will “just get pregnant” like all her friends. The unknowns are suffocating. Her arms are empty, her womb barren.

Her dreams of a family are slipping away with every month. Or year.

A family. Her dreams of a family. This isn’t a little thing. It’s not something to make light of, to tell someone to get over, or to use as ammunition in your next round of gossip. This is a big deal.

If your friend has confided her battle with you, strap on your armor and flank her in this fight.

I think the best way to figure out how to help her are to look at her needs. I’ve thought through the basic areas where your friend may need support. This isn’t an all-encompassing list because every person and treatment is unique.

Please don’t read this as a to-do list.

I don’t think any one person should do everything here. That would be overwhelming to you and probably embarrassing for your friend. My hope is that you can read through this list with your friend in mind, and come up with some ideas of how you can support her.

1. Emotional Support

One the first fertility medicines my doctor tried caused some really serious mental side effects. I immediately got off that medicine and thankfully I got back to my normal, mentally balanced self within a day or two. 

accidentalokie flowers

About that time, three friends stopped by with flowers, an Anthropologie mug and Bible verse-saturated note cards. On hard evenings, I would curl up on the sofa with a cup of tea in my beautiful new mug and read those verses over and over, like they were my life line.

To them it was probably a small thing. To me, it was everything.

Supporting your friend emotionally means a card in the mail, a mug on the doorstep, or a shoulder to cry on. It means remembering the due date of the baby who died in her belly (no matter how early). It means listening to her unedited fears and unrestrained yells, and not shushing her.

Like really, actually listening.

It means asking questions, googling medical procedures and joining her on this journey. If she’s told you her treatment plan and schedule, it’s a text the morning of a procedure.

It’s not hard. It’s not expensive. It just takes a little time and intentionality.

If you know someone who has already walked down the infertility road and you want to connect her with your friend in the current struggle, I think that is an excellent idea. Love and support from this sisterhood of women is invaluable. It’s best to get your friend’s permission first. Always err on the side of honoring her vulnerability and confidentiality.

2. Physical Support

Fertility treatment really wears on a person. There’s medicine, doctor’s appointments (sometimes three a week) and procedures that somehow have to be crammed into a schedule, and all the emotions in all the world swirling all at once.

And all that is exhausting.

Let me tell you how awesome our homemade dinners…weren’t. Frozen gluten-free chicken fingers for two, please.

Supporting a friend physically is as simple as dropping by a rotisserie chicken. It’s offering to come over for a Saturday of freezer meal cooking so she can get ready for another treatment cycle. It’s folding towels and vacuuming, or getting the guys to take her husband to a baseball game. Guys go through a lot during this, too.

It’s babysitting so she can go to a doctor’s appointment. (Many people have to do the same treatment for every child or didn’t have to treatment before, but have to now). It’s driving her to an appointment where she has to be sedated or take pain medicine before.

If you love through logistics, love well friends, love well.

3. Financial Support

One cycle of fertility treatment can be as little as a few hundred dollars or as much as $15,000. Gulp. They might be siphoning money from their grocery budget, or they might have taken out a second-mortgage.

If you have the ability and the desire, meeting financial needs is really cool.

Financial support can mean really big gestures. But it can also mean a needed grocery store gift card, gas money – especially if her fertility doctor is far away, or a coupon to a night at a romantic hotel. It’s a few $20’s exchanged in a cool James Bond handshake –  you know, if you’re cool enough to pull that off.

I’m not.

Dollars meet logistical, real needs, but they also say, “we haven’t forgotten you.”

4. Spiritual Support

Get on your knees for your friend.

Yes, pray that she’ll get pregnant! Pray that prayer with yearning and confidence.

But pray for other things, too. Pray that she wouldn’t believe the lies streaming into her head – the ones that say she’s worthless, that she’s been forgotten by God, that her husband won’t love a woman who can’t make a baby. Pray for physical strength, for healing from the cause of the infertility. Pray for her heart. Pray for her marriage.

Speak Truth into her life. Pray that you have the words to say. Pray that the Lord would be near and that she would feel his presence.

Your friend may be feeling deep shame. She might be trying to isolate herself because this is all, it’s just so much. She might be angry at God. She could be spiritually spent, emotionally empty and her roughest spots exposed.

At this moment, she might not be her best self. She needs you in spite of all that.

You know your gifts and you know your friend, and I bet you know a way you can come along side her to bring courage, comfort and truth.

5. Do I Ask?

In my previous post, I listed all the stupid things people say to someone going through infertility. Reading though it, just about half of the items are different forms of someone asking “what’s going on?” But without the social skills.

Don’t be that person.

You suspect a friend may be struggling with infertility. Do you outright ask her?

I don’t know your friend, but I’m going to say in most cases, no. You could tell her you’re worried about her, that it seems like she’s going through something, and is everything is okay? If she wants to tell you, you’ve opened the door for a conversation.

But please PLEASE examine your heart first.

If you think infertility is the only possible excuse for wasting her best child-bearing years, and you need to give her a talking to about having a baby before it’s too late, please keep your mouth shut. If you’re sort of wondering what’s going on so you can tell another girlfriend at your next gab session, please mind your own business.

If your heart is hurting for your friend, maybe you can bring it up. But it should be in 1 – in private. Not in a group ambush, not shouted across a crowded room of friends or family, and not on social media. 2 – you should not come armed with a list of advice, but instead with a concerned heart, ready to listen.  3 – it should only be if you are very close friends.

6. I’m Pregnant. What Do I Do?

Oh, this one is hard. I’ve been the infertility-stricken one around pregnant friends, and I’ve been the pregnant one around friends who I know are struggling. It can feel like a minefield.

Here are my suggestions.

Tell her your good news privately.
Don’t tell her in a group of friends. I remember this happened once to me. I was incredibly happy for my friend, but at the same time I was sad, too, for me. And then I felt horrible about being sad in the midst of her answered prayers. It was a lot of conflicting emotions at once.

Some of the people in the room knew our struggles. Suddenly, I was worried that people were looking at me to gauge my reaction. Were all these weird, warring emotions on my face? I was so worried that I plastered on this big, dopey grin, and probably looked a bit high.

She might be totally fine. But she might also want to give you a huge hug and celebrate this new life, and then retreat to her house and have a good cry.

Respect her journey during your happy time.

Don’t complain about your pregnancy to her.
I get it. Sometimes pregnancy sucks. You projectile vomit Chipotle across the living room. Your hips stop working. And having a few girlfriends to complain at is a good thing. But your friend going through infertility treatment should not be your sounding board.

7. The Long Road

The Professor and I were really fortunate. They figured out our problems, and I responded well to treatment. Our fertility journey was nothing compared to what it is for some people.

As you encourage your friend, please know, this might be a short journey or it might be a very long one.

Fertility treatment ends in one of three ways: 1 – They become pregnant. 2 – They have a child through adoption or fostering. 3 – They decide they’re done trying.

Those are a lot of different things, each with very different needs.

Be there – be there for the long haul. That means listening to her fears, even if she’s two years into this. It means staying engaged. It means keeping your eyes and ears open for needs.

Here’s the most important thing I want you to know – I believe in you.

You, who are seeking. You, who are trying. You, who are making a difference, showing up, and flanking your friend.

You, yes you, are phenomenal.

Infertility & Ten Horrible Things People Say

fertility-01

Infertility.

If you’ve walked this road, even seeing the word makes you wince.

It’s a word that means failure, despair, and all the money. It is what if’s and hope deferred.

And it means people saying the shittiest things to you. Seriously.

I want to talk about some of the horrible and unfortunately common things people said to me while going through this difficult season, and explain why those comments – while seldom malicious – were deeply painful.

Why do any of us ever put our foot in our mouth? We don’t know what to say. We don’t know what we’re talking about, or we’re scared. That naturally leads to the spewing the first and stupidest thing that comes to mind.  So, in my next blog post, I’m going to offer suggestions for helpful things you can say or do if you know someone going through infertility.

Also, there’s something I need you to understand. I wasn’t like – Oh I have a blog. Let’s go shame people. If you read this and you think…”hmmm, I might have said that.” Truth is, I don’t really remember who said what. Or maybe we had to have a conversation about what you said. All is forgiven. Or forgotten. Or both. 

This isn’t about you and it’s not about me. It’s about her.

The one who knows all the internet acronyms – she’s TTC, measures her life by DPO, did the BD, or a had a MC, counted her follies and had an IUI, endured yet another 2WW, again a BFN, and later a BFP, then a M/C.

She might have mortgaged her house for a few rounds of IVF. Or she’s had so many miscarriages, she got her own Doppler for this pregnancy.

You pass her at church or the grocery store and she’s drowning in hopelessness and synthetic hormones. She’s the only 20 or 30-something sticking her head in the store’s frozen pizza case because of her hot flashes. She can’t tell where her emotions end and the medicine’s side effects begin, and she truly wonders if she’s losing her mind.

Or maybe she’s wrapping her heart around adoption – turning what she thought was Plan B into a glorious Plan A. And trying to find $30k under the couch cushions.

And then on top of everything, friends and vague acquaintances – most well-intentioned, a few careless, gossipy or judgmental – lob flaming arrows of bad advice, not-so-subtle jabs, and plain ole crap her direction.  

So I thought, maybe you’ll read this blog post and maybe you’ll see that friend sticking her head in the pizza case at the grocery store or avoiding looking at the cute baby in the ruffled dress at church, and maybe you’ll be able to say something helpful and encouraging to her. 

Because I really do believe that most of the people who said these things to me, whether they knew what was going on or not, genuinely thought they were being helpful.

But they weren’t. At all.

Next, you might be thinking, But I don’t know anyone going through infertility.

Yes you do.

As I went through my comparably short battle with infertility, I was very private. I still don’t know how all of them arrived at my door step and inbox, but I developed a sisterhood of women who’d walked this road before. And there are a lot of us. I now find this journey such an integral part of the story of our miracle boy and the story of God’s faithfulness, that I don’t mind sharing, especially if it will help someone else.

So here’s the deal, if you have a friend who’s been married a more than a few years, is not in some sort of big life moment – her or her husband finishing law school, a deployment, they’re still in college – and she hasn’t outwardly expressed that she doesn’t want kids, she might be going through infertility.

Wondering why your friend with no kids stopped coming to girl’s nights out when it became a big mommy gab fest. She might be going through infertility. (Or maybe y’all are being a little insufferable).

Wondering why one of your friends stopped signing up to take meals to friends who just had babies? It might be hurting her heart too much.

I think that if you have a friend who has begun isolating herself, something’s wrong. 

The reality is this:  You know someone who is struggling right now with infertility.

And if you know someone in this fight, isn’t helpful to know what not to say? I think so. So without further adieu, here is a list of the nine weirdest, worst, most head-scratching things people told to us while we struggled to have a baby.

1. You need to try (insert fad diet of the month) and you WILL get pregnant.

Now, I know there is a correlation between weight loss and ovulation. I know because I talked about it. With my doctor.

No matter how close we are, if you told me that the only reason I wasn’t pregnant was because I hadn’t tried your friend’s fad diet, you found out that I was pregnant when I announced it on Facebook in the middle of my second trimester.

2. You just need to relax / Stop trying and it will just happen.

Apparently you weren’t in the room when my doctor read pages and pages of lab work, looked up at us and said that AT MOST I’d ovulated twice my whole life. Also, all those years we weren’t trying, I was relaxed, and it didn’t “just happen.”

These sorts of comments place subtle blame on the very person they’re trying to help. That’s a big deal. 

Hashtag not helpful.

3. You two know how this works, right? / Maybe it’s time you start practicing a bit more…Wink Wink. 

I can’t even comment. Wait, yes I can. I must.

We don’t have a kid, so you take it upon yourself to walk up to my husband and me and tell us we don’t know how to have sex? I think we can figure it out. After we’d been married for a few years and bought a house, these demeaning, bizarro comments came with head-pounding regularity.

Really, people? Really? 

4. You’re not getting any younger. You need to get on this.

My biological clock had run out of batteries. Thank you for reminding me I’m old.

5. We’re at a family or friend gathering. Everyone is in one room – people I know well, people I don’t know well at all. There’s a lull in the conversation. Suddenly someone loudly says from across the room, “So, Sarah, why don’t you have a kid yet?”

This is probably the worst. Face turning red, embarrassment shifting to shame, sometimes I’d have the wherewithal to say, “Hopefully I will when God and our team of medical professionals make a miracle happen.” Most of the time, I’d just shrug my shoulders.

6. The Baby Juke: It’s a term made up based on Jon Acuff’s term, the Jesus Juke.

You’re in a simple conversation and out of no where, JUKE! They just turned it into a conversation about why you haven’t sprung forth fruit from your loins. You realize that the entire conversation was just a prop to get you to this point. Baby jukers also believe they get bonus points for doing this in front of spectators or on social media.

See, watch:
Annoying Person: “What are you getting your parents for Christmas?
Me: “I was thinking a cast-iron skillet for my mom and a golf shirt for my dad.”
Annoying Person: “You know, they’d probably rather have a grandbaby than a stupid skillet. You’re not getting any younger. You need to get on this.(To the crowd) Am I right?”

Or:
Annoying Person: “I love those new pants!”
Me: “Thanks! They fit great!”
Annoying Person: “Well, watch out. They won’t fit after you have a baby. Speaking of, why don’t you have kids?”

Friends don’t Baby Juke their friends. That’s all I gotta say about that.

7. Why are you spending money on (home or car repair, vet bill, haircut) when you could be spending that money on a baby?

Well, we have a car and a house and (we used to have) a cat. And we don’t spend much on them. Would you like me to get out the calendar and show you the last time – three years ago – that we went on even a small weekend getaway? Or have you call my parents, who helped with our groceries when our fertility treatment costs began mounting?

Like the Baby Jukers, these helpful people really only asked their questions in front of an audience, as if enough of a mob got together and started shouting, “baby! baby! baby!” a tiny human would actually fall out of my nether regions.

Maybe everyone could just mind their own business.

8. You’re going to be a stay-at-home mom, right?

I don’t have a kid yet, but thanks for throwing me into the mommy wars. At the most inappropriate time ever.

9. Why aren’t you praying for a miracle?

This one really pisses me off.

First, why do you think I’m not? Don’t you think that I’ve yearned to have a romantic night with my husband, and then few weeks later to pee on a stick, see the magic plus sign, and then get to surprise our families? Instead, I was impregnated at a doctor’s office while The Professor was at work, and had no parents to surprise because they all knew our treatment schedule.

Yes, I prayed for that miracle with our sweet boy, and I’ll pray for it again.

Second, just ponder this. There’s a medicine that forces the very first part of a woman’s monthly cycle. That medicine causes her body to retrieve and grow a follicle, which will eventually turn into an egg. After a week or so, an ultrasound checks to make sure the follicle is ripe. Then a shot forces ovulation. And then exactly 36 hours after the shot, another procedure gets the swimmers in the mix. That, boys and girls, is sometimes where babies come from.

And you know what? That sounds pretty miraculous to me.

Thank you Jesus for doctors, researchers and chemists who solve these complex problems. Thank you for miracles, whether they are driven by science or defy explanation. I for one don’t like to rank my miracles.

And finally, hopefully you’re not the sort of person who goes around telling people with cancer to get off their chemo and pray instead. So why would you say that to someone using medicine to solve legitimate medical problems with fertility?

10. At least…

When you’re talking to someone who’s hurting, you need to remove the words at least from your vocabulary.

“We’re going through infertility treatment. It’s hard financially and the medicine is making me really sick.” 

“At least you don’t have cancer.”
“At least you already have a child.”
“At least you’re married and at a place in life to have kids. Some people aren’t.”

At least says this – Your pain is invalid because it is more than or less than someone else’s. (And equally infuriating, many times the person you’re being compared to is hypothetical!)

At least shames. It shuts down. It silences.

***

So there you have it. I heard these things over and over.  Do you feel equal parts amused, sad and frustrated? And maybe you sort of want to take a shower? I do.

Here is my conclusion.

It is hard out there, no matter what you’re going through. And I know you are all going through something.

And I think we can do better.

Can’t we encourage without embarrassing? Can’t we ask without shaming? Can’t we be a tribe of support, not a mush pit of grief? Can’t we? 

I think we can. I think you can, and I think I can.

In my follow-up post, I will be discussing practical things you can say or do if you have a friend going through this or many other hard times in life. I hope you stay tuned. 

Dub’s Vintage Storybook Nursery

accidental okie storybook themed nursery

Dub’s nursery is a mishmash of everything I love. It’s my revenge at the universe for getting married before Pinterest was invented. (Seriously, I had to come up with all my wedding ideas on.my.own.).

My friend Liz, the first of us to have a baby, said she designed her daughter’s nursery for her, because she’d be the one in there exhausted in the middle of the night. Liz is as brilliant as they come.

So this – this is my baby-themed sanctuary.

Books were so integral to my childhood. Even now, master’s degree in writing in hand, I prefer children’s and young adult books over adult books. They are full of magic and wonder, and I want our Dubs to experience all those special books The Professor and I still enjoy reading. This is where our theme began.

I also wanted a design that was flexible. I didn’t want something so specific – like burlap and trains or something – that I couldn’t put it in the nursery if it wasn’t burlap or a train. Vintage storybook really turned into something special and unique. It is vintage storybook, but then there are some nautical elements, gold polka dots and different kinds of stripes. There’s modern fabric and very traditional elements, and art new and old.

It is me. Sorry, Dubs. 

accidentalokie nursery 2

 

accidentalokie nursery 1

The paint is Sherwin Williams North Star. It only took me five paint samples to find the perfect shade of not-too-blue, not-too-gray. The guy at the paint store finally gave me my very own swatch book. He said it was customer service, but I suspect it was pity for the eight-month pregnant lady who kept waddling in and buying sample after paint sample.

However, after this experience, I am a total believer in buying paint samples and not just going off the swatch. If you want proof, find one of my recipe posts and look for my kitchen.

It was supposed to be turquoise. But it’s like TUUUUURQQQQOOOOOOOIIIISSSE. 

Our chair is a glider recliner. It was a gift from my aunt, and I sleep in it about as much as I sleep in my bed. When looking for one, I searched high and low for something with a tall enough back for the Professor – he’s got ten inches on me. It works great for both of us.

I found the pouf ottoman on sale at Target for 50 percent off. Sometimes I prop my feet on it when rocking when the chair isn’t reclined. Other times it holds a book or a blanket. I know someday Dubs will think it’s his own special seat. The rugby stripe rug is one of my savviest purchases ever – Pottery Barn Kids. 50 percent off. Boom.

The gold polka dots came from someone on Etsy who had them for about a tenth of what they are at Land of Nod.

accidentalokie nursery horizontal book case 1

My vision for this space included monochromatic colors and very bright accents. As a part of the storybook theme, I wanted books on the wall, not only as art but aslo just as, well, books! By creating horizontal book shelves from Ikea RIBBA Picture Ledges, Dubs’ books become bright art in the room. As books come down and are put up, the arrangement always changes. In the coming years, the shelves will change with him.

I love every part of these bookshelves. 

accidentalokie nursery horizontal book case 2

The Take Heart plaque was a gift from some of our closest friends who brought it to the hospital when Dubs was born. The anchor refers to our fertility struggle. God gave me beautiful anchors as a standing stone in prayer and in remembering our sweet babies lost to early miscarriages. It’s a subtle but very special reminder of the journey we’ve walked and the grace we’ve seen.

accidentalokie nursery bench 1

In the ultimate test to our marriage, The Professor and I upholstered that bench by ourselves. It was just us, two Pinterest tutorials, a staple gun, foam, batting, fabric, and three arguments. But we did it! I know, right! The bench is an Ikea Kallax bookshelf, which can be used both standing up or on its side.

The wood-grain fabric is a little modern and a little traditional, and it fits perfectly in this space. The bins are from Target. They hold plush toys, plastic/wood toys, extra pillows and a few other odds and ends. The slots and bins are square, so some day when Dubs grows up, the whole thing can be stood up.

But for now, I have this vision of him being a little boy, tucked on his reading bench, digging into The Boxcar Children.

I know. It’s a romantic vision, but I’m sticking to it.

Accidental Okie nursery monogram

I selected a Jenny Lind crib. I liked it for a few reasons. It’s timeless, relatively inexpensive, made from sustainable New Zealand wood, and does not turn into a full-sized headboard, bunk bed or space ship. I’ve had too many friends buy a super fancy crib that they plan to use for decades to come, only to have their teething kid attack it with the ferocity of a rabid beaver. 

It was a gift from my parents and one of our longest family friends, Wendy. My mom called Wendy after she had me. She didn’t say, “It’s a girl” or anything social acceptable like that. All she said was, “Don’t do it, Wendy. It hurts too bad!”

Our giraffe is so cute and special – a gift from my amazing work team. I haven’t named him yet, but I’m leaning towards Mr. Neck, an ode to The Mindy Project.

Every kid who sees Mr. Neck is completely entranced, and it was Dub’s first buddy. He’s watched it ever since he started noticing the world around him. It serves as a sort of mobile that he can look at while he’s falling asleep. Just another reason I’m glad I didn’t buy a mobile. Not only are they expensive, but it turns out that you don’t need one if you have a ceiling fan! (Seriously people, ceiling fan = hours of baby entertainment).

I ordered our monogram from an Etsy seller. We got it unpainted, so it was crazy inexpensive. After the many hours spent attempting to achieve a flawless, glossy finish, I wish I paid to have it painted.

The native Californian in me still freaks a bit at the thought of having something hanging above the crib. But each of those monogram elements – which are all quite light – are held on by several 3M stripes that are each supposed to hold 20 pounds. So, I think we’re good. 

The beautiful lamb elements – the sheet, changing pad cover, pillow and blanket – were all gifts from a sweet family friend, Tiff, who saw my mood board and then saw that set at Land of Nod. She surprised me with it, and I love it all so much. I’m super picky and sort of a snob and usually when people surprise me with things for a well-planned anything, I’m not a happy camper. But somehow, Tiffany got in my head and somehow knew. She’s cool like that. Not only are the lambs subtle and beautiful, but it provides a further zen feeling to our calm room.

accidentalokie nursery crib 2This little guy came to us just a few weeks ago to solve the problem of the toy pile next to the bed. Now I just toss all of Dub’s toys he plays with in his crib into this perfect basket. Then I put the whole basket in the crib with him to play.

When did I get so smart?

accidentalokie nursery gallery wall

Our gallery wall is where the vision for this room really started – a mix of vintage and whimsey. 

The Winnie the Pooh prints are original pages from 1939 editions of Winnie the Pooh, purchased off Etsy for a shockingly small amount of money. The jump-roping foxes and kite-flying whales are from a Brooklyn artist. There’s custom calligraphy, and new born pictures of Dubs, who doesn’t even look like that anymore. (sniffle) 

accidentalokie nursery dresser 3

Our dresser is the Ikea Hemnes. It holds all the things.

accidentalokie nursery dresser 5

My official organization style is called “good intentions,” so having a dresser that’s made to fit Ikea’s organization dividers, it’s super helpful. 

accidentalokie nursery bunnyBunny.

accidentalokie nursery closet

The closet is also my attempt at sustainable organization. It’s working so far.

accidentalokie nursery look 2

Before I was gifted with the beautiful lamb bedding, this is what I bought for the room – bright-lettered sheets to match the books, and an anchor changing pad cover to carry our anchor theme and match the navy blue accents.

By the time Dubs has such a giant blowout that we need to wash the changing pad cover, it’s time to change the sheets. So we go back and forth between lambs and letters/anchors. I like switching it up between subtle and bright.

Dub’s room works so well for us. It’s peaceful every time I walk in there at 3 a.m. It’s bright in the morning and calm at 10 at night.

 But of all my favorite views in the nursery, these are my favorites.

accidentalokie nursery dubs 2

accidentalokie nursery dubs

Losing My Mind and Finding it Again: This is Postpartum Anxiety/OCD

 Most people have heard of postpartum depression, but very few know about postpartum anxiety/OCD. I didn’t even realize it existed until I began searching for answers to why things were happening in my mind. I wrote this post to give you a glimpse into my struggle with it. Like a message in a bottle, I hope this makes its way to women who have found themselves in this unlucky situation. For spouses and friends of women suffering from PPAOCD, I hope that in reading, you might be able to understand better and help more effectively.

We were in our going home clothes.

Me, a nursing dress, Dubs his embroidered sleep sack, and The Professor, who, well, never got to wear any special clothes while we were in the hospital. I lay in the bed, Dubs snuggled in my arms, waiting for discharge papers, listening to music on my iPad. Then the song, “He’s Always Been Faithful,” by Sara Groves began playing.

Season by season I watch Him, amazed
In awe of the mystery of His perfect ways
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He’s always been faithful to me

The song was an anthem in my college apartment as we prayed for the wonderful husbands God would eventually bless each of us with. I’ve heard the song a thousand times. But this time, the verse caught me by surprise. In awe of the mystery of His perfect ways. The tears began to flow. Slowly at first and then quiet sobs, oddly both at home and out of place of this peaceful moment.

A few hours before, our midwife came to check on us. It was the first time I had seen her since Dub’s birthday. She explained what they theorize caused our scary birth. The umbilical cord was wrapped multiple times around Dub’s body, so much that it held him in place. After 15 hours of labor and no progress, an epidural caused him to finally come down enough to break the waters. Once the waters were broken and he wasn’t floating, the cord was pinched and he was in distress. That’s when our peaceful hospital midwife birth became an emergency. That’s when the grace of God, an excellent medical team, and a bunch of seemingly unrelated circumstances converged to avoid a cord accident. 

Now two days later, I lay there on the bed with my perfect baby and I realized all the what if’s. All the near misses. I thought about our desire to labor at home as long as possible after my water broke. Heart racing, throat clenching, the logical conclusion of the what ifs played out in my mind. It was too much to think about. So I held my baby, and leaned against my husband, and I listened to my song, and through the quiet sobs, I said aloud “thank you,” over and over.

Manic Alertness

Postpartum depression and its cousin, postpartum anxiety/OCD can happen to any new parents. However, they are more common with traumatic births. Thinking back, my postpartum anxiety/OCD and PTSD symptoms began while we were still in the hospital.

It began with anxiety. I’m not talking about worry, but elephant-on-your-chest, full-bodied fear.

The best way I’ve heard it described is manic alertness.

I was at once infuriated that my mostly irrational fears weren’t shared by The Professor or my mom, and at the same time, I was too afraid to voice them. Warring within me was the understanding that my anxieties were irrational and a fear that if I said them out loud, they would come true.

It was little things at first. I was afraid to touch my phone and then touch the baby. I washed my hands about 10 times an hour. I was afraid to take off my wedding ring. I knew that if I did, something terrible would happen to The Professor. I wear an anchor necklace that reminds me of God’s faithfulness during our fertility treatment and early miscarriages. At the hospital, the thought of taking it off put me in a panic. Taking it off meant not remembering our lost babies. And if we didn’t remember our lost babies, how could we be trusted with this whole, perfect one? Taking it off meant something would happen to Dubs.

Once home, I was terrified of putting up our “please don’t ring the doorbell” sign. If we did, they’d know. Who was they? I have no clue. But they certainly would know that we had a perfect, vulnerable baby in the house, and they’d come take him in the night. The thought of The Professor leaving the house to go to the grocery store put me in a full-blown panic. 

I lay awake all night long and watched Dubs breathe. If I took my eyes off for a moment, he would stop. Six months in, and this one is still a struggle. It’s as though I feel like my hyper-vigilance is what is keeping everything safe.

This monster, this thief, became a security blanket.

A few days after we were home, my mom and I ventured to Walmart in search of underwear tall enough to go over my c-section incision instead of sitting right on it. I already hate Walmart with the passion of 1,000 yellow smiley faces, but Walmart seemed the logical choice for granny panties (it’s not, by the way – we ended up with expensive maternity undies that got the job done).

As we perused the aisles, I had to keep touching Dub’s hands to make sure he was breathing. About the tenth time, I had a realization. I had Walmart germs on my hands. I touched his hands. He puts his hands in his mouth. That’s when I had a real life, honest-to-God panic attack. At Walmart. New low, people. New low.

As fast as my post-cesarian body could handle, I booked it to the car, my mom trailing behind, still trying to figure out why her daughter was making a scene. There I found diaper wipes and wiped each of Dub’s hands with three wipes.

On the way home, at one point my mom quickly changed lanes – well she attempted and I still hold that it was a dumb move that could have easily caused a fender bender, but nothing more.  However, at that moment in my mental state, I lost it, bursting into big, ugly tears. She had put me and my little, helpless baby in perilous danger. Already, the people were going to come and steal him in the night. Horrible things would happen if I took off my jewelry, and now this.

It waxes and wanes with victories and defeats, but the anxiety is never far from me. I have to remind myself this manic alertness is a problem, not my very own super power that holds the world together and keeps everyone safe from a thousand spoken and unspoken dangers and fears. This anxiety, it is not my friend.

Intrusive Thoughts

The next day, was the start of one of the hallmarks of postpartum anxiety/OCD – intrusive thoughts. I picked up Dubs, and as newborns do, his head bobbed a bit for the millisecond between when I lifted him and when my fingers got in place to support his head. In that moment, I saw in my mind Dubs being shaken, his neck whipping back and forth. Was I the one shaking him? Was someone else? The momentary intrusive thought put me in a tailspin.

For a the whole day, I wondered. Would I hurt him?

Despite everything I tried, the thought replayed each time I picked him up and supported his neck. Soon there was another scary thought that replayed multiple times a day, and then another. They all left me reeling, scared for my baby, scared for me, and scared of me. Filled with fear and shame, it took me several days to even tell The Professor.

Thankfully after a late night feed, I messaged a friend in another state who is a psychologist. She agreed that these were more than just baby blues and that I see a local counselor. I already knew one, and we quickly started meeting. It was helpful to have someone to talk honestly to. To say the fears out loud and not be hushed when my mind wandered through the what if’s of our birth. To realize that once our fertility treatments and miscarriages began, I got on battle mode and never quite stepped off that treadmill. I learned steps to dial down my anxiety and a process for dealing with intrusive thoughts. Apart from medicine, there’s nothing really to do to stop intrusive thoughts. You just deal with them head on. Every time.

I acknowledge I had that scary thought. But I know it’s not real. It’s just my brain feeling a bit confused. That thought holds no power over me and I know I won’t act on it. I am a good mama.

Over the coming weeks, the intrusive thoughts intensified and multiplied. Now my mind played on repeat the worst things you can imagine. There were a dozen scary thoughts and each could rival any horror movie. Six months later and the neck one is the only one I can talk about because it’s the only one I still don’t occasionally struggle with.

Many of the thoughts revolved around things in the kitchen. That whole adage “if you start thinking about putting your baby in the oven, it’s more than the baby blues.” It’s true. The Professor would sometimes come home from work to find me hunkered on the sofa, surrounded by a nest of necessities for the day. I had barely eaten and hadn’t heated dinner, all because I was afraid of going into the kitchen. 

Isolation & Needs

Caring for a newborn is exhausting. Being alone with a baby all day is isolating. Add all of this junk to it, and I was spiraling downhill fast.

I would long for The Professor to return home for the day so I wouldn’t be alone, but I’d dread night – the time when my anxiety was (and still is) at its peak. Even though I was on maternity leave, I longed for the weekend – when my parents would come visit and The Professor would be home, and finally I wasn’t alone.

I began reaching out. It was no easy task. First, between not sleeping because of the new baby who eats every 45 minutes and not sleeping because of the massive anxiety, you have to be awake enough to carry on a conversation. Then you have to be vulnerable enough to tell a friend these bizarre struggles – a real difficulty when you’re pretty sure you’re losing your mind. Then you have to put forth the effort to actually call. Finally, and most difficult, you have to be brave enough to articulate the question, “Can you please come over and sit with me?”

Which, let’s be honest, feels pathetic to say out loud.

This wasn’t a quick phone call to see what’s up. It was a lifeline.  I began being a little more honest about my struggles. I began learning how to say that I needed help and that things were not a perfect, happy Baby Gap commercial at my house.

Some friends were amazing. They would appear out of no where and sit. They would come bearing tacos and cupcakes.

They would invite us for dinner every week so I could be out of the house. They would message me to check in.

Near or far, talking once a day or once every few weeks, these are the people who showed up. Who didn’t let go.

For some, I could tell I was a bother. Sometimes I think this was in my head, because that’s what happens when you are isolated, anxious, depressed and out of sorts. But many times, it wasn’t. I had become the needy annoyance, spoken to in patronizing tones.

I would remind myself – No! You moved to New Zealand by yourself. You are competent at work. You have been lost in far away cities without problem. You are not needy!

The truth was, at the moment, I wasn’t needy, but I sure did have a lot of needs. And that’s an important distinction, I think.

Others were brazen enough to tell me they knew I was struggling, but were purposefully staying away because I needed to learn how handle this on my own. Or that this was my fault – the result of excitedly preparing for an unmedicated childbirth that I should have known was unattainable.

People actually said those things – like out loud.

And by the way, I’m not saying these things because I want to shame or embarrass anyone. That’s not my heart. My heart is that someone finds this post who is or knows someone going through this little-known form of postpartum depression, and they have an idea what to say or do or not do or not say. That’s my heart. God knows I hold the record for the stupidest things said at the worst moments. So, there you go.

I found an amazing traumatic birth support group on Facebook, and I knitted together a group of friends who all had babies within a few weeks of each other. We are part 3 a.m. comedy club, part support group, part eager advice givers and takers.

By the end of my maternity leave, I knew who was there for me and who wasn’t, and I stayed cocooned in my little safe circle. And that was a very good thing.

Throughout it all, The Professor was amazing.

On days that were bad – which thankfully became less and less – he would come home and not say a word about having to make dinner, do all the dishes and clean all the mess.

He bought a few chunky necklaces from Charming Charlie, my favorite inexpensive accessories store. When he would come in to find me having a bad day, he’d go out to his car and come back with a necklace.

That man. He’s a keeper.

One day when I was crying about not finishing my thank you notes, he boxed them away and told me my priority was our baby and my mind, not thank you notes. 

Now

Dealing with this, it’s big and it’s long and it’s hard. There’s no big conquering end to my story.

Going back to work was a huge help because I wasn’t sitting around, stewing in my own anxieties all day. It’s much better, but I still struggle significantly with anxiety. I know that part of that is standard new mom worry and part of it is a true struggle with anxiety rooted in a traumatic event. It all equally has to be given to the Lord every day.

One of the most helpful things was learning my triggers – the things that caused anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Isolation is a big one. Once I realized this, Dubs and I tried to get out of the house once a day. We wandered around Target or visited local shops. I also learned that reaching a certain level of exhaustion is probably the biggest trigger, so The Professor and I are very careful about me getting rest. As weird as it sounds, there are still foods I can’t cook because they are still triggers.

It’s difficult to explain the intensification of the anxiety/ocd symptoms while also looking at the day to day. Some days were great. Some days I had no anxiety and no intrusive thoughts. Some weeks even. But as they came, there was an escalation of the fear, and then slowly, a few months in, a deescalation as my hormones normalized, I learned to deal with intrusive thoughts, and I worked through my emotions.

Since I’ve been back to work, there have been two week-long stretches Dubs has been sick, and I’ve stayed home with him. While I love the extra cuddles, the exhaustion and isolation quickly start to take their toll, and the intrusive thoughts begin again. Once again, I start my multi-step process of dealing with them.

Overall, this experience, it changed me. 

I learned that I cannot invest my time and emotions in people who are going to be at best dismissive or at worst cruel. My close circle, it’s significantly closer and smaller than it used to be. And that’s okay.

At the same time, it’s showed me how to have better grace with others. We all are going through hard things. Seeing past the saccharine Facebook statuses – there’s nothing quite so valuable. 

I’ve also learned to have a lot of grace with myself. If you want proof, just come to my house and see how badly it needs vacuuming. 

I have family members who have dealt with chemical depression their whole lives. I don’t understand that struggle at all, however I now have a glimpse. I now understand what it’s like to not be in full control of your mind. I have my own sliver of understanding at how scary it is. I now understand the value of showing up and just sitting and watching Gilmore Girls in silence. 

I’ve learned to listen differently.  If I get a call from a friend going through a hard time who wants to get together, everything might be fine. She might just want an adult conversation or a pedicure buddy.

Or that phone call might be the loudest cry for help she can muster.

I’ve learned that when I bring dinner to a friend who just had a baby, I need to ask questions like, “How are you feeling emotionally?”

This year – fertility treatments, miscarriages, pregnancy, labor, scary birth, anxiety – I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I ever thought possible. But I’ve also learned that I’m weaker and more vulnerable than I knew. There’s beauty in this strength and fragility.

I’ve learned that, just like that song said, God is faithful. He’s faithful through the hardest of hard times. He’s good.

If your friend or wife is going through this, all I can say is this: Show up. Just be there. Be the one she can call. Be the one who doesn’t judge. Arrive to do dishes or watch the baby so she can go to counseling. Be her support, even though what that looks like might change from day to day or moment to moment.

The closer you stay, the better you’ll know what she needs.

I know this whole thing doesn’t seem rational. That’s because it isn’t.

If you’re going through postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety/OCD or PTSD, I wish I could come give you a hug. I wish we could sit in silence, together. I wish I could take your scary thoughts and throw them far away. Since I can’t, I’ll just say this: Go to counseling – don’t mess around with this. Get medicine if you need it. Release the guilt. Know that you can simultaneously hate what’s going on in your mind and fiercely love your baby. Find the friends and family who will truly support you, and don’t worry about the rest. Learn your triggers and avoid them like the plague.

And slowly, it will get better.

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Dub’s Birth Story

This is our sweet boy’s birth story. It’s a story that I never want to forget because it’s a story of God’s faithfulness. There are other things that I don’t want to forget. There parts where I was really brave and stronger than I ever thought I could be. There were little moments The Professor and I shared that will be forever memories. We were loved so well by family and friends. There are some scary parts and some unexpected surprises, too. 

Before

I had an awesome pregnancy. Amazing. After years of hormone problems, I really never felt better. Sure, I was tired and my hips hurt and even the mention of Thai food made me want to hurl, but I loved it.

We really wanted to have an unmedicated childbirth. {{BTW – I don’t think unmedicated is the only way to go. Have a baby however you want.}} The Professor and I decided on this for several reasons. First, I have really bad reaction to any anesthesia medicine. And frankly, childbirth sounded better than going through that again. We wanted only the interventions we needed because we saw that in some cases, an epidural was the start of an intervention snowball that resulted in a lot of problems that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. I’ve also heard of people who didn’t prepare for labor and then couldn’t have an epidural or it didn’t take, and they were unprepared.

Being the child of two nurses, however, we wanted to be in a hospital and were so thankful to get in with the midwife program associated with the top women’s and children’s research hospital in the state. Total best of both worlds. We would labor at the hospital with our midwife on the regular L&D floor with all the docs and nurses and medical equipment. In preparation for Dub’s birth, we took Bradley Method Classes and had a doula, my cousin Shelley.

Throughout the pregnancy, Dubs was posterior, aka sunny-side up. He never moved. I know this because I could feel the flutterings of fingertips in my lower abdomen, right where his shoulders should have been. This was a great concern to me. I guess because I’ve heard of a lot of women having unnecessary c-sections because of posterior babies. Unnecessary because most posterior babies turn at some point in labor and even if they don’t, many babies are born sunny side up without any problems. His head was big and wide and flat inside of me. For about the last month of my pregnancy, my hips basically stopped working.

As the weeks drew near, I did everything I could to get him to turn. I did accupressure with a chiropractor, a turning and labor inducing massage, researched foods to eat, exercises, positions to lay in. Basically, if it is on the internets, we tried it. Then something happened in the last week. Call it a premonition or the Holy Spirit, but suddenly I stopped it all. For some reason, I knew I shouldn’t try to make him turn.

It Begins

At my 40 weeks, three day appointment, we confirmed he was still posterior. We also learned that I developed really high blood pressure out of no where. It was still high the next day, so my midwife decided to induce while we still had options. She explained that the high BP would only get worse. 

On Friday evening, we got admitted and started Cervidil, a medicine to thin your cervix to help with the coming induction. As soon as I got checked in to my room and the Cirvidil started, my BP was perfect. Our midwife said it was a weird anomaly that happens sometimes, but it was too late to turn back. Also the high BP could return at any moment and I was already passed my due date. 

The next morning, I got induced and my body responded perfectly. I started with a foley bulb, a little balloon that helps you dilate. They expected it to take a few hours, but in just 30 minutes I’d dilated to four centimeters! Everyone was elated. My midwife holds the gold standard for best practices of induction at the hospital. She worked to make sure the Pitocin mimicked labor.

The labor part was really cool. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard, but if I ever wonder if I’m strong, I will always go back to those moments and remember. Yup. I’m strong.

I labored in bed, on peanut balls, in the tub, walking around. I was so thankful for the freedom of movement the hospital allowed, even while being induced. They had a portable fetal heart monitor I used while in the tub. The Professor was his usual amazing self. He sat on the little bench behind the tub and rubbed my back during contractions. He coached me through relaxation exercises. Our Bradley classes taught Kevin how to help me relax, and I knew I could trust him. That knowledge helped me relax as much as anything. During contractions, any voice besides his was grating. But his words calmed me and soothed me. Shelley told me it looked like we were having our fifth baby together.

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Shelley jumped in whenever Kevin left. She encouraged me and helped us make medical decisions. When I kicked everyone out of the room to sob, I felt her soft hand on my arm, and I listened to her and The Professor encourage me.

My mom was there and my sister, too. It was neat to be surrounded by the women in my life as I did this hard thing. My dad was somewhere in the hospital. He came in, saw me in pain, and promptly left. 

I labored for 15 hrs with no epidural, and spent the last three hrs in the second part of first stage/transition, as far as emotional signposts go. For those three hours, the contractions were 45 seconds apart, 2 minutes long. Towards the end, I was starting to hyperventilate through them. Even though it was hard, I kept telling myself this is transition! The end is near! Then they checked me. In the 15 hours of labor, I had dilated 1 cm to be at a whopping 5 and was still at a -2 station, which basically means that he was still high up in me.

My midwife and I talked. He was still posterior. Despite doing our awesome relaxation exercises, and his position was so bad in my pelvis that I physically couldn’t relax enough for him to descend. She recommended that I do the epidural because it was the only way he would come out, purely because of his position. Sobbing, I said yes. I was ready.

I requested that an attending to the epidural. Everyone said that was overkill, but I didn’t want a young resident poking my spine. Soon the anesthesiologist came. He warned us that the epidural could cause a temporary drop in my BP because of a vasovagal response, and they know how to deal with it if it happens. Right after the epidural started to take effect, my water broke on its own. There was a little muconium staining. About that time, I became completely relaxed and happy. The room was quiet, just the anesthesiologist, his resident, the midwife, a nurse or two, and the Professor. I remember looking at the clock on the wall and getting very, very sleepy.

Everything Changes

From that moment, everything is a blur. I remember only things in flashes, not in any full, coherent memory.

I heard someone loudly saying my name. I opened my eyes to my midwife and a nurse over my face. She explained I had passed out. I looked around to a room of total chaos. The quiet, peaceful room was now full of about 15 doctors and nurses. People were turning me on all fours to get my blood pressure back up. I had no concept of time. I assumed I’d been out for a while, but The Professor said it was only a minute.

By getting me on all fours and giving me some medicine, my blood pressure was quickly back to normal. As I became more cognizant, I looked around the room and realized that less than half of the medical people in the room were working on me. The rest were crowded around the display of the fetal monitor having a hurried, concerned conversation.  I saw a med student plastered against the wall in shock and realized that whatever was happening wasn’t good.

The doctor turned to me, still on all fours, and said, “Sarah, your baby’s heart rate is falling. We got it back to 90, but fell again to 60. We have to do a c-section. Now.” 

Before, everything had been presented in options. You can do A or B. Now it was a statement. No options.

I turned to the other side of the bed and looked at Kevin. I needed him so badly. He nodded at me that this was the right decision and I nodded back. It was a moment that didn’t need words. 

Suddenly a nurse was asking if she could cut off my dress. Someone else was adjusting some IVs. A few others grabbed the bed. And then everyone ran. I remember being on the bed, still on all fours, trying to process what was happening. There was one nurse whose entire job was to run ahead of my moving hospital bed and scream at people to get out of the hall so we could pass.

The anesthesiologist was behind me. He told me they were redoing the epidural for a c-section because there was no time for anything else. “I know what a spinal is,” I said.

“No. There’s no time!” Those are scary words. “We’re turned your epidural into c-section anesthesia.” He did it while running down the hall.

Soon we were in the OR and was transferred to a new bed and finally on my back. Unlike the comfortable labor room, this was stark and white and cold. All business. The nurses and doctors did a quick verbal check to confirm what they were doing. They asked me if I could feel things. I still could. The epidural was cranked up more. Then we began. I could feel pressure and pulling, which scared me because I was worried it meant the epidural didn’t work, but the doctor assured me it was okay.

As the surgery started, I heard the anesthesiologist explain to his resident what he’d done. I took a moment in the chaos to feel totally vindicated for asking for an attending. If he hadn’t been there, I probably would have been intubated and put totally under because the resident had never seen this before.

My midwife was at one shoulder explaining what was happening and The Professor was at the other. The epidural kept spreading up. By the time the c-section was over, I was numb to my neck. It was a scary and an odd sensation.

Then my midwife said our boy was here. From the time I passed out until this moment, only five minutes or so had passed.

I heard a cry and saw a nurse walk Dubs quickly over to the awaiting NICU team. After just a few minutes, he was given an all-clear by the NICU team. The Professor wheeled him back to our room where my family was waiting. They loved on him while I couldn’t.

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Shelley and my sister, Jackie.

 

birth story www.accidentalokie.com

Brand new grandmommy.

My mom knew how important immediate skin-to-skin time was to us, so she made sure that Dubs and The Professor had some special time together.

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After Dubs was out, the room was much calmer. There was no longer an emergency. They sewed me up in layers so I’m a candidate for a VBAC. I’m told my suture looks amazing.

We learned later that Dubs had been posterior the whole pregnancy because his umbilical cord was wrapped around him so many times, it was holding him in place. Once the epidural helped me to relax, he finally descended some more. Once he descended, my waters broke. Once my waters broke, he was no longer in a floating environment. That’s when the cord started to hurt him. Also, in the process of all the contractions, he’d managed to turn a bit sideways. Basically, there was no circumstance in which he would have ever been born vaginally.

After

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This is a horrible picture of me post-surgery, but I love it because it shows the care I had from my amazing midwife.

The next 24 hours are a blur. I remember not caring about Dubs. It was a combination of drugs and shock. It’s hard on me that I don’t remember meeting him for the first time or nursing him for the first time.

We were moved to a postpartum room and I started vomiting (the very reason I didn’t want an epidural). My reaction to the epidural was so bad that I couldn’t keep up with the vomit bags and eventually had to just start puking over the side of the bed. After a few attempts at a milder medicine, they had to give me the strongest nausea medicine that has the side effect of drowsiness. After that, I slept off and on for about 24 hours. I have a funny memory of teaching The Professor to change his first diaper. I couldn’t help because I couldn’t get up and my arms were still a bit numb from the massive epidural.

God has been faithful though to give us our own special memories. I remember some special time with just my dad, Dubs and I had in the room while The Professor called his parents. 

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There were several times I awoke the next day in a drowsy stupor to see my mom and Shelley there. My mom was holding Dubs to me and Shelley was holding my breast, so they could get Dubs nurse when I couldn’t help him. It was a moment I’ll always remember.

Shelley spent the second night in the hospital so she could teach me how to nurse. She awoke every few hours and coached me through things. The next morning, my sister Jackie stayed with me. The Professor had been sent home to get a good sleep. My parents were there, too. They got the house ready for our homecoming. 

Thinking Back

A few weeks later, I had a follow-up appointment with my midwife. I told her that the experience was scary for me, but maybe it was just normal for them. She said, “No. That was more exciting than we would have liked.” She said there was an unseen hand guiding our delivery and that if things would have happened in a different order, everything could have turned out differently.

I am sometimes tempted to ask “what if.” But not, “What if it was better?” No. “What if it was worse.” Those moments lead me back to remembering all the ways God protected us.

If my water had broken at home, there’s a chance we could have lost him. He would have been in distress and we wouldn’t have known. Thankfully, my midwife explained that he probably could have never descended enough to break the waters because of his position and being held in place by the cord. That made me feel better. And then I remember again that we weren’t at home. We were at the hospital because I had sudden and mysterious high blood pressure. High blood pressure that disappeared as soon as I was checked in and it was too late to go home. I firmly believe that was the hand of God.

If I hadn’t asked for an attending to do the epidural, I would have probably ended up intubated.

I listened to my intuition about not turning him, and I asked for an attending anesthesiologist. I stuck to my guns while also being flexible. The Professor and I always said we just wanted to avoid unnecessary interventions. We did. It’s just I needed all the interventions. 

After Dub’s birth, I was diagnosed with PTSD and Postpartum Anxiety/OCD, both common with a traumatic birth. I sought counseling and joined a traumatic birth support group. There still are moments that are hard, but those are getting less and less. I’ve learned how to cling to the good moments and work through the difficult ones. I’ve told my story many times and each time, I process it more and it becomes less scary.

Dub’s name means “resolute protector.” He’s named after both my grandfathers. We thought it would be a name that would also honor the other men in his family who protected and led their families. Never did it cross my mind that it would be a banner over him – God has resolutely protected our sweet boy. Like I said, this is a story of God’s faithfulness, and there is so much to be thankful for.

birth story www.accidentalokie.com

 

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